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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 11:26 am 
Old School Hero

Joined: Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:33 pm
Posts: 208
Location: NW Kent
Steel or aluminium frame?

I have always been an advocate of steel for frames, and have always banged on about steel’s properties being inherent in the material as it is more elastic than Aluminium; hit a steel bar and it rings, hit an aluminium bar and it thuds. Rightly or wrongly I have lived by this maxim for many years.

Recently I had cause to build a bike with an aluminium frame, and have been alternately riding this along with my 25 year old 531 road bike (See links in my sig for details).

The steel frame is coupled with steel forks and was built with 73 degree parallel head and seat tube 60cm C-T. The aluminium frame is built with 7005 Easton tubing and has an aluminium and carbon fork. Not sure what the geometry is but it has a slightly longer wheelbase than the steel bike but it too is 60cm C-T and has some oval tubing.

What galls me is that the aluminium frame rides so much better than the steel one. And I would have thought that the aluminium oval tubing should make the whole damn thing as harsh as anything, but it is light, responsive and far more able to soak up the road than my old steely steed. My 531 frame seems hard and unforgiving, and frankly, in comparison, less a pleasure to ride.

Is it the carbon forks? Could it be just a geometry thing? Or is my assumption about the qualities of steel misplaced? Perhaps my old bones are looking on more favourably at the properties of aluminium.

Just wondered if anyone has a perspective concerning the differences of the two materials, as this is akin to the world collapsing around my ears.

Thanks

Stig


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 11:37 am 
rider | rBoTM Winner
rider | rBoTM Winner
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Joined: Fri Jan 25, 2008 1:42 pm
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Location: Wakefield, Yorkshire
I'm afraid I am sort of coming to the same conclusion. I have a Bianchi C-2-C with aluminium main frame, carbon forks and carbon seat stays. I find it very comfortable and responsive. When getting back on a steel classic bike I do notice the difference.

As this is a 'confessional' I am also admitting to being in the middle of selecting a brand new all-carbon steed. The Bianchi is going to France to live with my daughter which is giving me the excuse - sorry, reason - to buy something else to replace it. Currently looking at the Sensa range from Merlin.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 11:50 am 
Old School Grand Master
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Joined: Thu Jul 19, 2007 7:18 pm
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Location: Staffordshire
I always like the ride of my Alan. That's a different configuration of aluminium though. Thicker walled but smaller diameter tubes.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 11:57 am 
Retro Guru

Joined: Tue Dec 21, 2010 6:31 pm
Posts: 1111
Don't know how helpful this will be, but I recently bought an old u. scanini
steel framed bike that I've been alternating with my aluminium Bianchi
ML3, which has a carbon fork.

I ride quite a bit over pave/kasseien (you can't really avoid it where I live, so you have to learn to love them).

I found the steel frame more comfortable over this type of terrain, much more springy and able to soak up the shocks.

The U.Scanini has crimped main tubes, sort of a copy of colnago's steel frames (I think they were partly designed by Eric Vanderaeden). That should make it stiffer, but I still find it noticeably more flexible than the alu-carbon combo.

Maybe it has to do with some combination of road quality and frame weight - the lightness of alu-carbon makes it more pleasant to ride on good roads where the need for shock absorption is less anyway, whereas the flexibility of steel is an advantage on poorer quality roads.

Johnny


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 12:41 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jul 27, 2011 12:46 pm
Posts: 962
Location: Montpellier, France
The steel vs aluminium (or carbon) debate will never go away, and rightly so, but for me I suspect one of the biggest attractions to steel is simply that I like the idea of riding a steel-framed bike. I sold my aluminium Specialized last year and don't miss it, though there was nothing wrong with it. All of my bikes are now steel. I sometimes think about a modern carbon bike but have never been fired up enough about one to justify spending the money.

It would be interesting to compare steel and aluminium frames built up with identical components such as bar tape and saddles, so see how that shows up the differences. I've only ever seen comparisons between different bikes, and that involves different geometry, wheels and ancilliaries.

Lastly, there's the eternal "if it was good enough for Eddy Merckx" factor...


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 12:48 pm 
Old School Hero

Joined: Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:33 pm
Posts: 208
Location: NW Kent
Rich34 wrote:
It would be interesting to compare steel and aluminium frames built up with identical components such as bar tape and saddles, so see how that shows up the differences. I've only ever seen comparisons between different bikes, and that involves different geometry, wheels and ancilliaries.


Of course you are right. The front wheel on my steel bike is machine built and radially spoked, and the aluminium bike is 3 cross handbuilt. This has got to make some difference, right? I could always just switch over the front wheels and try...

I may measure them both up in detail and estimate the geometric difference to see if this throws enough light on such a vast and contraindicated difference in feel.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 1:44 pm 
Retro Guru
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Joined: Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:19 am
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Location: Swansea
I wonder whether we're comparing like for like as well though, old 531 steel frames are built like tanks and in most cases will last forever.

Aluminium frames of the same era were also built like tanks hence their still around but they rode as harsh as a harsh thing.

I do a lot of mileage but I still find it incredible that I've managed to crack three brand new modern aluminium frames over 6 years and in each case the maker didn't want to know :shock:

I'm 5'8" and between 9 and 9 1/2 stone depending on time of year so I really shouldn't be breaking frames :shock:

Modern aluminium frames are scary scary thin and bare no resemblance to aluminium frames even from the late 90s, even the manufactures don't expect them to last more than a few seasons hence the abundance of 2 and 5 year warranties on most alu frames.

The new breed of aluminium frames are definitely more comfortable but don't count on having many many years of service out of them :?

Throw your leg over a modern steel frame :wink: my 853 Rourke amazes me every time I ride it 8)

p.s for short sharp 30 mile blasts you can't beat a stiff as a board unforgiving 90s aluminium frame, thats why I'll always have a 90s Paris or Merak in the stable :wink:


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 2:00 pm 
Dirt Disciple

Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2010 2:56 pm
Posts: 36
stig,

People get hung up on materials. The reality is that different materials simply permit different trade-offs in the frame's design (key trade-offs are weight, handling, comfort). What has changed is that in 20-30years, technology and design/testing expertise has moved on. So, what you get with newer materials (steel as well as alu & carbon) is that you can produce frames that are both better (as well as worse) in absolute terms (i.e. better/worse along all three weight/handling/comfort components), as well as greater variation in the trade-offs between them (e.g. better tuned comfort at the expense of e.g. handling).

E.g. it's clear to me (having ridden a number of carbon frames - my current stable is 1 steel tourer, 1 steel 90's racer, 2 new alu racers, 1 new-ish carbon racer) that the ability to design specific properties into a carbon frame is unmatched by either steel or alu. The downside is cost. A good new alu frame is a generally a far better proposition than a good 531 racer (i.e. it's better in every respect, including comfort) but there are equally bad new frames out there. New steel I'm sure is great, but I haven't ridden one!

Judge a frame by how it performs, not what it's made from. Bear in mind that newer does generally mean better, because engineers are good at making things better! That said, I love riding my '96 Concorde for a whole host of reasons, mostly because it's a super riding bike (judged objectively) but also because I like to surprise people by hanging in there on fast group rides riding what many people consider a museum piece, and an extremely beautiful one at that ;-)


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 2:29 pm 
Old School Hero

Joined: Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:33 pm
Posts: 208
Location: NW Kent
onegaishimasu wrote:
stig,

People get hung up on materials. The reality is that different materials simply permit different trade-offs in the frame's design (key trade-offs are weight, handling, comfort). What has changed is that in 20-30years, technology and design/testing expertise has moved on. So, what you get with newer materials (steel as well as alu & carbon) is that you can produce frames that are both better (as well as worse) in absolute terms (i.e. better/worse along all three weight/handling/comfort components), as well as greater variation in the trade-offs between them (e.g. better tuned comfort at the expense of e.g. handling).

E.g. it's clear to me (having ridden a number of carbon frames - my current stable is 1 steel tourer, 1 steel 90's racer, 2 new alu racers, 1 new-ish carbon racer) that the ability to design specific properties into a carbon frame is unmatched by either steel or alu. The downside is cost. A good new alu frame is a generally a far better proposition than a good 531 racer (i.e. it's better in every respect, including comfort) but there are equally bad new frames out there. New steel I'm sure is great, but I haven't ridden one!

Judge a frame by how it performs, not what it's made from. Bear in mind that newer does generally mean better, because engineers are good at making things better! That said, I love riding my '96 Concorde for a whole host of reasons, mostly because it's a super riding bike (judged objectively) but also because I like to surprise people by hanging in there on fast group rides riding what many people consider a museum piece, and an extremely beautiful one at that ;-)


I get that, but my issue is that I need a new frame because the aluminium one has a crack down the front of the seat tube (just below the binder, so not an immediate issue). And whilst you are right about not getting hung up on material, it is an interesting subject to discuss prior to making the decision to order something. Im sure that any material can be made to deliver the feel that I want, need and expect, be that steel, aluminium, titanium, bamboo or indeed dried triple butted macaroni. Of course with the exception of carbon fibre; it is the work of Satan. (This is not based on testimony or personal experience; it just pleases me to berate something that these days is applied to anything and everything that need to be portrayed as high tech, so I feel disinclined to follow that particular route.) :lol:

My instinct is to get a steel frame (once I can decide on a builder) but my Aluminium success has left me in this quandary.

It would be very nice to try some modern steel frames to see if they tick my boxes, but in reality this is difficult unless there are any 6'2" riders in my area that are willing to met up to swap bikes for a little comparison...


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 2:53 pm 
Dirt Disciple

Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2010 2:56 pm
Posts: 36
stig,

Practically, a good steel builder will likely be able to deliver exactly what you want. Custom is custom! However, it may be that an OTP alu or ti frame might also deliver that, but it's highly dependent on the frame design (i.e. not the material!). Finding a good OTP bike is then a process of getting good advice from a trusted shop, or taking various bikes for test rides. What's appropriate for you is very much dependent on your weight/strength and riding style (and geometry, of course!).

I think modern steel is good for everything except higher end competitive riding, albeit with a slight weight penalty over alu/carbon. For most people, this is not of much consequence.


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