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Old 06-28-08, 08:52 PM   #1
chephy
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Am I the only one...

...who can't tell the difference between frames made of different materials?

I mean, there is all this talk about how steel is supposed to be smooth and cushy, and aluminum is really harsh, and carbon is good and eats up road buzz. And I rode full steel bikes, full alum bikes, carbon-aluminum bikes (carbon fork and rear triangle)... and I see no difference. All I know is that if the road is smooth the ride's gonna be smooth, and if the road's in bad shape, the ride's gonna be bumpy. Yet there are so many people who sing praise to steel or carbon, after they transferred onto it after the "jarring" aluminum. Am I the only one uncapable of detecting the difference, or is there a whole bunch of folks feeling kinda the same way?
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Old 06-28-08, 09:06 PM   #2
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And placebos work in medicine, too. People tend to perceive what they want to perceive. You'd have to run a double blind test to find out if they really can tell. I'd say that wheels, tires, drive train, and geometry would be enormously greater factors in the way a bike feels and performs than frame material would be. I think the only way I could tell for sure the difference between steel and aluminum would be with a magnet.
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Old 06-28-08, 09:16 PM   #3
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You are the only one - except maybe the person who answered you first. Without going into which is better, the feel of carbon and steel is quite different. I am not inclined to ride a bike blindfolded just to prove a point though.
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Old 06-28-08, 09:23 PM   #4
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The princess could feel the pea through all those mattresses and feather beds, too...
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Old 06-28-08, 09:45 PM   #5
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It is you. I will not claim one is better than the other but they feel different.
Don't feel bad, some people think all food taste the same.
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Old 06-28-08, 10:39 PM   #6
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Aluminum is definitely harsh.
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Old 06-28-08, 10:56 PM   #7
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I'm sure it can be verified in a lab, but. . . .
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Old 06-28-08, 11:23 PM   #8
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It may be something to do with riding style and individual sensitivity; it may also have something to do with the actual bikes people have tried. I do prefer steel, but I'm riding a couple of steel bikes that were actually quite high end when they were built, while the aluminum bikes I have ridden were newer and cheaper. It's entirely possible that a really good new aluminum frame would be different, or a cheap steel frame. I've never tried titanium or carbon (I'm a little scared to, in case I like them too much ).

I'm more comfortable with the idea of steel in metallurgy terms, too. My dad worked in air maintenance and told me a few too many tales of aluminum parts failing. I realize the plural of "anecdote" is not "data," but I guess I just like something that can be welded and/or bent back into shape if I have to.
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Old 06-28-08, 11:56 PM   #9
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most flexible bike Ive ridden is my bonded aluminum Alan, its like a rubber band. It might not be you, perhaps the bikes you rode were manufactured to have similar handling characteristics and its pretty much given now that road bikes are sold with 23c wheels.

I bet if you rode a steel penny farthing and a carbon time trials bike you would notice a difference?

Were you really concentrating on frame characteristics? or general bike handling? or were you like most just concentrating on riding the bike?

I think when they say carbon fiber is more comfortable, it might mean comfortable without loosing the stiffness which transfers your power better. so the soaking up of vibrations maybe too small to notice distinctly and Considering then all the shapes and sizes and weird and wonderful composite frames it maybe no wonder you hav'nt noticed a difference

just my opinion
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Old 06-28-08, 11:58 PM   #10
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Yep, and a cheap fiddle is no different from a Stradivarius.

If you can't tell the difference, then no...it doesn't matter. If you can tell the difference...you may be a bit more discerning than average, and yes...it matters even comparing frames of the same materials.
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Old 06-28-08, 11:58 PM   #11
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some people think all food taste the same.
I dont think I have ever heard of someone who thinks all food tastes the same, All beer or wine its possible but food come on I think you made that up.
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Old 06-29-08, 12:28 AM   #12
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Yep, and a cheap fiddle is no different from a Stradivarius.
Played by the typical amateur fiddler, that's true.
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Old 06-29-08, 01:16 AM   #13
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Played by the typical amateur fiddler, that's true.
Exactly my point.
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Old 06-29-08, 01:41 AM   #14
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I can tell a difference, especially with an aluminum fork, particularly over cobblestones. Aluminum gives a much harsher and stiffer ride. I actually gave away two aluminum frames because I didn't like the ride.
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Old 06-29-08, 06:39 AM   #15
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I own a lugged steel (Bridgestone frame) road bike and a fat tube aluminum Klein. I can't subjectively feel any difference between them that I can't attribute to riding position or to the different tires that I have on them.

I have ridden good quality steel frame bikes and cheap steel framed bikes. Quality rides better. I have ridden cheap aluminum framed bikes and quality aluminum framed bikes. Quality rides better. I'm thinking there's as much or more ride characteristic difference among bikes made from the same material as between bikes made from different materials. In the interset of full disclosure, I don't have any significant experience riding either a titanium framed bike or a carbon fiber framed bike because I've never owned either.

I can think of a lot of different variables, other than frame material, that might affect one's judgement. Smooth roads, chip and seal surfaces, seriously bumpy roads. Power inputs from the rider. I know that tire differences can be huge because I've done some experimenting with tires. Saddles will make a big difference, especially after 3 or 4 hours. I suspect that fit and rider position is most important of all.

How many different bikes does the typical rider really experience in any period of time? I hear guys say "A titanium bike does thus and so" after riding one Litespeed for a year. Then those opinions get passed around until a critical mass of people is willing to accept them. Their impressions might be true and might not. If true, they might be some characteristic of titanium and might be the result of some other design decision.

The bottom line is that I've been riding bikes and fooling with bikes for a long time and I'm real skeptical of all of the simplestic things that folks say about bicycle ride characteristics.
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Old 06-29-08, 09:27 AM   #16
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I can think of a lot of different variables, other than frame material, that might affect one's judgement.
My steel bike seems to have a much harsher ride than my aluminum bike on rough surfaces.

The steel bike has a rigid fork, and the aluminum bike has a suspension fork...I kinda suspect that's what makes most of the difference.
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Old 06-29-08, 11:19 AM   #17
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It may be something to do with riding style and individual sensitivity
I also wonder if it has anything to do with weight. I'm very light... that might make any frame feel quite stiff for me.
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Old 06-29-08, 11:22 AM   #18
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How many different bikes does the typical rider really experience in any period of time? I hear guys say "A titanium bike does thus and so" after riding one Litespeed for a year. Then those opinions get passed around until a critical mass of people is willing to accept them. Their impressions might be true and might not. If true, they might be some characteristic of titanium and might be the result of some other design decision.
That's what I wondered. When people think they're comparing the feel of frame material, how do they separate it from other characteristics of a bike? If they've ridden hundreds of bikes, and all steel bikes rode a certain way, while all carbon bikes rode a different way, then maybe they have a basis for generalizations. But most people don't get to ride that many bikes.

It is readily apparent, for instance, how much of a difference tires make - use two vastly different sets of tires on one bike and whatever difference in handling and feel you notice is attributable to different tires since it's the only thing that changed. But go from an aluminum to a carbon frame, and you're changing the whole bike - tires, frame geometry, everything...

Last edited by chephy; 06-30-08 at 06:44 PM.
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Old 06-29-08, 11:24 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by InTheTrenches View Post
Don't feel bad, some people think all food taste the same.
I'd rather feel all frame materials ride the same.
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Old 06-29-08, 11:57 AM   #20
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Aluminum is definitely harsh.
I'm willing to wager the rent money that you don't have much experience riding an early bonded Vitus or Alan aluminum framed bike. I've never heard anybody describe either as harsh. In fact, the common criticism of aluminum bikes in that era was that they were too "noodley".

The next generation of aluminum framed bikes were touted as having "natural vibration damping" characteristics due to the lower density of aluminum. If you review bicycling periodicals from the 80's you'll read that over and over and over again.

It wasn't until the advent of bikes made from large diameter unbutted aluminum tubeing that aluminum framed bikes acquired the description of being "harsh". Despite the development and design work done by Cannondale and Klein, they weren't able to shake the image. Carbon fiber took over the high end lightweight market nitch.

Today aluminum bikes, in spite of the need for post welding heat treating, have become the manufacturers low budget frame choice.
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