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Will a Top Level Steel Frame wear out?

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Will a Top Level Steel Frame wear out?

Old 03-31-12, 01:44 PM
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trek330
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Will a Top Level Steel Frame wear out?

Do steel frames deteriorate with a lot of use?If they're used a grear deal will there ride be compromised?Will a 25 year old Columbus SLX frame ridden 5000 miles a year for 20 of those years be significantly different both in terms of structural integrity and quality of ride as it was when it was new?I have experience with vintage steel frames with relatively modest use and their rides have been great. I have no way to know however,how they differ from when they were new.Anyone enlighten me?
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Old 03-31-12, 01:46 PM
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Not really, unless it was crashed or bent at some point. The only real enemy to steel is rust.

Only thing I'd do is check the joints for cracks. But you should do that with any frame.
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Old 03-31-12, 02:50 PM
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I have no doubt that I'll pass away before my bikes do.

However, I rotate them a lot, so each one only is ridden probably 2 months worth during the year, maybe 800-1200 miles each, max.

Their only enemies are rust and me. They have no known predator, besides thieves.
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Old 03-31-12, 03:11 PM
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Nope.
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Old 03-31-12, 03:18 PM
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I'm a firm believer that they do.

I'm sure someone will blah blah blah about Young's modulous or some other engineering whatever but I think they do.

A F1 chassis is changed out every 3 or 4 races for a reason.
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Old 03-31-12, 03:40 PM
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Strictly in terms of "structural integrity", I would say that any high-performance (meaning that a majority of the structure's mass operates relatively close to the material's stress limits) structure maintains structural integrity continuously during the time that it is actually used.

Rust is a different matter, but to the extent that it is somewhat preventable I won't consider it.

The fatigue life of a structure is simply the duration of serviceability.
The serviceability (rigidity) isn't significantly affected by the passage of this period, and when this period ends, a crack appears and the part is considered damaged.

The initial crack may spread rapidly or may stall for an extended period. Campagnolo record driveside crankarms come to mind.
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Old 03-31-12, 03:53 PM
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Unless there's some sort of defective braze on it or it was crashed heavily enough to crack something, I don't think so.

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Old 03-31-12, 03:53 PM
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I think they do. There's only so many times you can flex a piece of steel before it cracks, no matter how well you treat it otherwise. I have a 1984 Trek 620 that I put over 50,000 miles on over the course of 17 years. I rode it long enough to be completely confident that it was a well built frame. It was no manufacturing defect that caused the downtube to crack after 12 years, or the steer tube after 15 years (both of which Trek repaired or replaced with no hassles), or finally a rear dropout. They were just worn out under a heavy rider and a lot of cycles. I still have that bike, in a place of honor over my workbench, and I've had had other steel frames. For me they last a long time, and when they fail they do it slowly, but after a while they do fail.
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Old 03-31-12, 04:11 PM
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Huffy's never wear out. Or Varsity's. Or.....
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Old 03-31-12, 04:33 PM
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I know mine is getting slower.
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Old 03-31-12, 04:39 PM
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Frames aren't cranks, and while Campy had some now-known weak points, that doesn't imply that correctly made frames do. I don't argue that stress risers are possible in steel frames, they absolutely are possible. Good builders manage the problem.

Plus the flex characteristics of steel are radically different from those of aluminum. Steel has an elastic region in which it can flex and will return to it's original shape for a very large number of cycles, and if it flexes beyond the elastic region it will degrade a little each time it enters the non-elastic zone. Aluminum does not have an elastic zone - essentially all of its flexing causes some irreversible degradation.

The correct statement is that there are only so many times you can flex a piece of steel so as to exceed its elastic limits (aka its yield stress), before it breaks. I don't know why or even where your DT and HT cracked. There are discontinuities in frame tubes, caused by braze ons such as shifter bosses or the ends of taper zones that can cause stress risers. But whatever caused your Trek to fail, it doesn't mean all steel frames will fail or are even at risk. It might mean the industry took a wrong turn by proliferating braze-ons in favor of clamp-on accessory mounts, creating the potential for stress risers that only the best builders have been able to manage. And for those of us who love old Treks (includes me!), as good as they were, they were not up with the top products of the day.
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Old 03-31-12, 04:40 PM
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Originally Posted by OldsCOOL View Post
Huffy's never wear out. Or Varsity's. Or.....
The world is so unfair!
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Old 03-31-12, 04:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Road Fan View Post
The correct statement is that there are only so many times you can flex a piece of steel so as to exceed its elastic limits (aka its yield stress), before it breaks.
Steel will fatigue even if used below its yield stress if it is stressed repeatedly for many cycles.

You can design steel parts for infinite life, but they have to be real thick. There's a lot of space between infinite life and the yield point, too.

If you flexed steel beyond its elastic limit even once, then it would stay flexed. So unless your bike's warped, it hasn't seen the elastic limit.

Do your spokes lose tension? If not, then they are not yielding, but they will still fatigue and break at some point.

Last edited by garage sale GT; 03-31-12 at 04:50 PM.
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Old 03-31-12, 05:08 PM
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Sure they do, but if you are not beating on it cranking out of the saddle out of every turn, then I assume no. My old bike from my poor days had to be in service for training as well as racing. It last for 6-8 years depending how many times I crash it. I can tell you this, they do not ride the same after 6-7 years of training on them. I am talking about small group training rides 4 times a week. We treat them like races and tries to draw blood out of each other. I can't even wear an Aluminum frame out if I try today.
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Old 03-31-12, 05:14 PM
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Perhaps the opposite is true, and frames lose their suppleness and tone when not ridden?
Like fine violins which need to be played, lest they become lifeless and flat.
Or minds, that can get dulled through routine and lack of challenges.
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Old 03-31-12, 05:16 PM
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It's difficult to explain this subject adequately in an internet forum, but garage sale GT's information is correct. If you really want to know "why" this is so, you really need to be willing and able to study materials science from a mechanical engineering point of view.
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Old 03-31-12, 05:32 PM
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Theory teaches us that fabricated metal objects, such as bike frames, typically retain all of their original dynamic characteristics unaltered, unless and until they are in the process of failing catastrophically.
The catastrophic failure mode I'm alluding to is fatigue. Fatigue failure in metals means macroscopic cracks that will propograte continuously, as long as the stress cycling continues, until the crack has severed the part in half.
Before fatigue cracks start to form, the dynamic properties of the part will be the same as when new. After the cracks have started and have grown to appreciable size, the dynamic properties may well be measurably different.
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Old 03-31-12, 05:49 PM
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I agree with 'garage sale' - in theory you could build a steel frame such that the stresses in normal use remain below the fatigue limit and therefore give it essentially infinite life. But that frame would be too thick and heavy for most of us to want to ride it - and it certainly wouldn't be considered a 'Top Level' frame. So in practice there will be some point at which a steel frame fails as a result of fatigue. Whether that happens before or after the OP's hypothesized 100 kmiles over 20 years would depend on the exact nature of the the stresses encountered, how well it was designed and manufactured, any subtle flaws in the tubing, etc. I would expect changes in the strength and response characteristics to be negligible until the frame is very close to failing.
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Old 03-31-12, 06:47 PM
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Originally Posted by miamijim View Post
A F1 chassis is changed out every 3 or 4 races for a reason.
Modern F1 chassis are not made of steel.
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Old 03-31-12, 06:51 PM
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My 83 Colnago Super has 53,000 miles on it.
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Old 03-31-12, 06:57 PM
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No. Depending on if it was ridden by Cipo or not.
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Old 03-31-12, 07:22 PM
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I work in steel, (buildings not bikes).

Improper heating/welding can weaken the steel surrounding welds and brazes. In most cases welds, if perfect - is actually stronger than the material being joined. And in the last few years changes in the International Building Code for welding have been made mostly to address the stresses to the material surrounding welded areas, not so much the welds themselves. Stand to long in one point with a weld or keep the torch on a piece too long, the steel is weakened, or depending what happens next could end up hardened - which could actually be worse, depending on the stress load the piece needs to endure.

Impurities and faults in the manufacture of the steel can also contribute. Consider how thin the tubes are, one little (say a 1/32" piece of some other metal, air pocket, slag, or other impurity can greatly weaken the steel at that point. And it's not as uncommon as you would think. But even weakened if not stressed to certain points could last years without incident.

I could go on. But my point has been made.

In theory steel without being pushed beyond its elastic limits and properly maintained will last forever. However, that's only in a perfect world.
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Old 03-31-12, 07:22 PM
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The thinner the metal, the more likely it is to flex and fatigue.

Higher strength steel can often be less tough and fatigue resistant than mild steel.

cracks, sharp edges, gouges, etc can all be the starting point of a fatigue crack.

Plating can actually make a part much more susceptible to fatigue.

Anodizing tends to make aluminum parts more susceptible to fatigue, except for the fact that if the part were not anodized then corrosion would make the situation much worse than the anodizing.

One saving grace of the fatigue situation of a lugged frame is that the heat of brazing can anneal the metal and make it a little tougher right where the stresses are highest.

Persons with high mile frames ought to remember that if the stress stays below a certain threshold, there will essentially be no fatigue in a steel structure. This is not so for other materials like aluminum. So it is possible one person would have five figure mileage and another would have a cracked frame in a few years.
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Old 03-31-12, 07:28 PM
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Originally Posted by conradpdx View Post
In theory steel without being pushed beyond its elastic limits and properly maintained will last forever. However, that's only in a perfect world.
Steel pushed to below the fatigue limit can in theory last forever.

Steel pushed beyond the fatigue limit but below the elastic limit will last until it fatigues provided the stresses are repeated such as a building swaying in the wind or a bicycle being pedaled.

Steel pushed beyond the elastic limit will be permanently deformed.
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Old 03-31-12, 07:43 PM
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I stand corrected, hard to keep the thoughts in line while doing this, cooking dinner, and getting ready to go out for the evening. Though in the field we usually just call it all "stress". I'm not going to pretend to be an engineer, obviously I don't do it very well.
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