I recently picked up a 1984 Cannondale road/touring bike for $80. I'm not really a bike nut, I just want a bike for commuting purposes and the occasional recreational ride. I thought this was a good find, it's in great condition and rides smoothly. I figured if I ended up changing my mind, I could sell it on craigslist without taking a loss. I took it out for a 10 mile ride and loved it. Now I've been reading all this business about aluminum's lifespan, fatigue, and frame failures. All this negativity harshes my mellow and makes me feel as if the bike will spontaneously combust as I ride it on a beautiful fall morning. There aren't any visible cracks on the frame, but it's not as if I inspected it with dye penetrate. I don't intend on jumping over any taxis on the way to work, so I think I might be fine. I'm just not sure.
I feel like the this Steel v. Aluminum argument might be the PC v. Mac argument for bicycle folk. Sure the argument might be grounded in metals engineering, but when I search for aluminum frame failure images on the web I find very little. It seems with all this impending carnage, there would be a lot more photos of incidents. I know if I were a steel fan, I would take a picture of a friend's aluminum bicycle failure.
So…Should I resell and buy something solidly steel or should I keep it because I like it?
I owned a 80's Cannondale road bike. It had a harsh ride.
I suggest getting the largest tires that will fit. There used to be
a tire I'd swear that was designed for it, but it's not made anymore than
I am aware of (Hutchinson Profile U).
Prob your best bet is a 25c Vredstein Fortezza.
I'd also suggest raising the bars and double wrapping them with a good gel tape
like Cinelli. Actually, if you replaced the fork with a carbon fork, that would really help. But that wouldn't be a cheap fix....
As to the question of ruggedness. I weighed over 200 pounds and rode it for a few years. My Sis rode it for a few years. I gave it to my mechanic as a tip for work on my new bike. He turned into a SS and a guy commutes to work on it every day now.
If it's in good shape and you like it, then $80 was a good deal and you should definitely keep it. Steel may be more fatigue resistant than aluminum, but a good Cannondale is not exactly going to be fragile. Just check for cracks and dents occasionally (which should be done on any bike) and I imagine you'll get many years of use from it.
Most aluminum bikes have gone to carbon forks because the real problem with ride comfort was with aluminum forks. I had an early 90s C-dale with the aluminum forks, and it was a jittery ride. However, with the 1984 touring model, I'm pretty sure you are running with CrMo forks, which will be much more forgiving than aluminum.
The frame may crack, but so do steel frames. As with any bike, pay attention to any odd noises or creaking and inspect often (+1 on what Lamplight wrote).