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Best steel road bikes 2021

Cyclist magazine
25 Jan 2021

Bikes that prove steel can hold its own in the 21st century

The first bikes to ever roll off a production line were made of steel. It’s the material that kick-started the industrial revolution and gave birth to the modern age. But in an era of space travel and smartphones, why would you want a bike made from anything other than carbon fibre?

Perhaps because in some ways the ride of a steel bike just can’t be matched by any modern material, however wondrous the technology or marketing pitch.

Steel bikes tend to be strong, comfy, resistant to damage and, with care, will last a lifetime. And although you’re unlikely to see one at the Tour de France, steel can also still form the heart of a proper racing bike. Here are some of our favourites...

Best steel road bikes

1. Condor Super Acciaio Disc

Made in Italy from custom Columbus Spirit HSS tubing, the Super Acciaio has been created by venerable London bike sellers Condor Cycles. Left to be made up to your own design, not only does it look fast, in most builds it's legitimately race-ready.

At 2.1kg for the frame, that’s light for steel, yet double what you’d get for carbon. However, those extra grams have been put to good use.

Out of the stalls, the Super Acciaio has the feeling of an excited buck rather than a stately mare, and on the climbs the extra weight is mostly unapparent thanks to the front and rear stiffness on offer. Even when facing the steepest gradients, we'd happily accept the slight extra drag for the way the Acciaio descends.

If the Acciaio has one standout strength, it’s handling. At low speeds it’s fine, but when the road plummets the handling becomes more responsive, with the overall feel of road-holding that much more assured. With a carbon fork offsetting some weight, bolt-thru axles on both this and the frame no doubt help impart its excellent manners.

Available only as a custom-build, our mechanical Ultergra and Mavic Cosmic Carbon equipped creation came out at £5,500 and 8.65kg.

Verdict: A dashing all-rounder, with a racing bent. The classic looking Super Acciaio is quick enough to compete on but still well-mannered enough to ride all day

Read our full review here

Buy the frameset now from Condor for £1,900

2. Cinelli Vigorelli Disc

A proper scrappy little fighter of a bike. Years back Cinelli took its Vigorelli fixed-gear criterium bike and transformed it into an 11-speed road racer. Retaining the low bottom bracket drop required for continuous pedalling through corners and whiplash manners, it’s purposeful, and then some.

Made of light Columbus Thron tubing, this is paired to a Columbus Futura carbon fork. Classic to look at, you still get all the best modern features, like bolt-thru axles and a tapered head tube.

With a broad seatpost and minimalist clearance for tyres up to 28c, the overall emphasis is on speed and handling, although longer rides are possible with a little flexibility on the part of the rider.

Done up in metallic paint with chrome decals, its gorgeous to look at, while the cabling is a mix of internal (brakes) and external (gears), which will suit home mechanics.

With a Shimano 105 groupset paired to an FSA compact chainset, gears and brakes are spot-on, while the Vision Team 30 wheels are decently quick.

Verdict: Performance steel with pedigree. Evolved from a pure-bred racer, handling is the Vigorelli's forte

Buy now from Bike Inn for £1,555

3. Ribble Endurance 725 Disc

The Ribble Endurance 725 takes its name from the material it’s made of: Reynolds 725 triple-butted steel. Combine with the first part of its title, you’ll be unsurprised to discover it’s an endurance-focussed steel bike from Lancashire firm Ribble.

Less retro than it first appears, the Endurance 725 features modern bolt-through axles and a carbon fork. Add to these steady handling and space for big tyres, and it'll happily take a stab at anything from sportives and club runs, to touring or winter training.

Given this versatility, it’s especially welcome to discover that mudguards and racks can be added at the order stage, while gearing and finishing kit can be similarly tweaked via the website, meaning the bike will arrive built exactly as you want it.

Available at various price-points, this mid-range version packs in a full Shimano 105 hydraulic groupset and Mavic Aksium wheels. At £1,399, it’s outrageously cheap.

Verdict: Tough, comfy and cool looking, the customisable Endurance 725 is versatile and exceptional value

Buy now from Ribble from £1,399

4. Genesis Equilibrium Disc

Genesis is chasing the sportive dollar with this steel stunner, claiming the Equilibrium Disc offers all-day comfort with a carbon fork that lets you eat up the miles.

On the face of it, these attributes, allied to a 105 groupset and decent tyres, are a recipe for success.

Featuring a pronounced sloping top tube, the frame itself is constructed of Reynolds 725 tubing and butted to create strength where it’s needed and save weight where it’s not. Aiming to provide all-day comfort, a slack head angle gives a predictable rate of turn-in and contributes to a sensation of being utterly planted to the road at all times.

Although it’s not a touring bike, with mounts and multi-terrain capable 30c WTB Exposure tyres it can do a decent impression of one if that’s what you want. Wherever you take it, with the recently upgraded bolt-thru axles the bike will hold to whatever course you point it down.

With a full Shimano 105 groupset and hydraulic brakes, shifting and stopping is also uber-reliable. And with a compact chainset and huge 11-34t cassette, it’s got a good range of ratios too.

Verdict: A touch over 10kg, there’s no getting away from the Equilibrium’s weight. The price is also perhaps a little premium. However, lovey to look at and charming to ride, it more than justifies its place on our list

Read our full review here

Buy now from Frewheel for £2,600

5. Mason Resolution 2

Mason Resolution review

Part of the joy of a steel bike is its timelessness. Now with bolt-thru axles and flat mount discs, but the same dialled-in geometry, version two of the Resolution has proved exactly that.

Racy to behold, the UK-designed Resolution nevertheless marketed as a four-season bike. How so? Because with the right accessories it can turn its hand to pretty much any road-based discipline.

Hidden all over the Columbus steel-tubed frame and carbon fork are a plethora of tucked-away bosses to secure mudguards and pannier racks. At a glance, you wouldn’t notice them, but check the inside of the fork legs or at the back of the chainstay bridge and you’ll find bolt holes ready to accept the necessary mounts to turn the Resolution into anything from winter hack to full-on touring rig.

Clearances are generous, with space for up to 35c tyres (30c with mudguards), suggesting the Resolution wouldn’t mind a spot of gravel riding to boot, yet strip it back to its bare essentials and the geometry is just about racy enough for someone who wants to mix it on a crit circuit.

Verdict: Delivers on the promise of a racy steel bike. All the bike you’re likely to ever need, it’ll adapt to your whims, yet never threatens to be anything other than a blast to ride

Read our full review here

Buy now from Mason from £1,595 (frameset) 

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