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Old 01-31-08, 11:20 AM   #1
KidTruth
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Why Steel?

I've been hearing a lot of vintage riders on the roadie forum talk about the advantages of steel as a frame rather than aluminum or carbon - I was wondering what exactly the advantages are.

From what I understand, steel's only downside is that it is very heavy. In all other aspects (firmness, toughness) is it superior to carbon and aluminum? I am thinking of getting a steel-frame roadbike and wanted to know if this was a correct rundown of the situation.

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Old 01-31-08, 11:29 AM   #2
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It all depends on whats important to ya..I've heard steel has a little more flex which in turn makes it more comfortable to ride. I have never ridden anything else so I don't know any better. I chose my bikes because they are what I've been able to find at decent prices. I think weight is important to most,but my thought is build the engine and you won't even notice the difference. For now it's all steel for me..
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Old 01-31-08, 11:29 AM   #3
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Not necessarily superior, but different. Although the ride feel of CF and steel are very, very similar.

Depends on what you want out of the bike, but for general bang-for-the-buck, a vintage steel frame is a good choice. But even within just the steel frame group, there is a ton of variation between ride quality and build quality. All steel frames are not created equal. Choose carefully.
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Old 01-31-08, 11:30 AM   #4
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Steel being "very heavy" is dependent partly on the quality of steel tubing used. An old Schwinn Varsity from the 60's may weigh 35lbs, but a road bike made of Reynolds 531 or Columbus might only weigh ~20lbs. No, it won't be as light as some crazy 16lb. carbon fiber rig, but it can be still lighter than some aluminum bikes.

I have an aluminum bike and a couple steel bikes, and I think the ride quality is a lot better with steel. Aluminum is a bit too stiff and harsh for long-distance comfort. I've never ridden carbon, so I can't really comment on that. I would choose a nice steel bike over a nice aluminum bike almost any day of the week.

The only other disadvantage of steel is that it has the potential to rust if you don't take care of it.
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Old 01-31-08, 11:32 AM   #5
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For the eco-geeks: steel is also the most environmentally friendly bike-frame material (besides bamboo) to produce.
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Old 01-31-08, 11:35 AM   #6
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OOooooo bamboo... i'll be the envy of hipster ******bags everywhere.
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Old 01-31-08, 11:36 AM   #7
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Steel is easier to fix. If you crash, steel will bend and and if the bend is not critical, you can easily bend it back. In a crash, carbon will crack and Alu will bend but generally cannot be bent back.
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Old 01-31-08, 11:43 AM   #8
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... In a crash, carbon MAY crack and Alu MAY bend but generally cannot be bent back.
Modified it a bit...... I've seen plenty of CF and Alu bike that have come out of crashes a-ok.

You're right about the avantage of the repairability of steel, but unless you're hammering on it yourself the cost of steel frame repair is usually not worth the effort or expense. If you have to replace a tube, you might as well buy a new frame and hang your bits on it. The final price of the tube, labor, and paint will be close to a new frame, if it does not exceed it.
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Old 01-31-08, 11:50 AM   #9
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I've been hearing a lot of vintage riders on the roadie forum talk about the advantages of steel as a building component rather than aluminum or carbon - I was wondering what exactly the advantages are.

From what I understand, steel's only downside is that it is very heavy. In all other aspects (firmness, toughness) is it superior to carbon and aluminum? I am thinking of getting a steel-frame roadbike and wanted to know if this was a correct rundown of the situation.
Steel is a proven technology. Alloy bikes mostly only date from the 1980's and the early ones have shown some durability problems. Carbon Fiber is still newer tech and little experience with long term durability is available. Steel bicycles have been around for 150 years or so. Properly engineered they should all work OK in the short term. However steel is cheaper, easier to work with, and does the job very well, so it has an innate advantage up front. BTW steel is not very heavy for its strength, the advantage in the high tech materials in frames of the same strength and durability is only a couple of pounds at most. Unfortunately quite often the advertising department has more to do with a products specs than the engineering department does.

Some of the handling characteristics that are liked in vintage bikes has more to do with the differences in geometry from modern bikes rather than the materials used. Usually if the rider likes one he will not like the other as well.
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Old 01-31-08, 12:04 PM   #10
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Its the resiliency of steel is what makes steel framed bikes stand out worlds above the rest. All (well, actually both) my bikes are lugged steel and I picked them out by choice over any carbon or aluminum bike that I could never trust. Sure, you can get some decent ride quality out of carbon, but the first time you crash it, or if it even falls to the pavement, you have to get a virtual "ultrasound" done just to make sure its not cracked somewhere.

That does'nt sound like something I want to spend any big money on.

I love the ride of steel over all others, and I know that most anything short of being run over by a truck, or a bad bike crash, a steel framed bike has the resiliency and material hardness to overcome it. Just look at ebay and the many 30 -40 year old steel bikes patiently waiting for new owners.


~ make mine 'steel'....um...to go, please
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Old 01-31-08, 12:12 PM   #11
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I have two steel road bikes and one aluminum road bike. I've also owned one other steel road frame.

All three of the frames have completely different ride characteristics, due to differing geometry and tubing material.
  • The Eddy Merckx is the stiffest of the three frames. It is extremely comfortable for long rides. This frame has actually been crashed by the previous owner, and repaired prior to my buying it. I had to get it repainted, but that was it.
  • The Colnago has very quick handling, and is as light as the aluminum framed Vitus.
  • The Vitus has the most amount of frame flex of the three bikes. When climbing hills while standing, I can get the chainring to flex and rub against the FD (it's either rubbing the inner plate, or it's the chain, either way it's a lot of flex). The ride quality is great. I'd love to have a steel frame that rides like this.
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Old 01-31-08, 12:34 PM   #12
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There's lots of variables. Steel gives a good ride and can be found on relatively light bikes as well as really heavy ones.

The other choices are often listed as aluminum and carbon. Each have their own pros and cons. My newest bike is actually a combination of both. I haven't ridden it enough yet to know how it's ride quality compares to my steel road bike but in my few shorts ride before winter it didn't seem to be any harsher.
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Old 01-31-08, 12:48 PM   #13
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There's lots of variables. Steel gives a good ride and can be found on relatively light bikes as well as really heavy ones.

.....I haven't ridden it enough yet to know how it's ride quality compares to my steel road bike but in my few shorts ride before winter it didn't seem to be any harsher.
I've found the difference in ride quality is more to do with geometry, tire/wheel selection, and saddle choice than frame material. I've got bikes made from steel, aluminum/CF, and CF. They're all nice.

The myth that a CF bike will crack just by falling over is just that, a myth. The chief difference between a CF and steel frame is the cost. But a modern boutique steel frame is, in many cases, more expensive than a CF one. Personally, I like the aesthetics of a fine steel frame best, but CF is just as much fun to ride and easily as strong.

I've had bone-shaker aluminum bikes, and I've had comfortable ones. Geometry, tires/wheels, and saddle. Repeat. Geometry, tires/wheels, and saddle. These make more difference than anything. For ride quality, what kind of frame material takes the back seat to these three things.
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Old 01-31-08, 12:48 PM   #14
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Well, since no one's asked (directly, anyway), the first question to ask yourself is what kind of riding you do. Are you planning on racing? Club riding? Solo-alone-with-my-thoughts type riding? Centuries? Touring? Lots of hills and climbing where you live, or mostly flat? Time trials or crits? Can you plan on replacing the frame after three or so seasons of really hard riding/racing (including the occasional crash - because you WILL crash)? How important are the aesthetics of the bike to you (and what are those)? First figure out what your needs are, then start thinking about what material it should be built from. There are some brilliant carbon frames being built, and some steel frames that are worthy of being raced. And you haven't even mentioned titanium. All in all, a steel frame should last a good long time if it's properly made. My advice is to test ride as much as possible, including borrowing some of your friends' bikes for the purpose, and decide for yourself what you like in a frame/bike. (Try to use the same pair of wheels whenever possible, so this won't be a major variable.)
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Old 01-31-08, 01:20 PM   #15
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Wonderful advice from everyone, thank you very much. I hadn't even considered titanium - how does it compare to the others in terms of weight, durability, ride?
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Old 01-31-08, 01:23 PM   #16
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.... I hadn't even considered titanium - how does it compare to the others in terms of weight, durability, ride?
Bring your wallet.

How you're going to use the bike was never answered. It makes a difference.
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Old 01-31-08, 01:24 PM   #17
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You're right about the advantage of the repairability of steel, but unless you're hammering on it yourself the cost of steel frame repair is usually not worth the effort or expense. If you have to replace a tube, you might as well buy a new frame and hang your bits on it. The final price of the tube, labor, and paint will be close to a new frame, if it does not exceed it.
Expanding upon this, a steel frame can also generally be bent, bent back, dented, misaligned and realigned, modified, etc., and the ease with which repairs can be made means that "hammering" on a frame yourself is not beyond the abilities of the amateur mechanic.

To the OP: Some of us also think lugged steel frames carry an advantage in the ever-so-important looks department.

Steel was the main choice of frame material for many decades; as such, many bikes widely considered to be "classic and vintage" are steel. Asking the classic and vintage set why they prefer steel over other frame materials is a bit like asking a Waylon Jennings fan why he doesn't listen to Run-DMC.

In the grand scheme of things, having a variety of frame materials is a good thing, and which you ride is a matter of personal preference.
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Old 01-31-08, 01:28 PM   #18
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Expanding upon this, a steel frame can also generally be bent, bent back, dented, misaligned and realigned, modified, etc., and the ease with which repairs can be made means that "hammering" on a frame yourself is not beyond the abilities of the amateur mechanic.

You bet.

But - straightening a bent RD hanger is one thing, changing a buckled tube is something else again.
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Old 01-31-08, 01:37 PM   #19
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Asking the classic and vintage set why they prefer steel over other frame materials is a bit like asking a Waylon Jennings fan why he doesn't listen to Run-DMC.
Do you get out much?
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Old 01-31-08, 01:38 PM   #20
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As for BigBossMan's question - I am more of a solo rider, and I like to go distances... not touring distances, but I'm currently working my way up to my first century, with my longest ride being around 50 miles right now. Where I live is completely flat (Houston, TX.)
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Old 01-31-08, 01:41 PM   #21
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If you can ride a half century with relative ease you will have no problem with a century...
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Old 01-31-08, 01:45 PM   #22
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Do you get out much?
Now now, no reason to be spiteful; I was just making an analogy.
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Old 01-31-08, 01:50 PM   #23
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I realize the discussion is about vintage steel, but newer high strength steel frames with OS tube sets can be very close to CF, titanium and aluminum in frame weight. Modern steel 58-60cm frames can weigh about 3.5 to 3.75 pounds compared to similar size CF frames that weigh about a pound less (I'm talking about the frames only; you can put the same CF fork on either, so the fork would weigh the same).
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Old 01-31-08, 03:37 PM   #24
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As for BigBossMan's question - I am more of a solo rider, and I like to go distances... not touring distances, but I'm currently working my way up to my first century, with my longest ride being around 50 miles right now. Where I live is completely flat (Houston, TX.)
In that case, buy a good frame that you can afford that fits you, regardless of frame material. Get one with a slacker geometry if you like a more leisurely, comfortable ride. Get one with a tighter, race-like geometry if you like climbing and sprinting.

For century distances, tires/wheels and the saddle are going to be your main concern - in my experience.
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Old 01-31-08, 04:12 PM   #25
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For the eco-geeks: steel is also the most environmentally friendly bike-frame material (besides bamboo) to produce.
Did someone say bamboo?
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