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  1. #1
    The Duke of Furl
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    Steel vs. Aluminum...decisions, decisions

    OK, the deal is I have a Trek 7900 converted from a hybrid to a tourer through adding drops, barcons, etc. One of the chainstays has developed a small crack and I think it's time to get a new frame/fork set but I am in an internal struggle over whether to get a steel frame or an aluminum one. The bike will be used mostly for commuting and short tours but must have the capacity to be used for cross-country treks as this is a goal I have set for myself.

    My only experience with steel was with light, little Italian racing frames and they seemed too flexible. I imagine touring frames in steel are a lot more rigid. I am a little apprehensive of aluminum now, although that fear may not be warranted. This whole scenario is further complicated in that I can have a brand new bike for not much more than a frameset and rebuild and I question whether it's possibly time to give some of the old, tired parts an honorable retirement.

    What I've been looking at:
    Surly LHT frameset
    Bruce Gordon BLT frameset
    Jamis Aurora
    Trek 520
    Cannondale T2000

    So, with all that said, any insight as to the pros and cons of steel vs. aluminum would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you, in advance, and Happy Holidays!

    Don Johnson
    http://www.geocities.com/salmn8r/northwestcountryflies.html

  2. #2
    Stays crunchy in milk
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    Steel vs. aluminum vs. other materials type of questions tend to become religious wars

    See http://www.sheldonbrown.com/frame-materials.html for a discussion on materials.
    Bottom line: if the bicycles are well designed and put together, it probably doesn't matter which material you pick in terms of performance. Steel is probably better in terms of getting reparis done in developing countries, but this might not apply to your situation.

    I ride an aluminum flat bar hybrid for commuting & recreational rides with the family. I like riding it fine, but it looks a little chunky. My old tourer (currently being stripped and rebuilt) is an 80s lugged steel frame. I like it.

    I'm considering a custom tourer/all rounder in the next couple of years and it will likely be lugged steel. Why? I appreciate the aesthetics that lugs provide.

    All things being equal, I'm generally more attracted to steel bikes because of the thinner tubing that they use versus the aluminum bikes. Steel bikes just look nicer to my eye.
    Last edited by AJRoberts; 12-17-04 at 08:40 AM.
    Cheers,

    Andrew

  3. #3
    Velocipedic Practitioner
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    I do not believe there is a "true" answer to this question. I prefer steel while my most frequent touring buddy prefers aluminum. I personally prefer steel for two primary reasons. 1) I think it absorbs road shock better over the course of a long ride, and 2) I feel more comfortable that I can get frame repairs more quickly if it should come down to that. My buddy likes aluminum because it is a little lighter and he uses seat and handlebar suspension to help absorb the road shock. (Course, I think all that suspension negates any weight savings he thought he was getting. Then again, he carries everything but the kitchen sink on a tour so he probably doesn't notice anyway.)
    It all boils down to personal preference. I would go with whichever one you are more comfortable with, recognizing that each has its advantages over the other.
    Other forms of transportation grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. - Iris Murdoch

  4. #4
    senile member
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    alummunim is lighter than steel, but when you put all those panniers and tent and stuff on the bike, the difference is hardly noticeable.

    i havenīt had problems with my alu mtb so far, but i havenīt been somewhere so far away from civilization either or in some developing countries. therefore, i would prefer a steel bike, just to have that peace of mind if nothing else.

  5. #5
    I ride my bike Revtor's Avatar
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    commonly stated details on the steel vs aluminum debate.
    Steel - lively, springy, "real", dampening, heavy.
    Aluminum - stiff, rattly, responsive, light.
    Newest steels are so strong that frames are almost as light as aluminum now. ultra thin walls may dent easily though. (and thin butted bike tubes aren't repairable by any farmer with an arc welder btw.. need to find a skilled welder at least or someone with a TIG. Still easier then finding someone to weld aluminum though!!!) Steel has history and heritage and the thinner tubes give steel frames a certain look. Rust may be a problem though. (use framesaver?) drain frame after rainy rides.
    Newest aluminum tubesets are stronger than in the past and so frame tubes dont have to be as large, and therefore arent as stiff as in the past. No rust. Fatigue life may be percieved as a negative?
    I havent ridden any new aluminum frames so I really cant say much about them. I have an 04 poprad (new steel) and I love it. It did flex a bit when loaded down for touring, but it wasnt designed for that sao its understandable. It wasnt a problem anyway.. My cannondale Aluminum MTB got stolen and I replaced it with a Marin steel MTB. Much nicer. I cant say it feels lively or anything, if anything the geometry is more modern and rideable, but I just really like the bike.

    My preference is steel. Its character and charm really sings to me. I also like wool clothes and old land Rovers Who are you ?

    Pick the frame/bike that you like best. Steel/aluminum be damned. You may not even know why you gravitate to one choice, you may feel (unwarranted) guilt for gravitating towards a choice for color or shape reasons... You can do research out the wazoo, and everyone has an opinion, but it simply boils down to picking the bike you like best (gravitate towards naturally) for whatever reason because all the bikes on your list are very similar. If you cant ride all of your choices beforehand, then just print out pics of your choices and keep them around for a week.. Youll decide.

    You'll be happiest with. . . what you're happiest with!

    ~Stv

  6. #6
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    For me it's an easy question. Aluminum is an undesirable material for road bikes. It will have a poorer ride and it will have a shorter life than steel or Titanium. The latter is of little consequence as Aluminum frames are designed to last long enough. The designers are trying to address the ride issue by using carbon parts like stays (to keep the breed alive?), but why not start out with a better material to begin with?

    Now that Titanium is more affordable, it's a viable alternative to steel. In my case, a Ti Airborne frame was about the same price as an equivalently light steel frame for a cyclocross/Audax/credit-card tourer. What a great ride and no worry about scratches or rust.

    The Ti frame builders like Airborne are going to the trouble to use oval frame tubing to increase the lateral stiffness while further improving the ride. I'm not aware that the steel frame builders are doing that. My Specialized Aluminum ATB also has oval tubes.

    Aluminum is fine on mountain bikes because there's suspension and fat, low pressure tires.

    Al

  7. #7
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Johnson
    OK, the deal is I have a Trek 7900 converted from a hybrid to a tourer through adding drops, barcons, etc. One of the chainstays has developed a small crack and I think it's time to get a new frame/fork set but I am in an internal struggle over whether to get a steel frame or an aluminum one. The bike will be used mostly for commuting and short tours but must have the capacity to be used for cross-country treks as this is a goal I have set for myself.
    dont treks have a lifetime warranty? you might be able to get a free frame...and free is better then steel or aluminum.

  8. #8
    Senior Member GeorgeBaby's Avatar
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    From the trekbikes website FAQ:

    I have a crack in my frame. What do I do to find out if it is covered under warranty?

    The first step is to take your bike to your local dealer to be evaluated. They can then determine if it is a warranty issue or not. Many cracks in carbon frames are non-structural paint cracks. If it is a structural crack , they can start the process to have the frame returned to us to be repaired or replaced. If it is not warranty, they can let you know what options you have.

  9. #9
    The Duke of Furl
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    Thanks for the input, especially regarding the warranty policies, which is something I had never thought of before. As it turns out, according to the local Trek dealer, it's most likely going to be covered under warranty. I guess that's good although my missing out on a new Aurora by $5 was a little depressing (it sold for $355, $40 to ship) and I was kinda looking forward to a new scooter.

    Thanks again and Happy Holidays!
    Don Johnson
    http://www.geocities.com/salmn8r/northwestcountryflies.html

  10. #10
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    It's true that there are many strong opinions on this subject
    there remains one hard fact......

    Why do custom frame bulders use only steel to build frames
    from??

  11. #11
    Steel is Real. markw's Avatar
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    You should always have multiple bikes for different purposes.

  12. #12
    aspiring wannabe hoogie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Johnson
    What I've been looking at:
    Surly LHT frameset
    Bruce Gordon BLT frameset
    Jamis Aurora
    Trek 520
    Cannondale T2000
    You really wont go wrong with any of those choices ...
    Steel vs alu. is really a matter of opinion and preference, as is handlebar options ... I have toured on both and my preference is steel. If you are going expedition touring, then I would suggest steel frame, then it can be more readily fixed by any competent backyard [or street corner] welder ... for general touring on roads going somewhere near civilisation at regular intervals, then either steel or alu is fine.

    My touring rides are:
    198? Giant Yukon MTB ... steel
    1994 Avanti Agressor MTB with BoBYak ... alu
    1999 Trek 520 ... steel
    2003 Thorn Nomad ... steel

    thought for today: "Does my ass look fast on this bike?"

  13. #13
    Senior Member late's Avatar
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    Hi,
    let's try to organise this process a bit. Decide on a budget for the
    project. Consider going 7 speed. It's not sexy, but it's cheap,and reliable as a rock. It would also free up a few bucks for the frame.
    Anybody sell Burley in your area? They have a touring bike called the Vagabond now. I haven't tried it, but I'd like to.

    If you were to look at the old posts here, you would find a bunch of happy owners. The 520 guys like their bikes, the Cannondale guys like their touring bikes, and the Surly is pretty new, but the feedback so far is favorable.

  14. #14
    Meh. StunningStu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tightwad
    It's true that there are many strong opinions on this subject
    there remains one hard fact......

    Why do custom frame bulders use only steel to build frames
    from??
    Most likely because welding aluminum is much more difficult than working with steel.

  15. #15
    Senior Member late's Avatar
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    Hi Stu
    Sheldon Brown, unlike most of the rest of us, knows bicycles inside out. Here's his page on the subject... http://www.sheldonbrown.com/frame-materials.html

    Here's an excerpt...

    "Any of these materials is quite sutiable for short to medium touring in industrialized countries. Titanium, while costly, is generally the most durable material choice, but aluminum and steel are excellent. Nobody's making carbon fiber touring bikes as far as I know, yet.

    For extended travel in less-developed areas, steel is probably still the best choice, because in the event of damage, repairs can be made by anybody with a torch and brazing/welding know-how. "

  16. #16
    ld-cyclist prestonjb's Avatar
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    Tightwad: There are many custom frame manufacturers and some that are not considered custom:
    • Waterford (Very light steel road frames)
    • Aerolite (Ti)
    • Bob Jackson (Steel)
    • Calfee (Carbon Fiber)
    • Co-Motion (Steel or Aluminum)
    • DeSalvo (Ti, Steel)
    • Erickson (Ti, Steel BEATUFUL LUGS!)
    • Merlin (Ti)
    • Litespeed (Ti)
    • Airborne (Ti)


    My preference is for Ti because I like the no-low maintanace...

    I went with a custom Carpe Diem from Airborne. I used it to cross the USA this Fall....

    http://www.geocities.com/cycleacrossusa

    In conclusion I think it is a highly personal choice with limits based upon experince, price and perception.

    I peceive that I wanted a cool ride to take across the USA... Owning a Litespeed I decided to try Airborne Carpe Diem to see what that ride would be like and found it to be a COOL bike!

    Oh... So what would I recommend? I would look at the manufacturers of touring bikes such as
    • Heron (classic touring)
    • Rivendell (Classic touring)
    • Airborne Carpe Diem (High end "modern" TI touring)
    • Surley (same but in Steel)
    • Co-motion Americano (Can be bought with S&S to make a folding touring bike)
    • Litespeed Blue Ridge (another high end Ti tourer)


    Then see what fits your needs, tastes and budget...

    My runner ups were:
    * Comotion
    * Rivendell
    * Litespeed

  17. #17
    The Duke of Furl
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    Happy Holidays to All. Thanks for all the input. My decision has been made and it is actually off on a tangent I didn't think I'd be taking. I am ordering a KHS Montana Tour (khsbicycles.com). The only things it lacks are decent racks which is an easily fixed dilemma. I'll add some bar-ends and I'll be off to the races...turtle races that is.

    KHS isn't the top of the heap but they are solid bikes and at $800 I think it's a good deal...and finally a bike with some gears that I don't need to change right off the bat! Equally as important, if not moreso is that the shop I am getting it from is top notch with some great mechanics.

    If any of you have comments about the specs I'd love to hear them before I finalize the order on Tuesday (everything's closed for the weekend).

    Thanks again for the commentary on my original post. It was all very much appreciated.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    http://www.geocities.com/salmn8r/northwestcountryflies.html

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