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? Put simply, because it’s fun to be different and while there are drawbacks, steel has a unique charm and some real-world advantages over other frame materials. Let’s break it down.
8 of the best steel road bikes
Fairlight Strael: From £1,399 Mason Resolution: From £1,399Ritte Phantom Steel: From $2,450 Condor Super Acciaio: £1,699 All-City Zig Zag: £1,650 Genesis Equilibrium: £2,700Ritchey Road Logic: $1,499 Cinelli Nemo Tig: £2,049
Keeping reading for full details of all these bikes
Are steel bikes comfortable?
Steel bikes can be very comfortable but you should be wary of generalisations, as there’s a lot more to a bike’s personality than just its frame material.
Steel comes in many grades and variants but it’s overall a comparatively hard and stiff material.
Good quality steel frames use carefully chosen tube profiles to target stiffness and flexibility where it’s needed.
Butting – where tubing varies in wall thickness along its length – allows bike makers to place more material where strength is required, and less where it’s not to save weight.
One reason some riders love steel is because it doesn’t ride quite like anything else. It’s not magic, but steel has a distinct character that’s simply different to aluminium or carbon.
Steel bikes do tend to be strong and resistant to damage and, with care, they will usually last a lifetime. Although you’re unlikely to see one at the Tour de France, steel can also still form the heart of a proper racing bike.
Are steel bikes heavy?
Matthew Loveridge / Cyclist
With the exception of some one-off custom designs, steel bikes are always heavier than what you might expect from an equivalent aluminium or carbon bike, but don’t let that put you off.
A good quality steel road frame will weigh around 2kg give or take a bit, ie, a good kilo more than a pretty average carbon frame. Many steel frames are also matched to steel forks, widening the gap even further.
Neverthless, it’s possible to build up a respectably light steel bike using premium components, even coming close to the 6.8kg UCI minimum weight limit.
Regardless, a bike doesn’t have to be ultra-light to be a joy to ride. We care more about the experience than the numbers, and the best steel bikes are sublime.
How we test and why you should trust our advice
We’re riders like you who love our bikes and our team of testers led by tech editor Sam Challis is immensely experienced. Between us we’ve reviewed bikes from every mainstream manufacturer plus countless smaller brands, covering everything from the entry level to the truly premium.
We’ve ridden every bike on this list, heading out in all weathers on roads we know well to decide if they’re up to scratch.
Whether it’s a £500 commuter or a £12,000 superbike, we bring a critical eye to our reviews, and we prize bikes that combine good design with everyday usability and, above all, fun.
Read on for our favourite steel road bikes.
Best steel road bikes
1. Fairlight Strael
Price: £4,204 as tested, frameset from £1,399
The Strael is British company Fairlight’s all-season, all-distance steel road bike made from a mix of Reynolds 853 and 725 tubing with custom forming.
Its versatility comes from the wealth of options that Fairlight offers, which includes a two-level sizing system to offer a more personalised fit for each rider and fantastic spec choices that go as far as adding a dynamo.
Weight-wise it’s about where you’d want a high-end steel bike – not as light as carbon but lightweight for the material thanks to those custom tubes, which are also ovalised to ensure stiffness and compliance come into play where you need it most.
That makes for a bike that has a high-performance feel paired with spades of comfort, and the external routing give it a classic look.
The spec we tested is a Shimano Ultegra Di2 build with Hunt 4 Season wheels, 28mm Continental GP5000 tyres and FSA components, which comes to 9.08kg in a size 58R.
2. Mason Resolution
Price: Frameset £1,595, complete bikes from £3,265
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.
Delivering all the bike you’re likely to ever need, this racey machine will adapt to your whims, yet never threatens to be anything other than a blast to ride
3. Ritte Phantom Steel
Price: $5,150 as tested, frameset from $2,450
Proof that a skinny-tubed, steel bike can still deliver a stiff and responsive ride, the Ritte Phantom Steel is based around a Reynolds 725 frame that’s exquisite in every detail.
Made from heat-treated tubes using a process that allows them to have extremely thin walls, these deliver stiffness and performance at a weight within sight of carbon frames.
Our SRAM Force-equipped test bike weighed a respectable 8.59kg and featured a slew of modern features including a T47 threaded bottom bracket, internal cabling, flat-mount disc brakes, and thru-axles.
The Phantom features full-on race geometry. Add this to its minimal mass and the result is an appreciably spritely feel on the road.
It’s stiff for sprinting and although there’s a degree of damping, it offers a pretty direct relationship with the road.
The Phantom is a recognisably modern road racing bike, but made of steel. It’s a classically handsome bike replete with clean lines and elegant welds.
4. Condor Super Acciaio Disc
Mike Massaro / CyclistPrice: £1,699 (frameset only)
Made in Italy from custom Columbus Spirit HSS tubing, the Super Acciaio was designed by venerable London bike sellers Condor Cycles.
It’s a fast looking bike that’s legitimately race-ready with the right build.
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.
Available only as a custom-build, our mechanical Ultegra and Mavic equipped creation came out at £5,500 and 8.65kg.
The classic looking Super Acciaio is a dashing all-rounder with a racing bent. It’s quick enough to compete on but still well-mannered enough to ride all day.
5. All-City Zig Zag
Price: £2,999 as tested, framesets from £1,300
The All-City Zig Zag is a versatile steel road bike designed in the United States and manufactured in the Far East. It relies on generous tyre clearances and aggressive geometry for a fun riding experience.
Using custom created tubing, even when built up with a modest component list of Shimano 105 group, alloy Halo Devaura wheels, and alloy Genetic finishing kit, this is still a bike that clocks in at a respectable 9.4kg. Obviously, this won’t be troubling machines with carbon frames, but it’s pretty impressive considering the versatility and robustness on offer.
Our test bike was rolling on broad 30mm tubeless Schwalbe Pro One tyres and it was supple and smooth. There’s clearance for wider 35mm tyres along with eyelets for racks and mudguards, so it’ll take to rougher terrain too.
With a comfortable riding position and slightly longer than average wheelbase, the Zig Zag is happy to try its hand at other activities. It’s never so upright as to be lifeless and so always provides a nice mix of speed and stability. Better yet, it comes in some fabulous paintjobs.
The Zig Zag is currently available as a frameset only in the UK, with full builds set to return in 2023.
Read our All-City Zig Zag review See the bikes at All-CityShop All-City at Swinnerton Cycles
6. Genesis Equilibrium Disc
The Equilibrium Disc is designed to offer 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.
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, it can do a decent impression of one if that’s what you want thanks to mounts and multi-terrain capable 30mm WTB Exposure tyres.
The full Shimano 105 groupset with hydraulic brakes means shifting and stopping is also uber-reliable, and the gearing range is generous too.
At a touch over 10kg, there’s no getting away from the Equilibrium’s weight. The price is also perhaps a little premium. However, being both lovely to look at and charming to ride, it more than justifies its place on our list.
Unfortunately, the Equilibrium now appears to be discontinued, but it’s staying in this guide while you can still find the odd model for sale.
7. Ritchey Road Logic
Price: £1, 195.99 / $1,499 (frameset)
Few bikes blend new and old with more panache than a steel Ritchey – the Road Logic is a truly handsome thing.
We tested a build that arguably didn’t do the bike justice, but as a frameset the Ritchey is a much more appealing prospect, with classic lines married to the latest features including flat mount disc brakes and (on the current version – not the one pictured) thru-axles.
Alas the Road Logic isn’t currently available in the UK, but readers elsewhere in the world have the option.
8. Cinelli Nemo Tig
Price: £2,049 (frameset)
It’s a fast, purple Italian steel bike with rim brakes – what more could you ask for in life?
The Nemo Tig combines quite a modern fat-tube aesthetic with the oldest frame material in the world, producing a proper race bike that will certainly turn heads.
Our test bike with last-gen Campagnolo Chorus squeaked in under 8kg which is pretty good for steel, helped by those rim brakes and low-profile Miche carbon wheels.
The Nemo Tig should be high on your list if you want steel that isn’t sedate.
Love steel but looking to ride the rough stuff? Head to our buyer’s guide to the best gravel bikes