View Single Post
Old 06-27-20, 07:57 AM
Senior Member
elcruxio's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Turku, Finland, Europe
Posts: 2,239

Bikes: 2011 Specialized crux comp, 2013 Specialized Rockhopper Pro

Mentioned: 8 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 642 Post(s)
Liked 188 Times in 134 Posts
Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
The steel bias and the other things that are “standard” for touring shows more about the mindset of the touring world than anything else. Touring bike materials selection is rooted in the romantic idealism of being able to “repair” a steel bicycle under the shade of a village smithy in some far off land than in reality.
You keep saying that but it seems that sentiment is more of your own imagining than the average mindset of your typical bicycle tourist.

It’s also based on the idea that any material that isn’t steel is going to “shatter into a thousand pieces without warning”. With many years of experience riding aluminum mountain bikes that undergo far worse rigors than touring bikes, and 20 years experience with aluminum touring bikes...the Horror!..., I have no problems accepting the “new” material of aluminum for touring bikes.
That's great I guess...

In reality, repairing a modern, high quality, thin walled steel bike isn’t something that “any idiot with a welder” can do. It’s a very thin material that requires a lot of skill to do without just burning holes in the metal. I’ve known this for nearly 40 years now based on a repair done on a long ago discarded mountain bike. The welder is a very competent welder and was amazed at how thin the steel was and how easy it would be to burn through.
In the days of on demand shipping, popularity of cycling rising around the globe and LBS's even in the more remote parts of the world repairing a frame is not something many would attempt on tour. Typically it'd be easier to order a new one and transfer parts from the broken frame to the new one.

But if we really talk the practicality of repair, the fact remains that chromoly frames are easier to repair than aluminum frames. You have a multitude of repair techniques available but the more common ones are mig welding, tig welding and brazing. Now a welder with a modern degree in welding in the western world will likely to be able to repair almost any part of a bicycle frame even at its thinnest part by mig or tig welding it. Welding is a craft and there are schools to learn it. It's not something at all obscure. Brazing can be done by sleeving or just if it's just a crack filleting.

If you break an aluminum frame there aren't many shops which are able to weld the frame AND heat treat it. Because that's what aluminum frames typically require after welding: heat treatment. Chromoly doesn't require heat treating. It's strong enough as is.

But none of the above really matters.

The same welder, by the way, repaired a broken aluminum frame. It was much easier and, contrary to common knowledge, was permanent. I actually sold that bike rather then discarding it.
That might have been a tad irresponsible but hey, whatever floats your boat.

If we're thinkin about this realistically the reason why so many cyclotourists choose steel is in the market. There's a lot of steel touring bikes but not that many aluminum ones in the anglosphere. Surly, Salsa, All City, Thorn, Comotion, Kona, Trek, Soma, Velo Orange, Specialized, Fuji, Spa, Ridgeback, Temple, Pashley, Cinelli, Dawes, Genesis, EVEN Koga make or have made steel touring bikes in the recent history. Bit of a smaller listing for aluminum, titanium or carbon fiber touring bikes.

Of course in Europe lots and lots of touring bikes are made of aluminum but those are called trekking bikes and aren't exactly your world crossing calibre. They're more in the region of going along the Donau with two panniers and stopping at a bed and breakfast every night.

But there are other perks to steel. It has better impact and wear resistance than aluminum. Ie, it doesn't dent as easily as aluminum. Also a dent in a steel tube is something that's manageable but in aluminum can mean a dead frame. Wear resistance is handy if you ride against a mountain. Done that, luckily only lost two panniers. For reference you can work on aluminum with woodworking tools. Also steel threads are far stronger than aluminum threads. That can be something that one could consider when attaching racks/panniers/bottle cages etc. Steel also doesn't have the tendency to creak. Aluminum and carbon fiber both tend to develop horrible creaks/clicks at some point. Never had that issue with steel.
What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to be careful with steel. A touring grade chromoly frame is very hard to break. Aluminum is not.

Originally Posted by Trakhak View Post
Chromoly bikes were phased out for the same reason mechanical wristwatches were phased out. Quartz crystal watches do exactly what mechanical watches do---i.e., give you the time---but do so better and more cheaply than mechanical watches. There are still plenty of people who prefer mechanical watches, despite their shortcomings, because they like to think of themselves as more-discerning consumers. Some enthusiasts may even argue passionately that mechanical-watch are superior, on the basis of what appear to be obscure and romantic reasons to the rest of us.
That's not really a valid comparison is it? The components of the bike are the same regardless of the frame material used. The component set is like the inside of the watch and a single speed or a fixie might be considered a mechanical watch whereas a derailer system could well be the quartz. But in terms of frame material it's closer to comparing a G-Shock to a steel diver. Both do the job but one appeals to some and the other to others.

Second reason why the comparison fails is because watches are jewelry, bicycles are not. At least not in the touring world. Why someone would want a mechanical watch instead of a quartz isn't because the mechanical is better. Every watch enthusiasts knows cheap quartz watches wipe to floor with even the most accurate COSC mechanical. But the reason why someone would wear a watch in the time of having internet corrected time at your fingertips via a smartphone is not because you want to have accurate timekeeping. It's because watches are neat and really the only jewelry that's commonly acceptable for men. And the reason for mechanical watch is that you then carry on your wrist a marvel of mechanical engineering which can be considered by many to be art. Personally I like watching the gears whirr in my mechanical watch but typically I wear my sports watch because that instead of the mechanical tracks activity.

So the comparison where you try to label steel bike riders as snobs kinda falls flat. Bicycles are utilitarian to a lot of people are few people ride bikes because of their material. They ride bikes, and the bikes are made of something. Some people have preferences.

But: digital media versus analog, solid-state audio amplifiers versus tube, electronic watches versus mechanical, aluminum bikes versus steel: all are examples of a market moving on. Look at it this way: if it weren't for aluminum bikes, choosing steel would say nothing about your taste.
Well, still no, not really a good comparison. Steel is still a valid frame material. It has its uses and many choose it for its utilitarian value. But if you really want to talk about the market moving on we should be talking carbon fiber. That is the material of the future and objectively far better than either steel or aluminum. Still it's not all that common for some reason.
elcruxio is offline  
Likes For elcruxio: