14/10/2019 - We use steel for performance

We use Steel for Performance

Cy writes about the reasons behind the choice of frame material for most Cotics

Cy riding his Reynolds 853 steel RocketMAX

Some thoughts have been rolling around my head recently regarding why I design bikes the way I do. It got me fired up and excited and I wanted to share that with you.

This all crystallised by having to write a few words to put with our bikes that were on the Reynolds stand at Cycle Show a few weeks ago. Why did we use that material? I kind of surprised myself with what I came up with:

"We use steel for most of our bike frames, including our droplink full suspension. We love the super strong, air-hardening Reynolds 853 material, as well as our own custom specified heat treated cromoly.

Whilst this may be unusual, it's simply an extension of the reason why Cy first chose to use it for the Soul over 16 years ago. Steel is tough, durable and gives our bikes their beautifully clean lines. Because of its incredible strength it allows us to use it in relatively thin sections when designing the frames, which gives the bikes outstanding ride feel. Using steel gives our hardtail and full suspension frames a gorgeous, tactile, and traction enhancing flex along the length of the bike, allowing them to breathe with the trail instead of fighting it.

In short, we don't use steel to be different for differents' sake, or to be hip, we use it because we strongly believe it builds the best bikes."

Light Bulb

This last sentance in bold was a bit of a revelation to me. Although I've been designing bikes and using steel for them for over 16 years, I think that British trait of slightly under playing things had always got in the way of me stating what I feel about this, and that sentance sums it up perfectly. I don't use it to be different for different's sake, or god-forbid, 'niche', I used it on the Soul originally because I hated the ride feel of aluminium framed hardtails. Steel gave me the feel I wanted, left me less beat up, gave me more grip. The fact it looks beautiful and clean is a wonderful side benefit.

I Use Steel For Performance

Particularly with an off road bicycle, but even on road too, steel is a performance differentiator. If you are chattering across cambers, or hauling through rocks, why on earth would you want a material that transmitted every single ding and hit through to your wrists and feet? Why would you want your chassis to be so stuff that it ping'd your tyres away from the ground instead of riding the bumps? Even our droplink full suspension bikes generate grip you wouldn't believe when compared to a stiffer bike. And heavy? Well there's a few grammes here and there, and I work hard to keep the weight off the frames where I can through careful design. When Brand Ambassador Wayne Coates from ChamonixMTB got his FlareMAX (based on a Silver x HUNT build) a couple of weeks ago, there was some teeth sucking at the local bike shop....

"Some good banter at the local bike shop [in Chamonix]. Bit of chin rubbing, steel huh? Wow, so English! Must be heavy...Out come the scales, turns out it only weighs 500 grams more than the new S-Work Enduro at EUR10,999"

Not bad for a "heavy" frame eh?

Doing It "Wrong" for over 60 Years

I was at Goodwood Revival in September. It's a historic motor race weekend in the UK where there are scores of old cars being raced and showed off. This thought of mine about why I use steel had been fermenting for a few days, but a few things I saw at Goodwood really got me fired up about this. Iconic brands "doing it wrong" according to the so-called received wisdom.

Classic 911 at Goodwood Engine in the 'wrong' place

There were Porsche 911s everywhere, including being raced. For over 60 years Porsche have been building sports cars with the engine in the 'wrong' place. At the rear, slung out behind the rear axle. Why on earth would you do that? The weight is all wrong, it will understeer etc, etc.

Well, there's some very good reasons why; it frees up interior space; there are seats where the engine would be in a mid-engined car. The flipside of the weight being 'wrong', is that on corner exit, it's very, very 'right'. Work the front end on entry, get turned and 911s have phenominal traction to fire them out of corners. And despite decades of people telling them they have it wrong, they should build a mid-engined car, they have stuck to their guns, amplified the advantages, minimised the downsides and built what most consider to be the seminal sports car. The one by which all others are still measured.

There were also motorcycles, specifically for this example, Ducati's and KTM's. Again, companies with decades of production history, still 'doing it wrong' building steel trellis frame motorcycles when the 'right' way is aluminium. But here the parallel's with what I try to do here at Cotic are even more apparent. They believe that steel is a performance advantage, and the stiffness isn't the be-all-and-end-all of motorcycle handling. Trellis frames are stiff in the side view, but fairly soft laterally (side to side when viewed from above). When asked about Ducati's World Superbike's handling in turns, Honda rider Colin Edwards said,

“Yeah, they wallow [flex]. But they dig in and go around the corner.”

Casey Stoner on his steel framed Ducati MotoGP bike

Sounds familiar if you are a Cotic rider, doesn't it? When a bike is leaned over (either a mountain bike or a racing motorcycle) the suspension does less because the hits are coming out of plane of the suspension movement. It is here that it is ALL about the frame breathing with the surface to gain grip and performance.

During the same era, Honda were struggling for front end grip on the RC51, and bought a Ducati to benchmark. They found it half as laterally stiff! But what that gave the riders was feel, warning when the front end was going to slip, and less 'chatter'.

KTM take it even further: Founded in 1934 they have been building steel frame motorcycles for decades. They re-entered MotoGP - the pinnacle of motor sport - 2 years ago with the 'wrong' frame material, steel. Despite scepticism from a field that uses aluminium throughout, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer said,

"We will never win if we ditch steel. We will never leave aside the tubular chassis because it is one of the main advantages of our bikes"

What I believe he meant was, if they do it the same as everyone else, how are they going to beat them? They have won multiple times in Supercross and Dakar, so I wouldn't bet against them in MotoGP.

Parallels

There are a lot of parallels and similarities to what I want to acheive here, but the difference in the bike industry seems to be that steel is always put in that box marked 'niche', 'small', 'hipster'. It's not that at all, and it's so much more besides. Sure, Porsche, Ducati and KTM aren't mass-market, but they aren't small time either. They are big, competitive, highly successful brands with class leading products. KTM sold 218,000 bikes in 2018, and Porsche is the most profitable car brand in the world.

There is a sea of aluminium and carbon bikes out there, but I don't want our bikes to ride like that, or look like that. Our bikes are better than that. They ride better, the last ages, they can even be repaired, they can be easily recycled. Believe me, it is way easier and cheaper to build and aluminium bicycle frame than one made from high end steel. Our unit costs probably have more in common with mainstream carbon fibre frames than the aluminium frames we are often compared with. Again, we do this because we believe it makes a better bike. We believe the effort is worth the reward, the juice is worth the squeeze.

So if you agree with us, or would like to find out more, get a demo and see how much better a combination of steel tubes and radical Longshot geometry can do for you. Join us for a better ride.


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