Steel and its weight tend to be seen in negative terms. The word steel is, in fact, often associated with materials used for construction and for other products, without taking into account that nowadays the type of steel used for building bicycle frames is refined and advanced, and therefore light.
Perhaps the best known steel tube manufacturer in the world in the cycling sector is Columbus. They have taught us some fundamental and evolutionary steps in the process of drawing the tubes and in explaining how steel has evolved over the years. For example, the single tube in some models of the Columbus catalogue may undergo up to 12 different manufacturing steps, compared to the previous 4-6 steps, thus creating finer and lighter tubes whilst maintaining the same robust features, thanks to the greater precision granted by modern machinery.
With thinner tubes it is also possible to create larger shapes, therefore aesthetically modern tubes. Not only that: one of the biggest improvements in terms of lighter weight is the use of carbon forks, which are up to 200 to 350 grams lighter than a steel fork.
Features in comparison
So what are the differences with other types of materials used in building high-performance bicycles, namely carbon, titanium and aluminium? Carbon would require a long discussion upon the differences between the various qualities of fibers and bundling. As a matter of fact, the processing of carbon achieves various results when carried out in the right combinations. However, the use of refined fibers together with the study of their usage makes it an expensive product. Consequently, cheaper types of carbon are often used which, however, are not able to offer the best results that this wonderful material can give.
Aluminum is a very light alloy that can be found on the market today at very affordable costs. Its only flaw is its stiffness, which is not appreciated by lovers of comfort. At the moment aluminium is considered one of the least suitable materials for building gravel bikes due to its poor elasticity, a feature which is instead one of steel’s strong points, similar to that of titanium.
Weight and Robustness of a steel gravel bike
In technical terms how much does a steel gravel bike weigh? And is a gravel bike in steel more robust? A gravel bike frame is about 15-20% heavier than a racing bike frame. When dealing with raw bicycle frame materials, a cyclocross or gravel bike carbon frame may weigh less than one kilogram, whilst the same type of frame in steel may weigh less than 1.5 kg. Aluminum sits somewhere in between the two. But is it true that a steel gravel bike is the safest and most robust solution? The answer is no, because a high-quality carbon frame has up to 70 – 80% more impact resistance capacity than steel. However, this type of high-quality carbon is hard to find on the market and is quite expensive. It must be said, however, that the real strength of steel lies in its elasticity, which provides it with good shock absorption. The combination of strength and elasticity makes steel extremely reliable.
The best choice for a gravel bike
Having ascertained that a gravel bike in steel weighs about half a kilo more than a carbon gravel bike, we can state that steel can certainly be considered the best choice for standard cycling use, when no extreme competitions are involved, thanks to the fact that comfort is its indisputable quality. Some technical aspects regarding the handling of a steel bike also make it an excellent choice for cyclocross races. However, steel gravel bikes are a favourite for travelers due to their malleability during the processing of the frames, which allows the addition of different options and supplementary parts.