Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: United States
Bikes: Kona Dawg Deluxe, Cannondale Super-V DH, Cannondale Super-V Raven
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steel frames actually flex slightly, so they feel 'softer' to ride.
many people, myself included, prefer steel bikes over aluminum. The only real disadvantage to steel is its weight. With suspension, the ability of steel to absorb a small amount of shock by flexing is less important because that is what the bike's suspension is made for....therefore, aluminum's lighter weight and higher level of stiffness is acceptable because the suspension soaks up the shock and puts less stress directly on the frame material.
Still, for a hardtail, I far prefer chromoly frames, although finding one that I like has become much harder because most bike makers are converting over to making only aluminum bikes.
If you can find a truly good steel frame, they are a thing of beauty. The steel is stronger, so the tubes are thinner in diameter. It gives the bike a "svelt" look that I like. Most aluminum framed bikes have tubes that are much larger in diameter compared to their steel counterparts.
i know that is purely an aesthetic aspect, but if you like smaller-framed bikes, steel is the way to go for a hardtail.
Handling is pretty comparable, and the differences in feel are subtle but definately noticeable. The steel frames have more give and are less rigid. The aluminum frames are more stiff and 'flickable'.
Note that this is only my personal observation and feeling. The best way to determine what you prefer is to test ride.