He wrote: "my current "crappy" bike is on a steel frame, it is a pig to get started from a standing stop, but i have used it on long rides and have found it comfortable my theory? is that it is the frame that is making it a pig- but maybe it is the wheels/other components? "
Here's my reply:
just as there are crappy aluminum framed bikes (think the Supercycles and CCMs sold by Crappy Tire) there is a big range of quality in steel framed bikes. Steel is relatively easy to produce and work with and so all those billions of beater bikes inching around China and India are all "steel". Probably only 5% (or less) of the steel bikes ever produced were what could be called "High Quality LightWeight Steel" (HQLWS, my term)
the starting point for an HQLWS is the tubing, or the Tube Sets (which is basically just a box of raw steel tubes the builder would use to assemble the frame)
(did you read that Rob Penn excerpt on steel frames?)
Cheap steel bikes are made of straight gauge steel. Basically it's like steel plumbing pipe. Heavy, inelegant.
Making the tubes for HQLWS bikes is a high art form. The tubes are made of CRMO steel (a special alloy) and are cold drawn. How the hell they do even that I have no clue.
But even more amazing is that HQLWS tubes are also butted, meaning they are thicker at the ends where the frame is joined, that in the middle of the tube.
The most famous names in steel bike tubes are: Columbus (Italy) and Reynolds (UK). next would be Tange and Ishiwata (Japan), True Temper (America).
Then, each manufacturer makes a range of models.
Here for instance is a chart showing most of the Columbus tubesets and their various characteristics.
You'll see for instance a set of numbers like 0.5/0.8 at the top of each cell. That's the butting. that tube is 0.8mm thick at the ends, 0.5mm thick in the middle.
The most classic steel tubing is either Reynolds 531 or 753 OR columbus SL or SLX.
A good bike will have a sticker on the frame showing what the tube materials are.
and your basic question was "why does my steel beater feel like a pig?"
The first and simplest way to evaluate the HQLWS-ness (or not) of a steel framed bike is probably to just weigh it, the entire bike (as the chart shows, the frame alone should weight between 1700g and 2500/2800g but it is obviously not feasible to strip down the bike just to weigh the frame.)
a complete HQLWS bike should weigh between 9 and 11 kgs, (without pedals, but you can deduct 300-500g if the pedals are on.) More than 11kg, and it'll start to feel like a pig. Way more and it is a pig.
But frame weight is only part of it. Geometry and tube characteristics are also crucial to how a bike feels, how it responds.
But you are correct too, the other key source of Piggishness is the wheelset. experts always advising investing in a good set of wheels because saving rolling weight is more critical than dead weight like the frame or components. A super lightweight wheels set (the front and back) will total... 1500g. A cheaper wheelset can be 3000g, a really crappy wheelset can probably weight 5000g.
When I come over to bottle this week I'll bring my digital scale and send you home with it.
as a starting point it is worth weight a) the bike and b) the wheels.
Then we have something to work with.
And send me a picture of the steel framed bike with some closeups of the rear and front derailleurs, brake calipers, crankarm and wheels.
But smart riders who are not racing are riding steel (or titanium) framed bikes. It's like the difference between a pair of hand made leather dress shoes or hiking boots and new age Nikes. Or, a MGB, TR6 or Fiat Spyder versus.. a Boxster or something new.
Steel affords comfort, ride pleasure, handmade craftsmanship, economy, resale value, and just bragging rights.