Classic looks, a truly sublime ride quality and impressive longevity are among the many reasons why you may want to buy a steel road bike.
There’s also no denying that these days, a skinny steel road-going bike stands out among a crowd of chunky-tubed aluminium and carbon bikes. For some, this will be rationale enough.
Whatever motive has drawn you to the idea of adopting the chromo life, these are the six best steel road bikes of 2020 as ridden, tested and rated by BikeRadar.
We have even more steel road bike reviews lined up for later this year, so watch this space for updates to this list very, very soon.
The best steel road bikes in 2020
All-City Zig Zag: £2,750
Genesis Equilibrium: £1,099
Ricthey Road Logic: £2,100 / $1,760
Spa Cycles Elan 725: £1,999
The Light Blue Darwin Two Way Street: £2,055
The Light Blue Wolfson: £2,100
All-City Zig Zag
The groupset is full Shimano 105 (with Ultegra chain) and it’s fabulous. Robert Smith
- £2,750 (international pricing for our test bike build is N/A)
- Wonderful ride quality
- Oodles of tyre clearance and mudguard mounts
The Zig Zag is one of the newest bikes in All-City’s lineup.
The bike has fairly traditional endurance road geometry, which results in a snappy handling bike that is matched with a super-smooth ride quality that’s typical of skinny steel.
The bike has provisions to fit mudguards and clearance for chunky road-taming tyres.
We have tested the build of the bike that is supplied by UK distributor, ISON, but the international build is broadly similar.
Although it has been discontinued, the Mr Pink – which the Zig Zag, in many ways, replaced – is still available from a number of retailers and is well-worth considering if you prefer rim brakes and are looking for a great all-round road bike.
We love the look of the silver 105 groupset on the Equilibrium. Courtesy
- £1,099 (international pricing N/A)
- Super smooth, silent and superbly supple ride
- Rarely-seen silver version of 105 R7000 groupset adds a touch of class
The Genesis Equilibrium is available in a number of different guises, spanning steel disc endurance bikes to more traditional rim-braked audax-wagons as reviewed here.
The bike has clearances for 28mm tyres and will gladly take mudguards front and rear.
The bike is outfitted with a rarely-seen silver version of Shimano’s 105 R7000 groupset. This handsome group nicely complements the snazzy blue finish of the frameset.
An upgrade from the stock Promax brakes would really take this bike to the next level but, that aside, the Equilibrium is very unlikely to leave you disappointed.
Ritchey Road Logic
The Ritchey Road Logic has been around for donkey’s years. Robert Smith / Immediate Media
- £2,100 / $1,760 / AU$N/A
- Beautifully-finished, classy looking steel frameset
- Confident and smooth handling
The Road Logic has been in Ritchey’s lineup for a long time. It has evolved over time, but has settled into its role as a do-it-all TIG-welded steel road wagon.
The frame is beautifully finished with exceptionally neat welds and a lovely deep-blue finish.
We reviewed the bike as a complete build, which was briefly offered by Ritchey in 2018. The bike is once again available frame-only, but our assessments of the ride quality – which were very positive – remain.
Spa Cycles Elan 725
It’s the versatility and comfort of the Elan that are its main strengths. David Caudery / Immediate Media
- £1,999 as tested,
- Endless customisation available
- Massively versatile
The Elan 725 from the legendary Spa Cycles is available as a frameset and in pretty much any spec option you desire.
Our build is best suited to… well just about anything! This is one of the key advantages of speccing your own bike, it can be specced to suit your needs entirely.
The frame set itself is well thought out with generous clearances, unfussy standards and provisions to fit mudguards, as well as racks.
The Light Blue Darwin Two Way Street
The Light Blue can be run with a derailleur, singlespeed and hub gear setups. Robert Smith
- £2,055, international pricing N/A
- Sliding dropouts boost versatility
- Clearance for 45mm tyres
The Light Blue is an in-house brand of aforementioned UK distributor ISON – which also distributes All-City and Surly.
The Darwin Two Way Street is The Light Blue’s all-round steel road bike.
The bike is available with a 105 groupset and mechanical disc brakes (£1,574.99) or with the hydraulic disc build seen here.
With a matching steel fork, the bike was never going to be a lightweight, but it’s very versatile and the build presents decent value for money.
The Light Blue Wolfson
The Wolfson is simply a great steel bike. David Caudery / Immediate Media
- £2,100, international pricing N/A
- Excellent and pleasingly springy signature steel ride quality
- Good value for money for the build
The Wolfson is Light Blue’s lighter rim-braked road platform.
The Reynolds 853 tubeset offers a pleasingly comfortable and lively ride quality that is matched with a, for the money, decent build kit.
The brakes would benefit from an upgrade to nicer pads but, beyond that, the Wolfson will not leave you wanting.
Steel road bike buyer’s guide
The geometry of a road bike is the biggest determiner for how a bike will handle.
Generally speaking, road bikes can be split into two categories: race and endurance.
In brief, race bikes will have a lower more aggressive riding position matched with steeper head and seat tube angles, a shorter wheelbase and longer reach, resulting in quicker handling.
Endurance bikes prioritise comfort and stability with a longer wheelbase and more mellow handling.
The majority of modern steel road bikes sit in the latter camp (though there are, of course, exceptions). The compliant and comfortable nature of a steel frame also lends itself well to this role.
On the right bike, mudguards can even complement the look of a bike. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
As steel bikes often err towards the endurance side of things, you’ll often find provision to fit mudguards and racks, as well as generous tyres clearances. This gives them a level of versatility that isn’t often found on aluminium or carbon bikes.
Tradition and physical constraints also mean that steel road bikes typically use the most unfussy of standards – threaded bottom brackets, external cables and external headsets make sourcing replacement parts and maintenance a breeze
In the event of a frame failure, steel bikes are far, far easier to repair than other materials such as titanium, carbon or aluminium.
It’s possible to go as far as replacing entire tubes, but that may not be economical in many cases.
However, for small repairs, you may be surprised by how affordable the prices your friendly local frame builder will charge.
Manufacturers will often quote the steel that is used to construct its frames.
More expensive tubesets will see increasingly exotic tube shapes used to tune ride quality, ultra-thin-walled tubing – which reduces weight and can result in a lively ride – and double- or even triple-butted forming.
Big names in the tubing industry include Reynolds, Tange, Columbus and Dedacciai. It’s also increasingly common to see brands speccing their own ‘custom-drawn’ tubing.
The difference in ride quality between bog-standard straight un-butted ‘gas pipe’ tubing and high-end ultra-thin-walled tubing is fairly chasmic. However, everything in the middle range is much of a muchness.
Geometry and tyre choice will have a far greater impact on how a steel road bike rides than tube choice here.
That said, there is no denying that the ride quality of truly skinny steel can be absolutely sublime, with a zingy spring that is quite unlike anything else.