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History of Frames made of Aluminum?

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History of Frames made of Aluminum?

Old 06-05-11, 10:03 PM
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skilsaw
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History of Frames made of Aluminum?

I think Canondale was the first company to mass produce aluminum frames, but I may be wrong. In the mid to late '80 a few other manufacturers were doing it, but aluminum frames were still exotic and uncommon. Aluminum was both an expensive raw material and difficult to work with.

Now everybody is producing aluminum frames and steel frames are becoming rare. Carbon fibre is growing in market share.

What are the characteristics of aluminum that make it a better material than steel for manufacturing bike frames?

Is carbon going to replace aluminum like aluminum replaced steel?
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Old 06-05-11, 10:51 PM
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A bit of history.

years ago I had a prototype aluminum bicycle commissioned by the aluminum association of France, back sometime in the 30s. Skip forward and Alan was producing bonded aluminum bikes using conventional diameter tubing.

A few years later Klein started welding aluminum frames, taking advantage of it's lighter weight to use larger diameter tubes which offered much more stiffness than the same amount of material would in a thicker walled smaller diameter tube. This showcased one of the prime advantages of the metal, because steel tubes had already neared the practical limits for diameter and wall thickness (thinness).

That's the main advantage of aluminum. The ability to use larger diameters for greater stiffness to weight ratios. The advent of robotic welding, and other manufacturing processes makes it cost effective today even for relatively low end bikes.

You're behind the curve asking about carbon fiber taking over. It's happening already. Carbon fiber dominates the higher end of the bike spectrum.

IMO there'll always be markets for steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber. Each have benefits and drawbacks, and have to be used in their own way to achieve the best performance.
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Old 06-05-11, 10:58 PM
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Vitus was building aluminum frames back in the '70's, albeit with "standard" diameter tubing. Mass-produced aluminum bike frames date back to the '30's- search for "Monark".

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Old 06-06-11, 06:55 AM
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And let us not forget the Caminargent of 19 and 36. Damn, girl!



https://www.theracingbicycle.com/Caminargent.html

Aluminum and CF have in common as a difference with steel incredible stiffness and strength:weight ratios. On the other hand, these space-age materials are subject to catastrophic failure (snapping in half) when they reach their fatigue limits. Alternately (I know just enough materials science to be dangerous) steel and ti will bend instead of break, giving their riders a fighting chance of avoiding a meal of tarmac.



Ti and steel can also be repaired more readily. Well, at least steel can, whereas only Eugene the Magic Jeep and the Leprechaun of Shannon have the skills to weld titanium.

It takes a lot of energy and environmental pollution to produce all of these materials (actually, I'm not sure about that for CF, and the amount used in bikes is probably relatively unimportant in terms of global environmental impact). (To see a nearly useless discussion of this by bunch of cyclists who can't conceptualize the impact of human activity on the ecological systems that support human life, see here: https://www.bikeforums.net/archive/in.../t-705911.html ) The huge energy cost of manufacturing aluminum is the reason that alu is one of the few metals for which a recycling subsidy is not necessary.

There are tradeoffs for all the materials.

Alu: high strength:weight, stiff as a MF, expensive to manufacture
CF: super high strength:weight, expensive to manufacture due to relatively low volumes, stiff as a MF's MF
Ti: eerily alive feeling, light and incredibly strong, beautiful, astronomically expensive
Steel: lowest strength:weight, but different for different alloys; variable springiness depending on alloy and construction; variable affordability; repairable
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Old 06-06-11, 07:02 AM
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They also made cast aluminum frames back in the 1890s, the link goes to an 1896 lu-mi-num bike. Crazy stuff.
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Old 06-06-11, 07:24 AM
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skilsaw, In addition to the above... Gary Klein first mass manufactured the big tube aluminum road frame we're now so familiar with in the late '70s. Cannondale's first aluminum frame came to market about five years later, a big tubed touring frame. I don't know why, but large diameter aluminum tubing was resisted by frame manufacturers prior to Klein's frame and generally close to a steel frame of the time's diameter.

The first CF bikes I remember from Trek and Look were CF tubes bonded to aluminum bits to join together, since then that engineering has evolved into the monoque frame. Similar to the aluminum frame's evolution.

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Old 06-06-11, 08:25 AM
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Let us also not forget the Raleigh Technium 440 of 19 and 86:


https://velospace.org/node/15046

T-Mar wrote ( https://www.bikeforums.net/archive/in.../t-340799.html ):

The 440 was one of the original Technium models, introduced in 1986. Raleigh offered 3 Technium models that year, all with the same frame, but various components. The 440 was the lowest model, costing $250 US, Weight should be about 25 lbs, depending on the exact year/component mix and size.

The first 440/460/480 frames were designed for the avid sports/touring cyclist. Raleigh wanted a light and stiff but efficient and affordable frame. To achieve the weight and stiffness they went with an oversize aluminum main triangle. To keep cost down they used a steel rear triangle. So as not to make the size difference between the main tubes and stays aesthetically displeasing, they limited the main tubes to slightly oversize. Additionally to ensure light weight and resiliency, the main tubes were spec'd using heat treated 6013 aluminum which is thinner and higher strength than the standard 6061. However, this meant the tubes had to be bonded instead of welded. The rear triangle were maded in Japan and assembled to the main frames in the USA. Raleigh liked to claim that the resulting ride was comparable to "Reynolds 531 models, only more comfortable". This is open to argument.

Like most bicycles, some people loved the Techniums, while others did not. And we've all heard the stories of frame failures, though I personally do not have any first hand knowledge. One thing is certain, they were pioneers in hybrid construction and brought affordable aluminum to the masses. In many ways this bicycle was the forerunner of the aluminum/carbon fibre hybrid models that dominate the market to-day. It was the first truly afforadble aluminum (albeit hybrid) bicycle and was one of the trendsetting models that would ultimately lead to the demise of steel as the dominant frame material.
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Old 06-06-11, 08:43 AM
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a lot of the way-background info is really interesting - I've enjoyed this thread.
to add (and may be more of what the OP is curious about), aluminum bikes used to have the rep of being extremely stiff, where you feel every crack in the road. This is true of most 1990's aluminum frames (where ultra-rigid fat-tube design pioneered by Klein and Cannondale became the norm). My understanding is that manufacture of Aluminum frames has advanced to where they remain stiff and durable but have a more comfortable ride than the avg aluminum frame from the 1990's.
(Note that I am talking about road bikes; MTB frames have much less downside to being extremely stiff because of fat tires and suspension forks)
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Old 06-06-11, 11:41 AM
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The French company "Caminade" was manufacturing aluminum bicycle frames in the late 1930s:

https://www.classicrendezvous.com./Fr...inade_main.htm

And in the 1940s, the Monark "Silver King" was manufactured in the United States:

https://www.nbhaa.com/index8.html
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Old 06-06-11, 01:59 PM
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Wow. What a wealth of bicycle historians we have here!
Thanks.
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Old 06-06-11, 03:46 PM
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I had one of those Techniums that looked almost identical to the one pictured. Got the frame as an abandoned item left behind one of the frat houses one Summer and re-built it into what I called my "retro-rocket". As noted, there were many tales of these bonded frames failing, but I never saw nor heard of one. We still have students flogging these old bikes around campus right now.
I found mine to be light and stiff and reasonably comfortable as well.
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Old 06-06-11, 04:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Bikewer View Post
I had one of those Techniums that looked almost identical to the one pictured.
I found mine to be light and stiff and reasonably comfortable as well.
My brother had one for several years before it got stolen. He said it was his best bike up until he recently got a carbon. In '97, he rode that Technium and I rode my fat tube Cannondale touring bike on the Seattle-to-Portland double century. It wasn't the aluminum bikes that were flagging at the end, but all four of us made it. Years later, don't you suppose he spotted a Technium and a C'dale touring bike parked together outside a rural store? :-)
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Old 06-06-11, 04:22 PM
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Let's not forget the Lotus Esprit and Lotus Leger in 1987 (pronounced LAY-zjhay).

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Old 06-06-11, 04:26 PM
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I have a Klein Performance frame that I bought in 1983, IIRC. I'm sure that was the first mass produced Klein model. Previous models were all custom made.

As I recall, Klein's innovation was not using oversized tubes. I'm not sure if he was the first to use oversized aluminum tubing, but I'm pretty sure he perfected a method of heat treating the assembled frames while maintaining the alignment of the frames.
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Old 06-06-11, 07:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve530 View Post
I have a Klein Performance frame that I bought in 1983, IIRC. I'm sure that was the first mass produced Klein model. Previous models were all custom made.

As I recall, Klein's innovation was not using oversized tubes. I'm not sure if he was the first to use oversized aluminum tubing, but I'm pretty sure he perfected a method of heat treating the assembled frames while maintaining the alignment of the frames.
IIRC, Cannondale beat Klein's lawsuit by pointing out that Roger Durham (of Bullseye hubs and cranks) had built oversize aluminum frames in the '70's. I'm also pretty sure the Durham frames were not heat treated. Fuzzy memories, though.
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Old 06-06-11, 07:16 PM
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Originally Posted by clasher View Post
They also made cast aluminum frames back in the 1890s, the link goes to an 1896 lu-mi-num bike. Crazy stuff.
Thanks for that incredible bit of history.

That is likely to be as far back as it goes -between 1885 and 1895 the price of aluminium dopped by about 95% due to the invention of efficient smelting methods (by Hall in the US and Herault in France).

The reason this is significant is that before this development raw aluminium cost about GBP 3000 per tonne, and that's in 1880s quid. In modern money that's about GBP 200,000 which is more than USD 300,000. By 1896 the price was down to GBP 160 per tonne, about USD 10,000 in modern money. Today's price is about 1/4 that.
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Old 06-06-11, 08:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Jeff Wills View Post
IIRC, Cannondale beat Klein's lawsuit by pointing out that Roger Durham (of Bullseye hubs and cranks) had built oversize aluminum frames in the '70's. I'm also pretty sure the Durham frames were not heat treated. Fuzzy memories, though.
The frame built by William B. Shook. was mentioned in the the Court of Appeals decision when Klein appealed the decision of the District Court.

I had not remembered those details. I've not found a link to the District Court's decision which would give even more information. IIRC, there was a person who built an aluminum frame with oversized tubing a year earlier. That might have been Shook. Seems it was a class project. Klein Also built a device for testing the rigidity of the frame and specified the stiffness requirements in his patent.

So Klein may not have originated the idea of oversized aluminum tubing for bicycle frames. And the stiffness test may have not been public domain, but those early hand-made, Klein frames were works of art.

Last edited by Steve530; 06-06-11 at 08:54 PM.
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