While not exactly under the cover of a darkness, I haven’t been terribly forthcoming about the fact that I’ve been scratching an itch, an itch to which few men are prepared to admit an obsession, a problem, an addiction. I’m not necessarily proud, but nor am I ashamed about my recent infatuation with: steel bikes.
Exhibit One, The Unit
In the late spring of this year it came to pass that I could no longer mute the siren song of a single-speed, steel mountain bike. I thought about buying a 27.5 frame, but that just didn’t make sense. We’d sold a few Kona Units, and that bike started looking really great — everything you need and nothing you don’t for a very attractive price. Let’s discuss: Reynolds 520 frame, steel fork, oversized headset so you can fit a modern suspension fork if you wish, very nice sliding dropouts that can be configured for 10×135 or 12×142 in either geared or single speed — just like on my Explosif. So I ordered one in my size, threw some tubeless tires on it and signed up for the Expert (hah!) single speed class in the Yankee Springs Time Trial.
I have a beautiful friend from a far away land who used the term “throwing my name away” to describe an evening in which she once drank too much and did foolish things. Though alcohol played no part, I threw my name away the instant I signed up for that race and backed it up the minute I hit the trail. I have many minutes of comedic material about this race, but suffice to say that I’ve never set my self up for failure — and achieved it — quite so thoroughly. And it left me wondering what the hell I’d done by purchasing a single speed steel mountain bike.
I rode it to work and back one day and really really liked it. I took it to The Dump and really, really liked it. I put hydraulic brakes on it and like it even more. It’s turned into the bike I typically haul to Mountain Bike Monday. This is a very fantastic platform.
What’s it like? It’s neat. I had not ridden a modern rigid-front mountain bike before this, and I’m still pretty impressed by how well it works. It is (of course) much more efficient going uphill and is very confidence-inspiring going hard into corners. I think this is because the geometry doesn’t change in the corner as it does when a fork compresses, but I could be wrong. Regardless, it sticks in there very nicely. Related to the steel fork, I was pretty impressed by my sore wrists after the YSTT, but there’s a little bit more to the story. I had, like many of our customers, been over inflating my tires. I used the same pressure as my 27.5 tires, but the fat 29er front tire has much more air volume, allowing for sill lower pressure. Getting the front tire at the right pressure (close to 20 for me) took a lot of the sting out of the rigid fork.
The rest of the bike is a hoot. I love riding it. I also spend way too much time thinking about it. Maybe I should put a suspension fork on that bike. Maybe carbon doodads. Maybe really light cool wheels. I actually had thoughts of putting an RS-1 fork on the bike with compatible wheels until I realized that I’d quickly multiply my initial investment and possibly ruin one of the things I like most about it: simplicity. I ride the bike. I smile. I wash the bike. I lube the chain. I repeat.
It comes in purple for 2015. How’s that for a kicker? Please don’t tell my wife that I’m thinking about another one with smooth tires for a commuter.
Exhibit Two: The Eclipse
I’ve been thinking about an Eclipse for a long time. I worked with a guy a few years ago who showed up on an Eclipse frame with a fancy Campy drivetrain, and I thought, “That’s pretty cool.” I rode a Jamis steel mountain bike for a couple of years and thought, “A road bike like this would be pretty cool,” but I loved my Xenith Elite and stayed the course.
In the span of three weeks I sold both of my road bikes and found myself doing everything pavement-oriented on my (single speed) cyclocross bike, which is hardly a terribly situation, but perhaps not optimum. So I started looking at vendor availability and thinking about what I wanted and generally doing everything I could to make myself crazy. Ultimately I bought an Eclipse just to silence the voices in my head. And it’s cool. Facts: Reynolds 853 steel, carbon fork, Ritchey wheels and cockpit, Ultegra 6700 drivetrain.
I vacillate on the bike weight thing. I think there are more important attributes to a bike than weight, but I also appreciate a svelte machine. I was curious that Jamis’s literature claimed the Eclipse weighed 17 pounds. That’s pretty light for a steel bike, and seemed perhaps a bit of marketing hyperbole. Upon arrival, I ripped my bike out of the box, put it on the scale and saw 17 lbs, 1 oz. Wow.
Delivery of the Eclipse has forced me to admit that I have gotten sloppy with my own, personal road bike fit. There was a time when I would get a level, a ruler maybe a laser and some other fancy tools to set up each new road bike exactly like the old one. Because I was anxious to get this thing on the road, I didn’t go through that process and it’s taken me a little while to adjust my way to a good position on the bike. While every mile has been nice, the last few have been terrific. I think this is going to work out very nicely.
I’m occasionally asked what a modern steel road bike is like. Mostly it’s like a really good modern bike regardless of material. This bike has great handling. This bike has geometry that works for me. This bike is zesty. This one is smooth like butter. Maybe (probably) it’s not as efficient as a modern carbon thingy with a huge bottom bracket, but I’m not sure I can tell. Thinking about it a bit more, I’d say this bike is almost the epitome, the acme of a road bike. It is a very tight, zippy bike that files the edges off the really, really awesome roads around these parts.
The not terrific news is that the Eclipse ended its production run. I learned this information between the time I ordered my bike and its delivery. It was not altogether shocking — the Eclipse has never been a strong seller for Jamis — but still sad. I think well done, mass produced steel bikes are a hallmark of Jamis, and the 853 bikes are just fantastic. Still, they are expensive and business is business. I cannot help but note that Kona might have recovered the Jamis fumble with the Kapu. We’ll see.
Trying to Wrap it All Up
So what do we have here? A single-speed sledgehammer of a mountain bike and a lithe little road bike. As I’ve massaged and mangled this post over the last few weeks, it occurs to me that I didn’t buy these bikes because they’re steel. I bought them because they spoke to me in some subtle way. It’s not that I don’t like carbon bikes (watch this space!), it’s just that a couple of steel bikes happened to meet the needs I had. And they’re good bikes. Really neat. Really fun.
In the end, I took two bikes that had one thing in common and tried to shoehorn them into one post with a tired Sinefeld reference. Regrettably, you might be getting what you paid for from this blog.