The 411 on the MAX Tubeset

Everything you ever wanted to know about one of my favorite tubesets: Columbus MAX

More than you ever wanted to know about the MAX tube set:

The Columbus MAX tube set is one of my very favorite steel tube sets so I thought I’d share a bit about it.

The real MAX, which is probably most famous as the tubes used to construct the Merckx MX Leader (except the MXL’s top tube and seat stays which weren’t the original MAX shape), had a 40mm x 30mm biaxially ovalized down tube and is shaped from a 35mm round tube with a .8/.5/.8mm butting profile. The MAX seat tube is also ovalized and shaped from a 31.7mm round tube with a 28.6mm diameter at the top and a 37×26.5 ovalization at the BB shell and an .8/.5mm butting profile. The 37mm axis was oriented with the long axis of the BB shell. The chainstays are 36mm tall and 18.5mm wide with a .6mm wall. When you consider these are steel, they’re monsters!

The real MAX top tube is based on a 31.7mm tube and biaxially ovalized to 37.5x26mm with a .7/.4/.7mm butting profile. When installed on a frame, the 37.5mm axis followed the long axis of the head tube yet traverses the seat tube, meaning it is significantly wider than the seat tube, which creates either a really weird looking lug or a whole bunch of cool opportunities depending on your point of view. I hold the latter.

MAX seatstays are typically delivered ovalized to 18.5x12mm.

After a scare that MAX was history, it appears that MAX tube sets are still readily available through Columbus even though it hasn’t been carried on the books for more than a few years now and I have been able to keep several sets on hand. I use MAX top and down tubes on a lot of the MTBs I build and the entire tube set on many custom road frames. These days I like to build a lot of road frames with a MAX front triangle and a Foco rear. That combination results in a really sweet frame. Check out the gallery and you’ll see some examples.

Contrary to popular belief, the MAX tube set really wasn’t that heavy at around 1500 grams for the frame tubes (mitered for a 58cm bike, not raw). That made it only about a hundred grams more than the standard EL/OS tube set and a little less than today’s Columbus Thron. The weight culprit was those Monster Truck sized lugs. Depending on the casting, the BB shell alone weighed 260 to 290 grams! Compare that to my normal butted Tig cromo shell weight of 100 grams. The balance of the MAX lugs weighed another 170 odd grams (not including dropouts), so the lugs added 3/4 of a pound right there. The plus side is that it’s all added in good places and an owner of a properly assembled MAX lug bike can consider it the last bike you should ever have to purchase even if it’s not the last one you’ll want.

Along with MAX there was also a “MiniMAX” tubeset which had the same shapes as MAX, but all the tube sizes were reduced .125″ with the same or less wall thickness and the chainstays were short at 26mm compared to today’s normal 30mm (for steel). This gave a lighter frame. None of it is available, at least not through normal channels, which is a real shame.

There was also the MAX MTB tube set. It’s the same as the Road set save the seat tube and chainstays, which have thicker walls and the chainstays having a single bend for MTB tire clearance. The Tandem set was also regular MAX but included a keel tube.

A lot of folks will tell that the MAX tubeset is too stiff for anybody but big strong guys and that’s just not true. It’s an excellent choice for a lot of people in 150+ pound range for road bikes and just about anyone for MTBs. It’s tough, it’s not too heavy, and it’ll be there for you in thick or thin and it looks cool. What more could you ask for?

1 reply
  1. Robert Wade
    Robert Wade says:

    We built some of the first MAX frames in the UK in ’87 before lugs, bb, or fork crowns had been made to suit the shapes, so we made them lugless and adapted a Cinelli aero crown to suit the tear drop shaped blades. The bike here is being refitted with late ’80s Campag Record and is heading to L’Eroica Britannia in a few weeks. Being sub 150lbs I do find the forks a bit on the harsh side on rough roads, but then with a frame that looks so good, a small price to pay.


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