Carbon may rule the roost when it comes to race bikes in 2016, but steel remains the framebuilders’ metal of choice and has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years.
Steel is old school cool - the last time a steel bike was ridden to Tour de France victory was by Miguel Indurain in 1994, when the Spaniard won the fourth of five consecutive titles. That's not to say it's dated, though, and advancement in steel technology means modern steel tubesets are lighter and stiffer than ever before, while retaining the characterful ride quality which makes it a popular choice.
Steel is strong and durable, too, making it a popular choice for commuting, winter bikes and touring bikes, and can be repaired in the event of a crash.
Steel is also the most popular metal to work with when it comes to custom bikes - and the popularity of the Bespoked Bristol show continues to demonstrate the appetite for handmade bikes.
And there's no shortage of choice when it comes to off-the-peg steel bikes either, so whether you're after a steel training bike or something special as your Sunday best, you should be able to find something which fits the bill.
With that in mind, we’ve picked out nine of the best steel bikes which caught our eye for 2016.
Donhou Signature Steel DSS2
Tom Donhou made his name as a custom framebuilder, designing frames to each and every customer’s exact measurements from his east London workshop.
But Donhou has since expanded into full off-the-peg builds with his Signature Steel range, with the first bike, the beautiful DSS1, launching at the back-end of 2014.
And Donhou has now added the DSS2 to the line-up, with the ‘grown up, older brother’ of the original bike built with versatility and adventure at the top of the agenda, thanks to the addition of disc brakes, ample tyre clearance and a geometry tuned for gravel riding and touring. In fact, Donhou took the DSS2 to Iceland (pictured above) for its final test ride ahead of the launch.
Built from Reynolds 853 steel, and paired with a Wound Up Gravel carbon fibre fork, the frame comes with an eye-catching, Miami Vice-inspired paintjob.
The top-spec Shimano Ultegra build is also equipped with handbuilt wheels from August Wheelworks, with Hope hubs and Pacenti SL25 disc-specific rims, alongside Thomson, Fizik and Chris King components.
Price: £1,995 (frameset only); £3,965 (Shimano Ultegra, hydraulic disc brakes)
Website: Donhou Bicycles
Genesis Volare 931
Genesis moved into carbon fibre in 2014 but the company made its name working with steel and the Volare, raced to Tour Series success by the Madison-Genesis team in 2015, is an example of what can be achieved with modern steel.
The team races on the Volare 953 – crafted, as the name suggests, from Reynolds’ flagship 953 tubeset –but Genesis also offer the frame in more affordable 931 (featured here) and 853 builds.
Reynolds 931 is more workable and less labour-intensive than 953 but it's still a premium metal and combines the stiffness and (for steel) low weight you'd expect from a performance-focused bike.
The frameset will set you back £1,699.99 but the 853 frame is a little more friendly on the wallet at £899.99.
Price: £1,699.99 (frameset only)
Website: Genesis Bikes
Mason Cycles is the brainchild of Dom Mason, who made his name as designer of some very good bikes over at Kinesis. Mason has since set up shop on his own and the Resolution, which made its way into the RCUK 100, our pick of the 100 hottest products for 2016, is one of two debut bikes, alongside the aluminium Definition.
Mason is committed to the idea of the four-seasons bike - a jack of all trades if you will - and the Resolution fits the billing perfectly. There's clearance for larger tyres, disc brakes, and discreet mudguard and rack mounts, plus the relaxed geometry is tuned to provide all-day comfort and stability on a variety of surfaces.
Still, there's a performance edge to the Resolution, too, and the frame is made from Columbus Spirit and Life tubing, with a wide, ovalised toptube and oversized downtube to boost stiffness, as well as a tapered headtube. Above all else, it's a beautiful frame.
The Resolution is available as a frameset only for £1,459, if you want to put together your own build, otherwise there are five standard specs, including the £4,195 Resolution Ultegra Di2 Hydro which sits second-top in the range bookended by the £2,595 Resolution 105 and £5,595 Dura-Ace Di2 Hydro.
Price: £1,459 (frameset only); £5,595 (Dura-Ace Di2 Hydro); £4,195 (Ultegra Di2 Hydro)l £3,195 (Ultegra Hydro); £2,895 (105 Hydro); £2,595 (105)
Website: Mason Cycles
Enigma Elite HSS ST
Sussex-based Enigma specialise in steel and titanium and, like the Volare, the Elite HSS ST, another entry from the 2016 RCUK 100, is another example that steel still has plenty to offer in the performance stakes.
The frame is built from a Columbus Spirit HSS tubeset, which ensures, a stiff, lively ride quality, and is based around Enigma's 'fast endurance' geometry.
Frame weight is a claimed 1,580g, so it's still giving up weight compared to a carbon or aluminium frame, but Enigma promise a bike ideal for riders who "demand true performance but seek the smoothness, quietness, comfort and sheer ‘zing’ that only comes from steel."
Every frame is built to order in Enigma's workshop, where they're also painted - either in a range of stock options or, for an extra cost, a custom finish of your choice.
The Elite HSS is available as a frameset only for £1,575, while Enigma also offer it in three standard Shimano builds.
Price: £1,575 (frameset only); £3,999 (Dura-Ace); £2,850 (Ultegra); £2,450 (105)
Website: Enigma Bicycle Works
Colnago Master X-Light
Now for something very different. The timeless quality of Colnago’s Master frameset is proven by the fact, having first launched in the early 1980s, the frame enjoyed plenty of success in the pro peloton and is still a key part of the Italian firm's range today.
Designed, made and plated in Italy, the Master is crafted from Deda DT15V steel and features crimped tubes and chromed lugs with a tapered, plated steel Precisa fork.
The frame is available in three colour variations – each with eye-catching Art Deco paintjobs – for a classic beauty which still looks at home today.
Price: £1,799 (frameset only)
Condor Super Acciaio
Condor have building bikes since 1948 and in that time have supplied machines to the likes of Tom Simpson and Sir Bradley Wiggins. Steel bikes remain an important part of Condor's range and the Acciaio is the London-based firm's all-rounder.
The TIG-welded frame is built from a tubeset by Italian specialists Dedacciai and is said to contain elements of carbon, magnesium, molybdenum and vanadium to try and save a little weight (claimed weight for the frame is 1,800g).
The frame is based around an endurance geometry with a slightly taller headtube and longer wheelbase than Condor's race frames, in order to provide a more upright riding position and stable handling for the long sojourns the Acciaio is designed for.
The Acciaio is available as a frameset for £899.99 but Condor also offer a wide range of complete builds through their online bike builder. Customers who buy a complete bike get a fit thrown in for free.
Price: £899.99 (frameset only)
Website: Condor Cycles
When we reviewed the Stoemper Taylör we described it as "a fine example of modern steel – fast, engaging and with bags of personality, it’s a genuine alternative to carbon fibre."
That's thanks to the use of True Temper’s flagship S3 tubeset and the craftmanship of Stoemper's Todd Gardner, who builds each frame in Oregon.
The Taylör is a frame which enjoys being ridden hard and has the stiffness and responsiveness to match hard efforts from the rider, while still feeling like a steel frame. That's a potent combination.
Stoemper offer the Taylör in 11 sizes but Gardner can also build to a custom geometry.
Price: £1,599 (frame only), £1,899 (frame and fork)
Engineered Bicycles Gezel
If you went to this year's Bespoked Bristol handmade bicycle show, then chances are you will have clapped eyes on this stunning, hand-painted Engineered Bicycles Dondor.
The Dondor is a race bike made from a scandium-alloy but the Gezel is Engineered's Bristol-designed, Italian-made steel endurance/gravel bike.
It's designed for "long days in the saddle, all year round", according to Engineered Bicycles, and so has the versatility you'd expect from such a machines, including clearance for 28mm with full mudguards and disc brakes (though the frame can also be built for cantilever brakes).
"The inspiration came from serious racers looking for a bike that could be ridden throughout the year but offering the fit and character of their race bikes," say Engineered Bicycles.
The Gezel is available in a range of standard sizes or as a made-to-measure frame, and can built up into almost any spec you want.
Price: from £1,600 (frameset only)
Website: Engineered Bicycles
The Kona Roadhouse is another bike out of the steel do-it-all camp. Kona is a brand that has adventure written into its DNA and the Roadhouse is part of the new breed of bikes designed to go beyond what you'd expect a regular road bike to do.
"We’ve always loved steel in road, and this year we offer an entire platform of bikes blending old-world sensibilities with modern technology," say Kona.
The Roadhouse is made from a Reynolds 853 tubeset with tapered headtube and a carbon fork. It's a disc-specific frame and Kona have opted for thru-axles at the front and rear.
Tyre clearance is key on a bike like this and the Roadhouse has plenty - it's specced with 30mm tyres as standard, bringing additional comfort and versatility over narrower rubber. The £1,699 machine also has Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless-compatible wheels.