Sweet British steel
As we all know, with the rise of carbon fiber as the dominant material for bike manufacturers, steel bikes have become a bit of a novelty in the last decade. As “outdated” as steel is, the frame material has nonetheless maintained a devout following of riders who know well of its potential for a smooth ride quality.
Enigma Bicycle Works is a small company based out of southeast England with a heavy focus on hand-built titanium and steel frames with quality craftsmanship at the forefront of their effort. We get to ride our fair share of carbon superbikes, but the occasional steel machine is a healthy reminder of the roots of cycling.
The Elite HSS is a full-steel frame using Columbus Spirit HSS niobium tubing. Niobium is often used in alloys for its strong nature and heat resistance. The chainstays have a tapered shape, along with an oversized downtube and tapered head tube. The dropouts are a Breezer style with a replaceable hanger. Each frame comes with two stock paint options, but custom options are available.
Many current steel bikes are focused on a more endurance-oriented rider with a relaxed geometry. The Elite HSS has a more aggressive geometry with a steeper 72-degree head angle but with a compact reach that doesn’t over-extend riders. If the standard geometry doesn’t work for you, riders have the option to change it for an extra fee.
The Elite HSS frame uses micro TIG welds to give the frame a very clean, streamlined appeal. The cables are routed externally, and the frame uses a threaded bottom bracket shell. The frame has clearance for up to 28mm tires and can run mechanical or
Enigma offers most of their bikes as a frameset, including the Elite HSS. Our test bike was equipped with a full Shimano Ultegra 11-speed gruppo with Reynolds Attack carbon wheels. The cockpit and seatpost were Enigma’s in-house-branded offerings.
Well-proven over the years, the Shimano drivetrain delivered consistent shifting throughout our test. The Reynolds carbon wheels rolled smoothly and gave our test riders good braking performance, even in wet conditions.
The Elite HSS is one of the cleanest-looking steel frames we have seen come through the RBA office. The welds were compact and meticulous, boasting a high level of craftsmanship that makes the Elite look more like something you’d want to hang above your mantle than get dirty on the roads. We ran the stack height about halfway down the exposed bit of steer tube combined with a 100mm stem in the negative drop. This gave our test riders a comfortable position that didn’t feel too stretched, but still allowed them to get in an aggressive position.
On the roads the Elite HSS proved to be more than just another steel bike. The frame felt stiff and very responsive, especially when pedaling hard out of the saddle. The rear triangle didn’t give our test riders any unwanted flex when pushing hard up climbs or on fast, flat stretches of roads.
We spent plenty of time climbing on the Enigma, pushing the frame as hard as we could. On long grinds the geometry gave our test riders a comfortable position to spin with ease. During steeper pitches the stiff frame and wheels allowed the bike to accelerate quickly. Our test riders were rewarded for their efforts with a playful, stable-handling machine on the descents. The tapered head tube balanced out the feel of the Elite HSS with a stable feel that was amplified on high-speed descents.
During our testing we spent most of our time with the 25mm tires and were treated to a smooth ride. The frame muted rough sections of the road and didn’t deliver a bone-jarring experience.
The Enigma is a modern take with classic features that can be hard to find in today’s modern carbon bikes. There are plenty of bikes out there with countless hours of engineering and advanced technology, but few that are simple and effective. The Elite HSS is a simple but effective design. The frame exhibits an impressive attention to detail in the right places that, in the end, helps deliver a high-performance ride.
- Hail, Britannia
- Smooth ride quality
- Responsive under hard efforts
Price: $2100 (frameset)
Weight: 18.12 pounds; 3.5
Sizes: 52, 53, 54 (tested), 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60cm
- Helmet: Lazer O2
- Jersey: Collina Speed
- Bibs: Collina Speed
- Shoes: Sidi Kaos
- Glasses: Tifosi Lore SL