Custom Tubing

Our latest frames don’t use off-the-shelf tubing.

The Sirius 4G, Moxie and A.L.I.C.E. use a combination of:

  • custom drawn
  • tube-appropriate, double, triple or quad butted (front triangle)
  • round, ovalised or tapered
  • heat treated
  • CrMo 4130

With respect to the Moxie, this frame would not have been possible with an off-the-shelf tubeset. Custom-made tubing was the only way we could achieve the reach and BB drop we wanted in our longer frame and create the genuinely long, low and slack enduro hardtail we’ve wanted.

The tubes have been designed specifically for each frame and every tube is heat treated, including the rear triangle. Special butt profiles avoid the use of gussets and the results are clean lines and super-strong joints which have not been exposed to extra heating/welding which potentially weakens the joint.

Externally it would be hard to tell the difference between the tubing we use and a branded tubeset: internally, it’s a different matter.

The Alternatives

Branded-tubing manufacturers are able to achieve economies of scale by offering standardised tubing that’s appropriate for a wide range of applications. These applications include the aerospace industry, high-performance racing or off-road vehicles, crash-protection bars in cars and of course, bicycles. This explains why the term ‘aircraft grade’ sometimes crops up with bicycle tubing, which seems an odd marketing strategy for a bicycle tubing.

These tubesets offer builders the characteristics and qualities that work for most applications which is why gussets/plates are sometimes necessary. This may be an indication that the tubes selected were not wholly adequate on their own so additional reinforcement was needed. But as we’ve said before, the extra strength a gusset might offer can be negated by the additional welding need to fit it. This reheating of a critical area of the frame is potentially damaging to the tubes and should be avoided, if at all possible.

Strength in Perspective

Even the most basic CrMo tubes possess phenomenal strength which is why it’s such a good material choice for aggressive hardtails (and adventure bikes) that frequently take a beating. Reynolds 525 (for example), which might be considered an entry-level tubeset by some, has a tensile strength 20% greater than most Grade 9 3Al/2.5 Titianium.

When similar tube specifications are considered (diametre, thickness and butt profile), a Ti frame will be lighter than a CrMo frame but the CrMo will be ‘stronger’. Heat treated CrMo (and air hardening tubesets) have as much as twice the tensile strength of Grade 9 Ti which means it’s possible to go thinner yet still be incredibly strong and potentially match the Ti frame for weight.

So, if the tubes are appropriately butted for their intended application and the welds are good, it’s possible to build an incredibly strong frame with even the most ‘basic’ of CrMo tubes.

The Decal

Most branded tubing suppliers disallow the use of their tubing decal unless all three of it’s main tubes are from the same tubing series. Furthermore, when tubes of the same series are used together (often with a head tube that possesses similar material properties) the strength in the welds are balanced and optimised.

Sometimes a branded tube may be incorporated into a frame design but typically this is because the specific tube has a suitable butt profile, diametre or pre-cut length. But, unless it has the same material properties as the other tubes, it’s probably not contributing any other benefits. Instead, the frame will have different properties on either side of the joint with the result that the joint is only as strong as the ‘weakest’ member. When tubes from the sames series are used as the manufacturer intended, then the strengths of the joints are optimised: this is particularly true of air-hardening alloys.

CrMo tubing with different qualities can be welded together without any issue but when one ‘high-end’ tube is used apart from other tubes from the same series and reasons other than above are given, then (call me cynical), it’s more likely for marketing.

Artisan builders will often select tubes from multiple brands and mix-and-match them to achieve the characteristics and qualities they need.  Consequently, you’ll seldom see the branded decals on their frames, which are of little consequence when you know the builder has selected the tubing most appropriate for the design.

Does Branding Matter?

The properties of branded and unbranded tubing are mechanically and materially almost identical and the quality of tubing being manufactured in Taiwan (which is arguably at the forefront of bicycle manufacturing technology) is as good as any anywhere else in the world.

Certainly, Columbus and Reynolds have pedigree: they’re still leaders in tubing technology and continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible from this humble material. Other brands like Dedacciai have since come on the scene and are one of the most notable for their use among artisan frame builders. Their distinctive ‘cricket bat’ chainstays are easily identifiable, even without a sticker.

For some, the tubing decal will always be a mark of honour and a thing to elicit the respect of the cognoscenti. However, it seems odd that a decal should be used to define the quality and characteristics of a frame when there’s so much more to it than that.

A Very Special Opportunity

Our latest frames don’t use standard tubing.

The tubesets we use are made in small batches in the same facility that fabricates them. This specialist Taiwanese company is not only one of the best frame-builders in the industry, it’s also a leader in tubing technology – specifically for bicycles.

Having the capability to draw and butt tubing in-house means that we’re able to achieve the exact specifications we require. This super-alloy is custom butted along it’s length and some tubes even have variable thickness in their cross-section. All this magic is on the inside, out of sight. Longer butts and curved tubes also transfer loads from otherwise vulnerable areas, negating the need for gussets/plates which not only delivers a clean aesthetic but maintains the strength qualities of the tubing.

Our Decision

After more than a decade of designing frames, we’re not prepared to compromise a design for the sake of a decal: it may be a controversial choice but we’re committed to building you the best with the best tubing available.

Our hope is that you’ll have the confidence that we are.

Further Reading

There’s a number of good articles and references below: