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  1. #1
    Senior Member Berylbite's Avatar
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    Do frames get soft after a while?

    How do steel frames "wear out" or "break in" as they are ridden? As a bike polo player a stiff frame with tight geometry is preferred. A friend of mine just got a new polo bike because the old steel track bike he rode was beat to hell. Aside from the dings and scratches, he said that the frame was "very gooey" and "flexed alot" because of the all the torque and twist that he put into it over the two years he rode it.

    I was wondering if this is generally true for steel frames.
    Twaffles & Twaffles bike co. Mobile AL

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    Road cyclists used to claim the same thing back when steel was the only common frame material. AFAIK there was never any evidence for the validity of the claim except in cases where there was a defect in the frame (crack/broken lug/bad weld or braze/etc.).

  3. #3
    Senior Member 009jim's Avatar
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    Considering the stress/strain properties of steel itself, there is no reason it would become more elastic "gooey" with use. If it is loaded in excess of yield it will deform and stay deformed. If loaded below yield it will deform and spring back to normal. The ability to spring-back does not alter with age.

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    Senior Member Spoonrobot's Avatar
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    I think it's all mental. Jan Heine has a pretty decent write up on it here:

    http://janheine.wordpress.com/2012/0...es-going-soft/

    There is the well-known phenomenon that a new bike feels faster. And the rider is more likely to blame their lack of training for a disappointing performance than the new bike they just bought. Once the rider no longer is in love with their new bike, they are more likely to blame the bike, rather than their lack of fitness. It’s easy to see how an old frame could be “starting to go soft” when the owner lusts after a new and shiny machine.
    I've noticed the same thing with different cogs and tires. When I first went from a 18 to a 17 cog I felt like I was flying everywhere, if you'd have asked me it was like I gained 5-6mph+ to my top end. Then after a few weeks of riding my bike in regular conditions like wind and hills and stuff it felt like it went back to "normal." Sometimes sluggish and slow, sometimes fast. Not nearly like it was when I first installed the smaller cog.

    Just one of those things.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Cassave's Avatar
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    There's also the old rumor that framebuilders and shop owners would suggest that frames would go soft in order to sell more frames.

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    Randomhead
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    last thread we had about that said that people would use this as an excuse to tell their S.O., which I'm more inclined to believe

  7. #7
    Senior Member Berylbite's Avatar
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    I figured as much about it. Ill keep this in mind, thanks fellas.
    Twaffles & Twaffles bike co. Mobile AL

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    As far as my wife is concerned, these pesky frames NEVER last over a year...

    ;-)

  9. #9
    Randomhead
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    I used to try to replace my frame about every year; a 2 year old frame was past its sell-by date. But the last frame I bought lasted me almost 30 years, and I really don't think there is anything wrong with it other than the crappy paint job totally failed. I was hard on that bike, and I rode it a lot when I weighed 220-230lbs.

  10. #10
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    flexing metal work hardens it. try that with a steel coat-hanger,
    for a hands on test. see if it gets softer.. bending it..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 08-22-12 at 12:29 AM.

  11. #11
    Still spinnin'..... Stealthammer's Avatar
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    Do frames get soft after a while?

    This falls into the same realm as Grant Petersen's rant against clipless pedals and brifters, and his love of heavy leather saddles and moustache handlebars. People that don't understand something and are stuck it the "philosophies" of the past should not try to teach in the modern world. If you really want to know if frames really get softer after a while, go read about material properties and characteristics from someone who actually has basic knowledge of the subject, and quit listening to people who have an alternative agenda.

    Also, every frame material is different so no one rule will not fit all materials. The reality is that frames of certain materials like aluminum and carbon fiber will eventually degrade due to the stress cycles that they endure, but your grand children will probably enjoy riding your vintage steel or titanium frame before they hand it off to their kids.

    One of the main reasons you hear that older frames feel "soft" after years of use is because up until the mid-to-late 1980s most frames (even the quality ones) were built poorer quality tubing with 1" or 1 1/8" diameter, with maybe a 1 1/4" downtube. Today you couldn't sell a frame built with those materials to anyone but a child. If you ride a modern (post 1990s) frame and then ride any C&V frame of your choosing, the older frame will obviously feel soft, but because they were contructed of inferior materials though not because they went "soft" over time.
    Last edited by Stealthammer; 08-16-12 at 11:10 AM.
    Just your average 'high-functioning' lunatic, capable of passing as 'normal' for short periods of time.....

    “The difference between genius and stupidity is; genius has its limits.” - Albert Einstein

    “We all know that light travels faster than sound. That's why certain people appear bright until you hear them speak.” - Albert Einstein

  12. #12
    tuz
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    I think that work hardening occurs only if you pass the yield point.

    Most frames up to the late 80s were made with cromoly 4130. Nowadays there are stronger alloys but to take advantage of that they are drawn thinner, and thus lighter or more flexible. Stiffness (softness?) and weight will depend on the cross section, not on the alloy.
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    Randomhead
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stealthammer View Post
    If you really want to know if frames really get softer after a while, go read about material properties and characteristics from someone who actually has basic knowledge of the subject, and quit listening to people who have an alternative agenda.
    I sincerely doubt the average person is going to get anywhere with this approach. I am not a materials scientist, but I have a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and have studied materials science extensively. I have never really seen anything that would allow me to answer the question in the OP with any certainty. All I know is that people have said that frames get softer for as long as I can remember. As far as I know, there is no real evidence that this is true, at least in the bike world.

  14. #14
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    wheels get soft.

    The belief 'frames get soft' notion persists, though......

    I've broken a couple of frames at the BB, (and a set of steel bullmoose handlebars) so I'm pretty sure it's possible to load frames & welds enough to break..... but the only noticeable 'softness' in the bike has been the 5 minutes immediately proceeding the failures.... something feels obviously wrong, then a soft metal 'tearing' if the rest of the join shears completely away. But, those failures have been the welds, not the tubing.
    Last edited by Bekologist; 08-17-12 at 05:41 AM.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  15. #15
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    IMO the only thing going soft (with steel frames) over the years is the grey tissue between the ears. One's perception is a far (repeat FAR) greater changing component that the frame. The reason so many think frames go soft is because so many say so. And some of those people have a financial stake in your wanting a new bike. Andy.

  16. #16
    THE Materials Oracle Falanx's Avatar
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    Can we get a sticky up with the title "BikeForums Exclusive: Frames don't soften. Belt up." ?
    "While my father fought for you, I learnt. While my father glorified your petty administration, I learnt. While he longed every day for our line, Adun’s line, to be restored, I learnt. He sent me away to bring the Dark Templar back when the time was right!
    "And you tell me that I cannot do this? That I cannot feel the weight of the universe?
    "Damn you, Tellan! Aldaris killed my father!"

  17. #17
    Senior Member VeloBrox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tuz View Post
    Most frames up to the late 80s were made with cromoly 4130.
    Where did you hear that from?
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    1986 Peugeot PY10M
    1983 Trek 620
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    ...and a basement full of unrideable old stuff.

  18. #18
    tuz
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    Columbus, Ishiwata and Tange were an 4130 alloy back in the days. With a bit more cold work perhaps thus with a bit more strenght. Reynolds 531 was Mn-Mo instead of Cr-Mo, similar properties. Not sure about Vitus. Check out this document.
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  19. #19
    Member TrebelC's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=unterhausen;14614811]
    "I am not a materials scientist, but I have a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering...."

    If you have a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering you are essentially the closest thing to a material scientist.
    But regardless I do agree that some if not most all of us will start to think that their "once-was-brand-new-and-shiny" bicycle frame is starting to go soft on them, which, I belive that the lust for a NEW frame, is playing mind games.
    -My two cents.
    Last edited by TrebelC; 08-21-12 at 07:46 PM. Reason: Messed up the quote

  20. #20
    Senior Member VeloBrox's Avatar
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    Thanks!

    Though in all fairness the majority of bike frames produced before the '80s were probably made from 1010 or other low carbon steels. They might still be if we take the Chinese and Indian markets into account.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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    ...and a basement full of unrideable old stuff.

  21. #21
    tuz
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    Yes you are most likely right. I was considering the "quality" frames subset.
    homebuilt commuter, mixte, road and track (+ Ryffranck road)
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  22. #22
    THE Materials Oracle Falanx's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=TrebelC;14635999]
    Quote Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post

    If you have a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering you are essentially the closest thing to a material scientist.
    I *am* a materials scientist. The two disciplines aren't even slightly close.
    Unterhausen is, however, a learned gentleman with a great deal of experience in his field :-)
    Last edited by Falanx; 08-22-12 at 12:04 PM.
    "While my father fought for you, I learnt. While my father glorified your petty administration, I learnt. While he longed every day for our line, Adun’s line, to be restored, I learnt. He sent me away to bring the Dark Templar back when the time was right!
    "And you tell me that I cannot do this? That I cannot feel the weight of the universe?
    "Damn you, Tellan! Aldaris killed my father!"

  23. #23
    Randomhead
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    Quote Originally Posted by Falanx View Post
    I *am* a materials scientist. The two disciplines aren't even slightly close.
    Unterhausen is, however, a learned gentleman with a great deal of experience in his field :-)
    there is an old joke that when you get your undergrad, you think you know everything, when you have a masters degree you realize you know nothing, and when you get a Ph.D. you realize your advisor knows nothing. I know enough material science to get me by, but not enough to make any firm statements
    Last edited by unterhausen; 08-23-12 at 08:24 AM.

  24. #24
    THE Materials Oracle Falanx's Avatar
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    And as with all jokes and cliches, there has ot be a grain of truth in it to ever have come about ;-)
    "While my father fought for you, I learnt. While my father glorified your petty administration, I learnt. While he longed every day for our line, Adun’s line, to be restored, I learnt. He sent me away to bring the Dark Templar back when the time was right!
    "And you tell me that I cannot do this? That I cannot feel the weight of the universe?
    "Damn you, Tellan! Aldaris killed my father!"

  25. #25
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 009jim View Post
    Considering the stress/strain properties of steel itself, there is no reason it would become more elastic "gooey" with use. If it is loaded in excess of yield it will deform and stay deformed. If loaded below yield it will deform and spring back to normal. The ability to spring-back does not alter with age.
    Which sounds perfectly fine as far as everything I've read about it (not much) goes... but it doesn't explain my experience of actual springs getting softer over time, and they're made, obviously enough, to maximise springiness. I recall in particular the indexing springs in a couple of pairs of first-gen Ergolevers I've had; after a year or two they'd really loosen up and I'd have to strip em and tweak the springs to fix the resulting issue of extra downshifts.

    If spring steel so demonstrably gets softer, why not other grades of steel?

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