Disc brakes and steel trends

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by Mark V on Oct 05, 2008 at 10:25 PM

conquest%20classic.jpg Pictured here is the Redline Conquest Classic, a drop bar bike easily serving as an all-weather commuter. Ironically, though it is named “Classic”, it is the first the steel frameset in the Conquest lineage. Yes, steel is back, and disc brakes continue to propagate the entry and mid-level road bikes.

UPDATE: from Andrew - Redline contacted BikeHugger to let us know that this bike will be in the ‘09 lineup after some tweaks are made. I’m sure we’ll have more once it’s launched

What many people don’t realize about the resurgence of steel bikes is that the almost complete disappearance of steel wasn’t just bike companies deciding to force consumers on to aluminium frames. The reality is that many of the Taiwanese and Chinese factories just are not capable of steel bike construction. A factory can’t order different tubes one day and switch to steel frame production like you would switch out the milk to make a soy latte. However there have been a number of factories which are now ready to produce steel, working to fill the market demand.

As for disc brakes on road bikes, what we see is a number of bike companies spec’ing bikes under$1700 or so with disc brakes. These bikes are frequently very versatile platforms, compatible with fenders and racks. This is great for the commuter, and I hope this trend grows. The more people riding bikes as part of their normal life, the better, I say. But what I don’t see is the actual technology of the brakes improving.

The brakes on the market are all basically adaptations of MTB models, redesigned for the greater mechanical advantage (ie less cable pull) of road levers. Since MTB development mainly centers on hydraulic systems, you don’t see top quality in items you can use on a road bike. Maybe if the UCI tech committee changes their minds about disc brakes in cyclocross, we would see a leap forward. Perhaps an integrated brake/shifter unit with hydraulic for road bikes, or a mechanical caliper/rotor that would rival a racing sidepull caliper (rim brake).

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Comments: 19

That’s a nice looking bike!  As a user of a drop bar, disc brake setup, I’d have to agree with you…the few options on the market right now leave something to be desired.  I have both the Shimano and Avid road discs and they both have the shortfalls.

Kudo’s to redline for adding steel to their conquest line.  I have their Conquest Ti from a couple years ago.  What a great bike.  I commute year round on it and also just did a two day ride along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail from North Bend to Cle Elum and back.

I do wish that they would change to a 135mm hub on the rear for their disc specific ‘cross models because trying to find a 130mm spaced aftermarket disc hub was a real pain.  I ended up having Elliott Bay cold set the Conquest Ti out to 135mm.

Tai

I talked to Redline about this rig.  At this point it’s a prototype and won’t be in their ‘09 offerings.  Probably a good thing because it needs some work.

I’m with Tai - there aren’t enough options for 130 disc wheelsets which is why I’m getting a Baron.  High end steel, pure road geometry, and 135 rear spacing.

Quoting MV:
  “...the almost complete disappearance
  of steel wasn’t just bike companies
  deciding to force consumers on to
  aluminium frames.”

OK, lets be honest.  The cost of manufacturing Al frames came down, so the industry decided to go that way.  They promoted Aluminum for its weight savings, corrosion resistance, and “stiffness,” and as the newest is new.  And literally, we bought it.  Nothing wrong with trying something new…

Also, consumers were clamouring for inexpensive MTBs and hybrids, and didn’t really care about frame material.  The design of MTBs and hybrids was evolving and took center stage.  “Ride quality” became too subtle a distinction for the $300-$500 consumer, as opposed to the legitimately more important question: “Do I want a hybrid/comfort/MTB/Full-susp/Front-susp/flat-bar-road-bike/road-bike/flat-foot-bike/commuter/cruiser…” 

The RESULT was that consumers were forced onto Al frames.  Manufacturers were not thinking about “ride quality” at all, and they were not maliciously trying to stick us on uncomfortable bikes.  They were thinking about what they always thinking about: the bottom line—making money—and the margin was in Aluminum construction.

Now, I’m a big proponent of steel bikes, having tried and abandoned several Al bikes over the years, so I don’t want to belittle the lack of availability of steel over the last 15 years.  However, I have two more comments on the Great Mostly Aluminum Decade And a Half (GMADAH: c. 1992-2007):

1.  It’s not as if steel frames disappeared entirely.  Semi-custom steel was available all through the 90s, think Ibis, Salsa, etc., Surly started up in 1998, and custom work was always available—and was not nearly as expensive as it is now.

2.  It was a 15 year experiment that yielded fantastic things for the bike industry.  Here are some of the things that appeared during this period, and to which inexpensive Al frame construction contributed:
a.  New appreciation of older steel frames, in terms of durability and design,
b.  A host of small companies and a thriving domestic “cottage” industry,
c.  The current enormous variety of bicycle designs (some of which I mentioned previously) as opposed to the old Mountain/Road dualism, and more focus on riders’ comfort and purposes, rather than on geography or terrain.

So, with those three elements established in the marketplace, it’s no surprise that the big manufacturers are coming around. They’re still following the dollars.  This isn’t meant at all to be cynical, it’s just what business is all about.

hey, I totally agree with you about the need to improve road disc brake technology.  Integrated hydraulic STI levers would be awesome.  but at the same time I don’t think there is a need for hydraulic disk on road cyclocross bikes.  The stopping power is fine with mechanical.  I would just like to see improvement with current existing mechanical designs, like lighter weight, and dual action caliper modulation, as opposed to the single sided articulation on current mechanical disc models.  Also on the issue of wheels.  I have a Kona Dew Deluxe which came equipped with 700c wheels and disc brakes.  The stock wheels were supper heavy, and after much deliberation searching around the market for a good set of aftermarket road disc equipped wheels I settled on a set of Mavic c29ssmax wheels, which was a very good choice.  They are sick and way lighter, and are still bombproof.  FSA also makes a set of road disk wheels but the Mavics just seemed more solid, and plus they were in the shop.  This is also further proof to refute anyone who says there is a difference in diameter between 29er and 700c.  I used the exact same tiers.  The rims are just slightly wider.

Still wish they’d at least offer a steel steed that was made here in the USA. Yeah, I’d pay more for it - I do now.

@David

true, salsa and ibis (sorta) have made steel frames, but their numbers aren’t nearly as relevant as surly.  even then, the bulk of the market largely dropped steel. that peaked 1-3 years ago, i would say.

as for custom, it has always been around and will always be around, but custom will be more relevant in terms of influence and trends than numbers.  there is a whole lot of media attention to guys making artisanal bikes who are only capable of producing 10-15 units a year or less.  it’s like the difference between a fashion house’s spring collection for the catwalk vs ready-to-wear stuff you can buy off the rack.  one is in all the magazines, and the other is actually available and affordable to most people.

there are a lot of custom builders out there who make 100-200 good bikes per year without any fanfare, but it’s still hard for me to consider them numerically significant in the big picture.

and i assure you that aluminium won’t be going away.  It just lends itself to suspension bikes so well, for one thing.  Also, I’ve always thought that the Civia Hyland frame was just so well designed and executed in aluminium. I think the days of high-end aluminium road bikes are largely over… carbon will own that for the foreseeable future.  But steel will only reclaim a portion of the entry and mid-level road market, and aluminium will probably continue to dominate the hybrid and mtb market.

@Brian - This is why I ended up going with a Baron.  Hand made in Washington state in lots of 30 to keep the costs as manageable as possible.  Bottom line is it’s just not cheap to make a frame with US labor.  I’m ok with that and since I am getting exactly what I’m after I’m willing to pay a bit more. 

It’s not custom geometry (it’s based on Cervelo sizing), but if you want rack mounts tacked on…you can.

That baron bike is a revelation.  I’ve been waiting a long time to see someone build a bike specced just like like that. although I can say I would most likely be temped to throw a a few carbon fiber accessories on that beautiful TrueTemper S3 steel frame.  Like say seat post, crank set, handlebars.  And hey, why not get crazy and lace up carbon fiber rims to a nice dt swiss hub.  With the disk breaks you wouldn’t have worry about their shitty braking characteristics.

@erik k - We think alike.  I have my Ritchey WCS carbon seatpost and Carbon Streem bars ready to roll.  No Carbon cranks though - Rival is plenty light and stiff.

Bryon and I talked about running “everyday carbon rims” a few years back on my disc Trek Portland, but the financials make it a little tough to justify.  I am however getting it built up with the nice White Industries hubset.  If the wife allows - I’ll add the new Disc PowerTap too.

Watch this space - much more to come on this subject.  My new Baron is coming in 3-4 weeks.

andrew martin.  Oh yes I agree Rival is definitely stiff enough and I would certainly run it.  But I will be receiving a 09 K-force light from FSA, in the mail in a few days, which they very kindly decided to send to me after having issues with my old one.  Also to understand my perspective, you have to realize I have a working relationship with a highend bike shop were I get paid excursively in parts and merchandise and charge $40 an hour for web/blogging/photography services. Possibly the coolest job ever, for me anyways.

OMG Erik you may very well have the best job ever!

MV,
Point taken.  The past few years have seen an amazing diversification of bike styles, and I doubt this would have happened without the maliability and cost savings of aluminum frames.  Pardon my stream of conscious comments.—d

Does anyone know of any larger suppliers in the US of steel only frames?

@Andrew - you mean MADE in the USA?  Waterford is all that comes to mind.

Most places are not on any sort of scale bigger than lots of 30 (which is where Reynolds makes their price cut for the steel).  I know Vanilla Cycles in Portland made a big batch of 30 <a >Speedvagens this summer to help diffuse some of their 5yr backlog.

FYI…Doug Curtiss out in Winthrop will build a fillet brazed Trutemper OX Platinum frame and fork for about a grand…that includes custom geometry and a hardy powdercoat finish.  His brazing is incredibly tidy considering he doesn’t do any filing. 

Waterford does pretty decent work with their Gunnar line…I’ve owned three and they’ve all be great except for their lousy paintjobs.  I figured the money I saved by buying Gunnars would go towards a fresh powdercoat after a few years.

Had I not bought my Gunnar’s with bro-deals and industry discounts, I would have made a trip out to Winthrop to get fitted for a custom Curtlo. 

Tai

It’s nice to see more bikes in this category, even if I am partial to the Traitor Cycles Ruben

Seconded on the Curtlo frames (which I’ve said before elsewhere -I think we all read the same blogs). Also, not sure for 08, but FYI my 07 Lemond Poprad is OX platinum, made-in-USA, with fender bosses.

The Baron has fender mounts and rack mounts.  It doesn’t have double eye on the dropouts but racks and fenders can share.

@Erik k-All carbon would be sweet, I may have to build a show version.  You should see my hand layed up carbon fiber frame number holder.

That’s A cool looking bike with drop bar and disc brake setup. example

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