Steel vs. Carbon fiber bicycle frames

The New Carbon....Carbon Steel!

What's lighter than a modern carbon bike? The new 13.5 pound Rodriguez Outlaw

This morning, I dropped my old truck off for repairs, and pulled my bike out of the back to ride on in to work. The mechanic was impressed with the nice paint job. It's always fun to have someone lift my Rodriguez S3 bike and watch their jaw drop as they effortlessly lift it chest high with just one hand. So, I handed the bike over to him and said "Lift it up".

Well, he lifted it, and as expected, his jaw did drop. He said "I gotta show this to the other guys!" So he rolled it to the back of the shop, lifting it several more times in disbelief as he went. Once there, he handed it to the other mechanics and told them to lift it up. Needless to say, they had the same reaction as he did. I asked them all "What do you think the bike is made of?" They all said in unison "Carbon fiber..."....then, noticing that I was shaking my head 'no' one of them said "Titanium?" "No" I said. "This is an American made steel bike, made right here in Seattle". The surprise on their faces was evident as they all lifted the bike several more times, and one of them even took out his magnetic 'pick-up' pen device and stuck it right to the top tube just to make sure it was steel. Custom Race Bike lighter than Carbon Fiber

If you ask most people why they bought a carbon fiber bike, the answer invariably comes back "Carbon bikes are lighter weight". Well, what if that's not true? What if that's just something you've been told? What if a comparably priced steel bike was just as light as a carbon fiber bike? Would you still want a carbon bike? Now, what if a comparably priced steel bike was even lighter than the carbon bike? How about one step further...what if a steel bike was lighter, less expensive and rode faster?

Think I'm crazy? Let's peel the layers off of the onion and get to the truth about carbon fiber mania. The fact is, here at Rodriguez we did make carbon fiber bikes, but that was years ago. Yes, you read right. years ago we made custom carbon fiber bikes. I've written a slew of info about frame materials here if you are having trouble sleeping. Material World is a 4 part article that I wrote for the Bicycle Paper a while back.

Before we start: Is weight the only consideration for spending a lot of money on a bicycle? How about fit, durability, color, ride quality or longevity? Do these matter to you at all? If so, you'll want to read on. If weight's the only thing important to you, then you should read on as well, because I think you'll be surprised.

Along for the Ride
We can start with the premise that most people prefer the ride quality of a steel frame to carbon. Heck, even a lot of carbon bike manufacturers cede the argument to steel for durability and ride quality. So what if you could pay less money, have a faster riding bike, more comfortable frame, and still have the lightest bike in the crowd? Sounds to good to be true right? Well, I'm actually talking about our 13.5 pound 2013 Rodriguez Outlaw, and it's very real! As a matter of fact we've converted dozens of carbon frame riders to the Outlaw by just allowing a test ride on this amazing bike! Even the most die-hard carbon enthusiast will have to admit this bike cannot be beat.

Side note here for those of you who think you have a lighter bike than the Outlaw.
I have had several people tell me they have a friend with a lighter bike than the Outlaw, but have yet to weigh one. The closest carbon bike to come in here was still 2 ounces heavier than the Outlaw, but was twice the price. Seeing is believing. We keep a scale at our front desk so that we can weigh bikes that come in, and we've weighed just about everything. Don't trust word of mouth as our industry is full of....well....inaccuracy at best when it comes to weights. I know that a lot of manufacturers publish weights in their catalogs and websites that are untrue. If you want to have some fun, buy a small digital scale and carry around with you to bike shops. Ask what a bike weighs, and then pull out the scale to verify it. I've done it, and it's a blast! Like to read more about that?

All right, all right, back to business

I know, I're reading all of this, but then you pick up a magazine and read a glowing review of a sweet carbon fiber bike from some giant company. How can that be? Wouldn't they be reviewing steel bikes if steel was so cool?

Let's have a look at the vicious 'Cycle of Business' shall we?
Magazines review bicycles that their advertisers send to them for review. Companies send bikes for review that they want to sell. Look through the magazine and you'll usually find an advertisement for the very bike that got that glowing review.....sometimes just opposite the review itself. It's no coincidence. Big companies that advertise don't make hand-built steel bikes. That's because carbon fiber bikes are inexpensive to build overseas, so it would make sense to prime the public to want them. Not to say that the review isn't genuine. The reviewer probably really liked the bike. It's just that the opportunity to ride that bike for review is not a random selection, but a selection from an advertiser. The Cycle Continues

"Well, what about the pros?" you ask. "The pros only ride the best right? Almost all the pros ride carbon fiber, so doesn't that make it the best?" Right and wrong. You see, the pros don't ride a bike that they expect to last year after year (durability). Heck, a lot of them don't even require their frame and fork to last one race. So, if by 'best' you include durability in your criteria, a pro has no need for that.

A pro does have a need for sponsorship though, and if their sponsor is trying to sell carbon fiber frames, then carbon fiber they will ride. After all, it's their job to sell bikes. If we paid millions in sponsorship to a pro team, then they would be thrilled to ride steel Rodriguez Outlaw hand-built bikes (but, that's not going to happen). If your criteria is "I ride what I'm paid the most $$ to ride" then at this point in history, carbon is the best. I'm not saying that a carbon frame will not perform, I'm just saying that it is not a superior performance to steel.

Fit note: - Realize also that the pros are riding bicycle geometries designed to fit them and their riding style. When you purchase that same frame in a store, you're not purchasing a bike to fit you, but rather a bike to fit the pro it was made for. Ask your sales person what it would cost to get that same frame made truly custom to fit your body and riding style.

Good natured sarcastic rant warning
What's fashion got to do with it? With all of the magazine ads, pro sponsorships, certain bike shops, and even industry rags smack-talking any bike that isn't carbon, it's almost fashionable to ride carbon fiber. I'd say that it's become so fashionable in some circles that you almost have to be a heretic to ride steel. One more great reason that we call this bike the Outlaw I say. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator, but we're here to help give you the ammunition to resist.....come to the dark an Alice Cooper says, Flush the Fashion!

This 'cycle' of promotion steers the consumer to the product the manufacturers wants to sell. Now, obviously I'm trying to do the same thing, but I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. Basically, you've got to verify weight if it's important to you. I think that if you do that, you'll find that here at Rodriguez, we can build your bike in America just as light as any overseas carbon bike. I'm confident that if you ride our bike back to back with a carbon bike, you'll choose the Rodriguez every time....just like Steve and countless others have over last few years.

With the fashion sufficiently flushed, let's get down to earth
I think that I've shown here that a light weight bicycle can be achieved through either material, so I would like to put all the hype about weight aside for minute, and talk about some things that are way more important.

1.) Fit: If your bicycle doesn't fit well, you're going to hate riding it no matter what it's made out of. At Rodriguez we view fit as the most important component to any bicycle. We offer a fit guarantee with every bicycle we sell. Here's a few articles that I've written over the years to back-up what I'm talking about on this subject. Ignoring fit when buying your bicycle is a huge mistake that many people make.

2.) Longevity: If you don't care how long your new bike will last, then don't worry about this section.

Most of our customers plan to ride their new Rodriguez for many years to come. What the consumer doesn't realize is that our industry is steering very heavily toward a disposable product model by engineering bicycles to only last 5 to 10 years. Sure, carbon fiber frames with their short warranties are part of that model, but an even greater problem is wreaking havoc at bicycle repair shops all around the country. This is the trend of straying from industry standards to proprietary parts.

What the heck am I talking about? If you don't know what ISO standards are, and proprietary parts are, you're bound to end up on a bicycle that will end up in a land fill before its time. Yes, I've written a few things on the subject.

Here at Rodriguez, we reject the disposable bike philosophy, and substitute our own. A Rodriguez is built to be a forever bike.

3.) Personality: Do you have a favorite color? Why not paint your bike that color? At Rodriguez, your bike isn't built until you order it, so you can choose any color you want. Obviously this isn't a benefit exactly of a steel frame only, but Rodriguez customers love to have their new steed reflect their personality.

4.) Made in USA: I think there is something to be said for purchasing your bicycle from a company that is committed to manufacturing their products right here in the USA. We've seen almost every manufacturer move their production overseas in the last 2 decades in search of those creamy profits at the top. At Rodriguez, we've changed our manufacturing methods to provide the greatest value and made in USA quality. We even manufacture parts in Seattle that we ship to Taiwan companies. How many manufacturers can say that?

The fact the we make your bike right here, means that we can customize more than just the paint. We can change geometry, braze-on fittings, tubing weights, wheel color, tires, you name it, we can do it!

5.) Most importantly: Don't buy a bike, buy a shop! Really, it's not about the bike. I can't stress enough how important your relationship to your shop will be for your cycling enjoyment. A good shop has mature, professional employees who spend an hour or more fitting you to a bicycle before they sell you something. You should get a fit/comfort guarantee with your bicycle as well. Can you bring it back for a refund if you don't like it? This is important, right?

6.) Get a Guarantee!! I cannot believe how many people have expensive bikes that are only a few weeks old and they hate them (like Jane). Why don't they get their money back? Well, the shop or manufacturer doesn't offer a satisfaction guarantee. Realize, any bike can be comfortable on a 10 minute test ride. The real test is how you feel on it after a few weeks. That gives you time to really settle in to the fit that your fitting professional has recommended, and feel how the bike reacts to your daily riding style. If the shop, or bicycle manufacturer, you're working with doesn't offer free fitting (including free stem and bar swaps) for their bicycle customers after the sale, I would strongly consider another shop. A lot of shops do not offer such a guarantee, so it's your job as a consumer to ask that question before you purchase.

If they don't offer a 30 day money back satisfaction guarantee, then realize that you will possibly be paying hundreds of dollars for fit work at another shop in order to relieve your pains, or, like Jane, you'll just ride your old bike and let the new one hang in the garage. Now-a-days, high quality bicycles sell for $3,000, $6,000, $10,000 or more! That's a lot of dinero for a wall hanger!

Wow! That's a lot huh? If you're looking for an uber-light bike, a heavy duty commuter, or and all-around bike for any occasion, we'd love to have a shot at becoming your bicycle company. Here at Rodriguez, we realize that the most important choice you make when selecting your new ride is the people that you are working with.

Thanks for reading

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