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In Bike Frames, Steel May Be Real, But Can It Compete With Carbon Fiber?

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Six months ago, I’d have answered “not a chance” if you’d asked “can a steel bike frame compete with a carbon fiber frame?” That abruptly ended when we bought my wife a 2004 54 cm steel Assenmacher with a 10-speed Campagnolo record drivetrain and I set the thing up with a new stem and handlebar to suit her.

Her reports of how the thing launches when she puts the power to the pedals, when contrasted against her carbon fiber Specialized Alias, had me perplexed. The smile on her face had me convinced I’d been fed some bad information.

My wife’s 18-pound steel Assenmacher next to my 18-1/2-pound carbon fiber Trek 5200 (my Trek is five years older):

Now, there’s no amount of money (that I’m aware of) you can spend that wouldn’t end up with a carbon fiber a pound or more lighter than the steel option in terms of modern bicycles. In fact, I have no doubt my Trek would be a touch lighter than my wife’s Assenmacher if we had the same wheels and components on the different frames. However, I now believe the notion that the steel bike wouldn’t be as responsive has to be tempered for we weekend warriors… and a steel bike can obviously be made exceedingly light with the right groupset.

There’s no question my wife’s bike is lighter than my carbon fiber Trek 5200.

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3 Comments

  1. The Omil says:

    I guess you need to define the terms of the competition: weight, responsiveness, ride comfort, style, etc?

    • bgddyjim says:

      That’s the point I was getting at! With modern road bikes and all of the weight added by disc brakes, all of a sudden the lines are starting to blur!

  2. Dave Talsma says:

    I always will love the look of a nice lugged steel frame, timeless look.

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