Steel is real. This is the battle cry of a lot of bikers who feel that bike manufacturers have been making bike frames that are way too complicated and expensive. Seems like it wasn’t too long ago when steel was the bike maker’s metal of choice. Nowadays though, steel bikes have become as rare as a competent and uncorrupted Pinoy politician, which is kinda sad because steel is such an excellent material for building bikes.
I had been looking to switch to a steel frame since late last year. While I love my aluminum Venzo, I just felt that I already needed something sturdier. The Venzo was a great lightweight alloy frame that helped me nab respectable finishes in duathlons and XC races. But it just didn’t seem like a well-suited weapon for fast descents on rock gardens and technical trails, which I found myself riding more and more often. I was longing for that strange alchemy of toughness and suppleness that could only come from that bastard spawn of carbon and iron more popularly known as (you guessed it) steel!
I lusted after the Niner Ros 9. This beautiful frame seemed like the perfect match for my riding style that was quickly gravitating (pun intended) to the more gonzo end of the spectrum. But the Niner Ros was sadly beyond my budget. The only way I could afford it was if I built an overpriced school building and skimmed off the tongpats. But since I’ll never be mayor of some rich city, I’ll have to file the Ros 9 under “Bikes I’ll Buy When I Get Filthy Stinking Rich.”
The Ragley Bigwig was another candidate, but I couldn’t find a shop that sold it. And even if I did, I don’t think I could have afforded it either. Actually I could have afforded it if I just dropped beer from my daily diet… but what kind of life would that be?
I also dreamed of owning the Stanton Sherpa 29er. This was a fantastic-looking frame. But like the Ros, the Stanton Sherpa was just too expensive for a penny-pinching tightwad like me.
My last option was the On One Inbred 29er. A few friends had already tried this popular steel frame, and they swear by its excellent ride quality. More importantly, it was also quite affordable at around 14-16k.
I was already planning on purchasing this frame when I dropped by Raven Cycles along Malingap St. in Sikatuna Village and saw an apparition of a steel frame that I thought was already sold out years ago.
Behold the La Bici Raw Smoked 29er! I immediately reserved the frame and went back two weeks later to buy it. At just 17k, I knew it was a real steal (yeah I like puns, got a problem with that?)
This steel frame just screams badass. It’s got burn patterns that emanate an aura of post-apocalyptic Terminator toughness that scream: Hasta La Vista, Babeh! If Daryl Dixon of The Walking Dead was gonna ride a mountain bike, this would probably be his frame of choice. I could go on and on and on about how angas it looks, but you already get the point. I quickly ported all of my bike components into this frame.
Now, the you may ask: do the looks live up to the ride? The short and sweet answer is: Oh. Hell. Yeah.
I tried it at Timberland’s Blue Zone and the frame did not disappoint. It certainly made me more confident in tackling the technical sections. Where my old alloy frame left me rattled, the new steel frame just plowed through the rough stuff like Brock Lesnar through Frank Mir. Make no mistake about it, this beast is a brawler, and just the right kind of frame for my needs right now.
You may also ask: what’s the difference between steel and alloy frames? Bikers who have tried steel frames will say that steel gives a much more comfortable ride than aluminum. Some will even say that steel is supple and pleasant while aluminum is harsh and jarring. Mas masarap sakyan, they’ll swear.
My favorite biking nerd Sheldon Brown however says this may all just be an illusion and that tires, tire pressure, wheel choice, and frame geometry are more important factors in determining how comfortable a ride is.
What do I think? I may be suffering from a psychosomatic addict insane placebo effect, but riding my steel bike does feel comfier. It’s noticeable on small bumps, and it’s even noticeable on technical trails. Advocates of steel will say that the metal has excellent damping properties, and I have to concede that they may be on to something. I also like the idea of having a bike frame that will bend before it breaks.
What about the weight? My bike is over 30 pounds now, or over 2 pounds heavier now than before. But that’s okay. I’m not a weight weenie. I can afford the extra weight since I’m carrying very little anyway. I’m 5’9 and weigh in at 68 kilos or roughly 150 pounds–a lightweight by MMA standards. Better to have a light rider on a modestly heavy bike than a heavy rider on a very light bike, right?
So I may not win XC races with this rig, or break records on Strava and Endomondo, but this steel frame raises the fun factor so much that I don’t really care.
Some may ask: If you’re so concerned about getting rattled, why not get a full suspension bike instead? They have a point, and I was also thinking about getting a fullsus frame. On really technical trails like Mt. Balagbag, or Bobok Bisal, a squishy bike would be ideal.
But while I do wish that I could ride those awesome guh-nahrl-eeey trails (seriously, may conyo bang gumagamit ng salitang yan sa Pinas?) every waking day of the week, the fact is I don’t get to ride those trails that often. My home trails are Timberland and Antenna. And as much as I love going fast downhill, I also love challenging myself on Shotgun, The Wall, and Antenna. Nothing beats a hardtail 29er on those climbs. So the best option for me was a steel 29er hardtail.
Now, I just need to get wider rims, wider bars, and a 120mm fork and this project bike is finished.
So what do I do now with my beloved Venzo which has been my faithful steed from Batanes to Balagbag to Bobok-Bisal? I’m thinking of turning her into a commuter and adventure bike. The Venzo’s light weight will be great for epic pavement and light trail rides.
Yeah, I know that titanium is still the metal to beat when it comes to plushness, weightlessness, and bulletproofness. But scientists have recently come up with a new type of steel that may soon make titanium obsolete, at least for bikes. Steel is Real!