The spotlight has once again turned to shine brightly on steel framed bikes.
story and photos by Ben Brashear
There’s a movement in the cycling industry: a rising hoard of made in the U.S.A. bike builders, all hoping and re-defining what a bike can and should be. And, there’s an ever-increasing mass of riders desiring a simple, smooth, predictable ride.
Some say steel is the answer.
And it’s of no wonder. A handsomely TIG welded or llet-brazed steel frame speaks of craftsmanship verging on art worth ogling for hours. Steel, usually some variation of Chromoly, is becoming lighter and stronger than ever before thanks to the aerospace industry. While corporate industry and media will direct attention toward the latest carbon fiber or titanium frames, frame builder Eric Tomczak, owner of Myth Cycles in Durango, Colorado, shares another point of view. Tomczak is out to change our perception and re-write the story. The common misconception is that steel is extremely heavy, says Tomczak. That’s partly what inspired the name: Myth.
“In the cycling world, steel is misunderstood as a material because we put such an importance on racing and racing weight. What people don’t understand is how small of a weight difference there is between the two, usually half a pound to a pound.”
The reality for most of us mortals is that we don’t need the race-weight gear. Leave your spare water bottle behind and embrace the extra pound of frame weight while resting easy knowing that your durable steel bike will withstand the daily abuses of being tossed in the back of the truck, down a rocky embankment and over piles of downed timber and debris. And that is well worth its weight in gold.
“You know, we have been working and perfecting the metallurgy of steel for thousands of years. Aluminum and titanium are relatively recent,” Tomczak said.
Putting his wrench down, he grabs a pair of yellow foam earplugs and drapes them around his neck as he also dons a pair of clear safety glasses. He moves toward the milling machine tucked into the corner of his workshop and grabs several metal tubes from a rolling tool chest.
He locks a single tube into a v-block clamp and sets an appropriate tube angle with his magnetic angle finder. Satisfied with the tube angle, he turns the machine on.
The shop occupies one bay of a three-car garage, and every last inch of the 10-by- 20 feet demands that each tool, fixture, and cabinet be efficiently placed.
Tomczak got his start in the welding industry with the intention of one day becoming a bike builder.
“I learned more of the fabrication and design side of things first, instead of going straight into building frames,” Tomczak says.
The milling machine stops its whirring, and Tomczak removes the mitered tube. He gathers the rest of the required tubes—chain stays, seat stays, brake tabs and wipes them down with a rag soaked in denatured alcohol. He then secures the bottom bracket, top tube, chain stays and down tube into the frame jig to be welded together and saves the seat stays for the last step in the process to help ensure his frames are true by the final weld.
“I don’t build in steel because it’s cheaper or easier,” he says while tightening the bottom bracket into place. “I do it because it’s my favorite material. It has a ride quality that flexes when it needs to and snaps back in a controlled fashion that you don’t get with any other material. There’s a reason for the saying — ‘there’s nothing like the feel of steel,’” he says.
Riders report that steel damps road and trail vibration making it perfect for long days in the saddle or even for the shorter daily commute.
“I really just want to get as many people out there as I can riding bikes,” he says as he tacks the last seat stay into place. “Part of what I think is so incredible about biking are the stories you get to tell. You know, you get back to work and get to talk about the ride you went on or the pack trip you took and there’s the aspect of enhancing the story too. We’re making our lives more interesting through bicycles, and the name Myth Cycles is a nod toward the stories that inspire us. After we get old, that’s all that is really left, and it should be a story worth telling.”