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What is the speed advantage of a modern steel bike?

Old 08-07-19, 07:00 AM
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dugla
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What is the speed advantage of a modern steel bike?

Hi,

I am trying to get a definitive, fact based answer to the question: what makes a modern steel frame road bike faster than my vintage - 20 years old - custom steel frame?

Some context. I ride a lovely custom frame built by Dave Moulton called a Fuso. Fits me like a glove. Itís old. How old? 7-speeds old. A few years ago a buddy of mine upgraded my shifters to entry-level Shimano brake/shifters. I recently had a new rear wheel built with a Shimano 105 hub, Mavic rim, and 11-28 cassette. I have Shimano Claris compact cranks: 50/34.

I am fit and - due to limited time - ride hills for about an hour every other day during the week. On weekends I do a longer (32mi.) ride. I occasionally try riding with a local group ride but I am routinely dropped early in the ride. Average pace is about 17mph. It drives me nuts! The other riders are not exactly studs and do not look super fit. What I do notice is everyone is on a modern bike. Carbon mostly. Some titanium. Some steel.

Is it time for me to join the modern world? I love steel. I love custom. Should I just bite to bullet and get a modern custom steel frame (Independent Fabrication looks cool)? What is the true speed advantage of these modern bikes?

Thanks,
Doug
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Old 08-07-19, 07:44 AM
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The short answer is, nothing. The single most important aspect of a bike is "does it fit?" And clearly, yours does. The only reason to buy a new bike is because you want one. A new one won't make you any faster, but it might make you happy.

For reference: my grandfather had a custom steel frame made for him in Chicago by Oscar Wastyn in the late 1930s (Wastyn would later go on to design the Schwinn Paramount.) My grandfather rode that bike until his death, almost 60 years later.
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Old 08-07-19, 08:17 AM
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Old 08-07-19, 08:23 AM
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I haven't watched the GCN video referenced in the preceding post, since they are a bit scientifically-challenged.

I will agree with DrIsotope, two posts earlier: while you might gain some performance and speed by upgrading other components (seems like you've got some old and cheap drivetrain bits on your bike), you'll likely gain nothing with a new frame. In fact, your Moulton frame might very well be made of air-hardened and heat-treated steel, as that was available twenty years ago...And you won't find a current steel frame made of anything better than that.
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Old 08-07-19, 08:25 AM
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This is a long video that in the end only guesses at the difference. What I gathered is that what he considers a big difference is about 25 seconds on a 3 km hill. I think for the vast majority of us that is just not worth the 3 grand or so for the new bike.
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Old 08-07-19, 08:29 AM
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Originally Posted by dugla View Post
Hi,

I am trying to get a definitive, fact based answer
Umm 😐
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Old 08-07-19, 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by bruce19 View Post
Not really relevant. Vintage steel is not modern steel. To make the contest even remotely meaningful and relevant to the topic at hand....get a Reynolds 853 or 953 bike (i.e. modern steel). Both bikes with the same wheels and cranksets /groups etc.

Which is why GCN titled that video vintage versus modern....because it really was about decades-apart hardware; NOT contemporary products but different frame materials.
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Old 08-07-19, 08:35 AM
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No offense, but I doubt the bike you ride is the reason you are getting dropped. You said that you "occasionally" ride with a local training group. In my experience, you need to do these rides regularly to get in shape to hang in with a fast group.

If you want a lighter bike, carbon is the way to go.

Alternatively you may want to cold set your frame to 130 and run a "modern" group. There is a lot to be said for more in between gears when going on a fast ride. You've been riding that bike a long time and you like the way it rides. Personally I'd just run a modern group and keep riding it.
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Old 08-07-19, 08:42 AM
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Originally Posted by dugla View Post
Hi,

I am trying to get a definitive, fact based answer to the question: what makes a modern steel frame road bike faster than my vintage - 20 years old - custom steel frame?

Some context. I ride a lovely custom frame built by Dave Moulton called a Fuso. Fits me like a glove. Itís old. How old? 7-speeds old. A few years ago a buddy of mine upgraded my shifters to entry-level Shimano brake/shifters. I recently had a new rear wheel built with a Shimano 105 hub, Mavic rim, and 11-28 cassette. I have Shimano Claris compact cranks: 50/34.

I am fit and - due to limited time - ride hills for about an hour every other day during the week. On weekends I do a longer (32mi.) ride. I occasionally try riding with a local group ride but I am routinely dropped early in the ride. Average pace is about 17mph. It drives me nuts! The other riders are not exactly studs and do not look super fit. What I do notice is everyone is on a modern bike. Carbon mostly. Some titanium. Some steel.

Is it time for me to join the modern world? I love steel. I love custom. Should I just bite to bullet and get a modern custom steel frame (Independent Fabrication looks cool)? What is the true speed advantage of these modern bikes?

Thanks,
Doug
A few years ago I picked up a nice steel road bike on CL and my first test ride on it was much faster than the entry-level aluminum road bike I'd been on.

The faster bike was 32 years old. It had been a custom build for a former racer. Columbus SL tubing.

I attribute the speed difference (once the "new bike day" watts wore off) to the design/geometry, and the high quality wheelset.

In its current configuration that bike weighs about 22 pounds. My average speed on it is nearly identical as on my modern CF road bike that weighs about 17 pounds.

So my wholly nonscientific opinion is that it has more to do with geometry and a high-quality wheelset than just being new.
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Old 08-07-19, 08:54 AM
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Ahh, so maybe something as simple as moving from 7 to 10/11 speed is the ticket. Along with cranks, shifters, etc. I definitely am not loving the CLUNK between these large gear shift jumps when navigating the rollers I ride.
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Old 08-07-19, 08:56 AM
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I like what I'm hearing. My Fuso is all set for a modern groupset as the spacing is wide enough for a 10/11 speed cassette.
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Old 08-07-19, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by dugla View Post
Ahh, so maybe something as simple as moving from 7 to 10/11 speed is the ticket. Along with cranks, shifters, etc. I definitely am not loving the CLUNK between these large gear shift jumps when navigating the rollers I ride.
Doubtful, but blame the hardware if you want. I'll take that crummy old Fuso off your hands so you can get something new.
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Old 08-07-19, 09:00 AM
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Old 08-07-19, 09:07 AM
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I expect you'll enjoy a modern group and the frame is nice enough to justify it. You need a lot more saddle time, 32 mile rides won't cut it.
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Old 08-07-19, 09:10 AM
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Seriously doubt increasing the number of gears is going to make you much faster unless getting rid of the clunk sounds make you feel like you can push harder. I ride a 1994 Allez Pro with seven gears and I average a lot faster than 17 mph solo, so I think it highly unlikely it's the bike holding you back.

Changing the bike can get you small marginal gains, but if you're getting dropped early, that's not a small marginal difference.
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Old 08-07-19, 09:14 AM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
Seriously doubt increasing the number of gears is going to make you much faster unless getting rid of the clunk sounds make you feel like you can push harder. I ride a 1994 Allez Pro with seven gears and I average a lot faster than 17 mph solo, so I think it highly unlikely it's the bike holding you back.
Hah. Maybe it's engine.
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Old 08-07-19, 09:18 AM
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The newer Columbus Spirit bikes I’ve seen such as the Casati Espresso and a limited edition, Made in USA Masi Gran Criterium (which were limited edition and probably all sold now) are significantly lighter than older steel road bike frames, even the really expensive custom ones. The tubing is much thinner yet they are stiff thanks to modern tubing shapes, similar in thinking to oversized aluminum. So they are modern light almost in the same league as some mid-range carbon frames and they have the resilient ride that steel offers.

You don’t say which 105 rear hub you are using except that you said 7 speed so I am assuming that the frame is spaced at the old 6/7 speed standard of 126mm. Since it is a Fuso, if the paint is in good shape (or even if it is not), you’ve got a collectible classic. Me personally, I would not cold set the rear triangle to 130mm. I would leave well enough alone and stick with 7 speed. You said you are running an 11-28 rear cassette which makes me think you most likely have a later Hyperglide era 130mm locknut to locknut rear hub crammed in there. You might check to see how easy it is to get the rear wheel in & out of the rear dropouts, then post up a picture or two of what you specifically have. Since you are already running a climbing friendly 50/34 crank, you might not need the 34f/28r low gear if your hills are moderate and not severe. Then you could avail yourself of a tighter cassette with jumps of 1 or 2 teeth between cogs. A 12/25 or even a 12/23 or 13/23 would give you some in-between ratios of 16 and 18 tooth cogs to help you maintain speeds better on your group rides so you don’t get dropped as quickly. Learning to draft and staying on a strong person’s wheel is harder than it looks but practicing it helps. Also, it goes without saying that you should avoid trying to grab the draft on an erratic rider who pedals & coasts abruptly or sits up at inopportune times.

You say you have a Mavic right rear rim, do you know which one and what the spoke drilling is? How light is it and how much do you weigh? Modern rim extrusions are vastly stronger than vintage options so you can run lower spoke count wheels often with minimal drop in reliability for sport (non-loaded) riding. Lighter wheels with modern clinchers are probably a better bang for your buck than the frame anyway. The old standby Continental Grand Prix 4000 S ll has now been improved even further to the Grand Prix 5000 in tubed or tubeless variants. The tires like these and comparable ones really are great. Could you let us know what tires you are running?

Also, if you want some free speed I would suggest changing out your butyl tubes with Vittoria Latex tubes. They are a little tricky for the first successful install but once mounted & pinch free they are pretty trouble free. You just have to inflate daily before each ride since they are more porous thus losing ~25 psi in one day. But they are worth it as they allow you to run slightly lower tire pressures leading to increased road grip, cornering & braking precision as well as less fatigue over bumpy pavement. A quality foot pump and a an accurate tire pressure gauge are your friends here.

Looking forward to follwing this thread. Optimizing your Fuso up to modern levels of performance is possible but it will take paying attention to some of these little details. I would say go ahead and weigh the bike too and do an audit of seemingly insignificant parts that may be dragging you down a bit. I changed out my old reliable MKS Mapstage 1990 era clipless pedals for Dura Ace PD-9000 pedals and lost about 500 grams of weight right there. Once you start to lighten one part of the bike in a meaningful way you’ll become a bit more focused about where you need to be.

Also, one other question I would have is how is your position on the bike? On the group rides in my area, the “B+” group I ride with is pretty serious. It is pretty important to be able to ride in the drops for moderate intervals on flats and when drafting. Sitting up for even a few unnecessary seconds when the group is powering will make your work load much higher as they will gap you then drop you in no time. Sometimes on our rides you can sort of tell which riders are more novice level since their upright positioning is holding them back some. Once folks are ready to flip their stem or even increase their stem length, I have found that it gives you a planted, faster more assured descending position which, again can keep you from getting dropped.

Last edited by masi61; 08-07-19 at 09:49 AM.
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Old 08-07-19, 09:20 AM
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Originally Posted by dugla View Post
Hah. Maybe it's engine.
Alas, that's what we're trying to tell you.

If getting a new bike or upgrading the old one inspires you to upgrade the engine, then it could be worth it, but it's not going to be a quick fix to move you up a couple MPH.
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Old 08-07-19, 09:33 AM
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If your Moulton isn't red, get a new red bike. Everyone knows red bikes are faster.

If that's not the case, as others noted, it's probably the engine.
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Old 08-07-19, 09:34 AM
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Originally Posted by dugla View Post
Ahh, so maybe something as simple as moving from 7 to 10/11 speed is the ticket. Along with cranks, shifters, etc. I definitely am not loving the CLUNK between these large gear shift jumps when navigating the rollers I ride.
If its a Moulton build Fuso, its 25 or more years old. The brand continued for a handful more years under an employee of Moulton's. Just mentioning, but not really important to the discussion.

A modern steel frame may flex less, which could give the impression of being faster. A modern steel frame may be built with stronger thinner tubes, but the weight difference of the frame will be maybe 300g in savings. That will not make you measurably faster.

As mentioned- a new component group may be lighter than your current group. New wheels may be lighter(and stronger) than your old wheels. New high quality tires may roll faster than whatever you currently have.
But a new frame wont make you faster, assuming your current one is in proper condition(not bent/broken) and fits.
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Old 08-07-19, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by dugla View Post
Hi,

I am trying to get a definitive, fact based answer to the question: what makes a modern steel frame road bike faster than my vintage - 20 years old - custom steel frame?

Some context. I ride a lovely custom frame built by Dave Moulton called a Fuso. Fits me like a glove. It’s old. How old? 7-speeds old. A few years ago a buddy of mine upgraded my shifters to entry-level Shimano brake/shifters. I recently had a new rear wheel built with a Shimano 105 hub, Mavic rim, and 11-28 cassette. I have Shimano Claris compact cranks: 50/34.

I am fit and - due to limited time - ride hills for about an hour every other day during the week. On weekends I do a longer (32mi.) ride. I occasionally try riding with a local group ride but I am routinely dropped early in the ride. Average pace is about 17mph. It drives me nuts! The other riders are not exactly studs and do not look super fit. What I do notice is everyone is on a modern bike. Carbon mostly. Some titanium. Some steel.

Is it time for me to join the modern world? I love steel. I love custom. Should I just bite to bullet and get a modern custom steel frame (Independent Fabrication looks cool)? What is the true speed advantage of these modern bikes?

Thanks,
Doug
In all my years of racing and riding I've yet to be beat or bested by a bike or equipment. In every case it was that my competitors/companions had more motor, smarts or both. Fitness is one of the last fair things on earth, you can't buy it and it can't be given to you as a gift. You have to get out there and resist the human urge to be comfortable.

Originally Posted by masi61 View Post
Also, one other question I would have is how is your position on the bike? On the group rides in my area, the “B+” group I ride with is pretty serious. It is pretty important to be able to ride in the drops for moderate intervals on flats and when drafting. Sitting up for even a few unnecessary seconds when the group is powering will make your work load much higher as they will gap you then drop you in no time. Sometimes on our rides you can sort of tell which riders are more novice level since their upright positioning is holding them back some. Once folks are ready to flip their stem or even increase their stem length, I have found that it gives you a planted, faster more assured descending position which, again can keep you from getting dropped.
Especially that ^. Get out there and ride the "Saturday Morning Worlds" and hang as long as you can; then come back next week and try to hang even longer

Last edited by nomadmax; 08-07-19 at 09:50 AM.
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Old 08-07-19, 10:15 AM
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OP....are you wearing Modern Day Spandex and shaving your legs?....you know....for better Aerodynamics
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Old 08-07-19, 10:16 AM
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My 2008 Waterford RS33 is not only faster than my previous bikes, and I will attribute this to fitting me better... it's tons more comfortable too.
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Old 08-07-19, 10:28 AM
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Nada.

There is an advantage to actually riding either Old School or Modern training programs for cycling fitness to develop endurance, power and speed.
Both require seat-time and dedicated interval work, a well fitted C&V or a modern machine are both suitable to do the required work.
Have at it.

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Old 08-07-19, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
Seriously doubt increasing the number of gears is going to make you much faster unless getting rid of the clunk sounds make you feel like you can push harder. I ride a 1994 Allez Pro with seven gears and I average a lot faster than 17 mph solo, so I think it highly unlikely it's the bike holding you back.

Changing the bike can get you small marginal gains, but if you're getting dropped early, that's not a small marginal difference.
Originally Posted by dugla View Post
Hah. Maybe it's engine.

I"m going to build on that, somewhat. Having more gears doesn't make you faster in terms of top speed, since you're only going to be able to make the same amount of power out of your legs, regardless of which bike you're on. Making more power requires training, both in the gym, and in the saddle. There's no substitute for seat time.

Having more gears does, however, give you more options in how to use that power. Having ten sprockets to choose from, even if it's still the same 11-28 spread of your 7-sp may mean you can find the 'sweet spot' ratio, rather than having to choose between spinning one thats too fast, and getting winded, and grinding one that's a little to big, and burning out.

That won't improve your top speed, but may improve your average somewhat, which may be all the difference in hanging on or getting dropped.


Also, look at your wheels. I'm guessing typical '90s 32-h box section rims. A modern, 24-20h, 'semi-aero' wheel, even a 105-level 'sport' wheelset will often 'wake up' the ride. They will be marginally faster, but noticeable more responsive.

Good tires are worthwhile, too. Fit 28mm tires if the frame will take it. The extra volume (over a 23/25) will help smooth out the ride under real-world (not racing) conditions, and smooth bikes are faster over the long haul.


I did a similar upgrade to an older bike, from its 1997 spec (7-sp RSX) to a late '00s 9-sp Tiagra/105, with the wheels from the 105 doner bike. I had been participating in a multi-day multi-century event, so i was training pretty extensively for that event, as well as a couple of single-day centuries each year. Right after I got in to the upgrade on the bike, work circumstances changed, and I was no longer able to do the event, or even spend as much time riding, let alone follow a training plan.

I find, even with the reduced miles i ride, I'm still a little faster (~1.7 mph, according to strava) average on the 9-sp version of the bike than i was on the 7-sp, over the same routes.

Last edited by Ironfish653; 08-07-19 at 10:43 AM.
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