I have an irrational fondness for lugged-steel bicycle frames. I say irrational because, with the advancements made in metallurgy, today’s production TIG-welded frames are very nearly the functional equivalents of production lugged-steel frames, a fact that hasn’t always been the case. For much of the 20th century, lugged frames were preferable to welded frames because the method for joining lugs to tubes (brazing) was easier on tubing than high-temperature welding. This gentler method made possible the use of lighter, thin-walled tubes. Now, modern tubes are available that are not negatively affected by the high temperatures introduced during TIG welding, so sadly, the need for lugs has been made moot in most practical applications.
I say “sadly” because none of this has diminished my love of lugs, something that runs much deeper than any pragmatic consideration. Lugs, to me, will forever represent quality and craftsmanship in bicycle manufacture (this is most likely due to the fact that I grew up during the heyday of the lug in the 1960s and ’70s). The elegant lines of a finely cut lug hark back to an era when hand craftsmanship was the rule, and things such as lugs held aesthetic as well as practical value. And even though there are some gorgeous TIG-welded bikes being produced today, a weld will never speak to me in the same way as a lug.
The bright side of this story is that there is a virtual renaissance in lugged-steel frames happening among small custom builders. The downside is that bikes from many of these builders are priced well beyond what many people would consider reasonable for an everyday utility bike. There are still a small number of what can loosely be considered “production” lugged frames on the market, though these are still beyond what most people would think of as “budget” priced, due mostly to the fact that even in a production setting, lugged construction is more labor-intensive than welding. Whether a lugged frame is worth this premium depends upon the individual; it certainly is for me.