Why We Love Steel Bikes Here at Marin... And What Those Series 1,2 and 3 numbers mean!
We've been making steel bikes for 35 years and have no plans to stop any time soon. Here's why we love steel here at Marin and what our Series 1, 2 and 3 frames are all about.
Steel Is Real
Here at Marin we’ve made bikes with steel frames since day one (that's somewhere around 1986 donchaknow!)
Along the way, we’ve diversified into aluminum, carbon fiber and even titanium bikes, but we’ve stood by steel for over 35 years. Whilst bike technology has developed enormously over that time, steel is still a great choice for a road, gravel, city or mountain bike frame and at the heart of many of our favorite bikes.
There’s a lot of romance around steel frames - people idolise their looks and their ride quality and wax lyrical about how “steel is real”. But here we’re going to try and cut through some of the mysticism and look at what actually goes into our steel bikes and why we think they’re worth your attention.
We'll also explain why we group all of our frames as series 1, 2 or 3. But more on that later...
Steel Isn't Just Steel
At their heart, nearly all bike frames are a collection of tubes, regardless of what material they’re made from. Steel tubing seems the most straightforward and easy to understand, but there’s more going on than meets the eye.
For starters, steel isn’t just steel. The basic version - mild steel - is just iron and carbon. But there are lots of slightly different types depending on what other materials are added to the alloy. Only the very cheapest bikes are made from mild steel, whereas most quality frames, including ours, are made from Chromoly, also known as CrMo steel.
Chromoly has some cool properties which make it especially suitable for bikes, including the fact that at it resists corrosion and becomes stronger when you heat it up.
Billets and Buttings (Funny Names, Serious Business!)
While some bike companies make a big deal out of using branded tubing, we prefer to let our frames themselves do the talking.
The tubing we use for our bikes is drawn, not rolled, which means it starts life as a solid billet (that is, a lump of steel), rather than a flat sheet of metal. This billet is turned into tubes in a painstaking process involving a lot of heat and some serious machinery. Using this, we can control the diameter, thickness and profile of each individual tube.
And that’s not all - during the drawing process, we can vary the thickness of a tube along its length. A tube that ends up in one of our bike frames will be profiled so that it has more material at the ends, and narrower walls in the middle for less weight and better ride quality.
This process is called “butting” (no sniggering at the back!) and it’s used in all our steel frames. The more changes in thickness a tube has, the more complicated and costly it is to produce. Making special one-off tubing for a particular frame adds time and cost but means we're able to make something that's exactly how we want it to be.
Steel tubes can also be ovalized so they’re stiffer in one direction than another, and shaped to do clever stuff. Take a look at the rear triangle of one of our bikes and you’ll be able to see this in action, with the tubing shaped to fit around big volume tyres.
These processes add significantly to the cost of the end product, but they mean you end up with a better bike.
Handmade In Taiwan, To Take On The World
Before a frame goes off to the paint shop, it needs more stuff adding to make it functional: bottle bosses, rack, luggage or mudguard eyelets, disc brake mounts and dropouts (the bits your back wheel attaches to).
As with tubing, there are different ways to make these parts, and some are more expensive. For example, investment cast dropouts are more expensive than stamped dropouts, but look and perform much better.
Most of our steel bikes, parts and tube sets are made in Taiwan, which since the 1970s has risen to become the centre of the global bike manufacturing industry. Taiwan’s cycling industry has knowledge, skills, technology and working conditions that rival anywhere in the world, and it’s the go-to for our frames for this reason.
So Why Steel?
So, why would you make a bike frame out of steel?
Our decision to use steel is part head, part heart.
Steel has an incredible strength to weight ratio, which is why we can use those cool-looking skinny tubes to build a bike that’s just as strong as one made with alloy or carbon fiber. A good steel frame has a great ride quality that’s hard to replicate with other materials. It’s relatively easy to repair, and easy to make into something else at the end of its life.
Reliability and cost are other factors. Steel is an established frame material that’s been used for years, which means you know what you’re getting, and production and tooling costs are kept reasonable. But it’s also got a classic aesthetic that harks back to the BMX, road and mountain bikes we all lusted after when we were kids.
Steel frames just have the right mix of reliability, longevity and looks, which is why you still see so many older ones still in use, and why so many bike companies are still making them today.
So What's Marin's Series 1, 2 and 3 All About Then?
And this brings us nicely back to those mysterious numbers we attached to our steel frames.
Marin steel bike frames are all given a designation as Series 1, 2 or 3. You can find that number printed on the frame if you're not sure. These give you a clue as to how the frame has been made and the level of detail we've put into it.
That number doesn't simply refer to the tubing though, it's the whole frame. It's the tubes, the pieces that join them together and the fine details down to the bottle bosses and brake mounts.
And, of course, bikes from the same series don’t all use the same type of components - it wouldn’t make sense to build a gravel bike in the same way as a mountain bike for example. But they do go through the same processes to get to the finished frame and the 'series' helps you to understand what you're getting.
Marin Series 1 Frames
A Marin Series 1 CrMo steel frame will use simple, less costly processes to produce a reliable and great riding bike.
Generally, Marin Series 1 frames are our most affordable options and are designed to create the most bang for your buck, offering a brilliant bike that almost anyone can afford.
Series 1 frames will often have butted CrMo steel tubing, forged open dropouts, disc brake mounts and brazed-in eyelets.
The Marin Series 1 family includes the Nicasio, Nicasio+, Muirwoods and Four Corners bikes.
Marin Series 2 Frames
A Marin Series 2 CrMo steel frame will use tubing that undergoes more shaping and forming, which means it’ll be slightly lighter and more compliant to ride. It's designed to be that middle ground of great value and great performance, offering a more premium package than Series 1.
Series 2 steel frames will share many of the features of Series 1, such as forged, open dropouts and brazed-in eyelets but are upgraded to have custom double-butted and formed CrMo steel tubing for a super comfortable ride. Series 2 introduces neat, stylish and functional upgrades such as IS Standard brake mounts and investment cast dropouts.
The Marin Series 2 family includes road and off-road bikes. For off-road, there are the Pine Mountain 1 and Larkspur 1 & 2 and for on-road there's the Nicasio 2.
Marin Series 3 Frames
A Marin Series 3 CrMo steel frame is the top-dog, bells and whistles of the bunch. These best-of-the-bunch beauties have premium, custom double-butted and formed tubes that are specific to each individual model for the best looks and ride qualities.
Series 3 upgrades the fine details once again with investment cast dropouts and frame components, post-mount disc brake mounts and thru-axles, all of which create a great looking, great riding bike that mixes classic materials with modern performance.
The Marin Series 3 family is - for now - made up of the Pine Mountain 2 and the El Roy mountain bike hardtail But watch this space for more!
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