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  1. #1
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    Yes, another Aluminum vs Steel wheel questions thread

    Hi all,

    I have an old Ross Professional Ten-speed with 27 inch wheels and it's time for new wheels. So I have the choice of steel or aluminum.

    1st Question, which one is better at withstanding potholes, curbs, sticks, stones and all other things you run into without warping?

    Seriously, Which one is stronger and can take the abuse? One has got to be better than the other but I've searched all over the internet and frustratingly for some reason nobody wants to give a straight answer on this.

    Currently, I leaning towards steel. I actually want the bike to be heavier. My Ross is my workout bike and I use it mostly for 8-12 mile quick rides after work and I want to burn as many calories as possible in short time. I have a racing bike for longer weekend rides and/or when I feel the need for speed.

    The only thing is when I went to price wheels at my local bike shop, they said steel wheels will warp very easily but they might be just telling me that to get me to pay for the more expensive aluminum wheels.

    If what my dealer says it true, I probably will go with the aluminum as I don't want to buy wheels every year. The current wheels on my bicycle lasted pretty long, they are probably the originals from 25+ years ago and I think they are steel.

    Actually what is the weight difference between a steel wheel and an aluminum one? Aluminum is 1/3 the density of steel but they obvious have to make it thicker to have the same strength.

    Also, I tend to avoid riding when it's raining so braking distances between the two is irrelevant to me.

    Thanks You,

  2. #2
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    From what I understand, steel rims are worse as far as braking especially when wet. The majority of bikes nowadays are aluminum rims, and as long as is double walled and properly tensioned with the proper amount of spokes, it should be able to handle abuse, and some misuse. For what its worth, I am a clyde at 230 lbs with a 30 lb commute load on a heavy Schwinn. I built the wheels (first time rookie) on 36 spoke Sun CR-18 on 622-35 Continental Contacts. It has seen potholes, trails, road debris, railroad tracks and the general road hazards. Its still running true. Check out the heavy duty expedition bikes, they have aluminum rims.

  3. #3
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    1. How easily your wheel "warps" depends much more on the spokes and
    tensions of them than rim material. It also depends on rim design and construction.
    You will have trouble finding any decently designed and constructed steel rims
    in the current environment.....they are mostly cheapies.

    2. braking distances, even in dry conditions, are reduced with alloy rims.
    If you ride in traffic at all, eventually you will run into a situation where
    alloy rims and better braking will seem very appealing.

    3. Steel rims will give you a lot more exercise, because the ones that
    are currently available are pretty heavy, thus rotational mass of the wheel
    increases dramatically and more force is required to accelerate it.

    4. bad road conditions call for bigger fatter tires, rather than steel rims.
    You'll also get more exercise if you pick heavier, fatter tires with higher
    rolling resistance.
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  4. #4
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    I have chromed steel rims on an old Raleigh 3 speed. They rust if not looked after, the brakes work poorly in the wet. None of my bikes with alloy rims present these problems. No contest. Get a pair of strong alloy rims, have them built up by a competent wheel builder, but some fatter tyres on and your problem is solved.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member randyjawa's Avatar
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    Steel wheels do not brake as well as alloy ones. Steel wheels will start to rust, sooner or later, if they have not already started to do so. And, the big one - steel is much much heavier than alloy. And it is the weight you do not want!

    That extra weight, rolling weight in this instance, will be felt when you ride the bicycle. It will feel more sluggish, thanks to the additional weight of the two spinning wheels. That extra weight will be both power robbing while it negatively impacts agility. Put another way, the bike will not be as fast or go as far with the same energy input. And, the bike will feel more sluggish.

    In my book, there is absolutely no viable reason to run steel hoops if alloy ones are available. And, if you want more of a workout, then drag a log behind the bike:-)
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  6. #6
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    aetius, I think the "warp" statement is a bit incorrect. Two rims, one aluminum and the other of steel and of equal strength; the steel rim will flex more than an aluminum rim with a similar failure.

    If you want a set of heavy wheels, buy some aluminum rims and put on some heavy tires. Good 27" wheelsets for a classic 10 speed can be bought inexpensively from Harris Cyclery and from Amazon.

    Brad

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    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    I also say there's no good reason for steel rims. They dent more easily!

    And I'm not convinced that extra weight gives you a better workout. A heavy bike punishes you from increasing your effort beyond a certain level of exertion. You can always go faster to get the extra workout, and you'll be better at sprinting as a result. You don't see professional racers training on heavy bikes, and I'm sure there's a good reason behind that.
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  8. #8
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    I'm also in the pro-aluminum rim camp. Durability is a mixed bag. Steel rims are less likely to crack and also won't have the brake track wear down as quickly. But they are more likely to be dented when hitting a pothole and they tend to rust. Both should last a long time. But steel rims lose almost all their braking power when wet - so they create safety issues in the rain, or even if you need to stop quickly after going through a little puddle.

    And in my experience using heavy rims is likely to lead to less exercise instead of more. Whenever conditions on my commute were perfect with a tailwind and sunny weather I'd arrive exhausted since then I'd be motivated to really push myself. OTOH, adding resistance from headwinds (or heavy wheels) would remove the motivation and I'd just slowly slog on without getting nearly as much exercise. Get a more responsive bike with lighter wheels and it'll motivate you to ride faster and maybe take some deliberate detours.

  9. #9
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    Thanks everyone, sorry for the post and run but an emergency came up and I had no time this week

    Anyhow, taking all the advice here I went looking for Aluminum wheels. I found out Aluminum wheels weigh between 1-1 pounds while steel weighs 2-2. My old ten speed weighs about 20-30 pounds more than my carbon composite bike, so reducing the 2lbs in the wheel won't be such a big deal (and I can always carry an extra bottle of gatoraide) so I will still be getting a better workout.

    And I do get a better workout with the heavier bike simply because I ride in a hilly area. To go up a long sustained hill with my 10 speed I have to go 7-8mph or the bike will fall over, with my carbon bike I "dog it" at 5-6mph. I can feel the difference when I get home. Yes, I could buy a hybrid type bike with wider tires and that would be the logical thing to do but I just love my old ten speed.

    I still might go with steel though, unfortunately the only aluminum rims my local bike shop have (and the Harris link above) come with *@&# Presta valves. The disadvantages of *&#@! Presta valves vs Schrader valves trump any advantage aluminum has over steel, but hopefully I'll have better luck this weekend in finding wheels without those detestable things on them.

    Oh, I never noticed the bad brake thing with my current steel wheels. Actually my brake pads might be the originals right from the factory 30 years ago and it looks like just don't make 'em like they used to.

  10. #10
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    Once there was an aluminum rim that was awesome. end of story.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by aetius View Post
    The disadvantages of *&#@! Presta valves vs Schrader valves trump any advantage aluminum has over steel
    Also this is one of the more ignorant things ive heard in a long time... sorry.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by aetius View Post
    I still might go with steel though, unfortunately the only aluminum rims my local bike shop have (and the Harris link above) come with *@&# Presta valves.
    Most aluminum rims that come with Presta-sized valve holes can be easily converted to Schrader in a few seconds with a reamer. Exceptions would be the very narrowest of rims that don't have enough space and the deep 'aero' rims that require extra long valve stems not usually found on Schrader tubes.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by prathmann View Post
    Most aluminum rims that come with Presta-sized valve holes can be easily converted to Schrader in a few seconds with a reamer. Exceptions would be the very narrowest of rims that don't have enough space and the deep 'aero' rims that require extra long valve stems not usually found on Schrader tubes.
    Unfortunately I'd would lose the warranty on the rim if I did that. Plus I would feel kind of silly spending all that extra money for aluminum rims only to have to spend an additional $15 per rim more to drill out for Schraders (though not as silly as spending all that extra money for aluminum rims only to have to constantly spend money replacing tubes when the fragile @*^# Presta valves inevitably brake).

    Quote Originally Posted by ericbaker
    Also this is one of the more ignorant things ive heard in a long time... sorry.
    Huh?

    I am replacing my 27 x 1 rims, there is no need or reason for a &!@* Presta valve on that wheel size.

    But

    The disadvantages of Steel rims are they are heavier and poor braking when wet (which I avoid riding in the rain anyhow)

    The disadvantages of *&!@ Presta Valves is they easily bend and/or snap off which means I don't get to ride that night or even the next night when I have to waste time and $$ visiting my bike shop to replace the tube.

    Also I ride at night where I am prone to getting flats, with Schraders I can easily add Fix a Flat or slime which will get me home, if I had @!*$ Prestas I could be looking at a 5-6 mile walk home late at night.

    So, yes The disadvantages of *&#@! Presta valves vs Schrader valves do trump any advantage aluminum has over steel, in fact sacrificing a little bit of weight for reliability is really a no-brainer.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Bill Kapaun's Avatar
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    $15/rim to ream out a Presta hole to Schraeder?

    Where? I want to work for them!

  15. #15
    Mote of Dust degan's Avatar
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    Or, you could just go with presta and but a adapter for literally $0.99.

    I actually have an interesting story about making out a presta valve to fit a schraeder. I was going on a longer bike ride a couple summers ago and had a major flat. I'm not sure what happened, but when I went to patch my tube there was a large tear at the base of the presta valve. Tube was shot and I didn't bring a spare. In addition, I had been using my cell phone as a music player (dumb) and the battery was dead so I couldn't call anyone. At this point I was about 40 miles from home and about 25 from the nearest bike shop out in the middle of nowhere. I walked by bike about 2 miles until I finally came up to a house. I told the man who answered the door my story, not even knowing what I needed or how he could possibly help me. Luckily enough he had an old Schwinn Varsity and offered me a spare tube he had for it. Obviously is was schraeder. I then noticed that he had a lot of tools and asked him if I could drill it out to fit. We did it, installed the new tube, and I was able to ride home. I believe the same tube is in there to this day.
    Last edited by degan; 02-03-12 at 11:48 PM.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun View Post
    $15/rim to ream out a Presta hole to Schraeder?

    Where? I want to work for them!
    Well here's one

    http://www.njbicyclerack.com/Service.html

    I had my Carbon bike rims drilled out at another shop, it cost about the same (and + the cost of two new tubes). Money well spend.

    As for the adapter, no they don't work either. If you inadvertently screw them on at an angle of 89.99 instead of 90.00 they get permanently stuck and you have to replace the tube anyhow and again I wouldn't trust them with a flat. Schrader valves air or the fix a flat goes in the 1st time everytime, while with !@&* Presta valves even with an adapter it can often take several tries before air actually goes into the tube, with fix a flat you have one can and don't have several tries. Sure I could carry more cans but then there goes the weight advantage with aluminum rims.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by aetius View Post
    Unfortunately I'd would lose the warranty on the rim if I did that. Plus I would feel kind of silly spending all that extra money for aluminum rims only to have to spend an additional $15 per rim more to drill out for Schraders.
    Legally the warranty should still be upheld (despite some wording to the contrary) unless a failure could be shown to be directly related to your having enlarged the valve hole. The latter is extremely unlikely.

    And there should be no need to pay anyone $ to enlarge the valve hole - surely you know someone with either a drill or a reamer. It only takes a few seconds.

  18. #18
    Senior Member LuckyChow99's Avatar
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    Most of us drill them out ourselves ---- all you need is a drill and a bit. I believe the bit size is 21/64, available at most hardware stores. Take about 30 seconds and another 30 to make sure there are no burs. I bought two new CR-18's last week and drilled them out for schraeder.
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  19. #19
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    Why'd you even come here for advice? You obviously don't want it...

    Seriously the things you are saying are making me laugh out loud at how silly they are... seriously













    seriously

  20. #20
    Fat Guy on a Little Bike KonAaron Snake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ericbaker View Post
    Why'd you even come here for advice? You obviously don't want it...

    Seriously the things you are saying are making me laugh out loud at how silly they are... seriously













    seriously
    +1...this thread is funny. I'm actually about 50% on it being intentional parody...

    Do they even make steel wheels anymore? I thought the last steel wheel was the Stones tour.
    Last edited by KonAaron Snake; 02-04-12 at 07:21 AM.

  21. #21
    Senior Member RobbieTunes's Avatar
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    Welcome to the
    A. Forum
    B. Asylum
    C. Wrecking Ball.

    Take your pick. PM sent. I have some wheels that meet your needs.
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  22. #22
    Senior Member RobbieTunes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prathmann View Post
    Legally the warranty should still be upheld (despite some wording to the contrary) unless a failure could be shown to be directly related to your having enlarged the valve hole. The latter is extremely unlikely.
    It would have to cause a heck of a wreck to put that in motion, though, don't you think?
    Robbie ♪♫♪...☻
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  23. #23
    Senior Member Grim's Avatar
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    If you want heavy then buy biggest thick thick tires and put slime tubes in them. I'm sure you could get it up over 3lb a tire tube combination easily. You want it real heavy then fill them with water. Just make sure none of us are in front of you on the down hills....... all that extra rotating mass kills braking performance. Tattoo yourself with who we should call to claim your carcass.
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  24. #24
    Senior Member RobbieTunes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KonAaron Snake View Post
    +1...this thread is funny.
    I thought the last steel wheel was the Stones tour.
    I probably have mixed emotions about steel wheels...
    Robbie ♪♫♪...☻
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  25. #25
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aetius View Post
    Thanks everyone, sorry for the post and run but an emergency came up and I had no time this week

    Anyhow, taking all the advice here I went looking for Aluminum wheels. I found out Aluminum wheels weigh between 1-1 pounds while steel weighs 2-2. My old ten speed weighs about 20-30 pounds more than my carbon composite bike, so reducing the 2lbs in the wheel won't be such a big deal (and I can always carry an extra bottle of gatoraide) so I will still be getting a better workout.

    And I do get a better workout with the heavier bike simply because I ride in a hilly area. To go up a long sustained hill with my 10 speed I have to go 7-8mph or the bike will fall over, with my carbon bike I "dog it" at 5-6mph. I can feel the difference when I get home. Yes, I could buy a hybrid type bike with wider tires and that would be the logical thing to do but I just love my old ten speed.

    I still might go with steel though, unfortunately the only aluminum rims my local bike shop have (and the Harris link above) come with *@&# Presta valves. The disadvantages of *&#@! Presta valves vs Schrader valves trump any advantage aluminum has over steel, but hopefully I'll have better luck this weekend in finding wheels without those detestable things on them.

    Oh, I never noticed the bad brake thing with my current steel wheels. Actually my brake pads might be the originals right from the factory 30 years ago and it looks like just don't make 'em like they used to.
    First, weight on the rim of a wheel affects acceleration - it's harder to make the bike increase speed. Climbing is marginally harder, but no more so than if you gain 5# (or whatever) on your body. But the inertia of a rotating object IS a lot more than it's actual weight.

    Second, if it makes you go slower on the level, it's because of bearing drag or tire drag, given the same riding position and other aerodynamic influences. Most 27 inch tires are not thin and supple, so they have more rolling resistance than the best 700c racing or otherwise supple tires. That can make it feel sluggish. But at constant speed with the same tire, an aluminum rim will not be harder or easier to keep spinning than a steel rim.

    As far as strength, or really durability, we're talking about the ability of the wheel to flex and spring back under the stresses of bumps. This is largely a result of spoke tension and the number of spokes, at least for vintage rims. But rim design affects how tight you can safety make the spokes, so my guess is that steel rims can't handle as much tension as the best aluminum rims. The best vintage 27 inch aluminum rims are by Mavic, Super Champion, Weinmann, and Matrix (I think they became Sun Ringle), though this is a matter of opinion. I have a set of wheels with Mavic 700c clincher rims that have been going strong since I got them used in 1985 or so. In the '70s and late '60s I never had steel rims stay good near that long, but there was that curb-hopping factor ...

    Presta v Schraeder? Presta, no question.

    G'luck!

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