Dave Yates examines the options:
A custom built frame has an indefinable "feel" that transcends the material it is created from. The bike becomes an extension of the riders body. Practically every frame I make is individually tailored to the rider's requirements. Whatever your need, be it racing, touring, audax or mountain biking, I can create a bike that will enhance your enjoyment of your chosen area of cycling.
It used to be dead easy, your frame was made from 531 or Columbus SL. I've lost count of the number of steel tubesets available now, let alone all the exotic materials! So how do you choose ?
The first question to ask is what are you going to use the bike for? There are lots of very light, very stiff tubesets available. These make excellent racing frames but are not much good for a touring or audax frame where comfort is far more important. I have always designed my frames along the lines of "use the best tube for each area of the frame". If this means mixing and matching tubes from different sets or even manufacturers then fine, that's the way to go.
Racing Frames need to be light and stiff to transmit as much of the riders power onto the road as possible. Most racing frames nowadays are carbon fibre, aluminium or in rare cases titanium. Without doubt these materials are in some ways superior to steel for competition purposes. To many riders the downside is the cost and relatively short lifespan of the "high tech" materials. Another factor is the virtually impossible task of repair should such a frame suffer damage. Steel, therefore, has some merit as a racing frame if you want a longer life from your frame, if you want to specify the design parameters and if you want repairability. The top class steel tubesets such as Reynolds 853Pro Team and the new 953, Columbus Spirit and Foco are all capable of being built into frames weighing less than 1.4Kg which can be built into a complete bike weighing around 7.5Kg with the right equipment. This compares very favourably with the aluminium and carbon fibre alternatives, especially when considering cost, repairability and the relative ease with which it can be built into a frame to fit you exactly. Such a bike would be competitive at all but the highest level of competition.
Audax Bikes or "fast tourers" are rapidly gaining popularity as a practical bike that can be used all year round. The handling is more akin to a racing bike but the addition of mudguards, a little more clearance and sometimes rear pannier fittings, gives a much more versatile bike. A mixture of 631 and 525 or 525 throughout is ideal for this type of frame.
Reynolds 525 is the replacement for the venerable 531. When built into a frame it has the same sort of feel as 531. This is perfect for audax and touring bikes. However, if you want something a little sharper the addition of 725 heat treated stays gives a stiffer back end.
Touring Bikes are the "beasts of burden" of the cycling world. A good touring frame should be able to carry a heavy load of front and rear panniers and remain stable so that minimum effort has to be expended on riding the bike, (as opposed to propelling it forward). Durability and reliability rather than weight are the main considerations when designing a touring bike. The difference between a "heavy" and "light" frame is only a matter of some 2lbs or so. When you are carrying a load of perhaps 50 to 60lbs then an extra pound or so on the frame is neither here nor there. Reynolds 525 has all the qualities needed for a good tourer. A wide range of diameters and gauges are available which allows the builder to design a frame suitable for any purpose from light weekend "credit card" touring to "round the world" expeditions.
ATBs are nowadays invariably built for front suspension so a stiff frame need not be tremendously heavy as most of the shocks are absorbed by the suspension. 853 builds a magnificent ATB frame with the stiffness of the material keeping the frame in track in all sorts of violent manoeuvres.
The bottom line is I am a custom framebuilder. Custom means just that! Any or all of the details of the frame are specifiable.
If you are not sure about any point please ask. I will be pleased to discuss your individual requirements by telephone 01526 343322 or e-mail. I am here to help!