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steel or carbon?

Old 06-10-15, 10:22 AM
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LGHT
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steel or carbon?

Looking to setup a CX bike and I have been on ebay searching for a frame for a month or so. I'm finding out that most if not all the carbon frames are priced beyond my budget $500 for a frame. Not sure why all the CX frames are more than road frames, but I may have to consider non carbon. Outside of the obvious weight advantage of carbon are there any other disadvantages of non carbon? Also i'm about 210 so not the lightest rider in the pack.
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Old 06-10-15, 10:54 AM
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IMO, there is no need for a carbon bike unless you are a competitive rider trying to win races. Carbon bikes may be lightweight and ride well, but will provide only marginal benefits to a recreational rider, where your own fitness is typically your main limiting factor in riding. If you ride a ton and want to win races, grams and bike material type really start to matter and you can benefit from a lightweight CF frame.

You should be able to easily find a steel cross frame for $500 or less - many of the offerings from Surly and Soma are less than $500, for a brand new frame. They have many advantages over CF including being more durable, easier to repair, longer-lasting, and much less susceptible to catastrophic failure than CF (steel will bend before it brakes, while CF is prone to shattering and splintering - this can be the difference of riding home after a wreck vs. picking up the pieces of your bike off the road). The main disadvantage is corrosion - lower-priced steel frames may not be coated on the inside of the tubes, leading to rusting over many years or faster if the bike is ridden in a corrosive environment (road or sea salt). This probably is not a problem unless you ride in inclement weather often.
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Old 06-10-15, 11:32 AM
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The idea that steel will bend before it breaks, eh, I have seen steel frames snap. And a bent frame will most likely not be rideable be it steel, aluminum, etc...

Carbon's main benefit is a frame that is stiff but will not beat you up (if it is well designed) and dampens low amplitude vibrations. High end steel has similar characteristics but it has a more lively feel to it. A$500 steel frame will most likely be plain 4130 tubing and won't have a particularly nice feel to it.

For ypur budget I'd throw aluminum into consideration as well. Ride on aluminum frames tends to be a bit harsher, but they are also lighter and these days cheaper than steel.
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Old 06-10-15, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by LGHT View Post
steel or carbon?
No.

Seriously, for a CX bike the traditional arguments for either carbon or steel are a bit thinner than they would be for a road bike. The supposed smoothness of carbon or steel (assuming for the moment that it exists beyond marketing hype) is an artifact of the frame's ability to absorb road buzz. Unless you're using it as a road bike, a CX bike doesn't generally encounter road buzz. Instead it sees outright choppy, bumpy surfaces. Carbon and steel don't absorb that. That's not to say you can't find good bikes made of either (you definitely can) but their additional cost versus aluminum can't be justified in the usual ways.

With a cyclocross bike, most of your impact absorption comes from your arms and legs. A distant second, but still way ahead of the frame material, are the tires. Frame geometry and tube construction (shape and thickness) are probably third.

I think the high cost of carbon CX frames is caused by a combination of several factors, in this order: (1) they're in demand but still relatively uncommon, (2) consumers believe that there must be some serious magic required to make them tough enough for CX and are thus willing to pay more, (3) a good design really is required to make a carbon CX frame perform well so the high end frames don't face quite as much competition from off-brand frames.

Steel can be a great material for CX bikes, but the majority of steel CX frames available are overbuilt beasts made of basic 4130 chromoly. This doesn't make them bad necessarily, but it does make them heavy. I also think a lot of them won't really ride like a race bike on a CX course (not sure if that matters to you) for a variety of reasons, mostly related to that not being the primary use for which they were designed.

The primary advantage of aluminum for CX bikes is price. Most CX bikes produced over the last 10 years have been aluminum and until about 5 years ago even most high end race CX bikes were aluminum. Consequently, they can be found at very low prices. This wouldn't matter if they were in some significant way inferior to carbon and steel bikes, but I don't think they are. Aluminum is a fairly easy material for Taiwanese factories to work with, and so nearly all aluminum frames have features like bi-axial down tubes designed to fine tune the ride of the bike. Throw in good geometry and you're set.

I race on a 2008 Major Jake that I picked up used for $900 complete about five years ago. Even built up with (relatively) heavy components like 32-spoke clincher wheels and a full metal crank this bike comes in at about 19 pounds. With light wheels, tires and components this bike could be very nearly as light as any carbon race bike on the market. On top of that, I love the the ride and handling of this bike.

In summary, don't be afraid to consider aluminum CX bikes. They're great and you aren't likely to find better value.
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Old 06-10-15, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by FrozenK View Post
The idea that steel will bend before it breaks, eh, I have seen steel frames snap. And a bent frame will most likely not be rideable be it steel, aluminum, etc...
FWIW, I wrecked my first CAAD9 (less then 100 miles on the bike), bending both the top tube and down tube, and was able to ride it home (albeit very slowly with crappy shifting due to the messed up cable tension). This made me appreciate a metal bike - BUT does not keep me from considering a CF bike in the future.
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Old 06-10-15, 12:50 PM
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Originally Posted by DirtRoadRunner View Post
FWIW, I wrecked my first CAAD9 (less then 100 miles on the bike), bending both the top tube and down tube, and was able to ride it home (albeit very slowly with crappy shifting due to the messed up cable tension). This made me appreciate a metal bike - BUT does not keep me from considering a CF bike in the future.
And a friend crashed his carbon Cannondale road bike, cracked the top tube and could have also gingerly ridden home if not for a broken collarbone. The bike was "rideable." So yeah, some times a frame will fail and still allow you to crawl back home, some times it won't. Regardless of material.
As for whether frame material makes a difference for cross, I guess there is a reason why even aluminum framed bikes come with a carbon fork... I'd still take a high end aluminum frame over a cheap steel one, though.
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Old 06-10-15, 01:00 PM
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Blah, blah, blah....For less than $500, just get a Surly or Soma and ride it, you'll never notice what your frame is made of if you're doing it right.
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Old 06-10-15, 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by FrozenK View Post
As for whether frame material makes a difference for cross, I guess there is a reason why even aluminum framed bikes come with a carbon fork...
I'm not sure that reason isn't weight, but it could also be that aluminum forks just can't (practically) be made that will flex while still being sufficiently strong. Carbon forks can flex a lot (which is why they are prone to shudder with cantilever brakes). Under hard braking on a surface with good traction a carbon fork will flex enough that you can see it. Aluminum wouldn't be able to do that repeatedly so they're just stiff.
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Old 06-10-15, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
I'm not sure that reason isn't weight, but it could also be that aluminum forks just can't (practically) be made that will flex while still being sufficiently strong. Carbon forks can flex a lot (which is why they are prone to shudder with cantilever brakes). Under hard braking on a surface with good traction a carbon fork will flex enough that you can see it. Aluminum wouldn't be able to do that repeatedly so they're just stiff.
I ride a 2011 Major Jake, first year of the carbon frame. My fork does not flex (well, not enough to be noticeable) but it did shudder with cantis. Switching to a fork mounted hanger would have helped with that, but I went with miniVs. No shudder, no deflection.

Aluminum forks do need to be stiff to be durable, so they beat the crap out of you. Same is applied to frames. While I agree with you that there is a lot more to how a bike rides than frame material. And the myth that aluminum is harsh, steel is magical, etc... is overplayed, you also can't ignore reality.
I do agree with you that the OP should be considering aluminum frames as well, though.
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Old 06-10-15, 01:28 PM
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Originally Posted by LGHT View Post
Looking to setup a CX bike ... are there any other disadvantages of non carbon?
For what purpose: racing or recreation? Most of the carbon frames are targeting racers and will have a more race-oriented geometry. A greater percentage of Al and steel frame models fall into the "recreation" category. That could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your intended use. For racing it's critical to find a frame with the fit and handling characteristics that suit the rider. Weight (or lack thereof) is important, but secondary. Comfort is mostly a don't care (any frame compliant enough to smooth out a CX course you wouldn't want to ride). Most buy the lightest frame they can afford that has the handling and fit they want. Budget determines if the material. Outside the elite cats, there's little correlation between bike and podium placement.
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Old 06-10-15, 03:10 PM
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Thanks all for the feedback. I’m not looking to race or ever race as I’m an older fat guy just looking to ride the wealth of dirt trails, dirt parks and even a cx track all within riding distance of my home. I have a hybrid now that works, but I going to get rid of that and an older road bike and hopefully get 1 cross bike that I can use instead.

I didn’t really consider aluminum because of the “rough ride” issue and concerns I read about when doing my initial research. I have a carbon road bike and steel hybrid and both seem to ride easier and smoother than the aluminum with carbon fork felt bike I have. However like others mentioned that’s on the road and not in the dirt. Since most of my riding will be on horse trials / packed dirt I don’t plan on using really big tires. I run 32’s on my hybrid and those seem to be more than enough. I may even go down a size or 2 or keep 2 sets of tires on hand.

I guess I really have to reconsider aluminum with carbon forks as that probably 80% of what I’m finding that’s not more than 5 years old. I guess I could also beef up the padding on the handle bars to add a bit of comfort.
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Old 06-10-15, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by FrozenK View Post
I'd still take a high end aluminum frame over a cheap steel one, though.
what would you consider high end in aluminum? Should I be looking for "stiff" aluminum?
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Old 06-10-15, 03:38 PM
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Originally Posted by LGHT View Post
Thanks all for the feedback. I’m not looking to race or ever race as I’m an older fat guy just looking to ride the wealth of dirt trails, dirt parks and even a cx track all within riding distance of my home. I have a hybrid now that works, but I going to get rid of that and an older road bike and hopefully get 1 cross bike that I can use instead.

I didn’t really consider aluminum because of the “rough ride” issue and concerns I read about when doing my initial research. I have a carbon road bike and steel hybrid and both seem to ride easier and smoother than the aluminum with carbon fork felt bike I have. However like others mentioned that’s on the road and not in the dirt. Since most of my riding will be on horse trials / packed dirt I don’t plan on using really big tires. I run 32’s on my hybrid and those seem to be more than enough. I may even go down a size or 2 or keep 2 sets of tires on hand.

I guess I really have to reconsider aluminum with carbon forks as that probably 80% of what I’m finding that’s not more than 5 years old. I guess I could also beef up the padding on the handle bars to add a bit of comfort.
In that case, I would definitely recommend a low-cost steel frame like a Surly Cross-Check, Soma Double Cross (both <$500), or even a Black Mountain Cycles Monstercross (slightly more expensive at $575). Each of those frames should have decent on-road and tolerable off-road manners and are really geared towards multi-purpose, multi-surface riding riding rather than racing CX. You could spend some time looking for a used aluminum/carbon CX frame, or just order one of the above-mentioned frames today, brand new. The Black Mountain frames are ED coated to reduce corrosion - I'm not sure about the Surly or the Soma frames.
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Old 06-10-15, 03:53 PM
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Originally Posted by LGHT View Post

Since most of my riding will be on horse trials / packed dirt I don’t plan on using really big tires. I run 32’s on my hybrid and those seem to be more than enough. I may even go down a size or 2 or keep 2 sets of tires on hand.
.
They probably are fine, but go ahead and use bigger tires if you're worried about comfort. There's very, very little disadvantage to wider tires (mostly weight). There are some nice tires now in the 40mm-ish range.

I agree with the sentiment that aluminum is a perfectly adequate material for cyclocross. That said, nothing wrong with steel for your application, either.
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Old 06-10-15, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by LGHT View Post
what would you consider high end in aluminum? Should I be looking for "stiff" aluminum?
Cannondale CAAD, Kona Jake (not really high end, but good enough I guess). For what you arw doing, I'd worry about getting a frame with large tire clearance more than material. A stiff aluminum frame with 40c tires will be more comfortable than a steel frame with 30s.
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Old 06-10-15, 04:14 PM
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Originally Posted by LGHT View Post
I’m not looking to race or ever race as I’m an older fat guy just looking to ride the wealth of dirt trails, dirt parks and even a cx track all within riding distance of my home.
You might be surprised by the number of older fat guys who race. Our entry fees provide the prize money for the fast young guys.

That said, something like the Soma Double Cross or All City Macho Man would be fine for your application, though I'd still prefer an aluminum bike with a carbon fork. You can get a new Kona Jake frameset for $675 and can probably find it or something similar used well within your budget. I would also be tempted to look into bikes that can handle wider tires, like the Kona Rove ($525 new at bikeman.com) or Salsa Vaya. I've got a bit of a bias against the Cross Check/Straggler geometry, but that would work too.
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Old 06-10-15, 04:20 PM
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Thanks all for the suggestions, but I'm sort of looking for something used a few years old that I can get a better value out of. It would be nice to buy new, but I can get a $1k frame for $500 that's a few years old I rather do that for value purposes only. Plus since I have the hybrid already and not in a hurry to pull the trigger. I did the same thing with my current road bike and save 75% off of retail on a bike that had less than 500 miles on it albeit it was 3 years old.
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Old 06-10-15, 04:24 PM
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I'm wondering why you're buying a frame instead of a whole bike?

Piecing together a bike is far more expensive than just getting the whole rig together.
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Old 06-10-15, 05:15 PM
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Originally Posted by IcySmooth52 View Post
I'm wondering why you're buying a frame instead of a whole bike?

Piecing together a bike is far more expensive than just getting the whole rig together.
I have a full bike already, but the frame is 58 and I ride a 54. I was just going to swap out the parts from that and sell the frame. However if I can find a good deal on a whole bike I may do that instead. The old bike has dura ace parts and I already purchased new a fulcrum 7 wheelset for it so the wheels are new.
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Old 06-10-15, 05:25 PM
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I've got to agree with many of the others here. Aluminum. Cost & weight.

i like steel, but don't like the idea of it on a cyclocross bike I'd own. It rusts, and mud is an icon in cyclocross. Do the chemistry. But one thing that I find is heavily under considered is the comfort of shouldering. Steel has narrow tubes and is heavy. Would be less comfortable than lighter aluminum with a wider top tube that's often hydroformed to be shouldered.
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Old 06-10-15, 05:27 PM
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LeMond Poprads seem to float across eBay pretty regularly. Those were really nice bikes -- either Reynolds 853 or True Temper OX Platinum steel. You've mentioned looking for bikes less than 5 years old. Personally, I wouldn't worry about that too much. The biggest recent developments in frames are disc brake support, head tubes that can handle a tapered steerer, thru axles, internal cable routing and over-sized bottom brackets. The last two are a mixed bag and can be as much of a curse as a blessing. Thru axles and tapered steerers are very nice, but for your purposes you can live without them. Disc brakes are somewhere between personal preference and a major upgrade. They can be great, but you can live without them. I insist on them for my rain bike (commuter), but my CX race bike still uses cantilever brakes despite (and partially because of) its seeing lots of mud. The Poprad incidentally is one of the oldest frames you'll find with disc brakes (though the canti version is a bit more common).

I can totally relate to wanting to have a really sweet bike for every purpose, but you have to consider the nature of a cyclocross bike. It's more like a jeep than it is like a sports car. If it's too pretty, it can't do its job.

Submitted for your consideration, this is my favorite CX bike:



It's got a scandium frame (high falutin' aluminum) and a nice carbon fork. The frame and fork are pretty light. But as you can see it's not likely to win any beauty pageants. The parts were chosen for functionality and there's hardly anything on there I could change that would represent a significant upgrade (maybe the crankset). I can take this bike out in a muddy field and beat it like a rented mule and it takes it and keeps on making me smile. I'd like to suggest that is what you ought to be looking for.
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Old 06-10-15, 05:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
You might be surprised by the number of older fat guys who race. Our entry fees provide the prize money for the fast young guys.
I've seen the power those guys put out over an hour and lets just say it may be a year or so before I would even consider it. However I would love to ride the local track in a race every now and then just to get my times logged. Then I could "race" against my previous time the next race.

My local training route is 32 miles with 2500' of incline I try and ride it a few times a week. I've managed to go from doing that in 3 hours to 2 hours and 20 min. My goal is to complete it in 2 hours or less.
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Old 06-10-15, 05:52 PM
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Originally Posted by IcySmooth52 View Post
I've got to agree with many of the others here. Aluminum. Cost & weight.

i like steel, but don't like the idea of it on a cyclocross bike I'd own. It rusts, and mud is an icon in cyclocross. Do the chemistry. But one thing that I find is heavily under considered is the comfort of shouldering. Steel has narrow tubes and is heavy. Would be less comfortable than lighter aluminum with a wider top tube that's often hydroformed to be shouldered.
You spend about twenty seconds, if that, shouldering a bike on a cyclocross race. I know flat top tubes are a huge marketing point, but truth is: it doesn't matter that much.
As for corrosion, fatigue will kill an aluminum bike under a big guy before corrosion kills a steel one. Unless you are riding on the beach regularly, corrosion will not be a problem.

I agree with Andy_k below, I would not limit the search to 5 year old bikes. Specially if you are not looking for disc brakes. The only real negative of an older frame would be lack of a tapered steerer. And that is mostly because straight steerer forks are becoming scarce, so a nice replacement would be hard to source if it's ever needed.

On the other hand, for the intended use of the OP bigger tire clearance would be nice. And newer bikes tend to have more clearance.
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Old 06-11-15, 07:06 AM
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Originally Posted by FrozenK View Post
You spend about twenty seconds, if that, shouldering a bike on a cyclocross race. I know flat top tubes are a huge marketing point, but truth is: it doesn't matter that much.
Truth. You can wrap the top tube in two inches of Swedish memory foam and it isn't going to make the run-ups any more pleasant. Besides, the hecklers will help take your mind off the brief shoulder discomfort Here's my 19 lb steel Curtlo CX resting "comfortably" on my shoulder.



For recreational use, I'd still make handling and fit the number one priority, with "features" second, and weight third. However, what you're looking for in handling may be very different than CX racing. The race geometry CX frames are going to lean toward agility rather than stability. For long gravel rides you may want more stability so you're not putting as much energy into controlling the bike. Features you may want on a gravel bike include brazeons for racks and fenders, and the ability to take 45c tires. Those features are less common on race-oriented frames. Even if you don't plan to use all those features initially, gravel bikes have a tendency to evolve as they unlock more and more riding opportunities.
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Old 06-11-15, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Kopsis View Post

For recreational use, I'd still make handling and fit the number one priority, with "features" second, and weight third. However, what you're looking for in handling may be very different than CX racing. The race geometry CX frames are going to lean toward agility rather than stability. For long gravel rides you may want more stability so you're not putting as much energy into controlling the bike. Features you may want on a gravel bike include brazeons for racks and fenders, and the ability to take 45c tires. Those features are less common on race-oriented frames. Even if you don't plan to use all those features initially, gravel bikes have a tendency to evolve as they unlock more and more riding opportunities.
I agree I'm not out to race so fit and features are probably the most important. My road bike is a tarmac and it handles quick, nimble and is very responsive. Although I have no plans to cx race I would like something along those lines if possible. It doesn't have to be as "racey", but I don't want it to ride like a cruiser either.

As for tires why would I ever need 45c tires? I think the biggest I would need would be 32 unless there is a reason to put on 45's that I'm not aware of.

This is probably the worse type of stuff I would be riding on and only after or during a rain.

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