Steel is back
Two nights ago I rolled over to my new favorite bike shop, Roscoe Village Bikes. I do enjoy doing most of the repairs on that which rolls myself. But after this summer's adventures with cotter pins I decided to leave some things like truing to the experts. The front wheel really, really needed it so I took it in.
As is the case with the best repair shops, the owner and I shot the breeze as the spokes pinged under his expert care. He mentioned he had just gotten back from Vegas where he had attended Interbike. I'd heard that commuter, utility, and urban bikes were all the rage. He agreed, adding that when it comes to frames steel is this year's carbon-fiber! Then yesterday, Eli Milchman reported on the Interbike steel renaissance in Wired.
...smaller boutique companies like Salsa Cycles and Swobo are busy bringing new steel models to the market -- and they're selling like hotcakes. Steel's popularity "has gone up dramatically -- there's actually been a resurgence," says Jason Boucher, general manager at Minnesota-based Salsa Cycles.
...Steel is one of cycling's oldest materials, but it has fallen out of favor in recent years. Until the '80s, almost all bike frames were made out of steel alloys, but now the bike industry favors materials like aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber. Only a small band of cycling purists have stuck with steel because of its smooth handling characteristics.
...Swobo, a popular cycle-clothing maker, started selling bicycles after Sky Yeager, designer of iconic bikes like Bianchi's Pista, joined Swobo as its managing director last year. Yeager quickly conjured up three steel and three aluminum bikes. She said the steel, fixed-gear model is already selling out. "Steel is almost the perfect material for bikes," said Yeager. "Workability, longevity, ride quality: Steel is it."
...Ironically, steel might be on its way out just as it enjoys a surge in popularity. A combination of high steel prices and lack of demand from major bike manufacturers is creating problems sourcing steel bicycle tubing, said Yeager. "What's scaring me is there are hardly any manufacturers of steel left," she said. Yeager said another hurdle is that the pool of skilled builders is drying up. "We've lost the people that know how to weld steel," she said.