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Reynolds 531 Tubing

This article was written about 12 years ago and inevitably it has become a little out of date. It's still interesting and I hope you find it a good read, but 531 is now almost completely dead due to its unsuitability for TIG welding, and the fact most of the world's cycle frames are now made in the far east. In the case of our own holiday hire bikes, we've been forced to move to a Reynolds 520 butted Chro-mo frameset - yes TIG welded - and to be honest they seem to be as good as, and lighter than the old lugged 531 ST sets we used in the past - for info see our equipment page, and for what they are capable of see our Pyrenees charity ride report. IMHO Steel is still the best material for a touring bike - see also my article on that subject!
Our BB Special
"Classic Touring Kit"

Generally speaking the touring cyclist is poorly served compared to
the racing or mountainbiker, often having to make do with strange
mixes of groupsets in order to get what they want. But if you go to a
cycletourist meet, or meet other cyclists at a campsite you will find
certain items of equipment that come up again and again. These are
things that have stood the test of time, and by word of mouth have
become a regular port of call for those looking to go cycletouring. In
this series I shall be looking at these "classics", one each month, and
try to explain what makes them special. 

The Reynolds 531st tubeset.

It is a clichι to say that the heart of a bike is its frame, but it is true
nevertheless. The problem is that whilst the rest of the cycling world
have every shape size and weight of tubing possible the poor old
tourist is left to make do. Ah but there's always the old faithful
Reynolds 531st. And wait for it... that st stands for - "Special
Touring". That makes it the only widely available, quality tubeset on
the market specifically designed for touring. So what makes it
"specially for touring"?

531 tubing in various forms has been around in for over 50 years now.
It was originally used in aircraft construction, then racing cars,
motorbikes and most importantly for cycles. In that time it's notched
up more Tour de France wins than any other tubeset. Originally plain
gauge, it has over the years been available as taper gauged tube,
butted, oversized, undersized, wafer thin, ovalized and even larger
diameter in the centre of the tube than the ends. Perhaps the weirdest
incarnation was the "Curly Stays" fitted to Hetchins and now some
Bob Jackson cycles. It is a seamless tubing made of Manganese
Molybdenum, better than standard Cro-Mo, but time has caught up
with it a little as the top tubes from Columbus and Reynolds have a
higher UTS (ultimate tensile strength). It's advantages are that it is
available in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes so the custom builder
can pick and mix to suit the rider and purpose. It can also be cold set
(bent about) unlike top tubing like Reynolds 753, which means that if
you want to widen the rear width years after the frame is made there
is no problem, and no fancy construction techniques are needed to
build or repair it. The relatively low UTS compared with the newer
tubes isn't really a problem as the gauges need for touring are too
thick to ever break even on a loaded bike, it only becomes a factor
when the tube is drawn wafer thin then used by heavy riders, as in the
past with 531 Professional. 

The standard 531 set is the 531c racing tubeset which makes for a
frame around 4 1/4lbs. This builds up into a fine responsive frame
ideally suited to road racing, but lacking a little stiffness in the bottom
bracket area. For smaller frame/riders it also make a nice touring
frame, but it really has too much flex to be good for someone carrying
full cyclecamping loads on a larger frame. To solve this weakness
531 st has a heavier gauge down tube which resists the flexing which
causes the dreaded speed wobbles on a loaded tourer. It also has
beefier stays for the loads imposed by cantilever brakes. The taper
gauge forks are of a flattened oval profile to give clearance for wider
tyres without using wide fork crowns, and that's it...

Built up, the frame will be stiff enough to carry you and your
camping kit but give a lovely shock absorbing ride, and if you need a
very large frame it can be further stiffened by using an oversized top
tube. Have it built by a good custom builder and it will be made just
for you, and last a lifetime. 

THE FUTURE:- I have just ordered a new bike from Bob Jackson
Cycles, and in discussing tube types with the manager Donald
Thomas I was stunned to hear that there are moves afoot to stop
production of 531 cycle tubes. Reynolds replacements will all be
racing tubesets, once again the tourist will be out in the cold. To quote
Mr Thomas, these road tubes - larger diameter tubing, short butts for
TIG welding etc, will "really punish tourists on a long ride". 
Following this lead I contacted Keith Noronha at Reynolds and got
the following comments 
" Please note that we DO still offer in our literature a recommended 
combination ( containing the longer butt lengths, forks  etc) of
butted tubes  with a  531decal and "SUPER TOURIST"  specific
decal, this set 
is significantly different to our recommended   531/525
 The " Tourist " is certainly not ignored in our thinking "
So things are not quite as bad as they seem. One very good piece of
news is that Reynolds are now offering 853 tubing in guages suitable
for extended touring. This is the strongest steel cycletubing in the
world - thanks Reynolds...!

Next month's Classic - Carradice Cotton Duck Panniers

See Breton Bikes new venture! For those wanting a place to drive their sportscar...!