As the smooth road transitions into the pavé that marks the beginning of the Oude Kwaremont, the fearsome 2.2km cobbled road that features not once, not twice, but three times in the Tour of Flanders professional race (just once in the sportive, mercifully), the steel-framed Stoemper shows impressive smoothness, control and speed.
I'm glad of my choice of frame material for the demands of this course. For all the development in once exotic Space Age materials, steel is making a fine case for itself. Steel is a wonderfully compliant material, and in this guise it's doing an incredible job of smoothing out the vibrations caused by the pavé.
The Stoemper, a US-built born-in-Belgium bike, is winning my heart. The reason I happen to be riding this bike in this event was the idea of Stoemper's UK agent, Scott Purchas. He suggested I might like to test the bike on the very roads where it was conceived and developed. I bit his arm off. So it was that the Stoemper arrived with me a couple of weeks before the Tour of Flanders sportive, allowing me time to test it on regular roads before the trip to Belgium.
The roads of Belgium and the immense history that emanates from many of the roads, made famous with races like the Tour of Flanders over the past century, were the proving ground for Stoemper. The company comprises two Americans, US-based frame builder Todd Gardner and Belgian-based David Alvarez, who looks after the business and marketing. They've built a small range of road and cyclocross bikes, in steel and aluminium, that are designed and built to go really fast. To be "raced the shit out of," as their website proudly declares.
The name Stoemper roughly translates to 'mashing a big gear'. They've sought to design a range of bikes with words like 'aggressive' 'stomping' and 'hard riding' hard-wired into the very DNA of the frame. And, as I found out during my time on the bike, this is very much the case. It's more than just another steel frame, it's a statement of intent.
Spending some time with David, you really get the sense that he's in love with Belgian cycling and everything that entails. Last year, he and a group of willing friends rode the route of five Spring Classics in a week: a phenomenal task. And they all completed it on the same bike I've been riding for some time. The event wasn't a one-off marketing stunt either. David was out on his Stoemper this year riding most of the Classic sportives that precede the professional racing. To say cycling runs in his blood would be an understatement. There's also a fair amount of La Chouffe, but that's another story...
So David is instrumental in the direction of the brand and the bicycles, but it's the welding skills of Todd Gardner that result in the Taylor being the beautiful steel bike it is. He's based in Oregon and builds each frame himself. He's a man with many years' experience producing frames and his craftsmanship is clearly on show. There are exquisite details everywhere that display his skill with the welding torch.
For this frame he's opted for the True Temper S3 tubeset. S3 is short for Super Strength Steel, and uses True Temper's proprietary heat-treating process. Because of this process the walls of the tubes can be thinner, with no decrease in strength. Todd TIG welds the frame and goes with a classic geometry. There's just a hint of slope to the top tube, giving the frame a purposeful stance that I like.
The Taylor displays some distinctive and beautiful details. And some funny details: the Godzilla headbadge and knuckle duster emblem on the seat tube just examples of where Todd and David are coming from. You're either going to like this or, well, you're not.
The tubes are oversized but not dramatically so. The seatstays are bent, by hand, to provide extra clearance around the wheel and for the heel. Talking of clearance, the frame will take 27mm tyres. I rode 25mm tyres during the test period. The seat tube takes a 27.2mm seat tube so you get maximum shock absorption from the small diameter tube.
Internal cable routing for the rear brake cable is neatly done, with the gear cables slung under the down tube. Dropouts are Ritchey-style cowled items and are very pleasing to the eye, and also serve a function as they provide a large weld area for the stays. It can be a pain aligning the wheel quick release, however.
The head tube is a straight 1 1/8in pipe with external ring reinforcement, and it takes the carbon steerer tube of the Enve 1.0 fork. Enve's all-carbon fork is a very popular choice with US framebuilders, and it's a good partner for the frame. It provides direct steering with just enough compliance, but there's noticeable more feedback through the handlebars than there is through the saddle from the rear triangle.
I rode a 56cm, they offer 11 sizes stretching from 45 to 62cm. They'll do custom as well if you desire any changes from standard. The head tube is an aggressive 16cm and the geometry is a 73.5 degree head angle is paired with a 73 degree seat tube.
A Stoemper Taylor frame costs £1,599 and with the custom painted Enve 1.0 fork it's £1,899. Prices include VAT and delivery from Oregon. They offer a choice of two colours for the frame and the graphics. They follow traditional geometry and offer 11 sizes, and if that isn't good enough they can do custom geometry too. Waiting time is around 8-10 weeks.
Stoemper focus on frame-only sales, but they're open to offering fully built bikes if you want to go down that route. Many people buying high-end steel frames like this probably will want to build it themselves, and have a very good idea what kit they're going to want to deck it with so I won't dwell too much on the build kit. There's an Italian favour to the Stoemper's build. The Campagnolo Record 11-speed groupset offered crisp and reliable shifting, with good bite to the brakes for quick decelerations.
Wearing the Campagnolo logo also were the Neutron Ultra wheels, shod with Continental Gatorskins 25mm. The wheelset was an ideal match for the frame, with a very good ride quality that balances the line between stiffness and compliance well. They were well suited to the cobbles of Flanders, providing a little extra give, and responding well to sprints and attacks. The tyres were faultless, only one puncture during the test and that was on the first ride around Scott's stomping ground in Kent.
Finishing kit was a 3T stem and Ergonova handlebars and matching stem. I fitted my own saddle, a San Marco Regale that I've been testing, and used Speedplay pedals. Elite bottle cages completed the details.
I really like the way steel bikes ride. The Stoemper displays all the characteristics a steel frame should. It's smooth and assured over the tough roads of Belgian and those closer to home, as happy weaving over a smooth country lane or being hustled over pave in hot pursuit of a fast wheel. If you've never ridden a steel bike on cobbles, you might be surprised to learn that it's incredibly adept at handling the vibrations and removes much of the harshness that can be transmitted through to the contact points on a stiffer frameset.
It's smoothness all the way, even in the way it handles. Steering is direct and responsive, the stiff Enve fork a good partner to the compliance of the steel frame. There's noticeably more feedback through the bars as a result of the fork, it might not be my first choice for riding on the cobbles, but on all other road surfaces it's a fine choice.
With the short head tube and 12cm stem I was able to get a position that is very close to my favoured one: low at the front and stretched out. Whether in the hoods or on the drops, the handling was exemplary, a display of well-balanced speed and agility.
I'm drawn to remember my test of the Zullo Vergine, an Italian built XCR stainless steel frame that I came away impressed by. I even concluded that it was 'the best riding steel frame I've ever ridden.' Do I still feel the same way having ridden the Taylor. I feel that XCR has the edge in all-round stiffness, but the Taylor exhibits a more aggressive demeanor that encourages playful riding. If anything, both bikes demonstrate that steel is still a very good choice.
The frame may carry a little more weight, but built up here the bike only weighed 7.8kg (17.2lb), showing that steel doesn't have to equate to a heavy bike. That's lighter than many carbon-fibre bikes. It showed this on climbs where it favoured out of the saddle climbing, and wafted effortlessly uphill, though it doesn't have the immediacy of acceleration when responding to surges on the climbs like a stiffer frame would. You wind it up gradually, before it strikes.
Steel may not be the first choice for racing cyclists these days, whose sole interest is outright stiffness and lightweight. But if you're not racing and not weighing yourself every morning but still like to push it hard, well, steel is a wonderful material choice. The Stoemper is an engaging ride, it's very communicative with good feedback through the contact points and the inherent compliance in steel makes it comfortable over rough roads.
Comfortable, crisp, smooth and quiet. The Stoemper's exquisitely conceived Taylor, with its Belgian DNA and hard riding ethos, is a very fine example of steel. It's impossible not to fall for the Taylor. Light enough for fast riding, planted and nimble, strong enough to survive punishing roads, there's a lot to love.
A comfortable and crisp steel bike that's an absolute joy to ride
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Make and model: Stoemper Taylor
Size tested: 56cm
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Stoemper say, "Here at Stoemper we produce mighty fine road and cyclocross racing bikes. Each one is hand-built by Todd, and all processes are done in-house, from making our own head tubes to welding and painting. Our geometry is a fine blend of Euro and American race geometry to make sure you go as fast as you want to. Tried and tested at the highest level, and looking good doing it.
"This is our steel race bike. Our wrecking ball. Our torpedo. Anyone who's ridden steel will tell you. And those who haven't, get in line. Steel feels unbelievable, resilient and somehow springy, stiff and yet forgiving. That's why it's been used in bicycles for forever. And we use special steel, True Temper S3, hand-bent stays, custom-machined head tubes on our lathe. We dote after each Taylör like our own baby, knowing too well that it will be crashing the car and going to jail before too long. Throw away your fluffy lugs and ride some handbulit, tig-welded steel. It doesn't get any more metal than the Taylör."
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
1.125' ENVE carbon fork
27.2mm seat post
Braze-on front derailleur
Standard threaded English BB
Tyre clearance up to 27mm no problem.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The frame is beautifully finished with lovely details
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
True Temper S3 tubeset. S3 stands for Super Strength Steel, and uses True Temper's proprietary heat-treating process. Because of this process the walls of the tubes can be thinner, with no decrease in strength
The Enve 1.0 fork features a full carbon construction
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Geometry for this 56cm: The head tube is an aggressive 16cm and the geometry is a 73.5 degree head angle paired with a 73 degree seat angle.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
With a 12cm stem I was able to get my favoured position, low and stretched
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
On the roughest roads of Belgium the bike was comfortable. I finished the Tour of Flanders 135km sportive feeling fresh
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The oversized chainstays ensure there's stiffness for planting the power down when you need it.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It's not as immediately responsive to surges of power compared to a carbon frame, but wind it up and it responds well.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Nimble
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It was just lovely to ride everywhere, on all road surfaces.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels were a good match for the frame, not so stiff as to spoil the experience.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, a lot
Would you consider buying the bike? If I had the money and space
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Oh yes
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
If you've never enjoyed the ride of steel, the Taylor is a very good demonstration of its qualities.
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.