Article found on Bruce Gordon’s website worth reading from Bicycling Magazine in 1987 about steel tubing differences in ride quality. Pretty interesting results…i won’t spoil it but don’t read ahead. The tubing is surprisingly similar in profile to what we build with today although I primarily use the USA-made True Temper tubing. What these last two articles I’ve posted make me realize even further is that the personal experience of the frambuilder will matter a bunch in selecting the right tubeset for the rider of the frame being made. Subtle differences matter, but many may not notice the differences in ride quality from different tubing diameters, butting profile and placement, and wall-thicknesses unless they do what this article does – a side-by-side comparison with all other variables held constant (same tires, wheels, size of frame, saddle, etc.). Many riders simply feel more differences in the bike’s geometry and weight than anything else. But this is all within a STEEL frame and what would be the thoughts on bikes of the same size, geometry, wheels, tires, etc. of a steel bike versus a carbon frame? The general comments remain the same even though I bet nobody has done such a test. It would be hard to do because you would have to NOT pick up the bike or even LOOK at the bikes since they are so much different just visually. Same for aluminum but Titanium you could try out since the diameters are similar.
I’m not convinced that many riders could detect any noticeable difference on a mountain bike with 2.2″ tires and front suspension. So why get a custom bike? Well, this is the big thing! You are paying for the builder’s experience in fitting a frame to you. The tubeset can be selected to be lighter and flexier for lighter riders. The geometry can be tweaked for your preferred style of riding whether it’s more stable and steady for touring, or flicky, short, and hoppable for all-mountain style riding…or anything inbetween! You are also buying durability with steel (or Ti). You’re buying a frame that will last many more years and miles than a one season race bike, and a frame that will not fail catastrophically like carbon can and has and will eventually. If you get a rock fly up and a big ding in your downtube 100 miles away from the nearest bike shop or town…no worries on a steel frame. Even if it cracks, it will slowly crack more and bend or crimp instead of split in two – you can ride it home instead of walk it home.
With custom steel you can also customize braze-ons for whatever gruppo you want to run – Rohloff? Top mounted cables? Internally-routed cables? 3 water bottle cages? Pannier rack braze-ons? Bottle opener on the frame? Whatever!! It’s all do-able and that’s along with your custom geometry and sizing! So yeah, custom frames take longer to get, are sometimes pretty expensive just for a frame, but hey…it’s a frame made just for you.
Ok, rant over.