During the heat treatment and the welding of steel components, the interactions between the thermal and phase transformation strains result in cyclic loading of the component, which often results in plastic deformation. Although this has long been a well-known fact, the cyclic hardening behavior of supercooled austenite was not investigated up to now. In this study, tension compression tests were performed on the supercooled austenite of SAE 52100 ball bearing steel at several temperatures using Gleeble3500 (R) thermomechanical testing machine. The results were compared with conventional hardening models used in heat treatment and welding simulation. The results indicate that the metastable austenite exhibits a complicated cyclic hardening behavior that can only be partially reproduced by commercial simulation software. In the outlook, it is concluded that more complicated cyclic hardening models should be implemented for better prediction of distortion and residual stresses after heat treatment or welding. (C) 2010 Acta Materialia Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.