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Old 12-05-06, 10:59 AM   #1
kingtubby
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steel vs. aluminum

what are the advantages of steel vs. aluminum? more specifically, for commuting? i hear that steel is better for dampening road vibration, but are there any other advantages?
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Old 12-05-06, 11:02 AM   #2
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It's heavier, rusts, has a fatigue limit, and is theoretically fixable.
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Old 12-05-06, 11:09 AM   #3
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Steel is preferred by custom framebuilders. Very few custom builders work in aluminum.

Steel has that thin-tubed look.

There is a perception (false, IMO) that steel frames have a more compliant ride.

Aluminum frames tend to be stiffer at the bottom bracket, resulting in less flex under hard pedalling.

Aluminum frames tend to be stiffer, resulting in more solid handling at high speeds/when loaded (or so I have heard).
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Old 12-05-06, 11:12 AM   #4
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Steel will
-dampen vibration
-survive forever and a day, including welds
-be marginally heavier
-rust if you don't take care of it

Aluminum will
-allow you to name your bike fun things like "A$$hammer"
-never rust, even if left out in PNW rains all winter
-be marginally lighter

I don't weld, but I am a manufacturing engineer. I can tell you that the advancements in aluminum machining have come a long way in the last 10 years. There's no more worries about frames snapping like pretzel sticks at some epoxy bonded lug. Welded aluminum frames are pretty darned strong.
I prefer steel because I'm 260 pounds, put some massive hurt on a bike, and there's a longer engineering history behind steel as a load-bearing component. I've ridden a CF-on-aluminum-lugs Trek 2100 as a racer in the past, and I had no problems with it.
Go for what you're comfortable riding.
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Old 12-05-06, 11:14 AM   #5
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If you tweak an aluminum part in any way, it loses much of its strength. The same is not true of steel. They're both good, and I doubt you'd notice a difference between them. My steel bike feels more stable and forgiving than my aluminum bike. Both are road bikes, the steelie is a racing bike. What probably makes the difference is geometry. The steel bike has a flat top tube while the aluminum bike is sloping.
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Old 12-05-06, 11:15 AM   #6
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I think the preceding posts summarize it. Also, steel is arguably more environmentally friendly since less energy goes into manufacturing it, but perhaps more energy goes into shipping it.
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Old 12-05-06, 11:16 AM   #7
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I personally like the stiff "feel" of aluminum frames, YMMV. Very few custom builders work in aluminum because it's a very difficult material to form and weld. That's why only lately have automakers even started using it widely.
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Old 12-05-06, 11:21 AM   #8
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I like my steel frames over my Al frames. To me steel has a softer ride, and for commuting that's what I prefer.
One nice thing about steel; I'm building up a new off road bike and am brazing on some eyelets for racks and fenders. Not something that can be done nearly as easily with Al.

--A
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Old 12-05-06, 11:22 AM   #9
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I prefer Aluminum to steel. FWIW the aluminum frames do tend to be stiffer because they can use larger diameter tubes. Larger diameter tubes are stiffer than smaller diameter tubes(as a general rule) and therefore people tend to think Aluminum rides stiffer.
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Old 12-05-06, 11:27 AM   #10
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I ride both, and both are good. Realistically, I think letting frame material be the deciding factor on what bikes you look at is a mistake. Steel and AL can be very plush or very stiff depending on how the frame is designed. Bigger tires are better at vibration dampening than either steel or AL anyway.
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Old 12-05-06, 11:31 AM   #11
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I think barba got it right - for commuting, the frame material probably isn't a big issue. I have a Cannondale (aluminum) and really like it - but steel would probably be fine too.
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Old 12-05-06, 11:33 AM   #12
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A search on steel vs. aluminum [vs. titanium vs carbon vs. whatever] will turn up a gazillion threads on this subject, particularly in the road forum. It's almost a daily occurence.

Regardless, ride what you like, and be aware that wheels and tires can make a huge difference to ride comfort. 28C tires on 32 spokes will turn even the harshest frame into an all-day cruiser. AMHIK!
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Old 12-05-06, 11:41 AM   #13
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I can just respond as far as road bikes. I have an steel Raleigh Super Course from the early 80's and an aluminum bike from last year. And as far as comfort and ride they feel very similar. I ride both of them over the same route on occasion. The aluminum frame has carbon seat stays and fork to dampen the ride. However the aluminum frame is stiffer in the head tube and BB and and more responsive when I "put the metal to the petals". I think the reputation for aluminum frames was earned about 20 years ago when they first came out and were very stiff. They are very different today.
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Old 12-05-06, 12:03 PM   #14
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I get no detectable difference I can attribute to material between my steel-framed bike and al-frame+carbon fork bike. I think my longest day on either has been <40 miles.
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Old 12-05-06, 12:05 PM   #15
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I ride both. All my steelies have a nice ride and I enjoy cruising for hours on end on them. My aluminum framed racing machine is an unforgivingly stiff, ultralight hammerfest tool with a very hard ride but the razor sharp handling and super efficient transmission of my power into forward motion is far superior to the steelies. They are both fantastic frame building mediums, just very different. It all depends on what you want to achieve.
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Old 12-05-06, 12:12 PM   #16
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The paint color is probably more important.

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Old 12-05-06, 12:41 PM   #17
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Regardless of ride quality (since it's already been mentioned that generally wheels and geometry are more important than material), I just like the look of skinny tubes. Steel wins my style points.
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Old 12-05-06, 12:58 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AllenG
One nice thing about steel; I'm building up a new off road bike and am brazing on some eyelets for racks and fenders. Not something that can be done nearly as easily with Al.
--A
This is more than "nice". It is quite normal practice amounst touring cyclists to specify various brazeons and alter them as new needs arise.
You can add rack mounts, dynamo and lamp mounts, cable guides, extra bottle mounts etc etc.
Horizontal dropouts are easier to do with steel and Rohlof sliding vertical dropouts are only available in steel.
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Old 12-05-06, 01:11 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moto-Velo
Regardless of ride quality (since it's already been mentioned that generally wheels and geometry are more important than material), I just like the look of skinny tubes. Steel wins my style points.
I am the opposite, I prefer the larger tubes of Aluminum bikes. I fell in love with them the first time I saw a Cannondale back in '85. I've been riding Aluminum bikes for well over a decade, and really like them... Aluminum forks, though, are another issue. Too stiff.
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Old 12-05-06, 01:14 PM   #20
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Check out Sheldon Brown's essay: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/frame-materials.html

Bottom line, you can make a dream ride or a brick out of anything.

Personally, I prefer steel for commuting. I think steel is more resilient. It is less likely to bend permanently or crease and crack if the bike leans awkwardly on a bike rack, or bends the derailleur hanger in a fall. Aluminum frames usually come with admonitions not to attach anything to the frame except at the braz- ons and official mount points - i.e. no kick stands or extra battery packs. Aluminum won't rust, but it does corrode where it meets steel components, unless you are very careful to keep the interfaces greased.
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Old 12-05-06, 01:18 PM   #21
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I don't know whether I can happily compare them.

I have a 25 year old steel bike, and a 6 year old Aluminum bike (touring frame, so super stiff). The steel frame definitely has more flex around the bottom bracket, but I don't think there's much of a difference in the ride. There might be a big difference in new steel frame, but there's also been a bunch of improvement in the techniques used to make a happy compromise in aluminum (those swanky CAAD 9s look way different than my Cannondale )
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Old 12-05-06, 01:31 PM   #22
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My preference is for old lugged steel road bikes. In addition to all that has been mentioned pro and con by others, I think that lugged steel frames have something that perhaps isn't important for commuting, but is an advantage all the same - they have class.
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Old 12-05-06, 01:56 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelW
This is more than "nice". It is quite normal practice amounst touring cyclists to specify various brazeons and alter them as new needs arise.
You can add rack mounts, dynamo and lamp mounts, cable guides, extra bottle mounts etc etc.
Horizontal dropouts are easier to do with steel and Rohlof sliding vertical dropouts are only available in steel.
I picked the frame I did because it is steel and has a sliding dropout. From your side of the pond, an On-One 29er.
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Old 12-05-06, 02:01 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by geog_dash
Check out Sheldon Brown's essay: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/frame-materials.html

Bottom line, you can make a dream ride or a brick out of anything.

Personally, I prefer steel for commuting. I think steel is more resilient. It is less likely to bend permanently or crease and crack if the bike leans awkwardly on a bike rack, or bends the derailleur hanger in a fall. Aluminum frames usually come with admonitions not to attach anything to the frame except at the braz- ons and official mount points - i.e. no kick stands or extra battery packs. Aluminum won't rust, but it does corrode where it meets steel components, unless you are very careful to keep the interfaces greased.
That's a new one on me! I've seen all kinds of misinformation on aluminum but I've never seen one that claims the bikes are so fragile that they will bend and break in a bike rack! If they had to be treated that gently, why would you ever trust your life to one on the road?

Aluminum bikes are just as strong as a steel bike. Some of them are stiffer, some aren't. Some ride like trucks, some ride like Cadillacs. Sometimes the same bike will ride both ways. I have a Cannondale T800 that is the harshest ride I've ever had, including the Cannondale 2.8 frame from 1989 that was shorter than any bike I've ever owned, when it doesn't have a touring load on it. Load it with 60 lbs of gear and the bike is the most mellow bike I've ever ridden. And the bike is stong enough to carry that load over dirt roads and rough trails.

I've had 3 different Specialized Stumpjumpers, 2 hardtails and one fully. All of them are great rides but they all take what my 220 lbs of flying flab can dish out! (I like to occasionally jump them )

And finally, I have a Salsa Las Cruces. The bike is wonderfully smooth and far less harsh then the touring bike. It takes potholes and rough roads in stride.

I wouldn't be afraid to put any of them in a bike rack...at least not from the standpoint of having them bent...stolen maybe...but not bent.
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Old 12-05-06, 02:47 PM   #25
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My 'dale is a t800 as well. It's either a 2000, or 2001 bike. Not light by a long shot, but I've been okay with it for general use.
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