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  1. #1
    Senior Member bres dad's Avatar
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    lugged steel vs. aluminum or other metals

    I'm asking mainly for my own knowledge and I hope this is the correct forum (mods, feel free to move). Why do some prefer lugged steel over aluminum or other materials that make a lighter frame. I know that lugged frames can flex more than aluminum but if that's the primary advantage, aren't there other, lighter materials that would flex as well? Or is it more that steel lugged frames are more traditional and have more appeal? Just curious.
    Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!

  2. #2
    Decrepit Member Scooper's Avatar
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    If you haven't read Scot Nicol's classic series of articles published in the mid-nineties, Metallurgy for Cyclists, it's a good place to begin to understand why riders prefer certain materials. The physical properties of different materials are discussed as well as how those materials can be manipulated to provide variations in the ride characteristics of frames made from them. Although the articles are nearly twenty years old, the basics are still pretty much the same.

    I have a very light lugged steel frame made of high strength stainless steel with oversized tubing and prefer riding it rather than other materials because I like its tradeoffs in lightness, ride qualities, performance, and durability, but riders who have frames made of other materials may have different priorities. Basically, all of the popular frame materials (steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium, and even wood) can make good bikes.
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  3. #3
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    I think it depends to a large extent on whether the person "preferring" is doing so on technical or emotional grounds. In general it is either mostly emotional, or emotional with a technical rationale. It is rare to find a person who has the inclination or tools to make a mostly objective decision.

    So if I were polishing up your question, the part that stands out is lugged steel vs aluminum (or other metals). Why not steel vs the other metals? Why introduce the lugged element. There is no technical advantage virtually, to lugged steel over other steel, in the case of a discussion of other metals. So someone who asked that question for real (as opposed to as a slip, or lack of knowledge of other steel assembly methods) would seem to me to be in the emotional with technical justification range. Therefore to answer the question, their decision process would be subjective.

    From a purely technical perspective, there are three commonly used metals: Steel, Ti, Al. In order of both weight and strength. Doubling the diameter of tubing with the same section will lead to an increase in strength x 4, and stiffness x 8. So while some tubings are lighter and weaker, playing with tubing dimensions can create dramatically different performance. However, the overall frame is in the form of a truss. In a truss, where the individual tubes play a role in the larger whole, the potentially large variations in tube performance may be overshadowed. For the individual, the only practical way to sort through these differences may be to simply ride/try different bikes.

  4. #4
    Senior Member squirtdad's Avatar
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    What I don't get is the often made assertion/assumption that any one material will automatically be lighter than another in any one final frame. Too many variables in design to make a blanket statement. And frames of equal size and weight may ride very differently due to both the nature of the material and the design. whether you like the ride varyies by indvidual

    I fully admit to liking the look of classic lugged steel, they call to me. (and threadless stems are just ugly )

    I have riden a couple of alumnum bikes and didn't like the ride, but a different bike could a different ride

    I have seen beautiful bikes in steel, titanium and carbon. I have seen very few aluminum bikes the appeal to me looks wise as a whole (but am always in awe of the detail work beauty of work by frank the welder)
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  5. #5
    Randomhead
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    If I was still in good enough condition to race, I would probably have a carbon frame. I think that they have gotten really good at building carbon, and if I were racing I would want the lightest bike possible.

    The reason I ride steel is twofold. First, I build steel frames. Second, is that I require durability in my bikes. I don't want to worry about someone knocking over my bike when I'm far from home. With steel, there is almost no danger from such an event. I don't think you can say the same with aluminum or carbon. I'm not a fan of Ti because of irrational personal reasons which probably don't apply to anyone else.

    Steel is nice because you can do just about anything you want with it. Large tires, rack mounts, just about whatever variation you want is easier in steel than any other material.

    For my purposes, a couple of extra pounds is no big deal. I imagine the peer pressure to stay away from steel is fairly high in some circles. Not the sort of thing I worry about. Plus, when you pass people in the local time trial on your steel bike with dyno lights shining and a giant seat bag left over from the 600 Kilometer randonnee you rode the previous weekend, you can tell that they want to cry. It's one of the simple joys of life.

  6. #6
    ... part of the machine. the engine's Avatar
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    I'm not a frame builder or a metallurgist ... but, I am an experienced cyclist, who owns aluminum, steel and Ti frames.

    My preference for comfort is steel. My Ti frame is second for comfort, but favorite to ride. I find it almost a smooth a ride as steel, but much more responsive. Aluminum, to me, is a harsh ride, and for longer rides I find my joints ache when I'm done. It's not a fit thing, because all of my bikes are fit to my physiology. I have arthritis so I notice the rough roads more than others.

    As far as weight, the Ti frame is lightest. It has a carbon fork, and has race geometry, which is why it seems very responsive to me. The aluminum frame is second lightest, but I don't ride it anymore. Just didn't like the ride once I started riding Ti. I've been riding steel since the 70's.

    My opinions are based my experiences. My $.02
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  7. #7
    Senior Member ftwelder's Avatar
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    I have several bikes in a variety of materials and am pretty sure I like my aluminum one for these reasons.

    1) I made it.
    2) It's not trendy any more.
    3) It was trendy at one time.
    4) It has great tires.
    5) Looks awesome to me.


    29 781 by frankthewelder, on Flickr
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  8. #8
    Randomhead
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    Looks awesome to me too

  9. #9
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    That is a nice looking bike Frank, and it is not that dissimilar in look to a typical steel bike. The typical steel bike used to have thinner tubes than it does today. When aluminum came out it allowed even thicker tubes, and in this day and age, radically reconfigured parts. The reality is that Aluminum is a highly superior material, but these days it is associated with cheap bikes, which was not the case at all when it first came out. That kind of prejudice is 99% of the reason they are looked down on today. Aluminum is the backbone of many other sports, like rock climbing, and archery.

    Carbon is certainly an ultimate material, for now. But few people are seriously in that league, and a lot of people don't fit off the rack, fit is where custom tube based bikes shine.

  10. #10
    tuz
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    A bike is a sum of different parts and you have to be sceptical whenever someone isolates the frame material as responsible for this or that characteristic. I let people prefer what they prefer and leave it to the magazines to come up with new marketing taglines.

    You can make light and stiff bicycles from all materials. In my case I prefer steel because it's what can be built up using the simplest equipment.
    homebuilt commuter, mixte, road and track (+ Ryffranck road)
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  11. #11
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Brazed lug construction in steel has old school technology and if you pay for it the builder
    can adda lot of hand labor to prepare the lugs to be decorative.

    TIG is Practical and actually uses less metal in the bead laid down, than a lug

    Aluminum welding is well sorted out now, too another hand skill . China has cheap hands to hire and Train..

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