Bikes of the Bunch: Stelbel SB/03 custom steel

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Today’s edition of Bikes of the Bunch is a military green Stelbel SB/03 belonging to Melbourne rider Aaron DeBono. In the following post, Aaron tells the story of how his custom steel frame came to be, why he chose Stelbel, and how the bike got its distinctive colour.

Over the past few years I’ve spoken to many small fabricators, trying to work out who I wanted to work with to build a special custom frame. I first heard about Stelbel via social media and quickly became interested in the brand. I adored the workmanship of their bikes and I liked the history behind the brand.

Stelio Belletti was one of the first people to bring TiG welding to bikes while also welding planes for the Italian army. My dad is a welder by trade and so I have an appreciation for the artform. When it came to choosing a steel bike, I was very picky — I didn’t want a bike with scrappy welds. Stelbel caught my eye for that reason — their frames have that beautiful, brazed-fillet look that only a handful of builders are capable of doing.

After scouring the Stelbel range I settled on the SB/03; an oversized steel frame with a tapered headtube and completely internal cabling, something that’s uncommon in steel bikes.

All Stelbel bikes are built to custom geometry and getting it right can be tricky when the builder lives thousands of kilometres away. I have done several Retul bike fits before but I always kept coming back to the fit I had on my Cannondale CAAD10. I’ve always found Cannondale’s geometry and aesthetics to be aggressive while suiting my body well.

So when it came time to sort out my new bike’s custom geometry, I was keen to model it on my CAAD10. I did all the measurements myself and sent them over to Stelbel. From there it was the typical case of paying a deposit and waiting in the queue. I was told it would take four months for the frame to be delivered — in the end it took about six, but that was because I was pretty picky about the paint.

Growing up I had a fascination with the military and military watches in particular. The Dirty Dozen are a series of watches that were given to pilots of various European air forces. The straps were NATO straps of military green; the paint on my bike was basically modelled on the colour of that watch strap.

That’s one of the things I love about Stelbel — they’re happy for you to run your own show. I’d found that when it comes to paint, geometry and having more input on tube lengths, a lot of framebuilders will say “You tell us what you like and we’ll tell you if it fits”. Some companies simply won’t even paint a bike the colour you want if it doesn’t fit their vision.

Stelbel were very helpful when it came to getting the colour right — they painted up tubing for me in various shades of green, took lots of photos in different lighting conditions, and sent the photos to me. They worked hard to make sure I had the colour I was after.

Everything is custom on the bike — I was able to choose whatever I wanted. For example, Stelbel didn’t stock 3T and I wanted a 3T stem because I’m running a Fetha 3D-printed Garmin mount. And so they said to me “Just send us the stem”.

So what’s it like to ride? It’s right up there with any high-end carbon bike I’ve ever owned. You always get a nice ride quality with steel and that’s only enhanced by the tubulars I’m running on the bike.

Other benefits to the ride quality come from the massive rear stays and the T47 bottom bracket. With many pressfit arrangements on steel bikes you can sometimes get a bit of creaking — that’s obsolete with this setup. It’s so stiff through the rear that I don’t notice any flex even when dumping down the watts, and the bike could easily be a go-to racing rig. I also love the geometry I settled for. I have no issues with track-standing at traffic lights thanks to a lack of annoying foot overlap.

The SB/03 is not the lightest bike in Stelbel’s range — mine weighs between 7.5 and 7.8kg, but who’s counting? It’s not super-flighty up a climb but I guess most steel bikes tend to go at their own pace — they tend to be diesel trains, not featherweight climbing machines.

The cockpit is 3T and the seat post is from Deda. The seat post, like the stem, was prepared and painted by Stelbel. The stem I sent them myself; the seat post they supplied.

As for the groupset, I went for Shimano Dura Ace 9100. I opted for mechanical just because it’s a little cheaper plus I was trying to keep the build a little bit classical. One thing I could have changed is the cranks.

I had multiple Dura Ace 9000 cranksets kicking around, including one set that’s got a dual-sided Pioneer power meter on it. Pioneer was asking way too much to take the power meter off the old cranks and put it on a new set, so I ended up splitting the cranks up and putting one side of the powermeter on the Stelbel. The feedback I’ve had from people is that the silver in the cranks breaks up the bike a bit — it stops it from being too two-tone. I think the new Dura Ace cranks, in matte black, would look ace too though.

The silver crankset provides a nice contrast to to the rest of the bike.

I had the Zipp 404s wheels sitting in my garage — they’re race wheels that I’ve used on my BH G6 pro in the past. I figured I might as well put them to use on the new Sunday bike. I opted for an Ultegra cassette in an 11-28 but the new Dura Ace rear derailleur comes with a longer cage so I could have run a 30. The front is a standard crankset: a Dura Ace 39-53.

I went to Shifter Bikes to get help with the build. I’ve never used Dan before, but I went to him because of the meticulous care he’s famous for … and the fact I knew my bike wouldn’t come back with greasy handmarks all over it.

I couldn’t be happier — The quality of Dan’s build is ridiculous. He just goes the extra mile — he opted for a rare-earth magnet for the power meter, rather than stick-on patches. The cabling is immaculate. And the handlebar tape is perfectly symmetrical. I don’t know how he does it, but when he applies the bartape he kind of folds it in on itself. Neat and nifty.

Considering the quality of the framebuilding, the accolades Stelbel has received, and the fact it’s completely handmade with custom geometry and paintwork, I believe it’s some of the best value you’ll find anywhere on the market. It’s mid-$3,000s for a frame like this — not many brands will give you as much freedom as Stelbel and deliver such a beautiful product.

Build specs

Frame: Stelbel SB/03 custom steel
Stem: 3T ARX II
Handlebar: 3T Ergonova Stealth
Wheels: Zipp 404
Tyres: Vittoria Corsa CX
Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 (9000 cranks)
Bottom bracket: White Industries T47
Seatpost: Deda Superleggerra RS
Saddle: Berk Composites List
Power meter: Pioneer SGY-PM910VR
Bartape: Rapha x Cinelli
Bidons: The Radavist
Garmin mount: Fetha Components

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