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Steel Frame: Pros and Cons

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Anonymous

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Time for a good off season discussion about frame material.

I know there are a few threads here that discuss steel frames but some of the other threads contain links that no longer work and are very out of date.

This thread is kind of intended for someone wishing to look on a cycling forum for an up-to-date discussion on the pros and cons of steel frames.

If I were looking for information on getting a steel frame, these are the kind of questions I would ask. (some questions may overlap a little)

Who here has one?
How do they ride?
What is the primary purpose of your steel frame?
How do they compare to your other bikes with different frame materials?
Why would you recommend someone get a steel frame?
Why would you NOT recommend someone get a steel frame?
What are the advantages of a steel frame?
What are the disadvantages of a steel frame?
Will they be competitive in races (i know, indian not arrow, but a valid question anyway) ?

Please discuss!

Steel lovers and steel haters are equally welcome, as are fence sitters to!
 
Jul 2, 2009
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me likes
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tubesets. wife has a full 853/Deda ride, lifer.

thats all i got.
 
Jun 9, 2009
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I have two steel road bikes. I love them.

Pros:

comfortable (best ride quality, especially with a carbon fork and carbon rear triangle)
can be repaired after a crash (tubes straightened, rewelded dropout, etc.)
relatively inexpensive, depending on manufacturer
lugs are beautiful
durable in travel
classic


Cons:

slower due to frame flex
rust
get 'whippy' with age

I'm retired from racing, so I don't really care about top end performance. I like to get out for longer rides (4-5 hours) and frequently choose rough roads to avoid traffic.

Aluminum just sucks. Avoid it if you can. Carbon is fast and smooth, but nowhere near as lively as steel due to the stiffness of the frame.

I am planning on getting a Specialized Allez Steel for a friend interested in starting road riding. She wants skinny tires for a low price and has no intentions on racing right now. It's the obvious choice, and it's red.
 
Mountain Goat said:
Time for a good off season discussion about frame material.

I know there are a few threads here that discuss steel frames but some of the other threads contain links that no longer work and are very out of date.

This thread is kind of intended for someone wishing to look on a cycling forum for an up-to-date discussion on the pros and cons of steel frames.

If I were looking for information on getting a steel frame, these are the kind of questions I would ask. (some questions may overlap a little)

Who here has one?
How do they ride?
What is the primary purpose of your steel frame?
How do they compare to your other bikes with different frame materials?
Why would you recommend someone get a steel frame?
Why would you NOT recommend someone get a steel frame?
What are the advantages of a steel frame?
What are the disadvantages of a steel frame?
Will they be competitive in races (i know, indian not arrow, but a valid question anyway) ?

Please discuss!

Steel lovers and steel haters are equally welcome, as are fence sitters to!

I have a Waterford R-32, stainless steel. Rides like a dream(subjective), looks great(subjective) will last for decades.
How it feels will not change ever. Steel doesn't get 'soft' with age. There are no disadvantages to steel that make any real difference to rider performance. The other 3 materials(aluminum, titanium, carbon) and bigger 'others' than steel. Aluminum is harsh(subjective), titanium is expensive and carbon is fragile, hard to repair.
 
Aug 14, 2009
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Who here has one?

I do! Got myself a Colnago Master X - Light

How do they ride?

My father has an EPS as well as a Cannondale Super Six 13. I rate the Master Frame to be better than the Cannondale, and a close second to the EPS.

What is the primary purpose of your steel frame?

I don't race - I'm a recreational rider. I put in only about 70-90 miles per week (most of it on the rollers right now).

How do they compare to your other bikes with different frame materials?

Feels lively. Carbon feels like I'm riding something at Disneyland - smooth, quick, no real bumps. The steel feels like I'm in a car - can be smooth and quick, but I can feel the bumps in a good way. Kind of like my Mini Cooper.

Why would you recommend someone get a steel frame?

It has heritage, it's durable, and the weight of it kind of feels good.

Why would you NOT recommend someone get a steel frame?

If you care - weight. But like I always say - if my friends show up with a bike that's 2-3 lbs lighter, I figure I'd rather lose the 2-3 lbs to stay competitive. Saves money, too.

What are the advantages of a steel frame?

Looks amazing - my frame is a work of art. Also, it feels...I'd hate to say it...REAL.

What are the disadvantages of a steel frame?

Weight. And if you ONLY have a steel frame to ride, you're always going to wonder what it's like on the other side.

Will they be competitive in races?

Definitely can be - but that's all up to the rider.
 
Jul 23, 2009
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I have a SS roadie made from Columbus Zona tubing. Zona is not the lightest nor most expensive tubeset, I chose it because it offered the ride quality I sought along with decent strength. I use this bike for commuting and for 2 hr solo rides on asphalt, gravel, and hard packed trails (with 'cross tires). I love it. I find it more comfortable than my previous aluminum frame, and I prefer the feel to my carbon frame. That's very subjective, and I like how both bikes feel. I do recommend steel for it's comfort and durability, but I cannot say if it would be good for you. I cannot think of any disadvantages so long as you care for the frame and use frame saver to prevent rust. As for racing applications, too hard to say. All things being equal, I suppose the lightest bike would be the best. But when are all things ever equal?

I also have a steel mtn bike frame which I run SS as well and use for XC riding. I find it so comfortable that I run it with a rigid steel fork.
 
Mar 19, 2009
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Mountain Goat said:
Who here has one?

I have 4: 1998 Colnago MasterXLight (Columbus Gilco), 1994 Masi Team 3V (Columbus Nivachrom), 1974 Masi Gran Criterium (Reynolds 531), 1999 Surly Cross Check (Reynolds 631).

How do they ride?

The ride of a finely crafted steel frame is like no other. Each bike has it's own idiosyncrasies, but the common denominator is that steel frames ride like a dream.
What is the primary purpose of your steel frame(s)?

The Colnago is team issue from the shop I used to race for. Nowadays it's sitting on my desk waiting for a repaint and a grouppo. When it was in service for almost 10 years, it's the best road race frame I ever owned. The Masi 3v serves as my all around road/gravel, racer/trainer. The unique Masi designed internal lugs make this a very desirable frame, but a little heavier than the Colnago. The Masi GC is sitting next to the Colnago on my desk waiting for a grouppo. When complete, will serve as a special occasion bike to show off, as it's a piece of bicycle history, and I refuse to hang it on a wall. The Surly is set up as a 2 speed CX bike, though I've done some 100 mile gravel races on it, and it's a very utilitarian type of ride. I can hang with pure roadies on it, or I can tear up mtb trails by just changing the tires.

How do they compare to your other bikes with different frame materials?

I've owned every frame material in the past except for Ti, and stick with steel and carbon. Never found Aluminum to make for a great road frame due to it's harsher ride qualities. Not a good material for road frames unless it's race specific, like my Guerciotti cross bike, but you'll notice that in the last few years aluminum has all but disappeared from the pro ranks. Ti is my last frontier. I know plenty of people with them, and have test ridden some, but the price is rival to a decent carbon frame. Carbon on the other hand is now the standard for race frames, no denying that. Some say it offers a "dead" ride, but I would just call it different. I used to work for one of the largest companies in the bike industry and had extensive ride time with carbon LOOK, Time, BMC, and Pinarello before I purchased one for myself. Carbon has come into it's own in the last few years, but it had many growing pains, and still has some teething problems because of mfg's trying to push the weight/durability envelope. Light, responsive, quick is what carbon is all about, but can also be had with steel.

Why would you recommend someone get a steel frame?

Depending on what purpose the frame would serve, steel is still the most versatile, cost effective, and easiest frame material to build with.

Why would you NOT recommend someone get a steel frame?

I wouldn't.

What are the advantages of a steel frame?

The biggest is ride quality, next would be total customization.

What are the disadvantages of a steel frame?

Unless you're racing at an Elite Continental level, there is none.

Will they be competitive in races (i know, indian not arrow, but a valid question anyway) ?

The biggest myth about steel that it's too heavy to race, maybe at the very top levels, but let's be honest here. The big 4 steel mfg's all make top shelf tubing that is very race worthy, and when fabricated in the right hands can come to within about 2lbs-1kg +/- of a top level carbon bike. Columbus XCr or Spirit, Dedacciai Zero, True Temper S3 or OX Platinum, Reynolds 953 or 853. All these make for amazing steel race bikes in all bike racing disciplines.
 
Mar 10, 2009
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Who here has one?
Er, me! A custom Enigma Elite (www. enigmasteel.com or http://www.enigmabikes.com)

How do they ride?
Well, my frame is a 51/53.5 Columbus Spirit, fillet brazed so I get the best of both worlds. Small frame so smaller weight 'penalty' but a stiff b/b and the excellent ride of steel. MUCH less vibration than my 2 aluminium frames. Can't comment on carbon. Ride is a factor of so many variables that it's difficult to quantify.

What is the primary purpose of your steel frame?
Centuries / Epics / Classic sportives

How do they compare to your other bikes with different frame materials?
Frame is approx 300 grams heavier than similar aluminium ie negligible 'disadvantage'. Infinitely better to ride but that is due to the custom aspect atmo.

Why would you recommend someone get a steel frame?
Heritage, repairability (shudder), 'feel', looks (imo)

Why would you NOT recommend someone get a steel frame?
Rust - although this is MUCH less of a factor with modern tube blends than previously especially if you go for XCR/953, weight if you're a whippet and into that

What are the advantages of a steel frame?
What are the disadvantages of a steel frame?

See above

Will they be competitive in races (i know, indian not arrow, but a valid question anyway)?
Why wouldn't they be? Ask the IF guys who race on their SSR's Or Molly Cameron. Or Richard Sachs' team.
 
Mar 19, 2009
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A personal note about rusting steel:

I've been an avid cyclist in the rust belt of Minnesota for almost 24 years, half of which has been year-round through the nastiest MN winters. I can honestly say that the only thing that's ever rusted on any of my steel bikes are the fender bolts on my commuter. If you coat the inside of your new frame with JP Weigle Framesaver or Boeshield T9 you're good to go. And LugHugger is absolutely right that the current production of steel tubing is less likely to corrode than in the past. The tech that goes into the mfg of steel bike tubing hasn't slowed down a bit.
 
Dec 9, 2009
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Who here has one?

A Master X Light that I'm just getting to know!

How do they ride?

My other bike is a Cervelo Carbon soloist - its fast and hard....My new Colnago in comparison is a real revelation. It's really responsive yet comfortable to ride and despite the fact that the steel forks on their own nearly weigh the same as my Cervelo frame....it doesn't feel that sluggish. I love the feeling of solidity and find myself going much faster going down hill.

What is the primary purpose of your steel frame?

I bought it for when I travel.An airline already broke a carbon frame for me.It was a smallish crack but who wants to fly down a hill on a repaired carbon frame.Not me.
Steel is repairable.


How do they compare to your other bikes with different frame materials?

Totaly different. I love having the choice between carbon and steel. They're totaly different. The carbon is a sharp clinical fast ride , the steel frame puts a big smile on my face.I feel really confident on it....it's not as twitchy. A lot of this is good fit aswell.
It also feels special in a pack full of carbon bikes ....one of a kind.

Why would you recommend someone get a steel frame?

The ride.The repairability. The beautiful examples available.

Why would you NOT recommend someone get a steel frame?

If you were really quick and a racer perhaps the small performance advantages would make a difference. But you'd have to be really quick

What are the advantages of a steel frame?

ride feel which is comfortable, responsive and inspires confidence.
price
craftmanship

What are the disadvantages of a steel frame?

Don't know yet

Weight....but I fitted mine out with the lightest components I could afford and it isn't that heavy...in fact some people are quite surprised when they pick it up.

And I worry about rust because Ive never owned one before and I don't have any experience regarding their care .

Will they be competitive in races (i know, indian not arrow, but a valid question anyway) ?

I think a lot of this comes down to how well a bike is fitted. My new Colnago weighs a good deal more than my Cervelo but I don't feel any slower because it fits me really well. Colnago's traditional geometry works well for me.
 
Aug 14, 2009
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RDV4ROUBAIX said:
Huh, 3 Masters so far.. Leaves no question to what's the most sought after steel race frame. ;)

Seriously - I would not have it any other way.

And the tube shape - so unique and I can never stop looking at it.
 
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I sprayed my truck frame and underbelly with JP Weigle Framesaver this fall. 4 cans, put a couple more to her in January :D Northern New England winters eat medal for breakfast/brunch.

merlin compact
bianchi cross
bianchi milano (winteride)
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
Thanks for the input so far everyone. This is perfect info for someone thinking of getting a steel frame/bike setup.

A couple of clarifications tho:

David Suro said:
Cons:

slower due to frame flex
rust
get 'whippy' with age

........

Carbon is fast and smooth, but nowhere near as lively as steel due to the stiffness of the frame.

Can someone explain this? My vocab of steel is a little rusty (no pun intended;)).

What exactly does frame flex mean, and if the frame does "flex" is this not the oppositive of "stiffness"??

I sold a carbon bike because I did not like the 'dead' feeling and I like my Alu bike because it feels a lot more lively and responsive, compared to the carbon one. Do these comments mean that steel is somewhere in between the two?

Does 'stiff' translate to "responsive"?
and does frame flex translate to "dead"?
and what exactly does 'lively' mean?

clarification/examples of these terms would be great. i have an idea what they might mean, but examples from you guys is desired. cheers.
 
Mountain Goat said:
Thanks for the input so far everyone. This is perfect info for someone thinking of getting a steel frame/bike setup.

A couple of clarifications tho:



Can someone explain this? My vocab of steel is a little rusty (no pun intended;)).

What exactly does frame flex mean, and if the frame does "flex" is this not the oppositive of "stiffness"??

I sold a carbon bike because I did not like the 'dead' feeling and I like my Alu bike because it feels a lot more lively and responsive, compared to the carbon one. Do these comments mean that steel is somewhere in between the two?

Does 'stiff' translate to "responsive"?
and does frame flex translate to "dead"?
and what exactly does 'lively' mean?

clarification/examples of these terms would be great. i have an idea what they might mean, but examples from you guys is desired. cheers.

The idea that steel gets 'soft' overtime is an old italian's tale. Well made steel feels the same pretty much forever. 'Stiff', 'Responsive', 'dead', 'lively'.....add 'bright'. All are subjective. I love the way my Waterford 'feels, but I also like my wet weather bike, a Moots. I had a Calfee and it was dull in comparison.
 
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Mountain Goat said:
I sold a carbon bike because I did not like the 'dead' feeling and I like my Alu bike because it feels a lot more lively and responsive, compared to the carbon one. Do these comments mean that steel is somewhere in between the two?

You cannot really generalise about carbon frames these days as they are no longer only used for uber-stiff race frames. Plenty of carbon frames are built for comfort, others are built for responsiveness.

I have a Condor Pista (steel frame for fixed / SS) and love the ride quality. My carbon frame feels inflexible in comparison - which is sometimes a good thing, but if I'm just riding for enjoyment then the ride of the steel gives more pleasure.
 
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Ride quality is subjective, but I wouldn't be afraid of the weight of a steel frame if you prefer the ride. For example, my 10 year old Steelman 59cm bike built with Reynolds 853 weighs 19 pounds ready to ride. My new Specialized Roubaix Pro 58cm bike weighs just under 18 lbs. Unless your in the mountains, I don't think that pound matters.
 
Apr 29, 2009
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RDV4ROUBAIX said:
Huh, 3 Masters so far.. Leaves no question to what's the most sought after steel race frame. ;)

They are gorgeous but what is the tubing? Not familiar with DT15V.
Would have one just for the looks especially in saronni colours:cool:

I am thinking that once I have the carbon light weight put of my system will probably get a nice steel timeless classic and ride it for 20 years
 
Mar 19, 2009
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lanternrouge said:
They are gorgeous but what is the tubing? Not familiar with DT15V.
Would have one just for the looks especially in saronni colours:cool:

I am thinking that once I have the carbon light weight put of my system will probably get a nice steel timeless classic and ride it for 20 years

That tube set is specially drawn for Colnago by Columbus, beyond that I'm not sure, other than it's one helluva ride.
 
Mar 18, 2009
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Does anyone know anything about the De Rosa Neo Primato? I'm torn between it and the Master X Light, but leaning towards the De Rosa, even though it's a half pound heavier (I know, who cares, since with steel weight isn't really the issue) for the odd aesthetic reason that I've always disliked chrome forks. The Colnagos I wanted the 80's and 90's had painted forks. Is it possible to get a master light with a painted fork?
 
Mar 19, 2009
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Wallace said:
Does anyone know anything about the De Rosa Neo Primato? I'm torn between it and the Master X Light, but leaning towards the De Rosa, even though it's a half pound heavier (I know, who cares, since with steel weight isn't really the issue) for the odd aesthetic reason that I've always disliked chrome forks. The Colnagos I wanted the 80's and 90's had painted forks. Is it possible to get a master light with a painted fork?

Best friend has a Neo Primato, and it rides pretty sweet, my only performance complaint is that it's not as stiff as a Master. The De Rosa is beautifully crafted, but a little boring to look at with the standard issue lugs and same old curved fork. In the case of the Master, it has a very unique tube shape, straight bladed fork, pantographed and beautifully shaped lugs. But, if you're not a fan of chrome, this is not the year for you to get a Master, I don't mind it really, comes together really nice with the chrome head lugs and rear stays. The older ones like mine came with a matching painted fork.
 
Apr 29, 2009
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Just such a same that the price has rocketed on a master in the UK, they are now 1500GBP! Thats a lot of cash for a steel frame especially when last year they were 1000!
Oh well.
 
Mar 19, 2009
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lanternrouge said:
Just such a same that the price has rocketed on a master in the UK, they are now 1500GBP! Thats a lot of cash for a steel frame especially when last year they were 1000!
Oh well.

I hear you! When I bought mine in 98 it was 1200 dollars less than it's current price. Thing is that the Master has a pedigree like no other steel race bike, probably the most successful frame spanning 20 years in the pro ranks. Colnago can charge anything they want and people are still going to buy it.
 
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RDV4ROUBAIX said:
I hear you! When I bought mine in 98 it was 1200 dollars less than it's current price. Thing is that the Master has a pedigree like no other steel race bike, probably the most successful frame spanning 20 years in the pro ranks. Colnago can charge anything they want and people are still going to buy it.

Very true. I would have bought one at the old price but not now, I just cannot justify it. They are as much as my orbea orca which I can justify a whole lot better than a steel frame (even if it is the master!).
I can get a custom rourke frame made for the same in 953! Come on colnago stop taking the ****.
 
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Mountain Goat said:
Time for a good off season discussion about frame material.

I know there are a few threads here that discuss steel frames but some of the other threads contain links that no longer work and are very out of date.

This thread is kind of intended for someone wishing to look on a cycling forum for an up-to-date discussion on the pros and cons of steel frames.

If I were looking for information on getting a steel frame, these are the kind of questions I would ask. (some questions may overlap a little)

Who here has one?
How do they ride?
What is the primary purpose of your steel frame?
How do they compare to your other bikes with different frame materials?
Why would you recommend someone get a steel frame?
Why would you NOT recommend someone get a steel frame?
What are the advantages of a steel frame?
What are the disadvantages of a steel frame?
Will they be competitive in races (i know, indian not arrow, but a valid question anyway) ?

Please discuss!

Steel lovers and steel haters are equally welcome, as are fence sitters to!

Who has one: I do. Waterford's (Reynolds 753 and True Temper Prestige), A Schwinn Voyager (Colombus something), A Colnago (Colombus SLX), a Basso Gap (Colombus SL/SP), and an Lemond (Reynolds 853)
How do they ride: What kind of tubeset? who built it? what sort of geometry? The ones I have are all over the map. The 853 tubeset is the least compliant and feels the most rigid. A lot like a "good" aluminum frame. The Waterford 753 feels slow but very supple, the True Tempered frame has a very compact wheelbase and is unstable at all speeds. The Colnago is a noodle, the Basso is a tank and the Voyager is the best out of the bunch...go figure.
The primary purpose's: I only ride the Basso and the Voyager. The Basso is now a fixie and the Voyager is a commuter.
Compared to Carbon and Aluminum: It all depends. The 853 frame doesn't feel like a steel frame to me. All the others still have a lot of "steel like" qualities. The most responsive frame and fast "feeling" frame I ever had was one of the Early Felt Aluminum frames (Easton 7000 series - gramlight or something with the K.E.T. treatment) that thing was a rocket and looked like Darth Vader put it together. The carbon frames (Madone 5.9's and most recently a Gallium Argon 18) that I have owned, mute everything that I ride over and are incredibly responsive -- Steel doesn't compare. I took a new BMC Team Machine for a ride the other day...WOW.
Why would I recommend someone buy a steel frame: Nothing made today has any soul it seems...no lugs, no chrome, no beauty. Not that I don't like techie carbon frames and Ti finishes...it just looks boring. An old Masi, or Colnago or any other Italian frame just resonates style and class. Chrome lugs, cut-outs, the paint...the craftsmanship is just incredible. If you want a beautiful frame, a classic lugged steel frame is the way to go, especially if you view a bicycle as a piece of art and are more aesthetically minded.
Why would I not recommend a steel frame: If you want the ultimate performance, its carbon. Period. (Mind you a good carbon frame not some junk Taiwanese Motobecane.) Otherwise I would always recommend you get what you want - Steel bikes are awesome and always will be. If you want to race one - do it. If you want to ride one all day and night in the rain - do it, just treat the inside with of the frame with rust preventative (annually is a good idea) and take proper care of it.
Advantages: you might cause a crash from all that chrome - can we really quantify what advantages you would have? As in winning races? Efficiency is very important...so is comfort. You can get an efficient comfortable steel frame - is it the best material? No, carbon is at the moment. One thing that is still very overlooked is your fit...if you have a poor fit on an incredible bike, you won't be able to perform to your fullest. If you have a great fit on an old heavy bike you will be in a much better situation then the guy on the 800 gram Scott TCRazyLite. The frame material is a small part of the equation, I think we can all agree...though you do get more looks on the Scott -- even if you have four one inch carbon spacers on the steerer tube and a saddle slammed all the way forward on your offset rails.
Disadvantages: you might cause a crash from all that chrome - Corrosion is always more of an issue with a steel frame, but that shouldn't hold you back from racing one. And it still is not the do-all, be-all that carbon is.
When a customer comes into my shop and wants to understand differences in frame material in race frames (with the intent to actually race), I go through the same battery of questions listed above and then I let them ride everything I have in the shop...and send em over a double set of railroad tracks on each trip. The Carbon frame wins based on performance 10 out of 10 times. That black weaved material just stops the vibration and accelerates with such ease...its feels like a bike version of an F1 car.
Will you be competitive: of course you will. The frame material won't take you from DFL to the podium only your legs can do that. Have fun and get some steel.