As a fan of bicycles, you’d have to be completely oblivious to not know that there’s a renaissance of sorts for steel bicycles, particularly at the low volume, artisan end of the market. Many individuals are leaping into the trade with wonderfully ornate bicycles, but sometimes I wonder about the design choices they make. People want to believe that they have an instinctive feel for what is sound design, the assertion that if it “looks right, it is right”. The basic skills of framebuilding do not differ that much from other trades such as jewelry making or other more mundane fabrication employment, but a bicycle is a lot more complex structure than a broach or a welded iron bed frame. Not a whole lot of engineering goes into traditional steel framebuilding, so experience building and repairing steel becomes the guiding hand in design.
Take for instance the right rear dropout. It is one of the most highly stressed areas of the frame. It may not be the best place to get really fancy with one’s file. And even when you might think that a design may be quite conservative, you still have to worry about the metallurgy of the dropout itself. Is it forged or cast, how consistent is the product supplied by the manufacturer?
In the photo above is a broken dropout from a company supposedly run by elves (who happen to be enamored of the French). I’ve seen at least 7 or more of these bikes come into Davidson Cycles for the same repair; we’re almost like an official repair contractor for the other bike company. Yes, it’s steel and can be repaired, but it isn’t cheap or convenient.
photos of the repair after the jump