WanderingJustin.com

What the Bicycle Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

bicycle industry

Sixteen years and going strong. That’s a steel bicycle for ya!

There’s a bike the bicycle industry doesn’t want you to know about. And it’s in my garage.

Its frame is a top-secret alloy that is light, easy to fix, smooth-riding and strong. Cared for well, it can last indefinitely.

Sounds impressive, right? What is this new machine?

It’s a 1999 LeMond Zurich. It’s made out of heat-treated steel. And the thing handles just as great as the day I bought it.

So why is this bike such a threat to the bicycle industry? Because it absolutely flies in the face of everything the cycling industrial complex wants you to believe: that carbon fiber is the material of the future, that you need to buy a new frame every few years, that everything needs to be shiny/new/fancy.

English: Lemond Zurich 2000 repainted by pro p...

English: Lemond Zurich 2000 repainted by pro paint shop.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Right now, there are plenty of cyclists who have never ridden a steel-framed road bike. They grew up on aluminum, with carbon, maybe with aluminum with carbon stays.

Put these cyclists on a quality steel bike, and I promise they’ll rave over the smooth ride. They will not, unless that are at the absolute apex of the sport, notice the weight.

Let’s call an upper-end steel frame four pounds. A carbon frame? You can probably get one to about 2.5 pounds. That’s 1.5 pounds. If you have an extra 1.5 pounds hanging off your torso, don’t look to a lighter frame to make yourself faster.

The bicycle industry has made bikes like my Zurich an endangered species. The closest I can find to it is the very, very slick Kona Roadhouse. That’s about $2,400, where my Zurich was about $1,700 in its heyday. It also has a classic/classy look, refusing the current trend to look like a NASCAR racer or a stealth bomber.

steel road bike

Hey! That’s me on my freshly repainted, re-vamped Lemond Zurich. Amazing what a steel road bike with a new paint job and a fresh Ultegra group can do.

Here’s the thing: A steel bike like the Roadhouse will stay with you. You’ll need to replace a few bits here and there, as I did with my Zurich. So far, that’s been a rear shifter (I now need a front shifter), a fork (carbon – it has a limited lifespan), the headset, the stem and the handlebar. The bicycle industry has definitely endangered my Zurich by making 1-inch threadless carbon forks a rarity. The Easton fork I use is no longer made. And then there’s my reliable 9-speed shifter/cog combo. I’m having one helluva time finding a left shifter that’s anywhere on the same planet – a Sora left shifter would be kind of an odd pairing with a Dura-Ace right. This means I’ll probably wind up needing a new set of shifters, which means a change to 10 or 11-speed, which also means a new rear cogset and possibly a new rear wheel with the compatible freehub body.

How necessary is all this? Not very. An awesome rider will still be awesome with a 9 or 11-speed rear cog. And if you suck, you’ll suck just as bad with a 9 or an 11.

I know what I’m saying is a tough pill to swallow, especially if you shell out faithfully to prop up the bicycle industry every few years with a shiny new carbon bike. But try a steel bike sometime. Borrow one from a friend who’s been riding a good long time. Use any means necessary short of stealing one. It’ll surprise you, I promise.

Now, I know exactly what bicycle industry apologists are about to squawk: It’s better for customers to buy more. It helps drive the prices down. And you’re wrong. Do you think Seven Cycles or Independent Fabrications succeed on the notion of disposable bicycles? No. They count on you to love and keep their products – maybe even turn them into heirlooms.

If buying your rough-riding, limited-lifespan bikes makes you happy, do it. It’s OK with me. I know that some people love new shit. But at least take a ride on steel sometime and see what you’re missing.

Want to know more about cycling’s big secret? Read this post about some really cool steel road bikes you can afford.

11 thoughts on “What the Bicycle Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

  1. john b

    I recently resurected by Marinoni Squadra. What a joy to ride!

    Marinoni still makes quality steel road bikes for racing, cross, track and touring.

    I agree with you totally on the ride quality of steel bikes.

  2. Dave

    Until recently, I had a steel road bike, (Specialized Allez) and a full carbon fork I switched out for a salsa straight bladed. Loved the bike, then sold it. (dumb). Anyways, like usual, I wanted to road bike again. Looked at the roadhouse, but bought a trek Emonda’ ALR5. Yup, completely different bike. Full carbon fork, Aluminum (blasphemy) frame, 11 speed, press fit bb. 1500 bucks out the door. Best fitting road bike I’ve ever had. Smooth as anything (as far as I can tell). I figure, once you go with a carbon fork, you’ve left the steel is real forever anyway. But yeah, I could still be riding my old Italian road bike with down tube shifters and still have a blast.

  3. Ben

    So it looks like as far as price, the Roadhouse is a good replacement for your bike. Accounting for inflation, $1700 in 1999 is about $2400 today.

  4. Wandering Justin Post author

    I do like it an awful lot. Thing is, I was working at a shop at the time, and I got my Zurich just as the next year’s models were rolling out. So I paid closer to $950. Either way, I can’t say I didn’t get my money’s worth! I would also be perfectly happy with a full 105 bike.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Duc Nguyen

    i build a gunnar roadie (pacenti chrisking wheel and ultegra 6700 group, about 9kg for the whole bike) to ride with fast group rider of all cacbon bike just 30-40 km every morning and avg 42 kmh) . People keep saying i am crazy with that bike or have stuck with the old fashion. Never mind keep spinning 🙂

Leave a Reply