17 November 2009

Steel: For real?

I'm accustomed to reading about or listening to people praise the advantages of steel bicycle frames without ever actually specifying what those are (with the exception of extraordinary amounts of nostalgia for some undefined "good old days" that allegedly took place sometime between last century and earlier this decade). However, the n00b is calling BS. He wants to know what it is that makes steel better than aluminum, and under what circumstances. I told him to Google it, but I think he landed in the middle of a pissing contest on bikeforums.net because the next thing I know he was huddled in the corner whimpering and playing with his car keys.

Well, I'm more inclined to just accept the fact that some particular bike is made of whatever it's made of and that's that, but I can easily see him turning into the guy you see riding loops around the park on an all-carbon road bike (because it's faster!) in a sweatsuit and cross trainers. So methinks we need to settle this now.

Why steel?


At 17 November, 2009 17:21, Blogger Jessica said...


At 17 November, 2009 17:26, Blogger Emily said...

I have ridden nice steel bikes. I have ridden nice aluminum bikes. I have a screaming phobia about carbon fiber composite bikes, because every bike fanboi in existence who claims to have seen a composite bike fail proceeds to describe a failure mode that is... wrong. Really wrong if the material is a carbon fiber composite. (I love carbon fiber composites for a lot of model aviation uses, which means I've seen them fail a lot.)

Any one of the 3 would be fine for the riding I do, provided the engineering was done correctly. Carbon fiber composite done right would cost a bloody fortune (in general, I'd consider $10,000 awfully cheap for composite where I didn't get to see how they tested the design). Aluminum is cheap, and you can get a nice riding aluminum bike for under $600. Steel is in between.

For me, it comes down to "I like my bike". Until you're training for serious endurance or racing events, the odds of the frame material mattering are pretty low.

At 17 November, 2009 17:34, Blogger J/tati said...

If your friend is a novice rider, I really don't think there are meaningful differences between the materials at what is likely his price range.

But if he is curious, rather than read about it, I would recommend that he try several bikes out of varying geometries, materials, and price levels. And ideally these should not be new bikes, but those of friends and associates.

But, you know, a properly fitting bicycle of any material is always the first place to start.

At 17 November, 2009 18:04, Blogger Bone said...

Sheldon brown has a nice write up on frame materials : http://www.sheldonbrown.com/frame-materials.html

My experience has been that aluminum frames tend to be stiffer than steel, and so they're a little less shock-absorbing.

Aluminum frames also need to have larger diameter tubing, which some people object to on aesthetic grounds. It can also cause minor practical problems, particularly where the chain stays meet behind the bottom bracket shell. Using larger diameter tubes there leaves a little less room for a tire. So, you'd have to have longer chain stays for a given max tire size than you would on a steel frame.

You can also cold-set a steel frame if you want to use a hub with a larger or smaller axle length than the frame was originally intended for. If you try that with aluminum, you'll most likely ruin the frame.

At 17 November, 2009 19:05, Blogger Jennifer said...

What about corrosion?

At 17 November, 2009 20:13, Blogger reub2000 said...

All of the frame on most bikes is completly covered in paint. I'd be more worried about components in the drive train corroding.

At 17 November, 2009 20:23, Blogger Jennifer said...

The hybrid is completely covered in stickers because there's not much paint left underneath them, so either it comes off eventually, or I'm doing something very, very wrong.

At 19 November, 2009 16:48, Blogger Yokota Fritz said...

Corrosion isn't really an issue on better quality steel bikes.

I completely abused my old steel Centurion, regularly riding it through deep water, in heavy rain, snow, and salted roads, and after over 20 years the frame finally failed but not because of rust.

Like the others wrote, steel flexes, aluminum does not. This flex can have a noticeable difference in ride comfort, especially over long distances and on bumpy surfaces.

At 24 November, 2009 01:01, Blogger willyh said...

Simple. My ass feels better after 20 miles on a steel bike than 20 miles on an aluminum bike.


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