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Guest Feature from Steve Parke; Iron Clad – the days and nights of steel bike frames

November 6, 2016
Steve Parke is a great friend of mine, as well as an industry peer, and former boss. Even though our paths no longer cross with any regularity, we both periodically send up smoke signals to each other. Now and again, Steve will send an email to a group of us friends and colleagues, a bit like a newsletter, sharing his thoughts, experiences, or musings. Steve is one of my favorite people in the bike industry- and in general- so I eagerly read through these eloquently written postings. Steve’s been a part of the cycling industry for decades, and remains an avid and passionate rider. He’s currently working with BicycleBlueBook, helping them grow and prosper, thanks to his valuable knowledge. I have always had the utmost respect for my friend and his insights. We’ve often referred to each other in various ways as trusted advisors and confidantes- something I value deeply. 
It is with great pride that I get to share his most recent prose with you- the first guest article here. 
***
I ordered a DiNucci custom steel frame last year; it arrived this spring, after the NAHBS show.  It’s my third frame from Mark and arguably his best work, given the cumulative years of talent and exhaustive design effort applied to the lugs and tubing.  If you haven’t taken a look at DiNuccicycles.com, it’s worth the browse.
 
Bicycle frames are so very modern these days, what with nano-partical, uber-impregnated-carbon, and monococque molding, all baked and issued from precise molds with careful layup schedules dictated by CAD drawings that have long since predicted the FEA required, to produce a compliant, but stiff frame – but it has become, I fear, exquisite oatmeal.
 
The embedded industrial design of a carbon frame has permanently re-figured how our eye looks at a bike frame and measures beauty – I’m in the neo-set  too, being the proud owner of a custom Italian rig that weighs next to nothing and handles like a Ferrari. But still I yearned for the essential elegance of steel.
 
Steel frames are visually minimal compared to their modern brethren, but they own the legacy of how we speak about, and understand bike frames.  Ride quality adjectives are all sourced from the benchmark of steel – which is at the top of the list when it comes to defining: comfort, durability, and resiliency.  For years, you could get these wonderful qualities from a steel frame but had to surrender to heavier weights and whippier handling as trade offs.  I think DiNucci took a huge bite out of this apple and solved a lot of those old complaints.
 
I have a special appreciation for artisans that work with steel, tracing back to the smithy’s of yester-year who understood the temperamental relationship between heat and iron and knew how to make the steel submit to shape without robbing its integrity.  Those folks came from craftsmen guilds long ago and those groups sponsored from the early sapiens, which beat on heated metal and drug all of humanity forward with their knowledge.  The treatment of modern steel has changed immeasurably, but the lineage is ancient.
 
My frame took a while to get to me, so if short-on-patience is your bag, a project like this will challenge you – take the journey anyway; it will be worth your time.  Mark starts with the customary interview, then does the CAD drawings and then picks up the torch and runs the lathe – who does that anymore? Not many!  Everything is precise.  Each frame gets custom attention to the areas where weight can be trimmed based on tube butting’s. When it arrived I carefully unpacked it and let my eye wander around the frame and discovered many small studies in form and curve.  Staring at a beautifully crafted frame lifted my mood – go figure. 
  
During the process, I would call Mark from time to time to ask how it was going, but mostly just to chat, and because I like how his mind conjures the world of bicycles.  Progress was steady, but sometimes stalled by benefactors in the supply chain who were slow to deliver as promised – nothing is stock “off the shelf” in this ensemble and it took a while to get it right.  The aiming point for completion was the 2016 NAHBS show in Sacramento, where he showed my frame (raw) and it took best in show. 
 
So how does it ride?  Dreamy, smooth, sure, and fast when I am motivated.  Descending is flawless with great cornering manners, and those longer-than-usual chainstays soak up the imperfections in the road with ease.  It feels like there is 30% less “harshness” showing up in the seat and bars on rough pavement. 
 
What does it weigh?  A mere 17 pounds with a steel fork, Dura Ace mechanical 11 spd and American Classic Argent wheels.  A 17lb bike with a steel frame!
 
Years ago, I worked with a highly pragmatic, exceptional, mechanic who did not worry so much about the cosmetics on a bike (translation: color).  He used to chide customers who fretted over the color choice and one day, in a state of semi-exasperated retail bliss, blurted out to a potential female customer: “lady, color on a bike is about as important as feathers on a fish.”  I always thought he was “kinda right and kinda wrong,” but it turns out, I am a little closer to that lady than I would like to admit.  Selecting the color, working through Mark, who turned over the paint work to Joe Bell was the second artisan’s hand that would shape the final look of the bike.  I sent along a circa 1988 Silca frame pump, still in great working order, and asked for it to be painted to match.  Such a fantastic pump for actually fixing a flat; but really, pretty cheap plastic all in all – yet, they do last with care. Also, I asked for “red” which I later learned was to be interpreted as, “on the red spectrum” and came out a lot closer to orange.  The official paint color Joe used was, Bryan Bayliss Cad Red; its rare.  To be honest, the color was not what I had anticipated, but the work was just flawless and the pump was given special attention – a perfect old school compliment to a modern frame execution.
 
When I take it out for a ride, other riders occasionally spot the craftsmanship and register a praiseworthy comment. And while I am the steward of ownership, it is the artisans, with their mad skills that deserve those compliments, so I pass this along in honor of Joe and Mark. 
Thanks for reading,
Steve

Fork Crown.JPGFrame.JPG

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