The Surge of Stainless Steel

ITALIAN BEAUTY: TORELLI 30TH ANNIVERSARY
As the name implies, the limited-edition Torelli Il Trentesimo celebrates the Italian marque’s 30th anniversary with a beautifully built, TIG-welded stainless steel frame using Columbus Minimal XCR tubes, ‘Breeze-‘ style rear dropouts and a Columbus Minimal full-carbon fork. The frame has a claimed weight of 1690 grams (56cm), is made in Italy and is available in a multitude of sizes (from 49?62cm, plus custom sizes). Price is $3850. For more info: Torelli

KVA STEEL: GRANDPA HAD A VISION

For 27-year-old Joe McCrink, making stainless steel is as much a job as it is a family legacy. Joe’s grandfather had been in the industrial heat-treating business since the 1950s. Seven years ago, when he started KVA Stainless, Joe and his cousin Danny were there to learn and apply all they could to furthering their grandfather’s ambition of making stainless steel a widely used material in a variety of applications.

RBA: We’ve most often seen the Reynolds and Columbus name applied to stainless steel production, but lately we’ve seen quite a few bike brands using KVA tubing. What’s your company’s story?
Joe: My grandfather started the company after he spent his whole career in the heat-treating and steel industry. He’s always been a fan of stainless steel, and thought with some new thinking applied that we would have the ability to get involved in some interesting projects. I brought my passion for cycling, and he thought bike frames would be the perfect example of how strong and durable stainless steel can be. Right now we have 11 fabrication patents with our tubes, and we’re getting more calls from small builders all the time. Right now we work with about 80 different bike builders-from Cielo and Alchemy to Moth Attack. All the tubes are seam welded, and we make them in our shop in Escondido, California.

RBA: What is it about stainless steel that makes it good for a bike frame?
Joe: It has all the great ride attributes of steel, but I think with much better ride attributes. Depending on the tube profiles, a stainless bike can be just as lively as the best steel frame, but it can be snappier. And, of course, stainless tubes are much stronger, and they have a naked finish that lasts without ever getting tarnished. I don’t think there’s any wall surface that has a harder surface than a stainless tube.

RBA: What does grandpa think of  all this?
Joe: He’s really excited about the bike business, because his idea with opening the shop was to think about using a traditional material in new and different ways. The fact that we can make a sub-3-pound bicycle frame that supports a 180-pound rider and performs as it does is very cool. We’ve just finished developing a stainless fork, and with the material’s ability to be butted and formed, I think we still have a ways to go with developing stainless tubes for bicycles.

ALCHEMY MS2R
Based in Austin, Texas, Alchemy is a vibrant frame shop that specializes in custom-built frames using a variety of different frame materials (e.g., carbon, titanium, steel and stainless steel). The MS2R is their stainless model and can be built with plenty of options-custom geometry, rack and fender mounts, disc tabs and custom paint. We chased down Alchemy’s Dave Ryther to find out about their stainless bike.

RBA: Tell us about your history with stainless?
Dave: We’ve been using stainless for eight months now. We’ve been working with all other metals for years. It’s the hardest metal we work with, literally and figuratively. It dulls, breaks and shatters cutting tools constantly, and it’s very difficult to weld. The assembly process of stainless is tortuous, but once it’s done, you’ve got a steel frame that will last a lifetime.

RBA: What are the benefits of the material as you see them?
Dave: There are three main benefits to stainless, and they’re all tied together. First, it is extremely strong, and it competes with titanium on that front. The second advantage is that it’s cheaper than titanium. And third, it gets you up to the strength and longevity of titanium without losing the feel of steel. It also doesn’t require paint, so it’s relatively low maintenance. So, the steel rider who wants the strength and longevity of Ti without losing the quality of a steel ride is able to achieve an upgrade from chromoly without leaving their beloved material behind. It’s a utilitarian version of the steels we abandoned in the late ’90s when Ti became the rage. It’ll suck up rough roads, soldier through impacts that would crush chromoly, it’s easier on the wallet than the other alternative materials, and you don’t have to worry about the paint job!

RBA: What’s the future look like?
Dave: Stainless allows us to make a competitive alternative to steel without abandoning the material. We see a great future with it for high-mileage riders, gravel racers and in cyclocross. We’re also working on making it competitive for crit and track racers seeking something stiff, tough and durable for many seasons of racing. I wouldn’t say it’s really allowing us to really break out of the box with something different; it’s a step forward and a unique alternative to the chromoly norm.
For more info: Alchemy

CIELO SPORTIF RACER SE
Long before Chris King became a world-renowned designer for precision hubs and headsets, he was a frame builder. His Cielo brand of bikes was born in 1976. And now, some years later, the Cielo brand has returned. Each frame is handmade at their Portland, Oregon, facility. The Cielo Sportif Racer SE is one of seven different Cielo frames, including cyclocross, mountain and the limited Cielo by Chris King that is handmade by Chris himself. We spoke to Cielo’s design manager Jay Sycip (a renowned frame builder himself) about the stainless steel Cielo.

RBA: What is it about stainless steel frames?
Jay: We gravitated toward stainless for a few reasons. First is that it is a simple and straightforward material with an ability to be way less corrosive compared to its close but yet distant enough cousin.Secondly, I’d have to say it’s the aesthetic of stainless that is a big attraction. The unpainted finish has a cool factor that works for consumers not affected by the lack of color. There are so many types of stainless that are available. Now, what is being used in frame tubing can be fairly common stainless to some of the more complicated types. The frame you have is 410 stainless tubing from KVA. It’s a fairly hard stainless and is sold to us in its hardened state. KVA has also rolled, welded and grounded their tubes fairly thin due to its hardness. This allows the user to build a fairly light frame. It’s still steel, so the weights are still inside the ballpark of other lightweight steel frames made from high-end, thin-walled frame tubing. The ride quality of stainless can be a little crisper compared to a normal steel frame, but I think it’s fairly similar to a frame built with a very high-end steel tube set. The stainless tubes are similar to titanium in that they are expensive and harder to work with, so it can be slow-going in making a frame. Like titanium, it should also be used by builders who know what they are doing due to the lack of finish once it’s built. Of course, you can paint stainless frames, but it does seem like a waste given the appeal of its natural finish.

For more info: Cielo

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