The Mountain Bike Life

What does that mean?  Steel is Real?  So Aluminum is fake and Titanium is an impostor and Carbon is a figment of our imaginations? That saying has bothered me for years.  How could steel possibly be better than Aluminum or Carbon?  Both are lighter, stiffer, easier to work with, and cheaper than the higher quality steels.  So why the obsession over it.  If you look at custom builder of frames it is their first choice of material.  I get the thing about fatigue and steel will last longer if it doesn’t rust, blah blah blah, but what makes it better really.  It surprised me to finally find out.

Up until last summer I had a collection of GT Zaskar’s from different years.  So to say that was my frame of choice would be an understatement.  Heck, the oldest Zaskar frames from 1991-2 are great frames by today’s standards.  All 6061 aluminum, big tubes and beautifully hand welded by an artist in the USA.  To bring them up to today’s standards I even made a custom rear disc mount.  Sadly, I only have one of them left and ironically it is not even a Zaskar.  My last aluminum GT hardtail is an Avalanche I stumbled on from a long time GT rep.  The frame was a sample frame made prior to the 1997 production year.  It is essentially a Zaskar, but with different markings.  I can’t part with it, but it just sits collecting dust now.  Why would I not ride such a cool frame with such a great history?  Here is why.

So last spring I was having some issues with the crank set on my Zaskar. Ordered the parts to fix it, but could not ride it till they come in.  No problem I always have a couple bikes around,  I would just take my old clunker Talera.  It was just a casual Saturday ride, so I wasn’t planning to set any time trial records.  I load up on the truck and head off to have some fun. What happened next I would have never expected.  Immediately I felt something different.  The trail was softer, more predictable and I could just feel it better.  Not sure how else to describe it.  As soon as I noticed this I told my friend to stop and switch bikes.  Sure enough his Zaskar felt way more rigid and I could feel every pebble on the trail.  Twitchy is probably the best way of describing it.  Back on the Talera and it was almost like having suspension on the rear, but still rigid.  Does that make sense?  To me it was suddenly night and day.  I get it, Steel is Real!

Well since all my good components were still on my Zaskar I would ride that until I found a replacement.  Problem is the bike was now wrecked for me.  Every time I got on it all I could think about was my Talera.  I was cheating on it.  I wanted that feel, but I knew that old cheap frame was just a bit too heavy…6.5lbs to be exact.  Very heavy.  Not more than a week later a mint 1992 Team Avalanche in my size pops up on eBay with an unbelievably low buy it now of $200, done.  When it arrived I tore the box apart and drug that frame and my Zaskar down to the Laboratory.  In a couple hours I swapped everything over and was ready to ride.  The amazing thing was the Zaskar frame weighed 4.1lbs and the steel Avalanche weighed 4.1lbs.  I think there was a 1 oz difference between them.  Now I know you can get lighter frames, but right around 3lbs is about as light as you can get.  So I am not giving up a lot in exchange for that feel.  Personally I think it is worth it.

Now I am wrecked forever.  Fortunately there are some great steel mountain bikes in production right now.  I really would like a 26er frame with rear disc mount and geometry for a 120mm fork.  There is a bike builder close to me, Waterford Bikes that makes such an animal.  This is on my list of wants in the next year or two.  Of course I have other stuff to keep me busy before then and the Avalanche is a great ride.  So Steel is Real…who would have thought.

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