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steelworks – Steel at its most beautiful

steelworks conquers the streets

Bending cross beam made of steel

Photos: thyssenkrupp Steel Europe Fotografie

What does a cyclist expect from his racing bicycle? How does the frame need to be designed in order to make him want nothing more than to sit on it for kilometers on end? That is what the steelworks project team asked themselves before they designed a racing bike with a steel frame. And they proved that steel can do almost anything!

Peter Krins, 33 years old, is an expert for process optimization in Logistics at thyssenkrupp Steel and has also been a triathlete for the last ten years. No different than any other ambitious cyclist, performance is what counts most for him in a competition. Important factors here for a racing bike are aerodynamics and weight. At first he would never have thought that a steel frame could compete with conventional racing bikes made of carbon or aluminum. “Riding the steelworks was a completely new experience for me,” he admits. He had the chance to do so during a five-day test ride with a team of six colleagues who are equally enthusiastic about cycling.

The bike had to master it all: solid ground, gravel, cobblestone, asphalt. In this manner, the amateur racing cyclists from the steel industry were able to take the perspective of the end customer on their 1,000-kilometer tour and contribute their experiences to improving the prototype design.

The 1,000-km test ride

The test ride covered 1,000 kilometers hitting various thyssenkrupp Steel locations along the way. Four units of the racing bicycle were available for the test. The different stages:

  • Duisburg
  • Cologne
  • Koblenz
  • thyssenkrupp Rasselstein in Andernach
  • thyssenkrupp System Engineering in Wadern-Lockweiler
  • Belgium
  • Amsterdam
  • Duisburg

The cyclists were accompanied by their celebrity fix-it man, master bike mechanic Byung-Kuk Kim, who accompanied professional cyclists for many years, and Tobias Merz, the head of Final Assembly at steelworks. Anna-Sophia Kucharzewski was responsible for the careful route planning and all the organizational matters.

It remained exciting until the end. Would all four bikes be ready in time for the tour? Project manager Jia-Uei Chan was sure that it would work out: “We knew that not everything was perfect yet. That’s why we needed the test ride – but we wanted to be on schedule in any case and take advantage of it!” The weather gods rewarded the team’s determination: “For five days the sun shone for us. It was only the last 40 kilometers of the home stretch that we had to cycle in the rain,” said designer Ralf Stegmeyer, who was also a part of the tour.

And what was their conclusion? The properties of a steel frame pay off nicely, particularly on longer stretches and straightaways. “It’s where our racing bike can reach full performance in particular,” Krins exclaims. “It really speaks for the comfort of the bike if you still feel good after nearly a week in the saddle.”

steelworks racing bike at Ruhr to Northsea Challenge
Triathlete Peter Krins with the steelworks racing bike at the Ruhr2NorthSeaChallenge

Together with designer Ralf Stegmeyer and project manager Jia-Uei Chan, the team discussed directly after each stage what could be improved. For example, a different fork and a modified chain ring could help optimize performance.

Incidentally, it wasn’t just a one-off test ride with the steelworks for racing cyclist Krins. He likes to use it at times when exactly those advantages are what is needed: “I chose the steelworks again for the Ruhr2NorthSeaChallenge in June 2019. That’s 300 kilometers from Duisburg to the North Sea in one day, and you can actually feel every kilometer in your bones in the evening, but I actually felt comparably well after the ride on the steelworks.”

The Silicon Valley of steel processing

The special features of the steelworks were not found by chance. The project team brought together experts who skillfully exploited all the advantages of the material. Among the members of the team: the internationally recognized automotive supplier for complex metal and hybrid structures, KIRCHHOFF Automotive, the experts for jig and fixture construction and laser welding technology, Bergmann & Steffen, another specialist for 3D laser cutting and welding, HUJER Lasertechnik, and many more. Uwe Bergmann, one of the participants, sums it up: “The region is like a Silicon Valley for steel.” Here you simply know that the seemingly impossible is possible.

steelworks project members
Ralf Stegmeyer (left) and Jia-Uei Chan from the steelworks project team inspect the quality of the steel racing bike.

High-tech racing bike with a minimal CO2 footprint

The steelworks is a racing bike that leverages all the advantages of steel in its design:

  • Sturdy
  • Extremely lightweight for a steel bicycle
  • Elastic
  • Comfortable
  • Uncompromisingly rigid in the bottom bracket area
  • Efficiently transfers the power of the rider onto the road
  • Elegant and recipient of the Red Dot Design Award
Steelworks project lead Jia-Uei Chan
Project lead Jia-Uei Chan: "The innovations from the project have brought us a step closer to the future."

The starting point for the racing bicycle’s excellent performance is its design. “It thrives off of an organic design into which we have transferred the DNA of the material steel,” explains Jia-Uei Chan, enthusiastically. The frame is made of high-strength DP-K® dual-phase steel, which is ideal for cold forming with a high stretch forming ratio to produce complex structural elements.

You can feel the steel’s DNA in the racing bike

At KIRCHHOFF Automotive, a supplier specializing in lightweight automotive design, a high-strength dual-phase steel just 0.7 millimeters thick is pressed into a mold for two half-shells in a deep-drawing process. The forming of these half-shells is highly complex. “We, as one of only a few companies, are in a position to design and carry out this production step,” reports Prototype Shop manager Marcus Bruse of KIRCHHOFF Automotive, adding: “In vehicle construction, steel is still THE material for production because it is inexpensive and can be used in a wide range of applications. In automotive lightweight construction, too, special high-strength steel grades are the material of the future.” And KIRCHHOFF Automotive knows all about processing high-strength steels. This material is rigid and strong and at the same time very sturdy. The use of galvanized semi-finished products in combination with a coating provides corrosion resistance similar to that of a vehicle’s chassis. A number of simulations and tool optimizations needed to take place in advance to ensure a good result. “The skill and experience of the engineers of both companies as well as a constructive cooperation made this success possible,” says Bruse.

Welding the steel frame quickly and precisely with the laser

The two components were prepared for laser welding in the next step. “The sheet metal parts must be extremely precise for this complex shape,” explains designer Stegmeyer. At Bergmann & Steffen, one of the leading manufacturers of laser remote welding systems, the half-shells were fitted with “dimples,” tiny bumps on the welding flanges. They create channels at the weld seam for the zinc, which changes into the gaseous aggregate state below the melting point of steel during welding. “With this process solution we prevented vaporized zinc from remaining trapped in the seam during subsequent welding,” explains Uwe Bergmann. Clamped in a special device by Bergmann & Steffen, the half-shells travelled to HUJER Lasertechnik, the specialist for 3D laser welding. The “marriage” of the two parts took place here. The only evidence is a nearly invisible weld seam.

“At HUJER Lasertechnik, the particular challenge lay in the reliable processing and fusing of both frame halves by means of laser welding in such a way that no damage to the frame would occur, while also ensuring the weld seam lay as close as possible to the bend radius of the frame halves. In countless correction rounds in the range of tenths of millimeters, we were able to achieve our common goal of providing the cyclist with a stable bike, combined with a very flat, elegant weld seam design,” explains Henning Reese, project lead at HUJER.

steelworks frame
steelworks steel frame: Lightweight technologies from the automotive industry ensure exceptional performance

steelworks means technology and great ideas

“We heard from qualified experts time and again how our project was actually not feasible,” admits Ralf Stegmeyer looking back. “At the same time, our partners were so fascinated by the idea and the challenge that they wanted to make it possible.” This also applies to the last hurdle that had to be overcome when producing the frame blanks: the production of the rear construction. As Chan reports, the model for this was developed by the project manager and designer in a brief moment of relaxation at the project partner Bergmann: “We had thought about it for a long time and then there was a pizza box in front of me from which I could fold our idea with a few twists of the hand.” This gave birth to a completely new solution that had not existed before. And this is probably another of steelworks’ successes, as Chan emphasizes: “The innovations from the project have brought us a step closer to the future.”

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