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  1. #1
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    Steel vs. Aluminum

    I know, I know, this is an age old debate, but my stoker and I are getting ready to purchase our first tandem and have narrowed our choices down and I wanted to run it by all of you for input.

    We have decided on either the Burley Rumba (steel) or Burley Tamburillo (aluminum).

    We've test ridden both of them, but in the two-mile test jaunt (or likely even a ten mile ride if we'd taken one), it was impossible to really tell the difference in long distance comfort.

    We can purchase either for essentially the same price, so that variable is out of the equation for now.

    I assumed, and my stoker agreed in principal, that the steel would give us greater comfort. As everyone here seems to agree, a stoker's comfort is key to long term team happiness (on or off of the bike). However, we just do not know if there will be enough recognizable difference to have this be the sole factor to choose steel over the aluminium.

    Do any of you have any thoughts on this? Also, any thoughts on actual/recognizable differences in performance between the two materials (or even those two particular bikes) would also be appreciated.

  2. #2
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    We own a Steel Burley Duet that we rode for about 10 years. We loved it until we bought our Aluminum Santana Sovering. Besides several pounds of weight difference, the Santana handles, feels, climbs, etc. etc. much better. The stoker comfort is not an issue, since the Santana came equiped with suspension seat post... my stoker refuses to ride without one... you won't have to worry about calling: BUMP!! Which ever way you go make sure to get a suspension seat post.

  3. #3
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    The way these bikes are designed now days, there are usually three "real" differences:

    1. Steel would be easier to have repaired if the frame was ever damaged.
    2. All other things being equal, the use of Aluminum will result in a lighter weight frame which may make it feel more responsive and/or more nimble under aggressive riding conditions.
    3. Aluminum frames / tandems "usually" cost more than steel when comparing tandems / frames apples-to-apples, e.g., same components, wheels, etc...

    Otherwise, your initial riding impressions are probably valid.

    While not all that familiar with Burleys, I suspect they have designed their steel and alumimum frames to have very similar riding characteristics as this is not all that unusual among the major producers. For example, Co-Motion has intentionally designed its steel and aluminum tandems to have the same very stiff and responsive "feel" biased towards performance, notwithstand the weight differences. Santana offers steel and aluminum tandems that are, well, not as stiff and instead biased towards comfort. In fact, the last time I checked a steel Co-Motion felt as stiff or stiffer than Santana's aluminum frames. Mind you, these are all subtle differences which underscores the importance of the test rides.

    It's also worthwhile to note that additional "ride comfort" can usually be created by using different wheels (going from hi-zoot low spoke count Rolfs to traditional 36h or 40h 3x lacing or perhaps 48h 4x or even 5x lacing) or simply by using tires with larger volume and/or running lower psi dependent upon road surface. For example, as a lightweight team (275lbs) in Georgia were are blessed with incredibly smooth asphalt roads and can get away with running very narrow (23mm) tires at very high (135 - 145 psi) pressure. However, when visiting certain parts of Alabama, Texas or other locales with chip-seal we move up to at least 25mm tires front and rear and drop the psi down into the 115 - 120 range to "smooth-out" the ride. If we are caught out somewhere with our 23's and the road turns rough -- as it did at last year's MATES Rally at Williamsburg, VA -- I just let a little air out of the tires along the way; it's amazing how the reduction of a few psi can make a major change in performance/comfort.

    Bottom Line: Consider a longer test ride on the bike you're most inclined towards and go with your instincts. Personally, I think either frame will serve you well noting that so long as you go with a frame that is "stiff enough", a lot of "tuning" can be accomplished adjusting riding positions, tire selection/pressure, and wheel construction. In fact, "too stiff" is a lot easier to tweak than "not stiff enough."

    Just my .02 and, for what it's worth, we ride a couple of steel road tandems and an alumimum off-road tandem. However, we've also ridden aluminum, ti, and carbon and found them quite nice too. Like wine, it's all about personal taste and meeting expectations.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Brian's Avatar
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    If you're so inclined, you can have S&S couplers retrofitted to your steel frame, should you want to travel by air with your tandem. Can't be done with aluminum. I don't know if that's even an issue for you, as I don't what the bikes cost in the first place, but I figured I'd throw that out there. If you think this bike will be a stepping stone on the way to another tandem, consider which frame offers the best resale value.

  5. #5
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    If you are 'weight' conscious the alu will be lighter. 'Comfort' conscious and the steel will likely be a bit more forgiving..
    However, you can add some weight and comfort to the alu's ride if stoker is not happy, by adding a shockpost!
    To our knowledge, Burley no longer does S&S fittings for EZ travel and this would have to be done by a very few custom tandem builders at extra $.
    We'd opt for a longer test ride, including up and downhills, to see how each performs
    After all, it's better to satisfy your stoker, and yourself, than to go by what others, (including us) opine!

    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/Zonatandem

  6. #6
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Expatriate
    If you're so inclined, you can have S&S couplers retrofitted to your steel frame, should you want to travel by air with your tandem.
    Actually, this may or may not be true given some of the changes that have taken place in frame materials. Burley has moved away from heat treated True Temper Verus steel framesets and now uses air hardened True Temper OX Plantinum.

    These newer air-hardened steel tubesets are not ideally suited for S&S coupler retrofits. In fact, you may recall from some earlier posts regarding Co-Motion's products, while they normally spec. air-hardened steel on their Speedster & Supremo models, the S&S versions of these bikes are built using heat-treated steel which, in addition to being better suited for the S&S couplers are also drawn differently to put more "meat" at the coupler connection points that would otherwise not be available if conventionally butted tubing were used.

    IMHO, while some of the older 4130 chromoly steel frames were typically good candidates for S&S conversion back in the mid-90's when S&S couplers first arrived in the marketplace, most buyers today would be better off in the long run (cost & performance wise) to buy a tandem designed and built as a travel tandem, which takes into consideration selling off a current tandem to help defray the cost of the new bike.
    Last edited by TandemGeek; 04-02-05 at 06:35 AM.

  7. #7
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    We spent the last 3 years on a Co-Motiom Supremo (steel) putting around 10,000 miles or so on it. We recently purchased an aluminum Co-Motion that was custom built for us but it's basicaly a Robusta with some additional frame work. There definitely is a difference in the way the bikes ride. We are a big team I am 6' 3" and my stoker is 6'. My stoker (bless her heart) moves around a little on the bike, so the stoker induced steering is something we've had to deal with for some time. We tried adjusting everything and found no way to get her steady on the bike. So I decide a new aluminum frame would be the answer. After 400 miles on the new frame I can say without a doubt it was the right move. The new frame is more responsive and we can feel what's happening immediately. I believe that on the steel frame there was a delay in the transfer of the stoker steering for which I would then compensate for by counter steering and we would just trade movements back and forth and couldn't seem to stop, and she couldn't feel what was happening. Now on the aluminum frame the transfer of any adverse movement from the rear (no pun intended) is instant and the stoker feels it as soon as it happens. She just naturally corrects it because it feels wrong. As far as the ride comfort goes, I am much more comfortable because I am not fighting the bike as much. My stoker has said she feels the bumps a little more but not enough to require a suspension post. They handle about the same but the aluminum corners a little better. I would have to say for us at least the new aluminum is the way to go.

  8. #8
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimP
    They handle about the same but the aluminum corners a little better. I would have to say for us at least the new aluminum is the way to go.
    Team Inseam... Hey Tim!

    Yeah, I can only imagine how much stiffer the Robusta would be vs your Supremo on a frame as large as the one you and Sharon ride. But, correct me if I'm wrong here, aren't the air-hardened Chromo frames from Co-Mo just about as stiff as their Easton 7000 series aluminum frames in the smaller sizes?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek
    Team Inseam... Hey Tim!

    But, correct me if I'm wrong here, aren't the air-hardened Chromo frames from Co-Mo just about as stiff as their Easton 7000 series aluminum frames in the smaller sizes?
    Hey Mark,
    Definetly, the air-hardened steel is way stiffer than the heat treated. We have a coupled Speedster and it's a good bit stiffer than the Supremo, I'm sure the couplers have something to do with that too. We also have a Primera demo bike at the local shop which I have ridden and it's nice and stiff too. For smaller teams I don't think the flex is an issue, but for us it is. The Supremo is likely to become a fixed gear, that'll teach her to SPIN!

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by TandemGeek
    Team Inseam... Hey Tim!

    aren't the air-hardened Chromo frames from Co-Mo just about as stiff as their Easton 7000 series aluminum frames in the smaller sizes?
    Mark,
    I didn't answer your question, sorry. The aluminum is a bit stiffer than the steel but it's hardly noticeable, so I would say Yes they are about as stiff. The weight savings makes the Aluminum a must have for us due to the terrain where we tend to ride and having to chase you little people up hills. I also had them build it compact and now I have the bike under 32 pounds with all tandem approved parts. The new Rolf wheels are very solid and a great upgrade.

  11. #11
    hors category TandemGeek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimP
    I also had them build it compact and now I have the bike under 32 pounds with all tandem approved parts. The new Rolf wheels are very solid and a great upgrade.
    Sweet... See ya soon.

    P.S. I've threatened Debbie with a fixed-gear tandem as well.... of course she then threatened me with the Silver Comet!! (Yikes)

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