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  1. #1
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    Steel vs Carbon vs: Ti

    I'm 60 years old and have ridden custom steel bikes for nearly 40 years - mostly race geometry bikes, but a few longer wheel base bikes as well when comfort rather than speed is important, and at this point in life, that's nearly all the time. I've never ridden carbon or titanium bikes. I've been intrigued by modern materials and gear systems (all of mine are 1970's vintage retro Campy stuff), and am curious what experience this group has - specifically, is it possible to ride fast, efficient, modern materials, at the same time adding comfort of the somewhat harsh race bikes I've had experience with. I really prefer the "go-go" type fast bikes, but would love more vibration dampening. Does carbon or titanium offer that? Is this a fool dream that you can get it both ways?

    I'm curious what experience you've all had.

    BTW, I'm a small person (weigh 128lbs, 5'6") if that makes any difference to any of you.

    R.

  2. #2
    Sore saddle cyclist Shifty's Avatar
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    Go ride the Cannondale Synapse, all carbon with Ultegra or Dura Ace. Ride it for 50 plus miles, try the roughest chip seal while you're at it. If you don't by one I'll buy you a blueberry pie. I've had mine since 2006, will never go back to anything else. I didn't think it would make that much difference on a long ride, but it does!
    Those voices in your head aren't real, but they have some great ideas

  3. #3
    Climbing Above It All BikeWNC's Avatar
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    Parlee Z5. One bike to rule them all. Comfort and efficiency together in one package. I have the Z4 and it is my most comfortable bike, more so than my Indy Fab Ti and Specialized Roubaix.

  4. #4
    Senior Member NOS88's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thunderworks View Post
    I'm 60 years old and have ridden custom steel bikes for nearly 40 years - mostly race geometry bikes, but a few longer wheel base bikes as well when comfort rather than speed is important, and at this point in life, that's nearly all the time. I've never ridden carbon or titanium bikes. I've been intrigued by modern materials and gear systems (all of mine are 1970's vintage retro Campy stuff), and am curious what experience this group has - specifically, is it possible to ride fast, efficient, modern materials, at the same time adding comfort of the somewhat harsh race bikes I've had experience with. I really prefer the "go-go" type fast bikes, but would love more vibration dampening. Does carbon or titanium offer that? Is this a fool dream that you can get it both ways?

    I'm curious what experience you've all had.

    BTW, I'm a small person (weigh 128lbs, 5'6") if that makes any difference to any of you.

    R.
    First question: Yes

    Second question: No

    Get out there and visit as many bike shops as you can. Get as many test rides as they'll let you have. There's nothing like making a choice based on your own experience.
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. - S. Wright

  5. #5
    Senior Member Garfield Cat's Avatar
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    Go-Go fast means racing designs. The Cervelo racing team used the RS once at the Paris Roubaix on the cobblestones. Now they use the R3 or S3. But the RS has the more compliant seat stays. From what most review comments say, the Cervelo RS is a bit quicker than the Specialized Roubaix. I can't comment on which is better because I never tried the Roubaix.

    I bought my Cervelo RS form a Specialized Concept Store, if you can imagine that!

  6. #6
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    Don't fixate on frame material. It's the design not the material. Along with wheelsets and tires. Also, race geometry equates to a stiffer frame. But you get there faster.

  7. #7
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    For me, carbon is like Motrin- THE painkiller. My hands were getting numb on wimpy 5 mile rides and then I installed a carbon fork, what a difference! I also love the new (to me and my 25 year old steed, at least) Shimano 105 10 speed brifters. What a huge difference in shifting performance, the gear spacings are close, and you don't need a triple anymore. The new stuff is pricey, but it sure works!

  8. #8
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    In the 50+ forum we tend to avoid talking about some topics. It is easier on the eyes.

  9. #9
    DRF aka Thrifty Bill wrk101's Avatar
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    An alternative is to go with modern drivetrain on your vintage steel bike. I put nine speed Ultegra on my 1987 Schwinn Prologue (Tange Prestige frameset, built by Panasonic). I personally like the shifting of a brifter bike, combined with a classic steel 1980s bike.



    Everything I have is steel: 2003 Colnago Master Lite, 2000 Trek 520, 1995 Fuji Roubaix, 1992 Trek 950, 1987 Schwinn Prologue, and 1984 Lotus Classique. My two main rides right now are the Schwinn (9 speed Ultegra STI) and the Fuji (8 speed Shimano 105 STI)

  10. #10
    Senior Member Dchiefransom's Avatar
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    Unless you really are racing, forget the stiff wheels and get some 32 spoke wheels. I went from 32 spoke to some Shimano 550's and boy, oh boy, did I start feeling all the road buzz. That and a carbon frame will have you cruising much smoother.
    Silver Eagle Pilot

  11. #11
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by crazyb View Post
    Don't fixate on frame material. It's the design not the material. Along with wheelsets and tires. Also, race geometry equates to a stiffer frame. But you get there faster.
    Have to agree. 2nd road bike I got was a lighweight aluminium race geometry bike. Ultegra wheels that were stiff and I ride on 23 tyres at 120 to 140 psi.

    B2..jpg

    That bike is comfortable but next bike and I went to C.F. in a Giant TCR-C. Mavic Aksium wheels that were stiff. That bike was uncontrollable at speed over bad road surfaces. It jumped all over the place and ride was not good. I was beginning to think I had made a big mistake but put on the handbuilt wheels as a final resort. Mavic CXP33 rims with 36 spokes laced with a cross pattern by 2 onto 105 hubs. These wheels are stiff laterally but they have a bit of give vertically. They transformed the bike into something that works and gives a good ride.

    There is a lot to a comfortable bike and I would say that the frame material is only one part of that. Wheels and tyres have a greater role in comfort than most would give credit and The frame material will vary so much that within that material you can get a compliant ride or something that is rock solid. But don't dismiss the race geometry bikes- They can be really comfortable.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


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  12. #12
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Radial pliability makes no sense in a bicycle wheel. Tires are softer than wheels, by a heck of a lot. You can't tell the difference in radial compliance from one wheel to the next.

    But I agree that a racing bike can be comfortable. It depends on what you're used to and your riding style.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

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  13. #13
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noglider View Post
    Radial pliability makes no sense in a bicycle wheel. Tires are softer than wheels, by a heck of a lot. You can't tell the difference in radial compliance from one wheel to the next.
    But I agree that a racing bike can be comfortable. It depends on what you're used to and your riding style.
    Radially spoked wheels- And I am not talking the Cheaper wheels that are built to look better than they are- Are stiff in the vertical plane. They are very stiff. Get a lacing pattern where the spokes cross each other and there is some give to the wheel. This does not mean that you have a "Flexible" wheel but you do get a more compliant ride.

    First Road bike I bought had cheap radially spoked wheels. They were not good- gave horizontal flex on cornering and were slow. (Mainly downhill where I had to slow down) Replaced them with the handbuilt wheels and the bike was transformed. X2 lacing and they cornered well with no flex. Ride was comfy and are still the wheels for a Century ride where the body cannot take continual jarring. And tyres will make a difference to a ride along with tyre presures- But I only ride 23's with high pressures so have nothing to compare with.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


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  14. #14
    Elite Rider Hermes's Avatar
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    You can have it both ways. I have a Cervelo R3 which gives some shock absorption on bumpy roads but is laterally stiff. Carbon can be made into shapes for better aerodynamics and strengthened by adding extra layers of carbon where needed. I ride Williams wheels, as well as others, and the typical setup is radial spoking on the front and cross on the rear. Example,,, http://www.williamscycling.com/sys19/sys19.html

    There are very few custom carbon frame makers and the only one I know of is Calfee. Carbon frames need a mold and require more labor such that Asia low cost manufacturing is typically used by bicycle manufactures / assemblers. Steel and titanium can be made into frames by smaller custom shops in small quantities or one at a time. The frame sets can be drawn to thin the walls to lighten the frame and change the ride but cannot be manipulated as extensively as carbon can.

    High quality well designed carbon frames require significant engineering and testing and represent a high first cost to the manufacturer to produce a complete line of frames in different sizes.
    "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Einstein

  15. #15
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    I owned Klein aluminums back in the 90's as well as an entry level welded steel Fuji. Then I went to Lemomd titanium as well as owning a Heron steel and a Miyata steel tourer.

    My current go fast bike is a Tomasso carbon mail order, which rides better then any bike I've owned since the Kleins. I'm a heavy guy and can flex a b-bracket, which was prominent on the titanium and the old Fuji. The carbon has no b-bracket flex that's noticeable, or at least no chainring rub, and is simply better at transferring power to forward motion, while still being as comfortable a ride as any steel or titanium I've owned.

    The one major thing I liked about the Heron (which was a size too large) was the clearance for tires larger then a 23 and is something I cannot put on the carbon and titanium, thus am looking at selling the Ti and buying a Surly Pacer frame.

    I second the post for test riding a C-Dale Synapse. I buddy owns a 2007 and I've ridden this bike a bit and can testify that they are great riding bikes.

    SB

  16. #16
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    I am curious about why your vintage steel bikes feel uncomfortable to you.

    I am guessing it is:
    - tight geometry (short chainstays, steep angles), and
    - small tire size (do you ride on 23c's or smaller)?

    You can replicate those problems in any modern material and end up with a harsh-riding bike.

    Or you can fix them with an off-the-shelf carbon bike, or a custom steel or ti bike.

    I don't think the frame material matters as much as the geometry of the frame, your fit on the bike, and tire size.

  17. #17
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    OP, I concede that the majority here are correct, in that it is possible to build a bike that rides well and is comfortable out of any of the mainstream materials. However, materials do matter. I don't care what anyone says, aluminium bikes with aluminium forks tend to offer a harsher ride. I wouldn't have one, personally.

    As for the rest, I'd strongly suggest you stay away from titanium. It is expensive, if you maximise the weight advantage it can be noodly, and if built to give you the rigidity of steel some of the weight advantage is lost. Nowhere near enough advantage over steel to justify the expense imo.

    Carbon is a different matter. Now pretty much as cheap as a decent steel frame, light, tough (everyone will tell you it breaks if you crash it. Yeah, well, my car breaks if you crash it.) and resilient to vibration. I ride steel (fixie and touring bike) and carbon (two road bikes). If you've never tried one, I'd suggest you go and test ride a few of the newer carbon frames. You don't mention money, but a Focus Cayo, for example, delivers quite a lot of bang for the buck, and if you want to spend a lot more, the sky's the limit.

    And if you're finished with them, I'd love to take your vintage steel racers off your hands. Unfortunately I'm nearly twice your size. LOL
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post

    As for the rest, I'd strongly suggest you stay away from titanium. It is expensive, if you maximise the weight advantage it can be noodly, and if built to give you the rigidity of steel some of the weight advantage is lost. Nowhere near enough advantage over steel to justify the expense imo.
    I 100% agree! Nothing to see here in the Titanium aisle folks. Just move along, now -- pay no attention to that bike behind the curtain....



  19. #19
    Just Ride BITSA's Avatar
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    I will second the Cervelo RS, a slightly more upright position and longer chain stays, but still a go-go bike.

    IMG_2662bc..jpg
    Cervelo R3T (Crash Replacement for RS)
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    Moto Fantom Cross Team Ti..........................Peugeot 1986 - P6

  20. #20
    Senior Member NOS88's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BengeBoy View Post
    I 100% agree! Nothing to see here in the Titanium aisle folks. Just move along, now -- pay no attention to that bike behind the curtain....


    I was just about to post wondering if my Indy Fab Crown Jewel Ti, recently ordered, was something I should stay away from when it arrives (hopefully in the next ten days).
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. - S. Wright

  21. #21
    Climbing Above It All BikeWNC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NOS88 View Post


    I was just about to post wondering if my Indy Fab Crown Jewel Ti, recently ordered, was something I should stay away from when it arrives (hopefully in the next ten days).
    Nah, you'll love it. I still love mine. It just has a different feel than my carbon bikes. One thing I notice, on climbs it has a certain spring to it that when spinning seems to enhance my effort. My carbon bikes tend to leap forward more but then slow faster while the Ti bike seems to have less of a dead spot.

  22. #22
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    I usually try to stay out of "frame material" debates because I don't think I've ridden enough *identically equipped and designed bikes in different materials* to isolate the differences I see to the material itself. If you really are looking for a go-fast bike, with tire clearance up to 25c, at reasonable prices, in relaxed/comfortable geometry, there are lots of great CF options on the market.

    But separate from how the bikes ride, there are also differences in what bikes *exist* in the different materials, at least at reasonable prices. Steel and ti have two advantages over carbon fiber: you can acquire a custom-made steel or ti frame for substantially less than the price of a custom-made carbon fiber frame (Crumpton, Parlee, Calfee, etc.)

    That being said, why go w/custom steel or ti?

    A:
    - You have a unique set of design requirements not met on the market (say, lots of tire and fender clearance in a go fast bike, something few CF frames offer)
    - You are hard to fit
    - You want a bike built with S&S couplers so you can travel with it easier
    - You just want something "different"

    So, if you are going with custom steel or Ti, how would you choose between them?

    A:
    - Ti is about $800 to $1,000 more
    - Fewer custom builders work in Ti (though there are many)
    - Ti doesn't rust
    - You can get an "unfinished" Ti frame that doesn't suffer from chips
    - The builder whose work you trust recommends one vs. the other

    There also are some great lightweight stock or semi-stock steel options in modern lightweight steels that weren't available years ago -- some examples would include Gunnar, or the new line from Chris King, the Cielo Sportif.

    I personally think we live in a golden age of bicycling with tons of more options accessible to people than ever before in the history of the world.
    Last edited by BengeBoy; 08-31-10 at 11:17 AM.

  23. #23
    Pentapointed Member ahsposo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NOS88 View Post


    I was just about to post wondering if my Indy Fab Crown Jewel Ti, recently ordered, was something I should stay away from when it arrives (hopefully in the next ten days).
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  24. #24
    I need speed AzTallRider's Avatar
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    Threads like this are frustrating for me. I can't just decide I'll go with "Brand X, Model Y" because I need such a big (like ~68cm big) frame. I'd love to try an all carbon frame, but if I did that, the bike would be too small, and that would of course influence the ride. And chances are the LBS isn't going to even have the largest size of "Brand X" on the floor. I have a custom steel bike. To do that in carbon, I'm looking at brands like Serotta, which combine carbon tubes with Ti lugs. Not quite the same as full molded carbon, and really expensive. I'd love to try a Specialized Roubaix , or Cervelo RS, or BMC, or Caad 9 (etc etc) in the right size, but such a thing just does not exist. They aren't going to invest in the design and molds to fit those few of us that feel like we live in Lilliput. Grrrr!
    "If you're riding less than 18 MPH up a 2% grade please tell people Coggan is coaching you."

  25. #25
    Climbing Above It All BikeWNC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AzTallRider View Post
    Threads like this are frustrating for me. I can't just decide I'll go with "Brand X, Model Y" because I need such a big (like ~68cm big) frame. I'd love to try an all carbon frame, but if I did that, the bike would be too small, and that would of course influence the ride. And chances are the LBS isn't going to even have the largest size of "Brand X" on the floor. I have a custom steel bike. To do that in carbon, I'm looking at brands like Serotta, which combine carbon tubes with Ti lugs. Not quite the same as full molded carbon, and really expensive. I'd love to try a Specialized Roubaix , or Cervelo RS, or BMC, or Caad 9 (etc etc) in the right size, but such a thing just does not exist. They aren't going to invest in the design and molds to fit those few of us that feel like we live in Lilliput. Grrrr!
    What are the dimensions of your current steel bike? The Roubaix comes in a size 64 with a 260mm HT length.

    http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bc/...nuItemId=14881

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