Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Riddle of Steel....

The other day I was at Box Dog Bikes doing a stem-ectomy on my 1990's Kestrel. Box Dog gets a lot of the people just randomly stopping in to pump their tires, do minor maintenance, or just shoot the sh*& with the staff. Its a bike shop for people who really love bikes.

I struck up a conversation with an ex-bike mechanic riding on a 1980's Trek road bike. The thing had been through Hell. You could tell my the nasty dents on its frame. Twenty + years of hard riding had taken its toll. But it was still running well. The ex-bike mechanic had done his share of work to maintain its moving parts. We discussed the beauty of older bicycles, the fact his battle shattered Trek was still running, and the fact my well preserved Kestrel SC200 would snap in two if I sneezed at it the wrong way.

Thus we come to the discussion of the Riddle of Steel.

Going around SF every day, you come across tons of vintage steel bicycles. Many have been converted into fixies or single speeds. Some are still in something close to the same condition they were 20+ years ago -- with the same Campy and Shimano components that were originally installed on them. No STI shifters for these guys.

Vintage carbon -- a little.

Vintage aluminum -- some -- lot of Cannondale 3.0 series frames out there.

But at the end of the day -- it's all about double and triple butted Cro-Mo. The city is covered by old steel frames that have been through accidents, theft, and horrible owners. Dents, bad attempts to spread out the rear triangle. You name it. But the frames still function. Something you can't really say about an aluminum or carbon fiber frame of equal age.

These days it is VERY rare to come across a steel frame for less than a $1000. Even above $1000 there aren't that many options. Sure, modern science has given us some wonderful aluminum alloys, thinner and stronger carbon fiber, bargain basement titanium, mixtures of all of the above.

But bang for the buck -- in terms of reliability, longevity, and resilience, it still steel.

The cycling industry -- Evil Empire that it is -- will argue otherwise.

Screw them -- that's why we have Craigslist.

So for those out there who like myself are struggling to balance off their expensive endurance sport hobby with a pocketbook that doesn't get much bigger every year, take heart. Find that beautiful hunk of handcrafted lugged steel Italian masterwork from the era of High Hair and Parachute Pants. Spend the extra $100-200 to clean her up and get her running again --- and ignore those Shmucks at the local bike shop that tell you otherwise. It'll be cheaper, faster, and more reliable, than almost anything you buy brand new.

And you won't regret it.

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