Steel Frame Care & Maintenance


Honey Bikes Steel Frame Care and Maintenance

We've invested many hours in building your frame to last for years of riding service.  It's important that you invest some time each season to ensure that your bike will serve you well for a long time.

One of our final steps in our framebuilding process is to treat the inside of your frame with a special rust inhibitor. While this preventive measure is important, it does not protect your frame against the inevitable onset of rust.  There are three primary causes of rust on carbon steel:

  1. Steel contact with humid air or water.  Depending on where you live, humid area can be a serious problem.  Rain water is always a problem.  If you live in the desert your frame is probably safe from rust -- at least from air or water.  If you like to ride in the rain -- or at least get caught in the rain more than once a year -- you need to protect your frame.
  2. Steel contact with road salt.  In a cycling context we're talking about road salt or sodium chloride.  Again, if you live in the desert, or a warm dry climate away from the coast, or don't ride in an area that ever sees snow, you have nothing to worry about.  If you ride somewhere that uses any form of road salt to de-ice the roads, you have a lot to plan for; you should protect your frame.
  3. Steel contact with salt water air.  Salt water contains oxygen and sodium chloride -- among many other elements.  In the case of rust, both of these factors are problematic.  You'll want to take rust preventative measures.

If you ride in any environment that sees any of these three conditions, be careful to prevent rust as much as possible.  Over a few years of riding in sometimes wet conditions and snow-prone conditions your frame could rust so badly that it might fail, which is costly and can be dangerous.

Modern steel vs. classic steel:  You may have a steel bike from 30 years ago that's never rusted, so why be concerned about your new Honey?  A number of reasons:

  • Modern steel tubing for high-end bikes is about half the thickness of performance steel from 25+ years ago.  That alone will cut the rust service life by about 60-80%.  Why more than half if the tubes are half?  The failure point for a rusted tube is less than half the thickness of a raw modern steel tube.  The area of the frame that's rusting impacts the actual tube thickness failure point, but in general we see about 0.012" wall as the tipping point for rust failure.  A tube that's three times thicker than this will take about three times longer to rust.
  • Micro alloy steels employed in modern tubing rust much faster than classic 4130 alloy or "chromoly" of the seventies and eighties.  It has something to do the will alloying agents but we're not chemists.  All we know is that tubes rust a lot quicker and more aggressively.
  • EPA standards are much more stringent than it was even 20 years ago.  This makes all of the steel protective steps -- including the paint process -- much more difficult and not as durable as they once were.

Rust Warranty:  Honey's frame warranty does not cover damage caused by rust. In order to help your frame last a lifetime, we recommend that you and your bicycle mechanic use the following rust preventing steps.

Bike Assembly

When installing components, apply a liberal amount of grease to these contact points:

  • bottom bracket threads and shell
  • head tube and headset
  • seat post and the inside of the seat tube
  • under the seat binder collar
  • rear derailleur threads
  • water bottle bolt threads
  • bottom bracket cable guide bolt
  • brake bolts
  • barrel adjuster threads
  • housing ferrules
  • fender and rack bolts

Protecting the Inside of Your Frame

Moisture will get inside your frame, whether as water or condensation.  No matter how you try to prevent it, moisture will get in your frame.  So, protect your frame.

A rust inhibitor such as Frame Saver™ or Boeshield T-9™ is the very best defense against rust. We strongly recommend applying a rust inhibitor to the inside of your frame at least once a season; however, the more you ride in wet conditions, the more applications we suggest. It is not possible to apply rust inhibitor too often or too liberally.  The schedule we recommend for areas of the world where there are four seasons that include snow, or areas in close proximity to salt water is:

  • Rust inhibitor applied in November:  This will protect your frame through the toughest winter months.  Road salt and wet conditions are the harshest on steel.
  • Rust inhibitor applied in April:  This will protect your frame through the summer rain and humid weather that occurs in some areas.

We've seen some really terrible videos on YouTube about how to apply Frame Saver.  Don't follow these; use the included directions and you'll have great results.

Post-Ride Care

After wet rides, always remove your seat post and set your bike upside down overnight to allow any water that found its way in, to find its way out. Some bikes have a bottom bracket drainage hole but that is not enough to protect the inside of your frame against rust. Even if you don’t think you have ridden in water, it’s best to do this a few times a month as a preventative measure.

If you can store your bike in a climate controlled environment -- in a room with air conditioning in the summer and any type of heat in the winter -- this is one of the best ways to keep your frame riding for many more years.  Air conditioning or any type of heat system pulls moisture out of the air and will help dry out your bike -- keeping rust at bay.  Leaving your bike in a damp garage or basement is accelerating rust and one of worst things you can do to your steel bike.

Protecting the Outside of Your Frame

Frequently inspect your frame for paint chips. Repair chips with appropriately colored nail polish to protect the exposed steel from the elements.  If you can't do this for some reason, applying grease to the exposed area will protect the steel from oxygen and the elements.

Make sure that the small threads are well greased:  Water bottle bolts, fender mounts, etc.  Greasing these will both protect from rust -- having a bolt get rusted into place is no fun -- and the grease will help protect the inside of the frame from water seeping through the threads.

Season End or Season Change

We recommend removing all parts from your frame at the end of each riding season. There two reasons for this: the first is so your mechanic can reapply a coating of a rust inhibitor to the inside of your frame; the second reason for disassembly is to reapply grease to all of the components mentioned above.

Frame Saver

It's a liquid that turns solid after being exposed to air for about 20 hours.  Frame Saver comes with a good set of instructions.  It's not very easy to apply so we recommend having a professional mechanic do the work.

Performing these preventative steps will ensure that your steel Honey will serve you well for many years to come. Please email us if you have any questions.

A Word About Stainless Steel

With all this concern about steel rusting, why not just get a stainless steel frame instead?  Good question.  The answer is simple:  There is no stainless steel alloy that has the fatigue strength properties necessary for building a competitively priced and reasonably light frame.  While the raw material properties you may see from some framebuilders or tubing suppliers could look impressive, the post welding fatigue strength of these materials is far from adequate for even an inexpensive bicycle.  By far, the most important material property for bicycle framebuilding is fatigue endurance or fatigue life.  Raw material properties are meaningless.  As evidence of this, you'll have a difficult time finding many framebuilders that still work with stainless steel; the reason for this is service issues.  

If you are concerned about rust prevention and maintenance we strongly recommend going with a titanium frame.  While carbon and aluminum don't rust they do have some harsh weather challenges including corrosion issues, galvanic corrosion issues, and service life issues.