Steel bikes are back, thanks in no small part to the consolidation of gravel cycling and the popularity of travel in this vehicle. Almost all the main brands (except Giant), have in their line of bicycles some model of steel. There are even companies that only produce them in this material.
Most share “timeless” frames with a classic design or geometry mixed with very current components. Steel bikes are kind of heavy, but as many gravelistas say; It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to the destination, but how you get there.
In order not to make this introduction any longer, here is a first list of ten good options at various price levels and there are well-known brands and not so much.
1. Kross Esker 4.0 2020
The Polish brand Kross has a steel model called Esker at an affordable price. Both the frame and its fork are made of this material (CR-MO steel). As you can see, it has a somewhat classic frame made up of round tubes. Its color is beautiful.
But beyond its “vintage” aesthetics, the bicycle has functionalities for gravel, or as a model to face trips of several days. That is, it has added welds for the installation of a rear rack. In the upper tube there is the possibility of mounting a tool bag. There are also eyelets on the fork to mount a bikepacking bag. In addition, it supports fenders.
On the drivetrain, it presents a group that we normally see installed on asphalt bikes. This is the Shimano Tiagra 10-speed.
As I have already commented on other occasions, it is a transmission that we usually see installed in models of lower-middle range of the brands. But do not worry, its operation is particularly good. As for the developments, a 46-36 teeth sub-compact chainring combined with an 11-34T cassette was chosen.
On the tires, Esker mounts the WTB Resolute 700c and with a thickness of 42mm. They are very versatile covers for any type of climate and terrain. It has widely spaced knobs that prevent mud from accumulating.
Its price is € 1,159.00 or US $1,325
2. Cinelli Hobootleg Geo
Cinelli’s Hobootleg Geo is an all-terrain that you can use for everything: gravel, touring, city bike, etc. It is also a model for long trips and heavy load riding.
Both its frame and fork are made of steel; specifically, Columbus Cromor. One of the things to be thankful for is that it has a sloping geometry, which makes the bike more manageable. Also, a much more comfortable position.
Another thing that we should highlight about the frame is that it is a bicycle designed for touring or gravel, since it has different functionalities. An example is that the frame supports the placement of a third bottle cage or, the pods and fork have different eyelets for the placement of accessories for bikepacking.
As for the group, it mounts a single chainring solution: SRAM Apex 1. As we have already commented in some other review, this transmission is oriented to gravel cycling or cyclocross. It is a simple group to use, since we only have a gear lever for the rear sprocket.It carries a small 32-tooth chainring paired with a large 11-42 cassette. I would have opted, and this is my personal opinion, for a larger chainring (40 / 42t), since it can give us the feeling of lack of speed in fast sections or asphalt.
The wheels, with a size of 622 mm, are from the Shining brand (DB-X30) and are intended for 29-inch tires. These are not specific gravel tires but are intended for mountain bikes.
The tires are the Michelin Wild Race’R2TS, also from MTB. They are versatile tires for various terrains, with good grip and that allow us to go fast on hard terrains thanks to a tread made up of low lugs. On asphalt you will go somewhat slow.
Its approximate price is € 1,869.00 or US $2,137.70
3. Trek 520
The Trek 520 more than a gravel bike is a model for long trips. Everything the 520 has is designed for it. That is, the possibility of installing racks, three bottles and eyelets on the fork.
Visually it is the most classic bicycle that we can see. Round tubes like before and a curved fork. Its geometry is designed to ride quietly or enjoy pedaling.
As for the drivetrain, it mounts a Shimano Alivio triple chainring of 48/36/26 teeth. All this combined with an 11-36t cassette. The set is the well-known 9-speed Shimano Sora.
The tires are provided by the brand itself and are the Bontrager H1 Hard-case Ultimate for a size of 700c and a width of 38mm.
Its official price is € 1,399.00 or US $1,600
4. Breezer Inversion
Well, here I present you one of my favorite steel bikes. Why it has an explanation: a very current aesthetic, it mounts a carbon fork, thru-axles, hydroformed tubes and also, it comes with the Shimano Ultegra groupset. Come on, a luxury model for gravel. It is a super advanced steel option compared to similar options made from the same material.
To all this we must add that its weight does not reach ten kilos: specifically, 9.93kg. You have nothing to envy for lightweight carbon or aluminum models.
As I have mentioned, the Breezer Inversion, unlike other steel bikes, is built with hydroformed tubes or that acquire shapes to be rigid at critical points where it is necessary.
For example, the upper tube has a “D” shape when it is close to the steering tube or we see some curves in some of them. This aspect is really curious, since normally the frames built with this material usually have straighter or completely round shapes.
Another thing that differentiates it from a similar model, is that at the geometry level the frame presents a moderate sloping. This is something that we usually see in aluminum or carbon frames, but when it comes to steel it is not common. This type of drop gives us a more compact or smaller frame and therefore more manageable.
As for the transmission, the beautiful Inversion has a set with compact chainrings (50/34) and with an 11 / 34t cassette. It is a drivetrain closer to an asphalt bike than a gravel bike. This model stands out for having a handlebar with a flare or opening of 25º (Oval Concepts 725), WTB ST Light i21 disc wheels and 34mm WTB Exposure TCS tires.
Obviously, its price is higher than other similar models and is around 2,548 euros or US $2,999
5. OLEKA CX1
I wanted to highlight this handmade model made by Ciclos Oleka. And it is that in the offer of Gravel bicycles of the big brands, where the overproduction results in impersonal models, and that sometimes does not adapt to the morphology of the cyclist, I wanted to emphasize a Gravel bicycle built in steel made to measure for the client and in an artisanal way.
An option made for you, and that is a unique and beautiful model that combined with quality and high-performance components will not go unnoticed.
If we rely on one of his jobs for a specific client, John Braynard, the bike is no waste. For a steel model, the bike is unique, and I would say exceptional internal wiring. Something that we usually see in options of carbon or aluminum frames. But in steel, there are not many options with such aesthetics.
In addition, the bicycle has a carbon fork. The result is a mix of the contemporary with somewhat more classic forms.
As for the groupset, for this personalized work, the Sram Force 1 group has been chosen. It is a single-plate option and with hydraulic disc brakes, something very common in Gravel bikes.
The Sram Force CX1 is a group originally designed for 11 speed cyclocross. The advantages of eliminating the front derailleur, in addition to lightening weight, is to prevent the entry of obstacles such as mud or other elements, especially when driving off the asphalt.
Another thing to note is that it has high-end wheels such as <b. They are an option for tubeless, with carbon rim, and that aesthetically give the set a feeling of a high-end bike. Stem, handlebars and seatpost are also from the ZIPP brand.
Obviously, as it is an à la carte bicycle, the prices are very varied. check their website: http://ciclosoleka.cc
6. Kona Rove LTD Adventure Road
Well, here is another bike war tank made on Reynolds 853: the “Kona Rove LTD”. It is a model with a beautiful “timeless” frame made of round tubes.
If we talk about its geometry, with a drop in the upper tube and a short and high stem, the feeling is that the cyclist is very comfortable. This pose is ideal for swallowing miles while enjoying gravel.
About the components and drivetrain these are of high quality. The set is the 11-speed SRAM Force 1 (a newer model has the Shimano GRX 810) The development is based on a single 40 tooth chainring combined with a large 10-42t cassette.
Another thing to note, like a premium steel bike, is that it comes with a carbon fork. The set is very, very current.
Also, I love that it mounts wheels of a size 650b. This gives it a more versatile appearance and allows us to install larger tires. In fact, it installs the 47mm WTB Horizon Road Plus TCS tires.
Approx. € 2,869.00 or US $3,281
7. Bombtrack Hook EXT
Here we have another example of a high-end steel bicycle with a frame very prepared for everything. In fact, it has different added welds for the installation of a third bottle cage or bikepacking bags. Also, grommets have been added to its carbon fork to install loading solutions. The color of the frame is a beautiful gray, respecting the tones of the steel.
The bicycle is equipped with the Sram Rival 1 single chainring group. It is an 11-speed transmission geared towards gravel, cyclo-cross, or for those users who want to ride their asphalt bicycle with a simpler solution to use. From a usability point of view these types of changes are usually simpler to use since you will only focus on the rear transmission thanks to the absence of the double chainring.
As for the drivetrain, it comes equipped with a 40 tooth chainring combined with an 11/42 cassette. In this sense, it is sufficient development to face any type of terrain, especially steep slopes. In the case of routing through stretches of asphalt where we need more speed, it may be somewhat short in terms of development.
The wheels as well as the tires are from the WTB brand and the measurement is 650b. Specifically, the tires are WTB RANGER TCS 27.5 “x 2.0”.
Its price is around € 2,542.01 or US $2,900
8. Vitus Substance CRS-2 Adventure 2020
This bike has a steel frame with a slightly arched carbon fork. Therefore, it is a medium-level model.
As for the drivetrain, it has the Shimano GRX (600/400) with a specific double chainring for gravel. Both handlebars, seatpost, and stem are made of aluminum and from the brand itself. This is quite common in this type of bicycle that has a contained price. The saddle is also a Vitus. Overall, we have a good basis so that in the future we can improve the components with a little more quality.
The tires are the WTB Byway 650b with a size of 47mm. Therefore, with this type of tire what you are looking for is an authentic adventure bike to swallow kilometers in a calm way.
Its price is € 1,799.99 or US $2,058.77 and you can buy it at Wiggle.
9. Genesis Croix De Fer 30 2020
Now we have a classic in the gravel world and an English brand that has interesting models. This is the Genesis Croix De Fer 30 with Reynolds 725 frame and steel fork.
It has a very classic frame where you can install racks both in the front and rear. Also, we have the possibility of installing a third additional bottle cage located in its lower tube.
As for the groupset it mounts, the Shimano 105 is a transmission with excellent performance, precision, and great smoothness. Their developments are based on a 50-34T compact chainring with an 11-34T cassette. It is a very “road” transmission that will perform well on not too technical forest tracks as well as asphalt. If you plan to load it, you will be limited in gears.
The tires he rides are the WTB Riddler with a rim size of 700c and a thickness of 37mm.
Its approx. price on RumbleBikes is € 2,299 or US $2,629
10. Niner RLT 9 STEEL 2020
If the Genesis Croix De Fer is a classic in Europe, the Niner RLT 9 Steel is almost the same in the USA. Its frame is also made of Reynolds steel but of a higher level: the 853. It is accompanied by a carbon fork. Aesthetically the bicycle looks very current.
What is striking about the frame is that it mixes classic designs and shapes with current ones designed for adventure cycling. As for the modernity of the frame, it is that its seatstays are curved, a thick and conical head tube, and the possibility of locating a third bottle cage or support for luggage bags or racks.
Another thing that I highlight about the frame is the painting it presents. At first glance it is difficult to know that it really was a steel bicycle, not so much because of the shapes of some tubes, but because the applied paint gives the feeling that we are facing a titanium frame.
Also, the frame allows to install wide tires since there is enough space. Specifically, for a size of 700c up to 45mm tires and for the 650b 47mm tires. Therefore, we make sure to enjoy this bike on any type of terrain.
For this 2020 it comes assembled with a mixture of the specific group Shimano GRX800 and Shimano Ultegra.
The tires are the Schwalbe G-One Evo SS 700c and 40mm thick.
Niner’s bikes are not cheap. And this proves it. It costs around € 4,476.88 or US $5,100
Finally, here you have one more option: The Fairdale Weekender Nomad, a bike suitable for travel, multipurpose bicycle and obviously for the realization of gravel. It includes a good drivetrain such as the Sram Rival 1 single-plate (42t) and its components are of very acceptable quality. It also has an extremely attractive price. And do not forget its nice blue color (or black if you only want the frameset). Definitely a good option if your wallet is limited.
Its frame and fork are made of Steel with aluminum components. Tires are Continental Double Fighter with a size of 650b.
US $ 1,399 and € 1,222.72 approximately