by Andi Sykes
April 12, 2017
We’ve seen somewhat of a resurgence of steel full suspension frames over the past few months. For the most part, bike manufacturers have typically choosen alloy or carbon (and very occasionally titanium) for building their current full suspension bikes, and it’s not so often you see one made from steel in 2017. However, we’ve noticed a few more popping up, so we thought we’d sit down, grab a brew, and put together a current list of some of these modern steel mountain bikes that have been catching our attention lately.
As with most things, what goes around comes around. And this is true of steel full suspension frames.
Steel full suspension bikes have been around in one form or another for decades now. If we look right back to the early days of mountain biking, you might remember classics such as the Fat Chance Shock-A-Billy (pictured above). And what about the Orange X1? That’s right – the very first Orange full suspension bike was a complete steel URT bike (see below).
In recent years though, steel has gone out of fashion for the full suspension market (excluding those cheap and horrible supermarket brand bikes). In search of lighter frame weights, manufacturers have concentrated more on swoopy carbon and big-tubed alloy bikes instead. But are we starting to see the beginning of a change to all that?
Smaller brands, especially those with a name for making aggressive steel hardtails, are electing to choose steel for their full suspension bikes too. And as a result, now there are more high-quality steel full bounce bikes on the market than ever.
So without further ado, here’s our curated a list of 10 of the most modern models on the market. Could any of these replace your current bike?
1. Production Privee Shan No5
Production Privee has a long history of producing some of the best handling steel hardtails on the market. The frame’s clean lines with functional touches and retro motorsport inspired paint jobs have helped them grow a cult following.
The Shan No5 is the 5th instalment in the Shan range of frames and the first time that the bike maker has embarked on a full suspension platform. The whole frame is made of 4130 cromoly steel, meaning it is heavier than other frames, but the frame was designed mostly for durability over lightweight. Production Privee chose a single pivot design for ease of maintenance, and added an alloy shock yoke to protect the rear shock from lateral forces.
Those of you who have always liked the look of Production Privee frames but have been put off with the shorter than average reach numbers will also like the revised geometry of this bike, which is on par with longer UK bikes.
Production Privee will release a limited run of just 50 Shan No5 frames at the end of April, all painted in yellow and numbered. Check out what the Production Privee Shan No5 looked like during its development here.
2. Lichen Bikes Matchstick
Lichen Bikes is a small U.S frame maker that has a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, which managed to hit 150% of the funding target.
Like the Production Privee, the Matchstick is a full steel frame with a True Temper 4130 front triangle connected to a straight gauge 4130 steel swingarm. Rather than a single pivot design though, the 150mm of rear travel moves around a custom dual-linkage system that kinda looks like a VPP design, only with the lower link placed much higher and further up the downtube than we usually see.
The original prototypes had 26in wheels but the latest version is designed for 650b, boasts a 66º head angle.
3. Proudfoot Cycles Prime
Another U.S frame maker and lover of full steel construction is Proudfoot Cycles. The Proudfoot Prime is the Colorado brands latest full suspension bike featuring a simple single pivot just above and ahead of the bottom bracket.
We don’t know too much about this bike except it has a 67.5º head tube angle, boost drivetrain/hub spacing and that it comes in this plus sized version along with a fat bike model that has 120mm of travel and can run 29inch plus wheels. One of those convertible winter/summer bikes for places like Colorado that get a whole load of snow over the colder months.
4. Cotic Rocket/Flare
UK bike brand Cotic has taken the mountain bike world by storm over the past year with its range of Droplink full suspension bikes. Cotic currently offers four full suspension bikes including the Flare, FlareMAX, Rocket and RocketMAX.
The standard Rocket and Flare bikes are designed around 650b wheels, while the MAX variants can run larger 650b+ tyres or 29in wheels.
Cotic has taken a slightly different approach with its bike that uses a steel Reynolds 853 main triangle, 4130 cromoly seatstays, and a welded alloy chainstay. The alloy chainstay is said to offer more stiffness than one made from steel, and it also helps to reduce weight too.
If you want to know more about the Cotic FlareMAX, read what James has to say about it here and keep an eye out for our full review.
5. Stanton Prototype
Stanton is working away on a new full suspension bike that combines what the UK bike brand has learned from its aggressive hardtail range. Details are very thin on the ground but we do know that the front end of the Stanton full suspension bike will be steel mated to an alloy rear.
The only images we have of the bike so far are a line drawing of the final design and a photo of an early prototype that appears to be completely made of alloy. The final bike will apparently feature the front triangle from a Switchback hardtail (shown above). No word on how much travel it will have, the release date or pricing yet.
We met up with the guys from Stanton at The London Bike Show see the video and photos here.
6. Portus Cycles Der Flotte Karl
Portus Cycles is based out of Germany, and it’s entry into the list is the Der flute Karl. Or the Fleet Karl as it’s also known.
The current version of the Karl is pretty stunning. It features a VPP-style dual-link suspension system, 166mm of travel and room for 650b tyres up to 2.5in wide.
Being a small frame maker, and building all its frames in-house means that custom geometry is available, and there’s good news for big wheel lovers as a 29er prototype is currently being tested too. Like what you see? Follow the linky below for more info.
7. BTR Pinner
BTR, another small UK-based outfit, has been impressing us for years with its hand-crafted steel hardtails, and now the Somerset-based company is turning its design and manufacturing talents towards a double boinger.
The Pinner is a full steel frame with a welded rear swingarm. The solid swingarm rotates on a large single pivot, with a compact dual-link system driving the rear shock to produce 130mm of rear wheel travel. BTR builds the Pinner to order, and customers can choose from four sizes and to either run 26in or 27.5in wheels.
A 65º head angle makes it one of the slacker bikes here, while reach numbers are on par with the Shan No5.
8. Starling Murmur
The Murmur gets similarly aggressive geometry as the other bikes listed here, but this time the bike rolls on 29in wheels with 145mm of rear wheel travel.
Starling uses a mixture of Reynolds 853 and 631 tubing to build the Murmur frame, and claims that the total weight is on par with its alloy rivals. But whereas other alloy (and steel) full suspension frames are much chunkier in their appearance, you can probably tell that Starling has built the swingarm on the Murmur with much more slender tubing. This hints towards the rear end being a little more compliant, possibly delivering a more lively ride quality on the trail. We’ll let you know soon, when Starling’s owner, Joe McEwan, pays us a visit with some test bikes in the very near future. Stay tuned…
Along with the stories we’ve published, the Murmur has received plenty of attention from other media outlets since it was first launched, and already the Bristol based frame maker has quite the waiting list. So if you want one of these you had better get one on order! Learn more about the Starling Murmur in our launch article here.
9. Swarf Cycles Prototype
Swarf’s original 29er steel frame prototype looked very similar to the Starling Murmur. But over the course of its development and testing, the frame has morphed into the linkage driven design we see here.
Final details are still a way off, but from regular posts on Instagram, we know that the current version of the Swarf FS frame is designed with 115mm of rear wheel travel with geometry based around a 130mm fork. The bike has a 67º head angle, which might sound conservative but it’s actually the same as the highly praised Whyte T130. Also, the Swarf frame has 29in wheels, which changes the geometry equation over smaller-wheeled trail bikes.
The Swarf weighs in at 7lbs for an S/M frame with no shock, but this could change by the time they go into full production. We’ve got more on the Swarf Prototype here.
10. Curtis Full Suspension Frame
If you have been reading our 2017 Bespoked features then you will have seen that British bike maker, Curtis, had an all new 150mm travel bike at the show. What you might not know though is that this isn’t the first time Curtis have dabbled with full suspension.
Back in the day, the Curtis Thumpercross, was one of its first steel full suspension frames, but as you can see the new bike is a much simpler design. The clearcoat steel frame is brazed together to get the right balance of strength to weight and customers will have the option to get custom geometry too once the frame goes on sale.
And there you have it folks – our current Top 10 list of steel full suspension bikes that are floating our collective boats as of right now. But what about you? Are you into any of these steel machines? And of all the other steel full suspension frames out there, what would you put in your list?