A Few Random Thoughts on Frame Materials

Numerous times in the past I’ve mentioned that I prefer lugged steel bicycle frames over all others. While this still holds true, I like to acknowledge the fact that we all have differing needs and that one person’s ideal bike may not work at all for another. How a person plans on using their bike, as well as their budget, will determine their preferred frame material.

Steel is often thought of as being the ideal material for commuter and utility bikes. It’s tough, it fails slowly, and it can withstand a major amount of surface abuse. This makes it a good material for how we typically imagine a transpo bike will be used and abused.

But, there are plenty of riders who have a point-to-point commute, safe bicycle storage, and only a minimal need to carry stuff. There are also those who have very long commutes over difficult terrain. For those people, lightweight performance bikes might actually be preferred over what we traditionally think of as commuters or utility bikes. More exotic materials such as aluminum, titanium, or even carbon fiber are not necessarily out of the question for use on high performance commuters (bikes such as the Breezer Finesse and Civia Hyland immediately come to mind).

Carbon fiber frames have a reputation for being delicate and fragile (whether or not it’s deserved is a whole other discussion). Most aluminum frames are less tough than most steel frames, but they also tend to be lighter, and they seem to be inexpensive to manufacture (this probably explains the widespread use of aluminum among entry-level racing bikes and so-called hybrids). Titanium has similar toughness to steel, it doesn’t rust, and it builds into a light and lively bike. On paper it sounds like the ideal material for building bike frames; the downside is that it’s difficult to work with and the raw material is expensive, both of which make complete titanium bikes very pricey. Bamboo is the latest frame building material to come into vogue, but frankly, I haven’t gotten my head around it yet. Hopefully I’ll get my hands on a bamboo bike to try out before the year is over.

For our readers who are riding on something other than steel, it would be interesting to know the rationale behind your frame material choice.

42 Responses to “A Few Random Thoughts on Frame Materials”

  • Tim K says:

    My road bike is steel. I am a big guy and Wisconsin roads can be a bit rough, so it makes for a smoother ride. My year round commuter is aluminum because the salt on the roads in Wisconsin would eat a steel bike alive, plus it gives me very lively handling and great acceleration when moving through traffic. I dream of a carbon framed road bike for those times when I get tired of hauling 28 pounds of steel up and over hill after hill, but it would not replace either of my other bikes.

  • Richard Masoner says:

    Even with steel there’s the spectrum from high tensile “gas pipe” steel tubing to triple butted CroMoly and other steel alloys with vanadium, niobium, etc. If you want really shiny, Reynolds has their 953 Stainless tubing.

    Aluminum can maybe be fashioned into lighter bike than their steel counterparts, but I don’t think that’s really the deciding factor in choosing the material? The major factor is manufacturing cost: a 6061 aluminum frame is something like half the price of a similar 4130 steel frame of similar weight and quality.

    The major problem with aluminum is that it’s essentially not repairable. You can weld a steel bike back into serviceable condition — that’s not so with aluminum. Even carbon fiber can be repaired.

  • Elliott @ Austin on Two Wheels says:

    Though I build with steel, I try not to get caught up in the materials debate. All the materials you mentioned can make great transportation bikes, but I think steel is best positioned for utility cycling at this point (and this has nothing to do with “ride quality” which I believe has little to do with frame materials.) The combination of durability and cost probably positions it as the best option. Carbon and titanium are expensive. Aluminum is similar in price but longer term not as durable (if you are upgrading bikes every 5-10 years this is not really an issue.) Bamboo? Seems like it combines the high price of carbon/ti with the shorter durability of aluminum, but maybe I’m wrong.

    In the end, ride the bike you like. Don’t worry too much about the frame material.

  • Andrew says:

    The repairability argument always strikes me as a bit of a straw man. It’s one thing if you’re talking about a bodged fix in the middle of nowhere (in which case, you’re still going to need a TIG-welder and a skilled craftsman to weld thin-wall cromoly – not easy to find, regardless!) but the when you consider the cost of labour and a repaint, a brand new Kinesis aluminium frame is likely on economic par with repairing an old frame, be it steel or aluminium. The high initial cost of carbon (and its nature as a material that lends itself to being repaired) makes repairing it more of a practical option.

    Personally, I think people make too big a deal out of frame materials. I have steel and aluminium bikes, and I think the overall perception of on-the-road feel is far better attributed to different geometry, wheel and tire choices, and your contact points. The one frame component where I might be convinced otherwise is the fork.

  • CedarWood says:

    We recently met a fellow riding a Renovo, which has a hollow hardwood laminate frame. He said the ride is somewhere between the pliancy of fine steel and the stiffness of carbon fiber. This guy is something of a bike collector, so he was attracted by its uniqueness.

  • Colin Lewis says:

    I agree with Andrew regarding the repairability argument. I wonder what small fraction of cracked or bent steel frames are repaired, rather than thrown away.

  • Joseph E says:

    I own a couple old American bikes made with heavy, cheap steel, and a new aluminum-frame bike. I would have been happy to buy a good cro-moly steel frame, but Aluminum does have two advantages:

    1) Mid-priced Aluminum frames are lighter than steel frames of the same price and strength.
    It’s nice to be able to pick up the bike and put it on a bus rack or carry it upstairs, if needed.

    2) Aluminum does not rust.
    Alloy bars and components are left unpainted, and look great years later. If the powder-coat gets scratched on your aluminum frame, or water gets inside, it’s no big deal. But if the paint or powdercoat gets scratched on your steel bike and you fail to fix it, you can get rust.

    People have said that steel is more durable long-run, due to thicker and harder tubing, and better tolerance to repeatitive load. That may be true, if the frame stays dry and unscratched, but I think the risk of rust will kill many steel frames before their Aluminium counterparts.

    I don’t have enough experience to know if there is any difference in how frames with identical geometry would feel, if made from different materials. My basic materials science knowledge suggests that diamond-frames made of any metal will be very stiff vertically, and should be plenty stiff laterally if made with sufficient tubing. Perhaps having more flexible tubing in the fork would provide a little vibration damping, but in the frame I don’t see how it could make a real difference.

    For what it’s worth, my bike has a cro-moly fork, despite the aluminum frame. The 45 mm (1.75 inch) tires and suspension seatpost probably have more to do with the smooth ride.

  • graciela. says:

    I have a Raleigh hybrid with an aluminum frame and I have a Windsor with a chromoly frame. They are two completely different bikes so I can’t really compare them on material alone. I think the bike geometry, design, specs, weight, etc are more important to me than the material.

  • Fergie348 says:

    About 4 years ago I replaced my lugged steel Bianchi cross frame with an aluminum Redline. The Bianchi had been in service for about 8 years and was starting to show serious signs of decay, primarily to my mostly multi-modal commute that has a ferry ride across salt water (San Francisco bay) as part of it. The bikes on the back of the ferry get sprayed with salt water when it’s breezy on the bay (which is most of the time). My thinking at the time was that TIG welded aluminum would provide a longer service life because it has fewer surfaces for salted water to adhere to and the material itself is less prone to salt damage.

    4 years later it looks like I was correct, although if I had to do it again I’d make a different choice. Here’s why:

    1. The main problem I have with the aluminum frame and fork is it tends to creak under load. When I stand up on hills or push hard, the front end creaks. Not critical, but it is annoying..

    2. The aluminum fork is pretty flexy. I’m going to try to get rid of both issues by replacing the fork with a steel one.

    3. Although I mostly agree with the sentiment that frame material has a minimal effect on ride quality, I do notice a difference between my old Bianchi steel frame and the aluminum Redline mostly on poor quality pavement and unimproved dirt roads. With the same wheels & tires, bars, etc. the aluminum frame seems to have a slightly harsher, less forgiving ride.

    I too would love to try a bamboo frame, but my ideal setup includes a fully enclosed and maintenance free geared drivetrain. I’m thinking that a Civia Bryant Belt Alfine 11 might just be the ticket, but I’ll of course have to wait for all the pieces to come into production for a drop bar version of this to be a reality.

  • Alan says:

    @Richard

    “Even with steel there’s the spectrum from high tensile “gas pipe” steel tubing to triple butted CroMoly and other steel alloys with vanadium, niobium, etc.”

    True! I guess when I say “steel” in relation to commuting bikes, I’m thinking garden-variety cromo along the lines of 4130 or perhaps Tange Prestige. It’s impossible to make generalizations when we’re talking about high-end modern alloys used in racing bikes.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Tali says:

    I’ve only ever ridden aluminium frame bicycles. In the end, reasonable price/weight and components is more important than worrying about frame materials for me, although the fork on my current commuter is steel. I’ve heard that the frame life on aluminum is reasonably long.

  • Jeff says:

    Hey Alan,
    I just put aluminum moustache bars on my steel Raleigh One Way. Yeah, I know slightly off subject but I just had to tell you! :-)

  • Bob B says:

    I have a few vintage American & Japanese hiten bikes and a modern TIG cromo commuter. The 5 year old cromo frame has a tiny dent in the top tube, I’m not sure how it got there. Some cromo frames can’t accept a kickstand very well and you have to be concerned about crushing the stays which seems completely unacceptable to me.

    In contrast, none of my 3 vintage Schwinns (total age over 120 years old) have any dents in the tubes, and am not sure dents are even possible short of taking a sledge hammer to them. And these relaxed geometry hiten bikes have a sweet ride. The Dutch also use hiten because it can be galvanized for weatherproofing. Last fall I rode several Workcycles bikes and loved the relaxed, smooth ride of those tough hiten frames. Hiten can also be crap: cheap and bendable x-mart bikes.

    Alum also has its place. It doesn’t rust and I like replaceable derailleur hangers. I’ve owned a few garden variety alum frames (Trek, DIamondback, Bianchi & Breezer) and they seem pretty tough, but the one thing they have in common is the blah ride quality.

  • stevep says:

    Steel, preferably TIG weld, but lugs are nice too. It seems like most of the bikes that suit my tastes are offered in steel and not in carbon, aluminum or other materials….Go figure.
    I think of commuter bikes as almost disposable. Is that terrible? Bad weather commuting is tough on bikes, and they inevitably deteriorate. After switching this part and that part over time, a whole bike is eventually replaced. Oh well. Buy used. Thank goodness for Ebay.

  • Marc says:

    I find my Trek 520 to be a far rougher ride than my Cannondale… with the same tires… i know… im supposed to feel more jarred from the aluminum… but that 520 with 28c Armadillo’s shakes the bejezus out of me on on these coastal farming roads… does steel really flex?… i dont feel it…

  • solatic says:

    I have a Trek 1.5 (aluminum) – chosen because I never carry so much stuff as to need panniers, baskets, etc. When I carry groceries, it all fits into a backpack. I chose the Trek 1.5 because speed is of primary importance to me, not just because I ride for fun but also because I use the 1.5 as a primary means of transportation. I whiz right by all the heavier bikes on the road like they were standing still; the extra time I have after arrival is valuable to me.

    Yes, the aluminum creaks, and it’s a little scary. But I’ve crashed the end of the handlebars twice on various obstacles (causing the front wheel to spin around and me to crash) but the worst that’s happened is a few scratches/chips on the frame. Aluminum makes a solid frame.

  • SB Tim says:

    The head tube cracked on an aluminum hardtail Rockhopper while I was trail riding in 2003. I noticed it when putting it away after riding a fast and bumpy backcountry trail and assumed it just happened. It had been less than a year since I bought the bike and I got a warranty frame through my LBS, but the frame had a lifetime warranty anyway.

    My current steel touring bike feels smoother on my commute than my aluminum hardtail did, but that is comparing apples to oranges since the frames are so different. Comfort for me begins with slack frame angles. Maybe it’s my long legs and preferred upright riding but anything more than a 70 degree seat tube angle is a strain on my knees. I wish more quality steel bikes were available with slack seat tube angles, because even long setback (>35mm) seatposts are hard to find for retrofitting a 72 degree bike. As far as I know, the only quality tube cro-mo bikes with slack angles are the early 80s mountain bikes, before they became race-oriented. I have an ’84 Schwinn High Sierra that is 70/70. It even came with an adjustable setback seatpost that goes as far back as ~60mm. I put that post on my touring bike adjusted all the way back – perfect.

    Anyone else have comfort issues with steep frame angles?

  • Joseph E says:

    Here’s where I pretend to be an expert and answer questions:

    @Marc “does steel really flex”
    Steel, Aluminum and all metals are capable of flexing. That’s why an bike with very thin tubes will flex horizontally, and a thin aluminum or steel fork can bend up and down slightly. Steel is capable of bending farther and more often before it breaks, so light, flexible steel tubes can still be fairly durable. Aluminum also bends very easily if made thin enough (if you’ve ever mounted a rear rack with flat aluminum struts, you’ve seen how easily then bend), but to be equally durable and stong as steel tubes, aluminum frames and forks need to be thicker and wider, which makes them less bendable.

    However, if you think your steel frame is flexing vertically to absorb road noise or whatever, you are probably wrong. Bikes are made of several triangles of metal tubing. There is almost no way for a triangle to flex without one side becoming shorter, and another side becoming longer. All metals are very hard to compress, so any metal frame should be very very still vertically.

    The differences between frames mainly come down to geometry, wheels, tires and other components. For bikes with identical geometry, the thickness of tubing and the material are equally important, when it comes to stiffness and weight. And the quality of steel or aluminum alloy and welds or brazing has much more to do with durability than the base material.

    @Fergie348 said: “the aluminum frame and fork is it tends to creak under load. When I stand up on hills or push hard, the front end creaks.”

    I’m certain this is a problem with the headset, stem, bars, or something, rather than having anything to do with the frame material.

    “2. The aluminum fork is pretty flexy.”
    But I though steel was supposed to be more flexy? :-)
    An aluminum fork with thicker or wider tubing would have also be less flexy. But a steel fork may be the one place on a bike where steel is a good idea, since it really can flex vertically, and you want some “spring” steel effect.

    “3. … With the same wheels & tires, bars, etc. the aluminum frame seems to have a slightly harsher, less forgiving ride.”

    I’m glad you are comparing identical wheels/tires/handlebars. But the geometry of the two framesets is different, right? That may be the cause of the different ride qualities.

    Okay, that was fun.

  • Peter says:

    After engineering school I spent many years designing hi-end custom composite sporting goods (aka: carbon fiber toys) and there is one thing that amazes me the most about the material: how completely ignorant 99% of the population is about its properties. The fear-mongering and misinformation that is out there is just silly.

    the misinformation/misconceptions in the comments here about other frame materials is pretty amazing too, but Alan, just to address your one mention about CF above, that it has “reputation for being delicate and fragile” ->
    You need to separate the material properties from the product properties. Carbon Fiber, and other composites, have that reputation because historically all of the products made from that material were made to work on the bleeding edge of performance. The price tag and availability meant that the material was only available to those who really sought it out, and they wanted the *lightest* product available. The products I designed broke all the time, because I designed them to do that! I put the product (not the material!) out on the very edge of the safety factor where any misuse could cause failure. This is what my customers wanted, they were professional athletes, so any misuse meant they had already lost the competition, didn’t matter if the product broke at that point. They had a half-dozen spares anyway.

    Does this mean I could not design a super durable, really comfortable, long lasting product for the recreational user? No. I could do that easily. But there isn’t the market for it, so why bother? The normal recreational user doesn’t won’t to spend that much $, so they go to a cheaper material. Hence the products designed for their preferred use were made of the material….it’s a chicken/egg thing.

    From that the non-educated user assumes that the difference in performance comes from the material. This is not entirely correct. The difference in performance (and price) comes from the design. The material *enables* the design.

    CF would be the ultimate material for a commuter/transpo bike! It would be lighter, more durable, corrosion resistant, etc, etc….but it would cost a fortune and you’re way into the realm of diminishing returns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diminishing_returns). At 5x the price, you might be looking at 1.5x the performance.

    So, what material did this CF engineer choose for his bike: 853 Reynolds steel, fillet brazed (not lugged). Why? Because it looks nice. That’s it, a completely cosmetic choice, no performance issues considered, just looks. I also have a second bike that is welded 6061 AL. Wanna know how differently the frame materials feel? Not much, barely at all, really. The tires/fit/bars/saddle make a MUCH bigger difference than frame material in ride quality. I believe that most of the time the argument between Steel/AL/CF/Ti/Boo/etc is a red herring.

  • Ted says:

    This season I rode a Tange Champion #2 steel frame bike and a Cannondale aluminum bike (with steel fork). Both frames were from the 80s. While the steel bike ride was less vibratory and certainly light, the aluminum bike was even lighter and a bit more lively and faster, or at least it felt faster.

    So my summary…for a long tour I’d choose a steel bike for the smoother ride. But for a 30 mile Sunday ride, the aluminum bike would be saddled up. At my weight of 225#, most carbon accessories kind of scare me and I like to recycle things once they break.

    By the way, lately I finished up a Carbolite 103 Peugeot Grand Sport frame (1981) in components that appear period correct, but are modern alloy materials. (Thank you Velo-Orange) Surprisingly, this plain gauge steel bike with stamped dropouts has been very comfortable and a joy to ride. I’d easily choose it for a Sunday tour ride if the pace averages 15mph or less.

  • RI SWamp Yankee says:

    I have a Townie 21 – it’s aluminum, because it’s freakin’ enormous, and would weigh as much as a small pony if it were framed in steel.

  • WPM says:

    On frame materials, I found Sheldon Brown’s comments instructive: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/frame-materials.html

  • Bob B says:

    @SB Tim said “Anyone else have comfort issues with steep frame angles?”

    My vintage 1972 Schwinn Collegiate has 70/70 angles. I much prefer the ride of the old bike to my modern MTB style commuter with steeper angles. This experience started my quest to find a new bike that has relaxed angles – and I haven’t found much. Here are a few: According to Bicycle Times, the Electra Ticino has a 69 degree seat tube and 68 degree head tube angles. http://bit.ly/bQHUfb Pashleys and many Dutch bikes also have laid back geometries. Interestingly, Schwinn’s Willy 1×7 commuter has 69 degree angles http://bit.ly/cPd6EI. If you want more gears and a cromo frame, a vintage MTB (mid-late 80s?) is probably the best option. Any others out there?

  • Alan says:

    I’ve ridden enough aluminum and steel bikes over the years to say that, as a group, aluminum bikes tend to be stiffer, and ride more harshly, than steel bikes. I know that’s a broad generalization, but I think it’s true, at least in relation to mid-priced production bikes. Certainly it’s possible to build a noodly aluminum bike (the old Vitus comes to mind), but because of the issues associated with flexing an aluminum tube repeatedly over long periods, manufacturers understandably design stiffness into AL frames. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if a person prefers a frame with a little vertical flex in it (the Sam Hillborne comes to mind), they’re more likely to find it in steel.

  • Pete says:

    I too think frame material is largely a cost consideration by the manufacuturer, and a personal preference on the part of the buyer. Any material could be used to build a frame with any characteristics, if cost were no issue. But, some materials offer a specific performance benefit “naturally”- steel has good fatigue resistance, aluminum doesn’t corrode, carbon fiber can easily form odd shapes and geometries, etc.
    It’s quite likely that a hybrid-material bike would make a lot of sense – an aluminum frame light weight and corrosion resistanance, with a steel fork for fatigue resistance, for example.
    I think the more we can avoid being dogmatic about frame material (or anything else for that matter) the better.

  • Alan says:

    @SB Tim and Bob B

    “Anyone else have comfort issues with steep frame angles?”

    I think it depends upon a person’s riding style, distances, terrain, cargo loads, etc. I rode a Pashley for over a year. I found the upright seating position and shallow head and seat tube angles tiring and hard on my body on anything other than short jaunts. The geometry placed too much weight on the saddle, the position was inefficient for climbing, and the unusually shallow seat tube angle placed me far enough behind the cranks that it was hard on my knee. On the other hand, steep-ish head and seat tube angles place my weight too far forward for how I ride and introduce an entirely different set of issues. I think there’s a sweet spot somewhere between the extremes that is probably best for the majority of people. Personally, for the type of riding I do, I like a seat tube angle of something around 71-72 degrees, and a head tube angle of around 72 degrees; assuming no other oddities in the geometry, bikes with those numbers tend to disappear under me. YMMV.

    Alan

  • phil webb says:

    If you’re in south carolina, you can find one of our bamboo bikes to test ride. If you come to Thailand, we can hook you up, too. Looking forward to your input on the bamboo bikes, wherever you find one.

  • CedarWood says:

    @SB Tim and Bob B

    Yeah, I’ve got a 34″ inseam, with over half that in my thighs, and a short torso. Frames fitting my legs didn’t fit my top half, and vice-verse, so I rebuilt one of my bikes to fit.

    Clever Cycles of Portland, OR has a seat post extension that works on pipe-style seat posts. This got me several more inches of rearward travel. Clever also imports extra-tall quill stems for their Dutch bikes. One of these can get the bars high enough for comfort if you like that fit.

    Have a look at Torker — I have the Cargo-T and it’s pretty slack. A few other models might have similar geometry. Good luck.

  • SB Tim says:

    @ Cedar Wood, I was not able to find that post extension on the Clever Cycles website, maybe I have to call them.

    @Bob B, I have seen the new Schwinns and I really like that Sierra 7, though the only model made without a suspension fork is the one made of hi-tensile steel – so it is probably heavy. You’re right about the dutch bikes and even have a bike shop in town that imports them, but I don’t think they are suitable for my riding. They are heavy and have limited gear numbers, and my commute is long and hilly, so front and rear deraillers with a good gear range are an asset to me.

    Check out this seatpost. They are not made anymore, but I was able to find one on a used bike to put on my commuter.
    http://www.yellowjersey.org/SRMTE100.html

  • CedarWood says:

    @ SB Tim

    Clever Cycles doesn’t put their entire inventory online because they don’t technically sell over the internet, but they are usually very accommodating if you call them. We like them so much that we drive the 6 hours occasionally just to visit their store.

  • Bob B says:

    @SB Tim, here is an article and a forum discussion on how to Dutchify your bike from Totcycle: http://bit.ly/aDJrlO (has a pic of that Brompton seat post set back adapter), Bike Forums Dutchification: http://bit.ly/b3SeP2 There is also the laid back geometry crank forwards: Electra Townie Euro 24D & RANS.

  • Eric W says:

    After 15 years on a lugged steel bike (KHS sport/tourer), I was surprised to chose Titanium for a new bike. I’d already replaced almost every possible component with aluminum for lighter weight.

    Why titanium? I’m at the ocean (with the standard bad roads – many potholes) and I’d like to ovoid rust. No paint to scratch up. Lighter. Much, much lighter.

    The comparable steel bike was maybe only a couple hundred less, and the aluminums one just didn’t look like they would last. Seems that aluminum fatigues due to stress. All those little flexes add up. Carbon’s reputation is that it fails under unexpected stresses. At 200lbs, and a constant user, I need a solid cycle. Must be a dip in the price of titanium, and an increase in the others, This was the best bike for the price for me.

    I ride everywhere, so in essence – this is commuter use. Expect this bike to last 15 years, or I’m going to find an old lugged steel bike again…

  • MohjhoRyder says:

    I will not use carbon fiber because it can’t be recycled or titanium because of price. I have both aluminum and steel bikes but I don’t feel there is much difference in ride quality. However I do have a recumbent bike that uses a single beam design made with high quality Cro-Molly to smooth out the ride. The flex and resonation felt through the seat is sweet and makes up for not having suspension. I haven’t tried this design with aluminum.

  • Peter says:

    “Seems that aluminum fatigues due to stress. All those little flexes add up. Carbon’s reputation is that it fails under unexpected stresses.”
    ____

    To be COMPLETELY CLEAR:
    – All materials fatigue due to stress….nothing lasts forever.
    – All materials fail under unexpected stresses……that’s why they’re called “unexpected”.

    Every thing under the sun is breakable and will fail when it reaches its Yield Stress (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yield_(engineering))

    The difference is in the design. If you buy a steel fork for a *touring* bike and a carbon fork for a *racing* bike of course the carbon fork will fail first. It was designed to! It’s not the fault of the material, it’s intrinsic in the design, where one was designed to last a life time and take a touring load, and one was designed to last a few seasons and be as light as possible. If I buy a lightweight steel fork designed for a racing bike and a heavy duty carbon fiber fork made for a touring-tandem…..tell me which one will be stronger? (hint, it has nothing to do with the material, only the design intent)

    If you want a smooth and compliant AL frame that will last a lifetime, then you need to get one that is DESIGNED to be smooth and compliant and last a lifetime. But this would be rare, because the market just isn’t there for that kind of thing, maybe because so many consumers have misconceptions.

    Another way to see just how blind some of the “facts” about these materials are is to see how other industries market them. In the ski industry AL alloy is added to damp a ski (but I thought AL was snappy and harsh?) and carbon fiber is added to make a ski snappier and “poppier” (I thought carbon damped vibrations?). It’s the opposite because it can be, because the designers can the use the materials in many ways and the design trumps the material.
    In the airline industry carbon fiber is used in high stress areas because the fatigue life is so great and it stands up to the jarring use so well (think turbulence and rough landings flexing the wings). Kind of different from our conceptions in the bike industry, huh?

    design intent trumps all.

  • Kyle Mc says:

    Great insights, Peter, thanks.

  • Pete says:

    I was standing in my LBS not half an hour ago when a guy walks up to the counter – “Everything I read on the internet says steel bikes are smoother and aluminum bikes are lighter. I want a smooth bike but all your steel bikes are more expensive than your aluminum bikes…”

  • Jonathan Krall says:

    My town bike is aluminum. I went shopping for a bike with the best features (for me) for the money and that bike turned out to have an aluminum frame. I suppose I should mention that I did rule out anything that weighed more than 40 pounds so frame material was a little bit of a consideration. In any case I am happy with my choice (a Breezer Uptown 8).

  • john Riley says:

    Speaking of carbon, here is a Swiss company that is making carbon frames robotically.

    http://www.bikebiz.com/news/32784/Carbon-from-the-canton

  • Jammy says:

    My road / city bikes are all steel. 1 tig welded with ridiculously thin butted tubes, and the other two lugged.

    I’ve never liked the lines aluminum bikes tend to have outside of FS mountain bikes. Often they’re too futuristic or have ridiculously fat tubes. My butt meter tells me that with something skinny like 700×23 tires an Alu bike with identical geometry to a steel bike would ride harsher. Once your tires get puffier though, all bets are off.

    I wouldn’t ride a CF bike at this point, as has been pointed out they tend to be built for the racing crowd and I don’t like the ideal of disposable fragile bicycles. Right now, I wouldn’t recommend a CF bike to anyone that’s not going to be replacing it every couple of years or is a professional racer. That could change though. Personally I’m not sure I see the point of a CF fork versus a lugged crown fork with a nice sweep toward the ends. I certainly find one more aesthetically appealing.

    I am an aesthetic curmudgeon though. Straight forks, slopping top tubes, neon decals and fat tubes aren’t my thing.

  • STeve says:

    First I’ll start with the opinion that all bicycles, regardless of type/material/wheel size, that are ridden are the best bikes anywhere. But, i’m a bike geek and I build and ride all bike materials. My bamboo rides like a pleasant mix of my carbon road and my steel commuter. My steel bike is my 50 bike, the bamboo is the grocery getter and the carbon, it’s just a mountain bike. So i’m of the opinion, that if you ride, ride what you enjoy, your bike is not better or worse than anyone else’s. Materials are fun to debate but when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter that much. Nuff ranting, have fun and ride your bike!

    Cheers!

  • Steve Fuller says:

    Most of my bikes are (and have been) steel, with the exception of one mountain bike (Salsa Dos Niner) and one cyclocross bike (Specialized Singlecross). Each has their benefits. That said, with more steel bikes in the stable, I tend to ride them more. The singlecross gets a lot of use in the winter since it has fenders and studded tires. Less worrying about rust as well. I own no bikes with carbon frames, and likely never will due to the type of riding I prefer to do.

  • Rob says:

    I ride a steel bike and it’s heavy, but it doesn’t have to be like that. My Brompton is also steel and very lively and probably have to do more with the design. What about the environmental issue of materials? Aluminum demands a lot of energy to be produced and used to be expensive and isn’t carbon fiber an oil product? As for the rear rack I wouldn’t choose anything than steel since I need to be able to carry a heavy load.

 
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