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  1. #1
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    The Myth About the Cost of Steel

    I read the newspaper, daily. I also read INTERNET news, daily. I love to surf the net and read about anything related to bicycles. I know. It's a problem. I'm slightly obcessive, but I'll get over it! Anyway, I enjoy visiting bicycle manufacturers websites. I enjoying reading about their lastest technological innovations, their relevant news articles, and I also enjoy marveling at their shiny new bicycles. Sometimes, I get lost!

    At any rate, I can't help but to notice the prices of the bicycles on all of these websites. Rumor has it, that steel is more expensive than aluminum. Well, if we'd go by the supply and demand rule, you'd be right. However, that's just not the case!

    I noticed that Trek features a steel-framed MTB called the Sawyer, it goes for $1500. Trek also sells a similarly equipped MTB called the X-Caliber, dressed in aluminum, and it goes for $1540. Trek features a steel framed single speed called the 820, it goes for $360. It's aluminum cousin, called the Trek 3500 goes for $420, though it does have an extra speed. It's an eight, whereas the 820 is a seven.

    Raleigh features a steel framed road bike, called the Port Townsend. It's packing Sora and goes for $930. It's aluminum cousin, the Revenio 2, also packing Sora, goes for, guess what? That's right! It goes for $930, as well.

    Also, there's Jamis. The steel-framed Satellite, goes for $700 and it's train is driven by Sora. Its aluminum cousin has the same Sora driver and it costs the same...$700! Jamis also offers a steel framed comfort bike that costs $350 and a steel commuter bike that costs $525.

    Then there's Schwinn! It features an urban road bike dressed with 105's, called the Slicker, that comes in chromoly steel. It goes for $770. It's aluminum cousin, called the Fastback, also dressed with 105's, costs $1430.

    Where in the world did some of us ever get the idea that steel costs more than aluminum?

    Now, hold on. I know that's the way it should be since it costs much less to reproduce aluminum as a source material. However, it's apparent that those savings aren't passed on to the cyclist consumer.

    Giant features the aluminum framed Defy and it costs $1370. It also features the aluminum Omnium that costs $1600. Additionally it has an aluminum model, called the Rapid, and it costs $1250. Finally, Giant carries the aluminum Seek, and it costs $1320.

    Then there's Dorel's Cannondale models. All of Cannondale's Synapses cost over $1000. The Cannondale CAAD 10 models, all cost over $1600. We're not even going to discuss the Super Sixes!

    I don't know...Maybe the world cyclist is being charged so much for aluminum, because it's such an awesome bicycle frame material!

    What do you think?

    - Slim
    Last edited by SlimRider; 11-06-11 at 05:38 PM.

  2. #2
    Starting over CraigB's Avatar
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    I've never heard anyone say steel is more expensive than aluminum.
    Craig in Indy

  3. #3
    Senior Member Mithrandir's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CraigB View Post
    I've never heard anyone say steel is more expensive than aluminum.
    I was about to reply with this same thing, almost word-for-word.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by CraigB View Post
    I've never heard anyone say steel is more expensive than aluminum.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mithrandir View Post
    I was about to reply with this same thing, almost word-for-word.
    I can honestly say, that up until just this year, I had not heard of this rumor, before. However, yesterday while posting in the Commuter's Forum, I heard the same thing that I've heard several times before. As I was posting in the Light Steel Commuter's Thread, someone posted that if the OP wanted a light steel frame, that he was going to have to pay a hefty price for it. Now, it is true that 853 is a very expensive chromoly type of steel. However, there's 631 that is not nearly as expensive and of course there's the usual 520 and 4130 grades with which we're all too familiar.

    The Jamis Eclipse is made of a very expensive grade of chromoly and it sells for $3400, as a result of its being manufactured, but that's a rarity. Most steels are just as inexpensive as aluminum these days, or even cheaper.

    Most Respectfully,

    - Slim

  5. #5
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    Even if it were true that steel cost more than aluminum, I don't see how that would necessarily closely relate to the price of new bikes. I'd imagine the cost of the raw metal is a relatively small fraction of the cost in both cases. More relevant would be the cost of machining it, cost of components, and marketing strategies. No company sells their products as close to cost as possible, especially if the market they are in is not a highly competitive one for an interchangeable commodity. They sell their products for the highest price they think they can get people to pay. That may or may not be tightly coupled to their costs. This doesn't mean they are ripping people off; it just means they are maximizing their profits.

  6. #6
    Senior Member CaptCarrot's Avatar
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    +1

    Isn't steel easier to weld than aluminium?
    Not as green as I might be cabbage looking!

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by mnemia View Post
    Even if it were true that steel cost more than aluminum, I don't see how that would necessarily closely relate to the price of new bikes. I'd imagine the cost of the raw metal is a relatively small fraction of the cost in both cases. More relevant would be the cost of machining it, cost of components, and marketing strategies. No company sells their products as close to cost as possible, especially if the market they are in is not a highly competitive one for an interchangeable commodity. They sell their products for the highest price they think they can get people to pay. That may or may not be tightly coupled to their costs. This doesn't mean they are ripping people off; it just means they are maximizing their profits.
    Who said anything about people getting ripped off?...It's a free market system. Charge whatever I'm willing to pay! If I don't like it, I won't pay for it! It's just as simple as that! Nobody said anything about anybody getting ripped off! Where'd you get that?

    - Slim

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptCarrot View Post
    +1

    Isn't steel easier to weld than aluminium?
    Yes, it is easier to weld.

    It is also more expensive to recycle and less expensive to extract from its ore...

    - Slim

  9. #9
    Senior Member david58's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SlimRider View Post
    Yes, it is easier to weld.

    It is also more expensive to recycle and less expensive to extract from its ore...

    - Slim
    Look at the techniques used to make Aluminum frames. The frames are expensive to make, as the hydroforming process t'ain't cheap. Steel frames can be made using straight tubes for the most part, a much cheaper process than having to form.

    The funny part is a Ti frame. With about 2 pounds of Ti in a frame, you are only talking $200 at most in raw materials (if the tubing is purchased in quantity). The cost of a frame is not just the metal or carbon in it - it is the forming, assembly, welding, etc., that makes a given material cost what it does.

    Carbon should be expensive - the manual layup in a mold is expensive, lots of labor. Plus the material isn't cheap, either.
    2011 BMC SR02; 2010 Fuji Cross Comp; n+1 on hold today, due to college tuition and a wedding. Some day, some where, over the rainbow, I will get that 29er....

  10. #10
    Senior Member Mithrandir's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by david58 View Post
    Carbon should be expensive - the manual layup in a mold is expensive, lots of labor. Plus the material isn't cheap, either.
    Carbon fiber is cheaper than I would have thought. I found a guy who made his own carbon fiber frame with about $160 worth of materials (and a few hundred hours of labour).

  11. #11
    Quirky Grifter LesterOfPuppets's Avatar
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    I think the "steel is expensive" saying was pretty much spot-on for 1996-2006 (ish). Those years there were a couple of odd low-end tank-like bikes that most enthusiasts wouldn't care for and quite a few high end custom or semi-custom choices in steel. Very little to be had in the mid range.

    Surly started selling lots of midrange steel and other companies seem to be jumping back into steel.

    In the MTB world steel seems to be very popular in the 29er market primarily, perhaps we'll get some more nice steel frames trickling down into 26" also.
    1980ish Free Spirit Sunbird fixed * 1996 Mongoose IBOC Zero-G * 1997 KHS Comp * 1990-ish Scapin * Lemond Buenos Aires Triple

  12. #12
    Senior Member rebel1916's Avatar
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    Annoying

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by rebel1916 View Post
    Annoying
    Ok! That's it Dagnabit! I'm calling a cop! I've had enough of your sexual harassment! Oh! Wait A Minute... It's not really sexual harassment, is it? ...Well, I've had enough of your stalking me! Oh! Wait A Minute...It's not really stalking, is it?...Well, whatever you call it! I'll have you know that we have laws in this state and...and...and...Hey..How does that work anyhow? ...Well, there's laws in all of our states and ...and...and..Do you even live in the U.S.?...Well anyway, just stop it! Stop it! Stop it! I tell ya! Right now!! If you don't, I'm gonna..I'm gonna...Well, just stop it!!!

    - Slim

    PS.

    Hey! ..Did you ever get your bike?..Is this what I get for a misdelivery or something? I'm sure I put enough stamps on the box and that's for sure!
    Last edited by SlimRider; 11-05-11 at 08:58 PM.

  14. #14
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CraigB View Post
    I've never heard anyone say steel is more expensive than aluminum.
    Yes, If anything steel is cheaper from start to finished product. It takes more time,skill and energy to make a aluminum bike than it does a steel bike. Welding aluminum is tougher to start with......
    My preferred bicycle brand is.......WORKSMAN CYCLES
    I dislike clipless pedals on any city bike since I feel they are unsafe.

    Originally Posted by krazygluon
    Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
    Aluminum: barely a hundred, which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?

  15. #15
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SlimRider View Post
    Ok! That's it Dagnabit! I'm calling a cop! I've had enough of your sexual harassment! Oh! Wait A Minute... It's not really sexual harassment, is it? ...Well, I've had enough of your stalking me! Oh! Wait A Minute...It's not really stalking, is it?...Well, whatever you call it! I'll have you know that we have laws in this state and...and...and...Hey..How does that work anyhow? ...Well, there's laws in all of our states and ...and...and..Do you even live in the U.S.?...Well anyway, just stop it! Stop it! Stop it! I tell ya! Right now!! If you don't, I'm gonna..I'm gonna...Well, just stop it!!!

    - Slim
    I hate to say it but you do seem to be fixated on the steel vs aluminum issue................
    My preferred bicycle brand is.......WORKSMAN CYCLES
    I dislike clipless pedals on any city bike since I feel they are unsafe.

    Originally Posted by krazygluon
    Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
    Aluminum: barely a hundred, which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nightshade View Post
    I hate to say it but you do seem to be fixated on the steel vs aluminum issue................
    Coming from you, I take that as an absolute insult! I always thought we were in the same camp!

    Alright! Well that rips it!... I'm not going to be your friend anymore! Now, there!

    - Slim

  17. #17
    Nighttime Rider
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    ...and steel is real... apparently....

    (i never got that)

    ....thus, CF is... virtual? (matrix(?))

    I'm going to bed now...

  18. #18
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Experiment: re-visit the Chinese Great Leap Forward,,
    and build a village or home steel making operation,
    of your own, and see what it costs.

    thanks for the correction, I'm not up to date on Chairman Mao ,
    other than he died a number of years ago.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 11-06-11 at 02:56 PM. Reason: corrected, thanks..

  19. #19
    Gouge Away kaliayev's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SlimRider View Post

    Where in the world did we ever get the idea that steel costs more than aluminum?
    - Slim
    Please don't drag we into this. Your whole shtick is really played. Please give it a rest.
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  20. #20
    Senior Member Debusama's Avatar
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    It’s already been said, but as far as I knew, when both are designed for entry levels and mass produced, they were similar in price as far as I knew. The thing is that steel bikes are becoming a rarity in the entry levels and a lot of the steel bikes around anymore are either:
    A. Boutique-ish frame builders like Surly and Salsa that have cult-like followings among steel lovers who are willing to pay more.
    B. Custom frames wherein the cost is not for the material, but the hours of work by a skilled worker in the first world as opposed the mass-produced bikes built by Chinese assembly line workers.

    I can see how one might have gotten the impression that steel costs more.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by david58 View Post
    Look at the techniques used to make Aluminum frames. The frames are expensive to make, as the hydroforming process t'ain't cheap. Steel frames can be made using straight tubes for the most part, a much cheaper process than having to form.

    The funny part is a Ti frame. With about 2 pounds of Ti in a frame, you are only talking $200 at most in raw materials (if the tubing is purchased in quantity). The cost of a frame is not just the metal or carbon in it - it is the forming, assembly, welding, etc., that makes a given material cost what it does.

    Carbon should be expensive - the manual layup in a mold is expensive, lots of labor. Plus the material isn't cheap, either.
    When you are considering which is the easiest material to work with, you have take into account the build rate. Are you are making 5 frames or 50,000. Do you shape and machine your tubes by hand or with an industrial robot? Aluminium is soft and quick to machine so better suited to high-rate production.
    Is the "difficulty" of welding aluminium really about the need for special kit or is there something harder about handling the torch than for steel? In a huge factory such as Giant, the welding equipment is as good as needed and their framebuilding jigs may be something a bit special for rapid production.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by CrimsonEclipse View Post
    ...and steel is real... apparently....

    (i never got that)

    ....thus, CF is... virtual? (matrix(?))

    I'm going to bed now...
    Totally missed your point here...Sorry!...Who's stating anything like that?

    - Slim

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaliayev View Post
    Please don't drag we into this. Your whole shtick is really played. Please give it a rest.
    I've already referenced that this notion came from the Commuter Forum. It's right there in black and white. You can see it for yourself in the "light steel cummuter?" thread.

    I'm not just making stuff up or just blowing smoke! Go see it for yourself. A BF member states that if the OP wants to have light steel, he's going to have to pay a "hefty price". He's not the only person I've heard say that here within these forums. For some reason, some people think steel costs more than aluminum. This has nothing to do with the fact that steel happens to be my most favored frame material.

    What could that possibly have to do with it?...Sheesh!

    - Slim

    Me thinks you just wanted to craft a sentence where you could use the word "shtick"! ...That word is fun to say isn't it?
    Last edited by SlimRider; 11-06-11 at 02:17 PM.

  24. #24
    Senior Member The Chemist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    Experiment: re-visit the Chinese Cultural revolution,
    and build a village or home steel making operation,
    of your own, and see what it costs.
    OFF TOPIC: You're referring to the Great Leap Forward, not the Cultural Revolution. /OFF TOPIC
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by LesterOfPuppets View Post
    I think the "steel is expensive" saying was pretty much spot-on for 1996-2006 (ish). Those years there were a couple of odd low-end tank-like bikes that most enthusiasts wouldn't care for and quite a few high end custom or semi-custom choices in steel. Very little to be had in the mid range.

    Surly started selling lots of midrange steel and other companies seem to be jumping back into steel.

    In the MTB world steel seems to be very popular in the 29er market primarily, perhaps we'll get some more nice steel frames trickling down into 26" also.
    Hey there Lester!

    We have the aficionado of steel bike frames here within this forum who has finally shed some much needed light upon this thread!

    Thank you Lester. I guess someone else had to say it. Otherwise, I don't think certain folks would ever have believed me.

    Thanks Again!

    - Slim
    Last edited by SlimRider; 11-06-11 at 04:39 PM.

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