All of you people searching for info about the Lemond Zurich and various other steel road bikes have inspired me to give you something new to chew on. I already wrote about what were then “modern steel road bikes,” but things change.
Let’s have a look at what advice I’d give someone buying a steel road bike in 2020 – or a road plus bike or gravel bike.
What’s Changed About Steel Road Bikes?
A few months ago, I ran into a friend during one of my favorite road rides. These days, I ride a Lynskey Urbano. It’s a titanium cyclocross frame built up as a “road plus” bike.
My buddy was on a steel Bruce Gordon frame built up also as a road plus. Now, he and I often disagree on things. But we’re united in our belief that the road plus bike is the best damn thing to ever happen.
So what’s different about a road plus bike versus a typical road bike like my Lemond Zurich?
Huge Tire Clearance
These days, I roll on 32 or 38c tires. My buddy was on 40s, and we can both go even bigger. This tire clearance is the first feature that allows a bunch of other magic. A road plus bike can shape-shift from a fast roadie bike to — if you have enough braze-ons — a touring rig. And let me tell you, a fast downhill section on 38c tires at 60psi is so much more confident-handling than 25c at 110psi.
I love disc brakes, especially the hydraulic variety. The difference in stopping ability between my Lemond and Lynskey is astounding. This is great for handling everything from traffic to squirrely cyclists.
I’m sure I can find someone to argue with me about this – but I love thru-axles. It may seem like cork-sniffing to some, but I can definitely detect a more solid feel on thru-axles bikes. That’s especially true when I’m really stuffing the bike into a corner.
Relaxed Fit and Handling
I always loved the feel of my Zurich. It felt like a monorail. Then I put that Lynskey together. The angles are ever-so-slightly more relaxed than the Lemond. That means the Lynskey holds a line with even more confidence; I never feel like I’m fighting it. Still, it manages to go where I need it to, when I ask it to.
Big Head Tubes
My Lynskey has a tapered head tube versus the skinny, old-style 1-inch straight head tube of the Lemond. I can take this or leave it. I don’t detect a profound difference there — though I notice a big difference in stiffness between newer 31.8mm bars versus the old 25.6 (did I get that right?) of yore. The real factor here is that forks for tapered headtubes are far easier to replace. It’s not easy finding quality, reasonably priced stuff for the 1-inch steerer tube.
Got any Recommendations for Steel Bikes for 2020?
Look, if you’re looking for steel bikes, you probably already have some strong opinions. You might even know everything I’ve already mentioned. I’m really just hoping to reinforce what you’re thinking, and maybe introduce you to some stuff that flies slightly under the radar.
So you know that bikes from the afore-mentioned Bruce Gordon are gonna be pretty awesome. What if your wallet is somewhat less fat?
Here is what tops my list at the moment. I went for the more reasonably priced stuff because it’s easy to spend way too much money.
The All-City Cosmic Stallion
All-City Cycles does something few bike brands do – they imbue their bikes with some personality. From names to color schemes, they pour some mojo into their bikes. That matters to me.
They make the Cosmic Stallion with SRAM or Shimano options.
It’s a go-anywhere, do-anything sort of bike with an MSRP of $2,700 for Shimano GRX, a carbon fork and tire clearance up to 47mm.
The Fairdale Rockitship is only available as a frame and fork, so how it takes shape is ultimately up to you. For $700, you’re off to a good start with a steel frame and an ENVE carbon fork.
You get massive tire clearance (at least 45mm) along with 12mm thru axles. It also has three water bottle mounts – a nice touch, for sure.
When it comes to flying under the radar, Milwaukee Bicycle Company is practically Area 51. I wandered across them a few years ago, when I priced a steel 105 road plus/gravel build for about $3,000. That’s definitely a higher-end proposition than All-City or Fairdale, but these frames are built in the US.
You also get your choice of color, which is pretty rare these days. And I’m not just talking about a few colors. They have quite a smorgasbord.
Right now, it looks like the Milwaukee Bicycle Company website is under construction. If you’re buying a steel road bike (or road plus, or gravel or cyclocross or whatever), I recommend that you hang tight or give them a call to see what’s up.
Steel Road Bikes for 2020 — What Did I Miss?
So that’s what I have. Are there any cool, reasonably priced steel road bikes for 2020 that have you excited? Let me know about them. It’s always good to put the spotlight on the less-big brands.
(Thanks to Steven from the MeWe group “Let’s Ride” for the cover photo of the mud-crusted Breezer!)