Steel frames - what to look out for?


Über Member
I'm on the look out for a steel frame and fork set to build a bike from. I've got a carbon bike and a couple of alu bikes all of which are off the peg, and i fancy me a winter project where i build myself a bike from scratch. Don't know why but i fancy this with building something using new-ish components on something a bit retro.

I've looked at ebay and the like and steel frames seem to vary from £30 with no bids on them (presumably crap!) to in excess of £300 with lots of bids on them.

Apart from the usual information on damage, rust and straightness and whether it's Reynolds 531 etc. i'm a bit in the dark what to look for.

So, with a budget of say £200 max for a steel frame and forkset what advice do people have. Ideally i'm looking for something late 1980s.

Cheers, Paul.

Mark Grant

Acting Captain of The St Annes Jombulance.
Hanworth, Middx.
I don't know what size you need but here's a new old one.


Legendary Member
I had a 1990 Harry Hall in Columbus SLX, a respected steel tubing but TBH it had such a short upright geometry that it was punishing to ride. I spent more modernising it than it cost me and I sold it as soon as my carbon bike came along, there was no contest.

Why not look around at some contemporary steel frames from niche makers like Surly? They would have modern dimensions and geometry and would be much easier to build up with modern components. At least you won't need to worry about internal rust or fatigue.

Chris S

Legendary Member
Make sure it's got horizontal drop-outs. If you're building a single-speed it'll make getting the chain length right a lot easier. If you're not then it will be easier to sell on when you're finished with it.
I'd stick with the idea of a used steel frame.

eBay is OK, but also look in the local paper and at car boot sales and in newsagen windows.

Ask friends who used to ride or folk whose children have left the nest.

If this is an N+1 project, you won't need anything too whizzbang. 531 is nice, is light enough and will probably have been used to build a fairly high-quality or good-quality item.

Get the size right and everything else is about preference.

The difficulty with buying just frame and forks is that the cost and difficulty of obtaining the correct wheels, brakes, levers, bars etc. can be quite high.

I'd be inclined to search on eBay and elsewhere for complete bikes in tatty condition. You can then keep some bits and junk others.

If it's a project you're after, I'd strongly advise you to stay with the idea of something used.

Good luck and enjoy the adventure.
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