Tubes of the Trade – Sourcing the Ride

Posted on 28. Feb, 2010 by Paul Skilbeck in 2010 News

Tubesets are to the handmade bicycle frame what wood is to a violin. Pick the right material and they both sing; choose the wrong stuff and they go flat.

One of the major themes of this year’s NAHBS is the renaissance of traditional frame materials like steel. Tubing manufacturers have all branched off into carbon production at various points of their history, but most are returning to focus on their core business – metals.

We’ll look at four premier tubing manufacturers to see how their products lend support to, and develop along with, the handmade bike industry.

L11508601. Dedacciai

Italian manufacturer Dedacciai have been producing tubesets for just 16 years, but during that time, frames built with Dedacciai tubing have been ridden to victory in Grand Tours by Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani, among others.

“Sponsorships are how we promote the brand and gain market share,” says Lorenzo Altissimo of Dedacciai. That practice has shown strong returns in the company’s short history, as 70-80% of the OEM steel tubing used by the Italian bicycle industry is sourced by Dedacciai, and it is used by many iconic Italian brands such as Bianchi, De Rosa and Pinarello.

Dedacciai have branched into carbon frame production, and it’s a dominant part of their product line now. But 2010 marks their third year at NAHBS, and steel tubes for North America’s handmade builders is a market in resurgence.

“Steel is increasing again,” says Altissimo. “We’re happy about steel coming back.”

L11507332. Tange

Japanese company Tange (“ton-gay”) have been in business for 90 years. After sourcing tubes for the Japanese bike invasion of the 1980s, Tange withdrew from the North American market for many years before re-entering 5-6 years ago.

Production has shifted from Japan to Taiwan, but Tange has kept its focus on Cro-Mo steel. “The North American market is still small for us, ” says Alvin Hsu, Sales Director for Tange, “but it’s definitely on the rise again. We’re here at NAHBS to see what the trends are, and to remind builders of our long heritage of quality tubesets.”

L11506773. Columbus

The Columbus dove logo is a symbol long associated with quality framesets. Founder A.L. Columbo of Italy opened shop in 1919, and produced metal tubing for all sorts of industrial applications. By the 1930s, bicycles built with Columbus tubing were winning races at the international level.

Columbus’ latest innovation is XCr, a seamless, stainless steel tubeset unique to the industry and highly prized for its mechanical characteristics and weldability. Add “environmentally friendly” to XCr’s list of virtues: stainless steel avoids the toxic process of cadmium plating that other alloys require.

XCr carries the load of Columbus’ immense reputation for quality and innovation, and is their key player in the big markets of the U.S., U.K. and Japan. “We produce all of our tubing in Italy and really believe in the superior qualities of stainless steel. It’s stiffer and stronger than Ti and has wonderful anti-corrosive qualities,” says Fabrizio Aghito of Gruppo SPA, Columbus’parent company that also owns the Cinelli brand. “We’re here at NAHBS to continue our strong relationship with handmade builders. Steel is back and it will only continue to grow.”

L11508424. Reynolds

Like Columbus, Reynolds has a long history in metal production. In Reynolds’ case, it extends back to the roots of the Industrial Revolution in Britain; through the 19th century Reynolds produced steel nails. By 1887, Reynolds produced its first butted steel bicycle tubing.

The Birmingham (U.K.)-based company was bought by an American owner, Coyote Sports, in 1997, and in 2000 was bought back from receivership after Coyote went bust. It’s been a privately-owned, U.K.-based company since then. All tubing is produced at the company’s Birmingham plant.

Reynolds’ flagship tubing is 953 stainless steel. This wonder alloy has much higher tensile strength than traditional blends and can accomodate thinner walls to produce very light frame weights of 1.1 to 1.2kg. It is offered in a mirrored finish and, new for 2010, 953 stainless fork blades.

Titanium is another strong card in Reynolds’ hand. They have produced a new hydroformed Ti tubeset and titanium demand has increased strongly over the past year. Biggest sales of Ti tubesets are to builders in Italy and the U.S..

The North American handmade market is very important for Reynolds. “It’s a dynamic, changing market, always adding and growing,” says Terry Bill, Reynolds’ Sales and Production Manager. “Independent builders are always receptive to new ideas, and our job is to listen to their needs and develop our products to meet them. This close relationship between builders and tubing manufacturers is what drives our industry to produce new and innovative products.”

-  Matt Butterman

Photography:  Ward Morrison

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