Originally Posted by ellenDSD
I keep hearing that steel is the way to go with a touring frame. Myth or truth?
Both myth and truth! Steel is an excellent material for bicycle frames, but design plays a larger role than materials in final performance.
I could buy a steel "water pipe" frame from a department store and (despite being steel) the frame wouldn't be half as good for touring as a well-made aluminum frame.
Good touring frames can be made from any material commonly used for bike frames - steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, or any mix of the above. It is the design that makes for a good touring frame.
What design characteristics are desired? That is a debatable question, but IMHO, the following are important:
1. Sufficient strength for loaded touring - many "racing" frames are built with little or no safety factor in terms of the load they can bear without failure. A touring frame must be robust enough to tolerate anticipated loads with a generous safety factor.
2. Relaxed frame angles - Most road bicycles built today (and for the past decade or two) have head-tubes and seat-tubes built with extremely upright angles relative to the horizontal. These bikes with 73 and even 74 degree tube angles will steer extremely "fast" which is of advantage to a racer trying to avoid a pile of spilled riders in front of her/him. The lack of "hands-off" stability of such upright angles make for a very twitchy ride when trying to do loaded touring, however. Fast steering is a menace to the touring rider, who is better served by 71.5 to 72.5 degree frame angles.
3. Generous wheelbase - Most road bicycles built today (and for the past decade or two) have extremely little fork rake and very short chain-stays (typically 41 or 42 cm). The short wheelbase that these design choices produce again provides twitchy steering that does not serve the tourist well. Longer chain-stays allow panniers to be fitted without the risk of heel-strike, also.
4. Adequate fittings for panniers, multiple water bottles, front racks, and (preferably) spoke-holders - Most road bicycles (as mentioned repeatedly above) come with a complement of fittings that are appropriate for racers - not tourists. The additional fittings should be part of the frame construction and not bolted on as an afterthought.
If I were to specify an ideal touring frame for myself (may not apply to you at all), I'd want the following:
71.5 degree head angle
72 degree seat angle
48 cm chain stays with generous fork rake
carbon fork and seat stays
titanium tubing for the main triangle
Such a bike is NOT the best choice for most tourists. Since I have "clown feet" (size 13) the extra-long chain stays are needed to avoid heel strike on panniers. The laid-back angles accommodate riding on both paved roads and gravel/dirt. The carbon fork and seat-stays (hopefully) provide some flex at the expense of power transfer to provide a supple ride while maintaining light weight.
Your money - your choice.