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Aluminum (Aluminium) Frame Question

Old 01-14-20, 09:32 PM
  #1  
mrblue
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Aluminum (Aluminium) Frame Question

Hello,

Given the fact aluminum (aluminium) frames have a fatigue life of roughly 5 to 10 years (at least that's what I've read), would you buy a new (not used or pre-owned) aluminum (aluminium) road frame if the price were right (for you)?

Thanks!
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Old 01-14-20, 09:47 PM
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I don't accept your "fact".
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Old 01-15-20, 06:19 AM
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Originally Posted by mrblue View Post
Hello,

Given the fact aluminum (aluminium) frames have a fatigue life of roughly 5 to 10 years (at least that's what I've read), would you buy a new (not used or pre-owned) aluminum (aluminium) road frame if the price were right (for you)?

Thanks!
What you've read is wrong. So whats the question ?
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Old 01-15-20, 06:33 AM
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My '06 aluminum framed LeMond doesn't agree. I plan to ride it for many more years.

Last edited by freeranger; 01-15-20 at 06:45 AM.
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Old 01-15-20, 06:52 AM
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my 97 rockhopper doesnt agree with your fact, neither does my friends 1990 Miyata cross bike
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Old 01-15-20, 06:56 AM
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It is true that aluminum has no lower limit for stresses and a finite fatigue life; however, it is not a factor in consideration of aluminum frames built for purpose and used appropriately.
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Old 01-15-20, 06:58 AM
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Originally Posted by mrblue View Post
Given the fact aluminum (aluminium) frames have a fatigue life of roughly 5 to 10 years (at least that's what I've read)...
Do you have a source for this information? An internet link perhaps?

I think you're finding that many of us don't have that experience at all (that short of a frame life). I understand it's a pretty complex science (predicting fatigue life), and is measured in cycles (not years). I don't think Trek and Giant and others would be able to sell many bikes if their aluminum frames had an average life of only 5-10 years.
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Old 01-15-20, 07:49 AM
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None of my 10+ year old aluminum bikes agree with your fact, neither does my education in material science and engineering.
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Old 01-15-20, 08:05 AM
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My 1990 Treks are still going strong, and these were bonded aluminum. The bond wasn't supposed to last either.
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Old 01-15-20, 08:57 AM
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Originally Posted by easyupbug View Post
It is true that aluminum has no lower limit for stresses and a finite fatigue life; however, it is not a factor in consideration of aluminum frames built for purpose and used appropriately.
That's an excellent and concise summary.

More details, for the skeptical. One of the points of confusion that is often ignored is that fatigue analysis is based upon stress, which is the force per area. This can be expressed in pounds per square inch which is a pressure unit, so we could also use Pascals, megaPascals, or other units. Because aluminum has lower ultimate and yield stresses (the stresses at which the material breaks and bends, respectively), aluminum tubes are thicker than steel. So in a properly designed Al frame, the stress levels are much lower because thicker tubes have more cross-sectional area to divide the same forces over. A key point is that the ultimate and yield stress considerations by themselves require aluminum tubes to have a larger cross section. At this point in the discussion, assume that sizing doesn't consider fatigue.

A fatigue curve is a graph of stress (vertical axis) vs number of cycles before a fatigue failure occurs. See below. The steel curve "levels out". That is, below a certain stress level, steel can flex a huge number of times without breaking. There's some controversy as to whether steel will "last forever" below a certain stress level, but it is certain that there appears to be a fatigue stress limit, below which our bike frame will outlast us.

The confusion probably originates when we look at the curve for Al. It shows no "leveling out". That is, it appears that even modest stress levels, repeated enough times, will cause Al to fail in fatigue mode. If we naively assume that the stress level is the same for steel and aluminum bikes, we'd freak out and assume that our Al bike is going to fall apart after a few years. The reason that this does not happen is because of the cross-sectional area, mentioned above. We could take the figure below and create a new graph with force on the vertical axis and number of cycles to failure on the horizontal axis. Then we could assume assume two bicycle frame tubes, one steel and one aluminum, both sized (having adequate cross-sectional area) to handle normal bike forces. The traces on the new graph would have the same shapes, but the aluminum trace would be shifted up above the steel trace. It would start at the left significantly above the trace for steel, and the aluminum trace would not dip below steel until a huge number of stress cycles.

In the above, I've stated that on the basis of keeping our bike from breaking or bending (ultimate and yield stress) our aluminum frame tubes are thicker-walled. In practice, the walls might be made thicker still to further shift the aluminum frame's force/cycles fatigue curve further "up" on that new graph. That is, the thickness of the tube is selected as the minimum that satisfies all three failure modes: acute breakage, bending, and fatigue failure.

Al frames can and do fail in fatigue, and if fatigue is seen (As a fatigue crack) at one place on the frame then other cracks will likely be found elsewhere in fairly short order. And welding a fatigue crack weakens aluminum alloys used in bikes. To regain strength, the weld (in fact, the whole frame) needs to be heat treated. Practically speaking, an Al frame showing fatigue is toast.

If you find a 2nd hand Al bike of good quality,that is not damaged, and you carefully inspect for damage and for fatigue cracks and find none, you may be ok. But any sign of hairline cracks means you should walk away.

BTW, some of the responders above use a really, really bad set of logical/statistical fallacies. Words to the effect "My XYX 2000 aluminum bike has 100,000 miles on it and hasn't failed - aluminum frames are great". The first error is what is called the n=1 error. With one sample (your bike) you can make no generalizations about other similar bikes of the same make, model, and size, much less can you say about other bike makes and models. Another error in that statement regards extrapolation outside the sampled population. Even if you found 100 people with the exact same bike in the same size, and found a very small amount of fatigue failure, it's not statistically feasible to infer how other makes and models perform. In fact, its not even proper to infer fatigue life for the SAME make and model bike in a different size. It would be inapt to infer (for example) expected lifetimes for cheaply-made aluminum BSOs using data from owners of high-quality, well-designed and well-made aluminum bikes


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Old 01-15-20, 08:57 AM
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Originally Posted by zacster View Post
My 1990 Treks are still going strong, and these were bonded aluminum. The bond wasn't supposed to last either.
+1 My 1992 Trek 1420 is a bonded aluminum frame has well over 20,000 miles. It's now being ridden by my son and is still in great shape.
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Old 01-15-20, 09:09 AM
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I'll add another vote to aluminum not having a 5-10 life. Pure myth. There probably are examples of super light, (i.e. thin tubing) frames with poor construction that get beat to death and fail but in general not an issue. Doesn't have the longevity of steel but can still last decades. If you're worried about a particular frame just do a google search and see if there are any reports of problems.
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Old 01-15-20, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by WizardOfBoz View Post
BTW, some of the responders above use a really, really bad set of logical/statistical fallacies. Words to the effect "My XYX 2000 aluminum bike has 100,000 miles on it and hasn't failed - aluminum frames are great". The first error is what is called the n=1 error. With one sample (your bike) you can make no generalizations about other similar bikes of the same make, model, and size, much less can you say about other bike makes and models. Another error in that statement regards extrapolation outside the sampled population. Even if you found 100 people with the exact same bike in the same size, and found a very small amount of fatigue failure, it's not statistically feasible to infer how other makes and models perform. In fact, its not even proper to infer fatigue life for the SAME make and model bike in a different size. It would be inapt to infer (for example) expected lifetimes for cheaply-made aluminum BSOs using data from owners of high-quality, well-designed and well-made aluminum bikes
Absolutely correct, but since few of us have a large enough fleet of bikes to make n="significant sample size", all we can report is our own individual experience. However, a large enough number of individual data points does become a valid statistical sample. Since aluminum bike frames have been widely available since the 1980's and the reported failure rate has been modest it's safe to conclude they are not all that fragile.
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Old 01-15-20, 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by mrblue View Post
Hello,

Given the fact aluminum (aluminium) frames have a fatigue life of roughly 5 to 10 years (at least that's what I've read), would you buy a new (not used or pre-owned) aluminum (aluminium) road frame if the price were right (for you)?

Thanks!
What ever bike shop told you that, put them on your 'don't go there again' list.
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Old 01-15-20, 09:18 AM
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Originally Posted by leob1 View Post
What ever bike shop told you that, put them on your 'don't go there again' list.
He or she did not say a bike shop told him. What they read I believe was the comment.
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Old 01-15-20, 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by WizardOfBoz View Post
BTW, some of the responders above use a really, really bad set of logical/statistical fallacies. Words to the effect "My XYX 2000 aluminum bike has 100,000 miles on it and hasn't failed - aluminum frames are great". The first error is what is called the n=1 error. With one sample (your bike) you can make no generalizations about other similar bikes of the same make, model, and size, much less can you say about other bike makes and models. Another error in that statement regards extrapolation outside the sampled population. Even if you found 100 people with the exact same bike in the same size, and found a very small amount of fatigue failure, it's not statistically feasible to infer how other makes and models perform. In fact, its not even proper to infer fatigue life for the SAME make and model bike in a different size. It would be inapt to infer (for example) expected lifetimes for cheaply-made aluminum BSOs using data from owners of high-quality, well-designed and well-made aluminum bikes


All correct, but leaves out implicit facts about the flip side of the coin - just because a bike is aluminu8m doesn't mean it will suffer a fatigue failure, and just because a frame is steel doesn't mean it won't suffer a fatigue failure, ie. a steel bike that experiences stress above, and a number of cycles to the right, of the blue line on the chart. This is a possible outcome for a very lightweight steel bike being ridden by a big or strong or aggressive rider.

Also, I don't know if anyone has mentioned this, but OP specifically asked about new (not used) bikes tin the context of fatigue failure, meaning they might be mistaken about what fatigue failure is in general - the question could be taken as asking if a frame sitting around for 5 or ten years (new old stock, for instance) might be subject to fatigue failure, to which the answer is NO - fatigue only happens from repeated stress cycles.
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Old 01-17-20, 05:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun View Post
I don't accept your "fact".
Me neither.
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