Recreational Cyclocross and Gravelbiking - Cross frame material preference?
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I'm planning on buying a cross bike in the coming months for winter training use, running errands, single-track riding, and the occasional race. I've been leaning towards a Surly frame which I can get built up w/Ultegra for about $1300. I also noticed several bikes in the $800-1000 range that have AL frames. I'm a huge fan of steel when it comes to road riding.
My question to everyone is how important is comfort on a cross bike? Will the difference from aluminum to steel be that dramtic becuse of the wider tires? I'm curious to get everyone's take, from the avid cross racer to the recreational rider who happens to ride a cross bike.
I'm leaning to the steel, but it's hard to ignore the good prices on the AL bikes.
Thanks for your help.
10-13-03, 02:23 PM
you want a light, tough frame for a cross bike. my opinion is that alu is probably the best material. yes, it's stiffer than steel, but a steel or carbon fork and fat tires at 60-80 psi pretty much cancel out any of the worst ride characteristics of alu.
i ride a steel [columbus zona] road bike and i race an aluminum cross bike with a carbon fork. the cross bike has a much smoother ride, probably because of the tires.
10-13-03, 02:50 PM
I guess it depends on usage. I ride my bike almost exclusivly in the rough stuff, and although I test rode the Binchi models, wouldn't have bought one after riding other materials. I liked the steel better (surly). I ended up selling my road bike and blowing every dime on a ti frame with carbon seatstays. I don't regret it, especially since I'm down to 2 bikes again. (Just trying to simplify things... Yet somehow I still manage to keep things complex... :)
On the other hand, my wife rides aluminum, and it doesn't bother her a bit... I'd suspect that if you ride steel, and like the ride, you might not like aluminum. Not to bag on aluminum, but once you have ridden good steel, it's hard not to.
That said, I know some of the newer frames are using better tuned aluminum tubes that are said to fix some of the "harshness"...
Take all this with 0.02 - I only test rode the Bianchi frames, and I've not ridden any of the other alum frames, esp some of the fancy high end stuff.
I think my second favorite bike I test road was the surly... It felt sure footed.
I bought a scandium Voodoo Limba in 2000.This bike kicks ass,blew away my Concorde steel road bike.I sold my road bike and have been using my 'cross bike for road training/trail riding.I'll never buy a steel frame again.
10-13-03, 04:32 PM
i don't know, huck, a marinoni made of columbus zona is pretty fine steel... and yet, my easton ultralite major jake makes me think my next road bike might be aluminum...
the only steel bikes i see at the races are ultralight steel like zona and ultrafoco. the vast majority of race bikes are aluminum. if you don't plant to race, then weight won't be much of an issue, though it's a major issue on your sixth lap when you have to shoulder the bike again to run up a rock and root strewn hill in the rain. ;)
I'm not an expert, but I don't think frame material is as crucial as some people do in terms of comfort. Sheldon Brown's web site has a great detailed discussion about frame material (and many other things). The address is:
His take is that a bike's ride is more contingent upon it's tires rather than frame. Generally, I have found this to be true, but there is definetely a difference between steel and aluminum. Currently, I have a 2001 Trek XO aluminum frame, but have owned steel framed bikes. As far as ride goes, I do prefer steel. I haven't noticed a huge difference in terms of comfort, but steel does have a more lively feel because it's a more springy metal. Most competitive cyclists seem to prefer aluminum because it's lighter and more rigid - meaning it has better power transfer than steel. The ride of aluminum frames tends to be somewhat uninspired. There also the issue of rust. If you plan to keep your bike for awhile this might be an issue. Aluminum is very resistent to corrosion, where as steel can be prone to rusting (higher quality steel frames are usually treated to resist corrosion to an extent). My mid-level steel road bike had moderate rust after two years of regular all season riding, but nothing that was really a major concern.
So, I guess what I'm saying is it's all preference. If you want to maximize efficiency (for racing, etc.) and don't mind a slightly less comfortable ride, I'd go with aluminum. For general riding, I'd probably go with steel (or steel alloy), but really either frame material will work well. Good luck.
You all make such good arguements for both. I guess I have to honestly assess how much I plan to race. I think AL may be they way to go if I decide to race a lot. If not I'll go with steel.
Thanks for the input!
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