The Stoemper Taylor is a fine example of modern steel – fast, engaging and with bags of personality, it’s a genuine alternative to carbon fibre.
Steel is making something of a comeback and it’s small, bespoke builder like Stoemper who are helping to lead the charge. Stoemper are based across the pond in Springfield, Oregon, (you can read more about the background of the company in our ‘first look‘) and the Taylör is their steel road racing model.
Steel is real
Steel has been around since the beginning and remains framebuilders’ metal of choice thanks to its strength and relative affordability, as well as the ease with which it can be worked.
Carbon fibre, however, is material of choice for high-octane performance machines – and rightly so. It can be manipulated for both stiffness and comfort like no metal can and, of course, is lighter. There are also many excellent mid-range carbon machines – I’ve tested a few this year – but it needn’t be the default choice if you have £1,500 to spend on a frame.
But, just as carbon fibre manufacture has progressed in recent years, so has that of steel (and, for that matter, aluminium) thanks to the development of tubesets which are lighter and stiffer than ever before.
Steel has returned to the pro peloton in 2013 beneath the riders of the UCI ProContinental-registered Madison-Genesis team, with a frame made from Reynolds 953, while the Taylör is constructed from True Temper’s flagship S3 tubeset. While Reynolds are based in Birmingham, True Temper HQ is in Memphis, Tennessee, and, as a result, their steel is more popular in the States than here.
S3 stands for Super Strength Steel and it’s True Temper’s tubeset for lightweight racing frames thanks to a high strength-to-weight ratio, which means the tube walls can be thinner – and lighter – without sacrificing strength. The tube profiles are also oversized to boost stiffness. Claimed weight for a size 56cm frame is 1.55kg, which is only a few hundred grammes north of many carbon frames. To turn that on it’s head, however, it’s nearly double the weight of the lightest carbon frames currently available.
Each TIG-welded Stoemper frame is handbuilt in Oregon by Todd Gardner and the level of craftmanship is superb. It’s a beautiful machine; traditional with a modern twist, thanks in part to the Reynolds Attack wheels specced on our test machine (more on the build later).
Gardner believes it is important for a framebuilder’s personality to shine through the frame – there is a unique connection between builder, frame and customer – and the Taylör features a number of neat touches. A Godzilla badge is planted proudly on the front of the headtube, while Gardner ‘signs’ each frame on the inside of the left-hand chainstay. The quality of the welds is also exquisite, as are the handbent seatstays, and the entry and exit points for the internal cable routing.
Stoemper describe the geometry as “a fine blend of Euro and American race geometry” and that translates to a traditional and aggressive setup. Our size 56cm test machine’s ever-so-slightly sloping toptube meets a custom machined, straight-through headtube (1-1/8″) which measures a compact 16cm, while the headtube and seattube angles are also suitably racy at 73.5 and 73 degrees respectively. The geometry and the 12cm stem fitted to our test machine make for a low and long riding position.
So how does it ride? In short, like a dream. The tubeset and geometry combine to make a frame which is aggressive and begs to be ridden fast, without losing that steel sensation which has kept many loyal to metal.
Stoemper call the Taylör their “wrecking ball” and “torpedo” and both words accurately describe its willingness to be ridden fast. It’s a machine which is as happy ticking off long, steady miles, as steel always is, as it is being thrashed around the lanes for two hours. Crucially, for a rider like you or I, by choosing a performance-driven, high-end steel tubeset over mid-range carbon fibre, there’s little discernible impact on performance.
Our size 56cm frame weighs a claimed 1.55kg and built up to a high-end spec (more of which later) makes for a machine which tips the RCUK scales at 7.9kg, which is competitive by most standards but, crucially, it rides like a bike which is a little lighter still. Point the Taylör up hill and, while the frame doesn’t quite jump out of blocks with the same snap as a carbon fibre machine, it carries speed on challenging gradients remarkably well and the frame is certainly stiff rather than springy.
I set several new Strava personal bests on local climbs during my time with the Taylör. That’s by no means a scientific test – weather, fitness and improving form are only three other variables to consider – but never did I feel it was machine, not man, that was holding me back.
Tip the Taylör down the subsequent descent and its poised and planted character reveals itself. The handling is sharp and agile, reacting quickly to small adjustments to the handlebar without requiring too much attention on behalf of the rider. Take the Taylör on rough roads, of which there is no shortage on my local test loops, and the smoothness of the steel frame makes itself known. The frame is paired with a carbon fibre, 295g Enve 1.0 fork, painted to match the frame.
It’s a superbly balanced ride: stiff, with responsive handling and a comfortable ride quality which combines to make for a machine which feels unlike steel of old, while retaining the qualities which made steel so popular in the first place.
Stoemper sell the Taylör as a frameset only but our machine came from their UK agent, Scott Purchas, who built up the frame to a high-end spec, with a Campagnolo Record groupset, Reynolds Attack carbon clincher wheels wrapped in Schwalbe Durano tyres, 3T finishing kit, a Fizik Aliante saddle and Elite bottle cages.
Most riders who order a handbuilt frame will choose their own spec (why spend hours fretting over the details of a handbuilt frame only to have it dressed by someone else?) but the build of our test machine undoubtedly lets the quality of the frame shine through. The Record groupset, which is second-from-top in Campagnolo’s range, offers positive, accurate shifting accompanied by that unmistakable Campag ‘clunk’ and, while full-carbon wheels may seem an unlikely match for a steel frame, their low profile and white on black decals mean they’re a subtle but thoroughly modern addition.
A quick word on the wheels themselves: the Attack hoops are the most affordable full-carbon clinchers in the Reynolds range, with a retail price of £1,049.99 (although the 2012 version are currently available for considerably less). With a claimed weight of under 1,500g they’re well suited to going uphill and the ride quality is excellent. We were also impressed by the braking performance, both in dry and wet conditions, and will look to get a set in for further inspection and a full review.
Steel needn’t be consigned to the history books. It still has its place as a thoroughly modern metal from which to make a fast, aggressive bike and the Stoemper Taylör is just that. It’s a high-end frame (£1,899 for the frame and fork is not small change) and the price tag puts it up against some superb carbon fibre opposition – but if you’re willing to sacrifice the extra flight that comes with carbon fibre, then you’ll be rewarded with an engaging machine which is a huge amount of fun to ride.
Sizes: 45cm, 47cm, 50cm, 52cm, 54cm, 55cm, 56cm, 57cm, 58cm, 60cm, 62cm (custom geometry also available)
Price: £1,599 (frame only), £1,899 (frame and fork)