For the love of steel

They climbed with bigger gears and lower cadences because that’s what they had. It was possible to get freewheels with a 28 etc back then but you’d have big gaps in the gears or sacrifice having a 12 for the downhills.

The pros only really started using the more modern granny gears with the introduction of mountains like the Angliru in the Vuelta and Zoncolan in the Giro in the late 90s. Before that, 39x25 was enough. After, they started experimenting with triples and touring cassettes etc.

Even in the early 2000s 39x25 was very often the smallest gear at the top level. I remember racing at the regional cat 1 level mostly on 39x23 and feeling sheepish the first time I put on a 12-25 cassette. Like my manhood had been stripped, LOL.

I had 42x24 because that’s what you got on affordable 2x6 spd road bikes in the 90s. I used to see those fancy bikes with 39x25 that only weighed 22lbs and think if I had gears like that, I could climb a tree.

I bought a new bike in 2006, first one in a while, with a 54/42/30 triple. The guy in the shop wouldn’t remove the 30 for me. I was offended that it existed.

I remember getting Campag 8 speed in the late 90s. It was on a second hand, custom steel frame that was just too big for me and painted this really odd not-quite-Bianchi blue-green, but I loved it, and I did some junior races (with no great success) on it. I remember thinking how extraordinary the gearing was. The lowest gear was 39x25 iirc, but I could be wrong.

It got stolen in my second year at university and I was gutted.

That’s certainly a part of it but I think there’s more. They often aren’t climbing in the shortest gear. I find 53/39 is too big for me now on a new bike but it’s fine on an older bike with same cassette. I’m old enough to get that the frames feel completely different now. The front end is much firmer. It’s different design philosophy - may not be better though.

I love the straight blade carbon fork.


My Basso from 1991 with 53x42 and 12-21 8 speed. There are a some steep hills around Austin but all are short and I rode them all with that set up as did everyone else in that era.


I’ve always loved the look of the Fuso, the frames and paint just look right. Dave had a great blog a while back that delved into his history as a frame builder as well as the technical aspects of frame building. Maybe one day I’ll find a bigger one that fits me. Enjoy!

New winter/touring frame. Collected today, not ridden yet. Looking forward to it!


This Erickson was given to me by my friend’s parents, a real kind gift that got me into the sport of cycling around 6 years ago. Hand-built in Seattle, with Campagnolo throughout. Outfitted with PDW fenders for the rainy months, Soma Highway One bars, and Corsas for the love of tan wall tires. Cheers!



Beautiful! What’s the maximum tyre width? 30mm? 28mm?

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Battaglin, Tre Cime di Lavaredo, 1981

He climbed it using a Record tripple, BB was asymetric in order to achieve a decent chain line.

This was the Pratt built to showcase the new DA, no?

I’ll have to get a picture up here of my [muddy] Pratt gravel PNW mile muncher.

28mm with guards, that’s as big as I want to go. Loads of clearance at the back but it’s restricted by the fork at the front (Kinesis Tracer 1.5).

I’ve put plenty of miles on it over the last couple of weeks and it’s riding nicely.

That’s more than enough for a smooth ride in bad weather.

Very nice …

Here’s mine


This is my custom steel bike made by Bilenky in Philladelphia, PA, USA. The tubes are combination of Columbus Spirit and Life. During the building process, Bilenky and his crew kept me updated with photos. The paint color is called “Vanilla Soft Serve”. Hand-painted pin stripes. SRAM ETap drivetrain, THM Scapula fork. FSE wheels - this wheel company was only around for a couple years, selling re-branded carbon rims by another manufacturer - they are light and have been great. Carbon/Ti hubs. Bike weighs about 15lbs. Rides like a dream.




Is that a headtube with holes for lightnes but preserving the stiffness, given its thick walls?

Yes. Of course it makes hardly any difference in reality - maybe a few grams - but it certainly shows attention to detail and craftsmanship. That was the fabricator’s idea. The plan to have the brake housing enter at the head tube and exit at the seat tube was my idea. More commonly it enters and exits the top tube…

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