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Track Cycling: Velodrome Racing and Training Area Looking to enter into the realm of track racing? Want to share your experiences and tactics for riding on a velodrome? The Track Cycling forums is for you! Come in and discuss training/racing, equipment, and current track cycling events.

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Old 01-07-11, 10:34 AM   #1
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Use of steel track bikes in current races?

I am new to track cycling (just got started) and am using bikes provided by the facility I ride at for now. However, I am curious about the use of steel track bikes in competition. It seems all the guys ride carbon or aluminum aero bikes (as has been stated in the archives) which are fine, but I love the look of a classic steel track frame.

I want to invest in a custom track bike, and want something functional, not just pretty to look at. So my question relates to:

A) Are there real performance benefits to the aluminum frames vs. the steel frames?
B) Does anyone still race using the steel frames, or has this become the strict domain of the "fixie" crowd (who most do not know even what NJS stands for).

C) Or are steel frames used mostly for endurance events if used at all?

If it comes down to a performance issue, I will opt for going with a Tiemeyer custom. Maybe a compromise would be an aero-Yamaguchi. However, I have had my sights on a custom, round tubed classic track frame, if I can race competitively without too a competitive disadvantage.

Thanks in advance.

Note - I checked the archives, but would like to get some feedback in terms of the specific questions I have asked above.
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Old 01-07-11, 07:03 PM   #2
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I am new to track cycling (just got started) and am using bikes provided by the facility I ride at for now. However, I am curious about the use of steel track bikes in competition. It seems all the guys ride carbon or aluminum aero bikes (as has been stated in the archives) which are fine, but I love the look of a classic steel track frame.

I want to invest in a custom track bike, and want something functional, not just pretty to look at. So my question relates to:

A) Are there real performance benefits to the aluminum frames vs. the steel frames?
B) Does anyone still race using the steel frames, or has this become the strict domain of the "fixie" crowd (who most do not know even what NJS stands for).

C) Or are steel frames used mostly for endurance events if used at all?

If it comes down to a performance issue, I will opt for going with a Tiemeyer custom. Maybe a compromise would be an aero-Yamaguchi. However, I have had my sights on a custom, round tubed classic track frame, if I can race competitively without too a competitive disadvantage.

Thanks in advance.

Note - I checked the archives, but would like to get some feedback in terms of the specific questions I have asked above.
A) Are there real performance benefits to the aluminum frames vs. the steel frames?

Yes. Aluminum is going to be stiffer than a steel bike of the same weight. A stiffer frame transfers your power through the bike more efficiently by not flexing as much.


B) Does anyone still race using the steel frames, or has this become the strict domain of the "fixie" crowd (who most do not know even what NJS stands for).

Yes, every day! There are plenty of racers that kick butt daily on steel frames. It's a personal thing. Most of the steel frames that I've seen are the budget bikes like the Fuji Track or Bianchi Pista. But, people often upgrade from those to mid-range aluminum or high-end aluminum or carbon frames. The "engine" is more of a factor of a person's success than the bike and equipment. That being said, better equipment is better and will help you ensure that you are getting the most for the output that your engine is providing. As with any sport that requires equipment, there is a tipping point between "worth it" and not "worth it". It may not be worth it for a local racer to go from a $450 Fuji Track to invest in a $4,000 Felt TK1 frame and then outfit it with another few thousand in components. But, it may be well worth it for him/her to invest in a bike like a Felt TK2 or Trek T1. I guess it's an example of the law of diminishing returns

C) Or are steel frames used mostly for endurance events if used at all?

By the time anyone decides to specialize in endurance or sprint events, they have probably decided to upgrade to a lighter and stiffer frame.

By the way, these are just my observations. I'm sure that there are other points of view on this. For example, I've seen Dan Holt (current Elite US National Points Race Champ) race on a $450 fuji track that he borrowed from the kids program along with some MTB shoes and cleats and kick butt all night long with just a 48x15 gear. He won his national championship on an older mid-range Fuji Track Pro (black/white around 2007 model) and some borrowed wheels. He beat guys that were racing bikes that cost more than his car

So, yeah, steel is totally acceptable. If it gets you excited and makes you ride your bike more, then go for it. But, I would venture to guess that the right aluminum or carbon frame would serve you better. I mean, yes, there is a difference and people who know much more than you and I have also made the switch from steel to AL or Carbon Fiber.
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Old 01-07-11, 07:10 PM   #3
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For example, there is a guy that is a Cat 2 that races at DLV in Atlanta races on this every week and kicks butt:


But, I'm trying to convince him to get a lighter bike...if I can ever catch him to tell him! hahaha


EDIT:
This is the same bike that was featured at the 2009 NHMBS:
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Old 01-07-11, 07:12 PM   #4
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I think there are some Sacto trackies who make the trek down to Hellyer and race on Steve Rex customs. If we ever get a velodrome here in town, that's what I'd want to get.
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Old 01-07-11, 10:18 PM   #5
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Here just about every one is on steel. The track is rougher than most roads, so the Al is a little too unforgiving.
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Old 01-07-11, 10:44 PM   #6
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Aluminum is NOT inherently stiffer than steel. In fact the modular ratio (stiffness / weight) of steel is about the same as aluminum. The reason typical aluminum frames are lighter and stiffer than typical steel frames is that aluminum frames typically use larger diameter tubing than steel frames. The stiffness of a thin walled tube is proportional to the cube of the diameter, however, the weight is directly proportional to the diameter. So, doubling the diameter of a tube will double the weight, but increase the stiffness eightfold. Since aluminum weighs only about 1/3 as much as steel, but steel is about 3 times as stiff, an aluminum tube that is twice the diameter of a steel tube will be both stiffer and lighter than the smaller diameter steel tube. Since the thickness of the aluminum tube will increase somewhat, the improvements won't be quite as dramatic as would be the case if the thickness remained unchanged.

It is possible to build a steel frame that is competitive in the stiffness and weight to aluminum frames through the use of oversize and specially shaped steel tubing, but the inexpensive mass production of reliable and durable aluminum frames has relegated steel to the low end market or limited njs market that is dictated by Japanese pro keirin regulations. I own a vintage 1976 Schwinn Paramount P14 steel lugged framed track bike that I raced for 25 years and won races with it, but 5 years ago I replaced it with an aluminum frame / carbon fork Bianchi Pista Concept with carbon rimmed wheels that is much stiffer yet significantly lighter than my old Paramount and has definitely impacted my results in important events such as national championships. However, as Carleton pointed out, ultimately it's the engine that counts most, and there are guys I couldn't beat even if my bike weighed nothing at all and was infinitely stiff.
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Old 01-07-11, 11:59 PM   #7
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Hey guys,
thanks for all of the responses. As someone who is only 142 pounds, I am probably never going to be decent in most track cycling events, especially those requiring more pure power than power-to-weight ratio over extended periods of time. So it could also be that regardless for myself, I am never going to flex a frame all that much.

SO maybe go after the bike that in 30 years, I will still want to ride and keep in my garage.
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Old 01-08-11, 12:10 AM   #8
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Hey guys,
thanks for all of the responses. As someone who is only 142 pounds, I am probably never going to be decent in most track cycling events, especially those requiring more pure power than power-to-weight ratio over extended periods of time. So it could also be that regardless for myself, I am never going to flex a frame all that much.

SO maybe go after the bike that in 30 years, I will still want to ride and keep in my garage.
This is why you hit the weights or you can run different gear ratios.
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Old 01-08-11, 12:40 AM   #9
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As someone who is only 142 pounds, I am probably never going to be decent in most track cycling events
That can be remedied. GOMAD & gym-up. You'll have ridiculous quads in no time
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Old 01-12-11, 04:03 PM   #10
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Aluminum is NOT inherently stiffer than steel. In fact the modular ratio (stiffness / weight) of steel is about the same as aluminum.
Reading comprehension fail. He said an AL frame is stiffer as steel frame of the same weight.
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Old 01-12-11, 04:08 PM   #11
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Professional Keirin racers in Japan ALL use steel bikes.
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Old 01-12-11, 05:36 PM   #12
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Reading comprehension fail. He said an AL frame is stiffer as steel frame of the same weight.
Why don't you go back and carefully read the entirety of what I said. I was merely pointing out the fact that Carleton's statement was only true because steel frames are not made using oversized tubing the way modern aluminum frames are made. It is possible to build steel frames that have the same weight and stiffness of aluminum frames. Many people assume that aluminum is inherently superior, which is not the case.
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Old 01-12-11, 07:27 PM   #13
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Why don't you go back and carefully read the entirety of what I said. I was merely pointing out the fact that Carleton's statement was only true because steel frames are not made using oversized tubing the way modern aluminum frames are made. It is possible to build steel frames that have the same weight and stiffness of aluminum frames. Many people assume that aluminum is inherently superior, which is not the case.
So do they make steel tubing with these inherent qualities. My understanding is that because of the weight factor and the inability to shape steel tubes to the diameter of aluminum, you are unable to make a steel tubes to the same level of stiffness? However, given that steel is 3x as strong if the weight is equal, I would think you could make oversized steel tubes in the shape of oversized aluminum tubes with thinner walls than aluminum (or alternatively - I thought that if you were to design the same 1" diameter tubes, you would need to make the aluminum tubes 3x as thick to match the stiffness of the steel 1" tubes). This could all be completely wrong, so this is more in the form of a question than my attempting to debate anyone on this.

I still am curious however about the "performance benefit", hence why I am asking the questions in the first place. In other words, if weight is fairly equal (again - compared to an old Schwinn - modern steel bikes are much better), I am wondering whether those who have ridden both could really tell a difference in the ride, performance etc... with a more stiff alu frame vs. steel. As someone who is lighter weight, I doubt I could flex either.

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Old 01-12-11, 07:43 PM   #14
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There are a few custom framebuilders like Don Walker who are believers in steel frames, and have built them for national class riders such as junior sprint national champion Daniel Walker (no relation) http://www.donwalkercycles.com/frames/track/ I have never ridden one of his frames, but I did ride a custom steel frame with shaped non-round oversize steel tubing that was raced by a national champion woman sprinter Suzie Goodwin, and it felt every bit as stiff as my Bianchi Pista Concept and was about the same weight as well. I think it simply comes down to economics, such that manufacturers have decided to use aluminum rather than steel. The steel frames that I mentioned are very expensive, so it's difficult to justify the cost when a cheaper alternative is available.
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Old 01-13-11, 02:59 PM   #15
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The trouble with steel tubing in larger diameters is that the wall thickness becomes a limitation, where an AL tube of the same weight and diameter (and about the same rigidity) will have wall thickness 3X the steel tube. The typical accepted minimum ratio of diameter to thickness is 50:1, also called by some builders the "beer can ratio." Go much beyond the beer can ratio and the tube is prone to buckling.

This limits steel tubes to about 40mm diameter, and even that gets to be pig heavy at .8mm wall thickness. Typically the larger steel tubes in use are 32mm. I've seen 50mm tubes on production AL frames.

The beer can ratio can be pushed--I have a road frame with a 70:1 top tube (28.6mm tube, .4mm wall), but it's picked up a few dents. The 60:1 down tube on the same frame (30mm, .5mm) is so far dent free but it's not subject to as much denting hazard.
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Old 01-13-11, 03:07 PM   #16
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Thanks, Melville, for the insight.
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Old 01-13-11, 03:22 PM   #17
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The trouble with steel tubing in larger diameters is that the wall thickness becomes a limitation, where an AL tube of the same weight and diameter (and about the same rigidity) will have wall thickness 3X the steel tube. The typical accepted minimum ratio of diameter to thickness is 50:1, also called by some builders the "beer can ratio." Go much beyond the beer can ratio and the tube is prone to buckling.

This limits steel tubes to about 40mm diameter, and even that gets to be pig heavy at .8mm wall thickness. Typically the larger steel tubes in use are 32mm. I've seen 50mm tubes on production AL frames.

The beer can ratio can be pushed--I have a road frame with a 70:1 top tube (28.6mm tube, .4mm wall), but it's picked up a few dents. The 60:1 down tube on the same frame (30mm, .5mm) is so far dent free but it's not subject to as much denting hazard.

Yeah - thanks as well for this information.
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Old 01-13-11, 03:24 PM   #18
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The trouble with steel tubing in larger diameters is that the wall thickness becomes a limitation, where an AL tube of the same weight and diameter (and about the same rigidity) will have wall thickness 3X the steel tube. The typical accepted minimum ratio of diameter to thickness is 50:1, also called by some builders the "beer can ratio." Go much beyond the beer can ratio and the tube is prone to buckling.

This limits steel tubes to about 40mm diameter, and even that gets to be pig heavy at .8mm wall thickness. Typically the larger steel tubes in use are 32mm. I've seen 50mm tubes on production AL frames.

The beer can ratio can be pushed--I have a road frame with a 70:1 top tube (28.6mm tube, .4mm wall), but it's picked up a few dents. The 60:1 down tube on the same frame (30mm, .5mm) is so far dent free but it's not subject to as much denting hazard.
One question - since steel is technically 3x as dense as aluminum, wouldn't the beer can ratio be higher for steel than aluminum? (Obviously not - or there would be oversized steel tubes - but I am trying to understand why, if steel is denser, it cannot be built to an even smaller width than ALU.
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Old 01-13-11, 03:50 PM   #19
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One question - since steel is technically 3x as dense as aluminum, wouldn't the beer can ratio be higher for steel than aluminum? (Obviously not - or there would be oversized steel tubes - but I am trying to understand why, if steel is denser, it cannot be built to an even smaller width than ALU.
Beer can ratio is independent of material. Steel tubes are made thinner-walled than AL, and they reach their BCR limits at a much smaller diameter than AL.
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Old 01-13-11, 06:54 PM   #20
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Beer can ratio is independent of material. Steel tubes are made thinner-walled than AL, and they reach their BCR limits at a much smaller diameter than AL.
What you are talking about is a phenomenon known a thin shell buckling, and material DOES play a part in this. Buckling is both a function of geometric factors and the modulus of elesticity of the material, which for steel is 3 times higher than aluminum. The buckling stress point is directly proportional to the modulus of elasticity, so a thin walled steel tube can have a higher D/T ratio before it is subject to buckling. In addition, tubing can be shaped in ways to optimize the properties of a material. As for denting and whatnot, thin walled aluminum tubes are just as prone to this as steel ones. You only have to look at all the dinged and dented Bianchi Pista Concepts out there.
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Old 01-13-11, 07:20 PM   #21
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Steel is cool. I changed to a carbon frame from an NJS one year ago, but I'm not at all convinced it's what's made me faster. Ride what you like, you'll be happier.

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Old 01-13-11, 07:42 PM   #22
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Steel is cool. I changed to a carbon frame from an NJS one year ago, but I'm not at all convinced it's what's made me faster. Ride what you like, you'll be happier.
What do you notice about ride quality and overall feel of the bike?
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Old 01-13-11, 09:26 PM   #23
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I'd say the carbon bike (a Dolan) is marginally stiffer, and feels a tiny, tiny bit more responsive. But this could be down to the geometry. The Dolan's BB is 15mm higher than my Panasonic's. I'm also not a huge guy at around 80 kg, so for e bigger guy the difference in stiffness might be more noticeable.
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Old 01-13-11, 09:48 PM   #24
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I'd say the carbon bike (a Dolan) is marginally stiffer, and feels a tiny, tiny bit more responsive. But this could be down to the geometry. The Dolan's BB is 15mm higher than my Panasonic's. I'm also not a huge guy at around 80 kg, so for e bigger guy the difference in stiffness might be more noticeable.
This is true.

I'm around 110kg/245lbs. I had a 57cm 2005 Bianchi Pista (steel) then subsequently a Pista Concept (aluminum). Back then they had identical geometries. The very first thing I noticed was how little the the Concept flexed when climbing hills. It was lighter and stiffer. I'm sure that that flex diminishes as the frame sizes get smaller.

Yeah, I did get dings in the top tube of the Concept.
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Old 01-13-11, 09:50 PM   #25
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I'd say the carbon bike (a Dolan) is marginally stiffer, and feels a tiny, tiny bit more responsive. But this could be down to the geometry. The Dolan's BB is 15mm higher than my Panasonic's. I'm also not a huge guy at around 80 kg, so for e bigger guy the difference in stiffness might be more noticeable.
Actually, I'm rather surprised that you found your Dolan only marginally stiffer than your Panasonic. When I changed from my old Schwinn Paramount P14 steel bike, which is similar to an njs frame, to my Bianchi Pista Concept there was a very noticeable increase in stiffness. This was particularly noticeable to me when doing standing starts. I must say, though, that the Paramount is a lot smoother ride on tracks with rough surfaces.
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