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  1. #1
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    Steel or Aluminum?

    What is best? I found some bikes for much cheaper that are steel /ChroMo. Is there that much difference? For similar bikes, how much lighter is it in Aluminum versus Steel?

    25lbs. versus 35lbs.?

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    25 vs. 35 lbs.? There is not THAT MUCH of a difference if you're comparing bikes with similar levels of build. Modern-made chromoly steel bicycles are lighter than you think.

    Most people I've talked to don't see a difference either way, but some bikeforum members, including me, find a smoother ride from chromoly steel vs. aluminum frames. Just test ride and see for yourself. See what you like personally.

    Oh, and if you live in a salt-infested area, I'd go for aluminum, because of the rust factor

  3. #3
    Trans-Urban Velocommando ax0n's Avatar
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    oh goodness, you didn't just ask this... This is a holy war question!

    Steel is much heavier, and it always varies. For instance, some old road bikes seem to be made of gas-pipe and weigh close to 40 pounds but an entry level aluminum road bike may only be 15 pounds or so. People may tell you otherwise, but the only time you really notice it is when you have to carry the freaking thing. I have 4 bikes that weigh anywhere from 19 pounds (aluminum/carbon entry-level road bike with a rack and some accessories) to almost 30 pounds (steel MTB with a suspension fork). The gearing and rolling resistance is much more of a factor than weight, even during acceleration.

    Think about it. 150 pound rider + 19 pound bike = 169 pounds. 150 pound rider + 30 pound bike = 180 pounds. That's about 7% total weight difference. It may not be the case with you, but for me, it would be more beneficial for me to lose the extra 11 pounds from my body rather than my bike, if you know what I mean.
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  4. #4
    Trans-Urban Velocommando ax0n's Avatar
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    I agree a little on the softer feel of steel, but I've noticed that an aluminum bike with a carbon fork and spine (like the LeMond Versailles, for example) feels every bit as good as an all-steel road bike. IMHO, frame material only makes a tangible difference when dealing with high-pressure tires anyways.
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  5. #5
    J3L 2404 gbcb's Avatar
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    I'm a fan of steel myself, but have had great aluminum bikes in the past (Cannondale Bad Boy). I don't think weight is much of an issue, as ax0n pointed out. Generally speaking, I find steel bikes more comfortable to ride, and I prefer how they look. YMMV.

  6. #6
    Baka dakara supercub's Avatar
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    Question: Is Hawaii the kind of climate that is unfriendly for steel?

  7. #7
    Pwnerer Wordbiker's Avatar
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    First off, asking what is "best" is a surefire recipe for no clear answer at all, no matter what the subject is. Imagine asking a random group of people who makes the best car...see my point? Everyone has a different idea about what their needs, likes and dislikes are.

    There are a lot more considerations than just material used when comparing bicycle frames. There's sizing, stiffness, design, looks, cost, intended purpose, geometry, weight, color, longevity...the list is long and deep. If your main consideration is cost, then one frame is as good as another. At the entry level, they're all about the same; A ton of feathers or a ton of lead.

    If you'd asked about ride properties, I'd have gone into further depth with my answer. You're already getting some incorrect and misleading info so I won't add to the confusion.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by ax0n View Post
    oh goodness, you didn't just ask this... This is a holy war question!

    Steel is much heavier, and it always varies. For instance, some old road bikes seem to be made of gas-pipe and weigh close to 40 pounds but an entry level aluminum road bike may only be 15 pounds or so. People may tell you otherwise, but the only time you really notice it is when you have to carry the freaking thing. I have 4 bikes that weigh anywhere from 19 pounds (aluminum/carbon entry-level road bike with a rack and some accessories) to almost 30 pounds (steel MTB with a suspension fork). The gearing and rolling resistance is much more of a factor than weight, even during acceleration.

    Steel isn't much heavier. Good steels like Reynolds 853 and True Temper OX Platinum are light.

  9. #9
    Senior Member slowjoe66's Avatar
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    First of all, steel won't rust if paint is kept on it, so really no worries there unless you are talking about scratches and dings so deep that they penetrate to the steel level.

    I have two similar bikes, one steel one aluminum. However the aluminum bike was a hybrid with a front suspension fork. I removed that fork and put a steel rigid fork on. The big difference in ride is that the steel framed bike has more flex to it, most noticeable in the top tube. I personally think the flex is a positive; a more comfortable ride. The Aluminum bike (with the steel fork) is a bit more rigid, but not overly. And it is slightly lighter, but not much. I would guess no more than a pound or so.

    I wouldn't get too hung up on the steel or Aluminum thing really. I would look for a good fit, good accessories (fenders, saddle etc.) price, overall weight, and then ride a bunch and choose amongst those that have the features and attributes you are looking for.

    Like the saying goes " keep the main thing the main thing". And the main thing is to have a good functioning, reliable, properly fitting bike to ride. All of those little nuances like steel or aluminum, flat bars or drops, tire width, aren't things that will keep you from riding.

    Ride and have fun.
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    Is Aluminum that much weaker than steel?
    For example, is a Trek bike made of aluminum (lower end level) weaker than a Trek bike from steel?

    Isn't there a bunch of grades to it, 6061, 6061-T6, and 7005, and this ZR9000?

    Is 6061-T6 much stronger than 7005, and is 7005 much stronger than 6061-T6?
    Where does Chromoly steel fit into this?

  11. #11
    ǝıd ǝʌol ʎllɐǝɹ I JeanCoutu's Avatar
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    I recently happenned upon a higher end cromo road bike of '81 vintage. It had 600 components, modern day Ultegra level. The entire thing weighed in at 9.5kgs for the complete bike.

    As what it needs not be heavy. I think steel has a bad rep mostly because of it's use on low-ish end bikes, with less care put into making them.

  12. #12
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    The last aluminun airplane I flew on still had its wings when we landed.

    Last edited by -=(8)=-; 08-20-07 at 07:17 AM.

  13. #13
    Seņior Member ItsJustMe's Avatar
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    While I haven't looked at a lot of bikes, I agree with folks here; steel is not necessarily heavy. I picked up a Trek 520 the other day, and it's much lighter than my aluminum bike. It depends on what the bike is built for and how well it's built.
    My current bike is aluminum, because that's what the place had in stock when I bought it.
    When I buy my dream bike which I hope to retire to tour on, it'll be steel.
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    I'd worry more about the engine. It's all about the engine, heck keeping the engine idling well is the main reason I commute to work. I ride steel but it is because it was the best deal with the components and upgrade possiblities that I wanted.

    Quote Originally Posted by slowjoe66 View Post
    First of all, steel won't rust if paint is kept on it, so really no worries there unless you are talking about scratches and dings so deep that they penetrate to the steel level.
    This is not as easy as you make it sound: anywhere there are cable casings crossing the frame near a joint I get a spot where the paint rubs off, I haven't found anyway to avoid this; I just put a little wd40 on the spot every few months and keep checking it for rust. Anyone have suggestions for keeping the paint on in these spots?

  15. #15
    Trans-Urban Velocommando ax0n's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bike2math View Post
    I'd worry more about the engine. It's all about the engine, heck keeping the engine idling well is the main reason I commute to work.
    That pretty much sums up my thoughts on the whole Ti/Steel/Carbon/Aluminum/Unobtanium argument.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by bike2math View Post
    This is not as easy as you make it sound: anywhere there are cable casings crossing the frame near a joint I get a spot where the paint rubs off, I haven't found anyway to avoid this; I just put a little wd40 on the spot every few months and keep checking it for rust. Anyone have suggestions for keeping the paint on in these spots?
    I thought that's what touch-up paint was for? You know, if there are spots, you could paint over them again with touch-up paint.

  17. #17
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    Difference between a steel frame and an aluminum one is generally only a pound or two. Whether that's "a lot" is a matter of perspective. I favor aluminum over steel; I think frame material -- and frame vertical compliance -- has no real effect on ride quality.
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  18. #18
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    I'm sure my wife's 1980s schwinn frame weighs less than my LHT frame. Tiny little steel tubes. The components don't help her bike's total weight. Looking at the lack of meaningful rust (plenty of surface rust has been and gone) on that maximally abused bike relieves my worry about any significant loss from rust to my bikes.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by fat_bike_nut View Post
    I thought that's what touch-up paint was for? You know, if there are spots, you could paint over them again with touch-up paint.
    Sure you touch it up and a couple of months later it's rubbed bare again. I want a fix that stays fixed, otherwise I'll just leave the spot bare and keep it covered in a protective layer that doesn't just rub off. I touch up dings and scrapes because I can be certain I won't ding and scrape exactly the same spot again.

  20. #20
    Bike Junkie aadhils's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by -=Ģem in Pa=- View Post
    The last aluminun airplane I flew on still had its wings when we landed.

    A more correct analysis would be, if the plane still had its wings if it crashed...

    Remember hincapies aluminum steerer?


  21. #21
    Boston did not sob 9Rings's Avatar
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    Aluminum frame may be 1/2 pound lighter than a steel one. The bigger difference will be in the component build of the bike.

    Tha being said: I had a Cannondale MTB that I rode offroad. It cracked right under the headtube. Warranty replacement (back when they used to do that) I still ride that replacement frame as my foul weather commuter.

    After riding Cannondales off-road for like 6 years, I got a steel bike, and was blown away with the difference in ride quality! So much smoother. My back didn't ache after a ride (OK, it did, just not as much...)I should also say that my second Cannondale was a bit smoother than the first due to advances in aluminum bike technology in the years between the frames. Anyhow, I became a steel convert after throwing a leg over one.

    Steel frames may rust. If they are painted, and not all beat up, they won't rust on the outside, but perhaps from the inside out. Even in that case, it will take years and years for that to even be a problem, and by that time you will be jonesing to buy a new ride anyhow, so a rusty bike will be a good excuse to go out and drop some big $$$.
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  22. #22
    tcs
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    Quote Originally Posted by aadhils View Post
    Remember Hincapies aluminum steerer?
    And of course no steel bicycle frame or fork has failed in 140 years. And while aluminum is deadly for forks and frames, it's magically robust for stems and bars.

    TCS
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  23. #23
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    A steel frame can be modified, i.e. you can move cable stops around, add rack braze-ons, kickstand plate etc. In addition, a steel frame takes on clamp on attachments better. If it gets ever gouged in the process, it usually does not matter.

  24. #24
    DNPAIMFB pinkrobe's Avatar
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    Wow, I think this is the 6th time I've seen this question asked in the last week. Seriously.
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by ax0n View Post
    oh goodness, you didn't just ask this... This is a holy war question!
    That's for sure.

    This year I went from a steel ridgid MTB to a Novara Safari, which has an aluminum frame and steel fork. Despite everything I have read on this forum about steel vs. aluminum I could not tell the difference.

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