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  1. #1
    Senior Member rumrunn6's Avatar
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    wheels steel vs aluminum

    I hope to change my wheels soon. I got an old bike cheap and it has steel wheels. They each have a little wobble to them but are serviceable. I changed the bearings and grease today but still think, because of the wobbles, that I want to change the wheels entirely. I think that aluminum wheels are lighter and more rigid, does that mean they are less apt to deform when my 200+ lb body slams over potholes? Are new aluminum wheels straighter than new steel wheels? Meaning having more precision so that I can set my calipers closer?
    cycling is like baseball ~ it doesn't take much to make it interesting

  2. #2
    Senior Member PsySal's Avatar
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    Alu wheels are a major, major improvement you can make to an old bike for not much cost. Better braking, epecially in rain, and much lighter and faster. Used to be, steel wheels were much cheaper to make than alu ones. Nowadays, all wheels (basically) are alu, so even cheap alu ones will be a lot better than what you've got.

    Going-out-of-true has a lot to do with how the wheel is built/tensioned. Learning to true your own wheels is a great skill to have, it's actually not that hard but takes some practice. Once you get your new alu wheels, why not try truing the old steel ones? That'd be great for practice!

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by PsySal View Post
    Alu wheels are a major, major improvement you can make to an old bike for not much cost. Better braking, epecially in rain, and much lighter and faster.
    That's an understatement. Steel rims have lousy braking in the dry and just about non-existent braking when wet. ANY aluminum rim will be a vast improvement in brake performance, not to mention weight.

  4. #4
    cab horn
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    There is no reason why anyone should run steel rims anymore unless they *really* can't' afford $40 for a new front wheel.
    Mes compaingnons cui j'amoie et cui j'aim,... Me di, chanson.

  5. #5
    DRF aka Thrifty Bill wrk101's Avatar
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    New aluminum vs new steel: Straighter? No. More rigid? No.

    Aluminum wheels are basically all you will find out there, they are the standard, Not sure where you could even buy new steel wheels. The cost differential must be minimal. Weight difference and braking difference alone make them (aluminum rims) essential.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by wrk101 View Post
    New aluminum vs new steel: Straighter? No. More rigid? No.
    New vs. new? You're right.

    New Al vs his current steel wheels? It sounds like anything would be an improvement.

  7. #7
    Senior Member rumrunn6's Avatar
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    thanks folks, sounds like a no-brainer. A man with a mission ... :-) Now my search for two wheels, any ideas on suppliers. Remember I need cheap cause I only spent $20. on the bike and my riding season is coming to a close, and next ear I might buy a nice used (but modern) road bike.

    Also, is it a simple matter to swap the gear-set?
    cycling is like baseball ~ it doesn't take much to make it interesting

  8. #8
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rumrunn6 View Post
    Remember I need cheap cause I only spent $20. on the bike and my riding season is coming to a close, and next ear I might buy a nice used (but modern) road bike.
    I've put over 600 miles this year on my '77 Schwinn's steel wheels (it is now my commuter). If you are planning to upgrade to a newer bike in the near future, I'd just true up what you have (new brake pads will probably help your braking ability and they are cheap) and save your money to put toward your next bike. Learn to true your wheels (all it takes is a spoke wrench and some patience) as this is a skill you can use on your next bike as well.

  9. #9
    DRF aka Thrifty Bill wrk101's Avatar
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    On a budget, two choices. First, find a donor bike: thrift store or garage sale are the cheapest options, but sometimes the pickings are few and far between. The good news is that if you find one, you will probably get one for $20 or less. And you can swap all the parts from your bike, then either donate the bike back, or sell it on Craigs List. I used a $5 donor bike to complete the rebuild of my 1975 U08. I probably got $75 or more in parts off the donor bike, and could swap the remaining parts and sell a complete bike.

    The second choice is Craigs List, just post an ad in the Bicycle Section, for sale; but title it WTB Aluminum wheels. List the size you are looking for. I would not put the ad in the wanted section. You will probably find someone local that is rebuilding/flipping bikes that can provide you reasonably priced pieces.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by CACycling View Post
    I've put over 600 miles this year on my '77 Schwinn's steel wheels (it is now my commuter).
    I assume from your handle, you live in CA. I further assume, a very dry part of the state and somewhere with few hills. If you lived in a hilly, wet area either you would have changed the wheels long before this or been a hood ornament for some car by now.

    Yeas ago, before I knew better, my kids had bikes with cheap caliper brakes and steel rims. Looking back, it was almost child abuse to let them ride those bikes around here.

  11. #11
    The Improbable Bulk Little Darwin's Avatar
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    Since you are from west of Boston, Harris Cyclery in Newton does sell a set. It might be a budget buster for you, but for a set of 27" wheels is only $99.

    But as others have said, Craigslist or donor bikes are likely to give you a better price.
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  12. #12
    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    You can buy new steel wheels for cruiser bikes and the like, not sure if you can get them for road bikes (Niagara Cycles has the ones for cruisers).

    As far as strength goes, I would bet that a cheap steel wheel would be better than a cheap aluminum wheel. The problem is that you can get aluminum wheels in a wide range of quality, but in steel wheels, about all you can get are the cheap ones. And the cheapest of either may be marginal for your use.
    "be careful this rando stuff is addictive and dan's the 'pusher'."

  13. #13
    Your mom
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    Steel = maybe you'll stop
    Aluminum = definitely you'll stop

    You can true your steel wheels and get them tensioned correctly and they will probably remain true and serviceable. If you ride your bike a lot and at all in the rain, the Al upgrade is a must.

  14. #14
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
    Looking back, it was almost child abuse to let them ride those bikes around here.
    I only made the suggestion as he stated he was at the end of his riding season and was considering a new bike next year. If I rode in the rain much (you assumed right, I'm in sunny California), I would probably ride different rims although I haven't experienced significant problems stopping them when wet.

  15. #15
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    Once upon a time they made high quality steel wheels that, with the right brake pads and proper set up, stopped fairly well although the wet braking was always much poorer.

    Modern steel wheels only show up on lower end bikes and upgrading to a decent set of alloy wheels is a major improvement.

  16. #16
    Senior Member 04jtb's Avatar
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    Try Stopping in the wet on both, then make your decision
    Quote Originally Posted by cc700 View Post
    i jam my thumbs up and back into the tubes. this way i can point my fingers straight out in front to split the wind and attain an even more aero profile, and the usual fixed gear - zen - connectedness feeling through the drivetrain is multiplied ten fold because my thumbs become one with the tubing.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member Bill Kapaun's Avatar
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    Since you said you are coming to the end of your biking season, I wouldn't bother replacing parts on a bike you plan to get rid of.
    You can buy a spoke wrench and do minor truing with instructions from this link-
    http://www.parktool.com/repair/byreg...ageField2.y=13

  18. #18
    Pilot Deeper flian's Avatar
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    Now my search for two wheels, any ideas on suppliers.
    What size? 27", 700c?

    (Butting in here.... )
    Anyone know the ballpark weight savings going from (similar construction) steel wheels to aluminium? I'm guessing at 3.5 or so lbs on the 27" wheels I'm about to change. (I don't have the steels off yet to weigh)
    Thanks!

  19. #19
    Senior Member rumrunn6's Avatar
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    Thanks for the additional info guys. I've been scanning craigslist and found an awesome bike for sale - could even replace my bike! New wheels and cables! Too bad it was sold as soon as it was listed. Thanks for the Newton link, I work near there. They are a good shop. Didn't know I could get a set of aluminum wheels for as little as $99 though. I'm still on the fence. I did almost 60 miles yesterday and the current wheels were fine. But I know they can be better ...
    cycling is like baseball ~ it doesn't take much to make it interesting

  20. #20
    Senior Member DannoXYZ's Avatar
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    You can get a whole alloy wheelset for $50-60. Most shops can order a set of basic wheels with Rigida/Araya rims and Suzue hubs for $32.99 or less even.

    Good bet is to scour the thrift stores or garage-sales. You can typically find very nice used bikes that cost $600-750 new for $50-75.

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