Classic looks, a 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 seven of the best steel road bikes as ridden, tested and rated by BikeRadar.
The best steel road bikes in 2020, as rated and reviewed by BikeRadar
- All-City Zig Zag: £2,750
- Genesis Equilibrium: £1,599
- Mason Resolution2: £4,970
Ritchey Road Logic: £1,150 / €1,289 (frameset)
- Spa Cycles Elan 725: £1,999
- The Light Blue Darwin Two Way Street: £2,055
- The Light Blue Wolfson: £2,149
All-City Zig Zag
- £2,750 as tested (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 bike tyres (700 x 32 with fenders, 700 x 35 without).
We tested a build of the bike supplied by UK distributor, ISON, but Shimano 105 and Shimano Ultegra builds are available as standard.
All-City Mr Pink
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.
- Read our full review of the All-City Mr Pink
- Read Jack’s long-term review of the All-City Mr Pink Classic
- £1,599 (international pricing N/A)
- Super-smooth and superbly supple ride
- Also available in disc brake version
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.
While we tested the bike with the rarely-seen silver version of Shimano’s 105 R7000 groupset, that’s now been replaced by the standard finish on the new 2021 bike pictured above.
It also now comes with the highly-rated WTB Exposure tyres – awarded a full five stars in our review – in a plush 30mm width, though the bike’s RRP has also nudged up.
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.
- £4,970 as tested
- Great for long and fast rides
- Available in a range of builds or as a frameset
The Resolution2 from Sussex brand Mason is made of a mix of Columbus tubing and designed for all-condition, long-distance riding.
It’s calm, comfortable and predictable, but stiff enough to handle harder efforts without feeling flexy, and at around 9kg (as tested) on the lighter side for steel.
As befits an all-weather steed, you can fit 30mm tyres with mudguards – or 35mm without – and there’s dynamo routing through the carbon fork, plus a headlight mount at its crown.
Starting at more than £3,000 for a Shimano 105 build, the Resolution2 is at the expensive end of the steel bike spectrum.
Mason offers a range of builds from Shimano and SRAM, while the Resolution2 is also available as a frameset for £1,595.
Ritchey Road Logic
- £1,150 / €1,289 (frameset only)
- Beautifully-finished, classy looking steel frameset
- Confident and smooth handling
The Road Logic has been in Ritchey’s line-up for a long time. It has also evolved over time, but has settled into its role as a do-it-all TIG-welded steel road machine.
The frame is beautifully finished with exceptionally neat welds. You’ll find clearance for 30mm tyres, while the steel frame is paired with a carbon fork.
We reviewed the bike as a complete build, which was briefly offered by Ritchey in 2018. The Road Logic is once again available frame-only, but our assessments of the ride quality – which were very positive – remain.
Spa Cycles Elan 725
- £1,999 as tested
- Customisation available
- Extremely versatile
The Elan 725 from the legendary Spa Cycles is available as a frameset or 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 frameset 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
- £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
- £2,149.99, 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 flagship Reynolds 853 tubeset offers a pleasingly comfortable and lively ride quality, matched with a decent build kit for the money.
It’s available with Shimano 105 for £1,799.99 or Shimano Ultegra for £2,149.99.
When we tested the bike, the brakes would have benefitted 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.
As steel bikes often err towards the endurance side of things, you’ll typically 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 tend to 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.