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How to Buy a Modern Steel Road Bike

steel road bike

Conan’s dad knew it – steel is what you can trust whether bike or sword.

Awhile ago, I let you in on the bike industry’s big secret: the secret of steel, that strong, relatively light, reliable, repairable, smooth-riding wonder material.

Fact is, you can’t find a steel road bike like my 1999 LeMond Zurich growing on trees. The odds of finding one used are ever out of your favor. So what is a steel-curious road bike owner to do? Let me share a few ideas for you. These are the steel road bikes I’d consider if someone swiped my LeMond and I had a bunch of insurance money to buy a new ride. (BEFORE I GO ANY FURTHER: None of the companies mentioned have in any way compensated me for mentioning them. I would genuinely put them on my list. They earned their way here by making products that caught my attention.)

Kona Roadhouse

steel road bike

My Zurich fresh back from the paint shop with a little Liberace sparkle.

The Roadhouse oozes class, even with its many modern accouterments – disc brakes, carbon fork, 1-⅛” headset. a mix of Shimano Ultegra and 105. Of course, the heart of this bike is Reynolds 853 steel tubing. That’s the same stuff as my LeMond. One question that remains is … where is the frame made? I’m not saying it has to be US-made to be quality stuff. But I like to support American people doing skilled jobs. This is a question I have about many of the frames in this blog post. Still, you could do a lot worse for $2,400-ish.

Ritchey Road Logic

steel road bike

That is a classy custom steel road bike – for a reasonable price.

This is a beautiful, elegant lightsaber of a steel road bike. It’s made from Ritchey-branded tubes. If I’m reading the website correctly, the Road Logic comes with a Ritchey carbon fork for a very reasonable $1,050. The downside here is that it’s frameset only. That might be good for someone out there with a garage full of parts. The rest of us are gonna have a hard time not getting bent on the components.

Curtlo Custom Road

If you’ve been riding bikes awhile, you’ve probably heard a few whispers about Curtlo. It’s a small operation that somehow makes quality hand-made custom frames for a very reasonable price. My guess is Doug Curtiss found the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, and just makes frames for nice people because he likes to … and he doesn’t mind barely making money. Or perhaps he kidnapped a bunch of Santa’s elves, and has them wielding blow torches in a dimly lit basement somewhere, subsisting only on fruitcake and eggnog. The frame-only price is $990 for a frame with a single powdercoated color. I think it’s entirely feasible to get a made-to-order Curtlo Custom Road with a mid-level component group and a carbon fork for about $2,500. One custom item I’d be sure to add is pegs for a full-size frame pump.

steel road bike

A fine, classically influenced steel road bike.

Raleigh Record Ace

If you want to go full-on retrogrouch, the Raleigh Record Ace is your bike. Steel fork and Campagnolo parts – none of this Shimano or SRAM nonsense! (Disclosure – I’d happily ride a mid-level group from any of these companies … Veloce, 105, Rival, whatever.) I have some quibbles with this bike, even at its $1,900 price point. They are: shitty hubs, a lower-end Reynolds 631 tubeset, iffy rims. The wheels are an easy problem to overcome. The tubeset is still decent – but you’re only a few bones away from a better one. And again, where is the frame made?

Breezer Venturi

A few weeks ago, this bike was making me drool with its Ultegra/105 mix and really, really ridiculous good looks. But I can no longer confirm that Breezer still makes the Venturi. It no longer appears on the Breezer website. You might be able to find a few on closeout, but that usually means limited sizes. I’m not sure of the tubing’s origins or where it’s being welded.

Greg LeMond Washoe

steel road bike

This Gunnar Roadie is absolutely stunning.

It’d be wrong not to mention the latest iteration of a LeMond steel road bike. That’s the Washoe, and it’s a US-built Reynolds frame with a top-end ENVE carbon fork. I have to say, though, that Greg might be putting a high value on having his name on the bike: A list price of $3,150 for a bike with a Shimano 105 group doesn’t sit that well with me – especially next to the artisan Curtlo frames. Honestly, there’s something a little off aesthetically, too. I won’t say it’s ugly … but it doesn’t make me drool.

Bianchi Vigorelli

I love the color many people know as Celeste Green. If you feel like fighting over whether it’s blue or green, go somewhere else. That’s not all that’s nice about the Vigorelli, though. $1,750 (Street price, not MSRP) for a mostly 105 group. I’d definitely ask some pointed questions again about where its Reynolds 631 tubes are welded. But I’d almost feel like a heel at that price.

Gunnar Roadie

Oh, these Gunnar Roadie frames are awfully nice: An off-the-shelf frame for $900, with another three-and-a-half Benjamins getting you a full-custom fit. True Temper OS frame tubing, US made. Not bad at all. I see one big downside: You’re on your own for components, or at the mercy of your local dealer. And honestly, it is never as economical to piece it all together. Still, I will not quibble with Gunnar quality, and its frame prices are very reasonable. I also do like the option of selecting my own color.

So WWWJD?

I love small companies. I like picking my own damn color. So unless the waiting list is 6 months or more, I’d go with the Curtlo. I’d ask him to mirror the Zurich’s measurements because it’s always been a nice fit for me. But – and pay attention, I say, pay attention here – I’d also want Doug’s input for my measurement. For all I know, I might think the LeMond fits me perfectly without it actually being true. Doug’s expert eye would likely notice what I really need versus what I think I need.

Do you have a favorite source for steel frames that working people can actually afford? Let me know if I missed it!

5 thoughts on “How to Buy a Modern Steel Road Bike

  1. Wandering Justin Post author

    Thanks for the tip on Black Mountain. I’ll give ’em a look!

    I agree on SOMA. Great price, decent features. I notice that they also have belt-drive options on some of their bikes, too.

  2. PB

    Have you taken a look at Mason cycles out of the U.K.? Very impressed with everything I’ve seen and read about them.

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