Q. I'm looking to buy a frame to carry out the multiple roles of year-round commuting, winter training and a very occasional lightweight tour. The Planet-X Kaffenback, Salsa Casseroll and Kinesis Racelight T or Tk all look as if they would fit the bill nicely.
Given that a lot of the bike's use will be in wet conditions, I was wondering if the steel frames of the Casseroll and Kaffenback could be expected to last as long as the aluminium Racelight when corrosion is taken into account? Or does steel's superior fatigue resistance and repairability mean that the frames would actually last longer? I would also be interested to know if you would recommend one over the others in terms of ride quality.
For occasional light touring duties, do you think a triple chainset is best, or could a fairly fit rider get by with a compact chainset and a cassette with some big cogs?
Steve Jeffrey, email
A. All three options you're considering are superb bikes in different ways, and although they all take mudguards and a rack for light touring, each offers a slightly different take on what you're after. The Kinesis and Salsa are lighter and more road orientated, while the Planet-X uses mini V brakes, so has the added advantage of being able to run wider tyres if you head off to forest tracks - at the cost of some added weight.
The classic Racelight T and this year's higher-end Tk (Kinesis tel 01403 711611 www.kinesisbikes.co.uk) are both excellent performance winter training frames, and will suit if you're after something light and direct.
There's about a 200g difference between the two: the higher-end Tk frame weighs an impressive 1,400g in a 54cm. The choice of tubing is also different, with the Tk boasting a Kinesium tubeset, which is a different blend of aluminium, over the T's more conventional 7005, though it's still double butted.
Both bikes are stiff and efficient, particularly around the bottom bracket and share the same geometry, which includes a slightly longer head-tube for a more comfortable riding position. With long-reach brakes you can even squeeze in 38c rubber with mudguards, though for your purposes you probably won't need more than 32c (don't forget that wider tyres will also help tame road buzz). You can't complain about the prices, which are a very reasonable £199 for the T and £299 for the TK, opening it up to some well-priced builds.
We loved the Casseroll. Clearances aren't quite so generous but perfectly adequate for your needs - 32c road tyres with mudguards, and 35c without. The frameset (Ison tel 01223 213800 www.ison-distribution.com, £375 frame and fork) is double-butted chromoly, and we found it a surprisingly light (1,844g in the 49cm tested), yet supremely comfortable ride. What's more, it features top quality sliding dropouts, so you can also run it singlespeed or fixed, which we love for low maintenance winter riding. There's a large range of sizes (45-59cm) and the elegant fork with matching decals has a different rake depending on the size, which means the handling in smaller frames isn't compromised - a really nice touch for a production frame.
All in all, a very classy bike with a great finish - a good option if you hanker after something with a more retro look or want to stand out from the crowd.
The Kaffenback is an office favourite (Planet-X tel 0796 767 3709 www.planet-x-bikes.com, £160, tested in issue 186). A real chameleon: we've set it up for road riding, winter commuting, touring and even light cyclocross riding, as there's room for 32c knobblies. Like most products unleashed from the On-One/Planet-X empire, it's a no nonsense frame at a great price. It won't match the others on the scales (our 57cm frame weighed 2,148g), but it's certainly a tougher frameset.
In terms of the ride, it's not as refined as the Salsa or as stiff and efficient as the Kinesis, but serves as a great all rounder. It's also available in a huge and ever-shifting range of build options, in both drop bar and flat bar guises, with carbon forks available to shave back some grams - there's currently a pimped up version with full Ultegra triple and Ritchey wheels for £999.
In terms of gearing, both a triple or a compact with a 12-27 cassette should ensure you won't run out of gears when the terrain gets hilly and there are a couple of light panniers on the back. We like the neater chainline of a compact, but a triple will give you the option of a wider gear range. It's true that aluminium ultimately has a more limited lifespan than a steel frame but it's also corrosion free.
In any case, it's not something you should be unduly worried about, as we'd expect you to get plenty of worry-free miles out of all these frames. We'd recommend a few blasts of frame save (JR Weigle's Frame Save, £10) if you're building up a steel framed bike from new to help prevent internal rust, especially as you're planning a lot of wet weather riding.