|It's hard to go custom when you can get something like this for such a reasonable price.|
Okay, I'm going to state the obvious here; Money is an object. Or to put it a better way- Money is a barrier. Last week I discussed several titanium bike choices, why that was desirable, and what were the shortcomings of each, in my opinion, for my needs. This week I am going to suggest a few steel framed alternatives that tic the "reasonably priced" alternatives to the titanium beauties listed last week.
Steel has several "titanium-like" qualities and, obviously, is a durable frame material for a bike that will see a lot of mud, grit, and poor conditions in general. I'll put up my 2008 Fargo as a proof of that concept. That bike has been put through the wringer so many times, yet it still is kicking it today in 2020. Steel. Is it "real" or just darn tough and decent? Whatever you want to think, I will take a steel rig any day and have the confidence that if I want to try to see if something is rideable, I won't be grinding through a chain stay with mud and grit. But that may just be me.
Now getting back to the "Concept Bike" thing. I have bikes already which have served me well and have come really close to what I would do in a custom bike anyway. Bikes like my Tamland, or the "Orange Crush" Black Mountain Cycles bike, or the Black Mountain Cycles MCD. Sure, none of those bikes are perfect, but to get even close to that, a steel frame which is customized for my tastes is going to cost in the neighborhood of $1500.00 and up. I could buy two Black Mountain Cycles MCD's and have change to spare. So, it has to be something worth spending the money on in the first place.
|The Twin Six Standard Rando 2.0: It could be a contender.|
Many gravel bikes are running 72° head tube angles, and frankly, I think that's too steep. My MCD has that head angle. It's okay, but it could be better. In my opinion, anything steeper than a 72° isn't gravel geometry. In fact, I'd almost be willing to put 72° in that "not a gravel bike" category too. That's because I feel, and have always felt, the 71° head tube angle is where it should be at with a 50+ mm long fork offset.
So, where do you go to get this unicorn? Well, the aforementioned MCD is a great package despite the nearly too steep head angle and nearly too high bottom bracket. It makes up for those things with copious water bottle mounting choices, BIG tire clearances, and 2X drive train capabilities. Plus, it comes with a steel fork, which is another thing I'd "druther have" than a carbon fork. It is a frame and fork, which in my opinion is far too under-priced. And Mike Varley, of Black Mountain Cycles, after holding prices firm for many years, is actually bumping up that price finally. It's still a smoking deal.
Another possibility is the upcoming second version of the steel Standard Rando by Twin Six. Shown above, it looks like through axles are finally a thing. The old Standard Rando had a low, 75mm bottom bracket drop and a 72° head tube angle. I am expecting that things will be tweaked, but I have no clue where T-6 is taking this design. I'm keeping a close eye on this one.
|Noble Bikes showed this steel frame/carbon fork bike two years ago at Sea Otter.|
This one would feature Reynolds tubing, (if they hold true to the original prototype) and would have the lower bottom bracket (72.5mm drop) and slacker head angle, (71.5°) that my Tamland has. It was promised to come out last year, but it has not as yet. Will it ever? Who knows, but it would be a great choice, and not crazy expensive as a frame/fork. Oh, and even though the fork is carbon, if it is similar to what is on the carbon GX5 Noble makes, well I'd be fine with that. Yes, there are no fork mounts shown on the prototype. Perhaps those get added, but again- who knows?
I should also mention that last week's titanium example from Knolly Bikes, the Cache, also comes in steel. It has bang on geometry, just like the titanium one, but the fork is an unknown, and the severely sloping top tube means only two water bottles in the main triangle. Still, it is an intriguing offering. I certainly could make that work, and it also is on the table as a choice.
Fimally. an odd-ball. The Otso Cycles Warrakin. This isn't steel, it is stainless steel. I know long time blog readers will remember I tested one of these a few years ago. It has the proper geometry in the "long" setting, it has huge tire clearances, is 2X compatible, and looks ace. It has three bottle mounts on the main frame, but their Lithic fork does not have bosses. Boo. I could make this work, but it is expensive. Nearly titanium money expensive. They also have the Waheela in steel with a slightly slacker head tube angle. And that costs less. Otherwise similar specs, it's just that its paint scheme is less than inspiring. (I know.....vanity.)
So, to wrap this up: Things have come along nicely since I dreamt this rig up ten years ago, and ya know.....I must have been prophetic or something, because the geometry is very close to what I was wanting back then on several bikes you can get now. It mitigates the need to go custom. Not that I wouldn't, but the choices are so good now, small variances can be forgiven. Of course, if I were to stick with my wacky under the chain stay caliper brake, then custom would be my only option. So, thankfully disc brakes, ride quality, geometry, and accessories are what they are for choices now. We're spoiled, really, and the gravel scene has expanded so much in ten years it is crazy.
Concepts ten years ago are reality today, for the most part. So stay tuned as a replacement frame and fork for the aging Tamland are sourced. What will it be? One of the beauties I have outlined in the series, or an as yet unknown?