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hydroformed aluminum frames - ride quality?

Old 04-24-16, 07:56 AM
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hydroformed aluminum frames - ride quality?

Hi all,
I read a lot about the ride quality of steel. Speaking with local bike store guys, and reading on the 'net, people are saying the newer aluminum hydroformed frames really rival steel for ride quality. What about durability for touring or off road bikes? I guess mountain bikes have been made of aluminum for years but what about the gravel/adventure bikes in hydroformed aluminum - just as tough as aluminum mountain bikes?

thanks
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Old 04-24-16, 08:17 AM
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hydroformed aluminum frames - ride quality?

The magical ride quality of steel is over-rated.
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Old 04-24-16, 08:20 AM
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The hydroformed gravel bike that I have is pretty rough riding but the ordinary round tubed aluminum gravel bike that I have is smooth riding. It doesn't mean all hydroformed bikes ride bad. I have broken three steel frames but never an aluminum one.
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Old 04-24-16, 08:27 AM
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My trekking bike has a hydroformed aluminum frame, and its ride is a bit harsher, especially on chipseal, but its not that much of an issue.
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Old 04-24-16, 09:24 AM
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Originally Posted by kbobb1
Hi all,
I read a lot about the ride quality of steel. Speaking with local bike store guys, and reading on the 'net, people are saying the newer aluminum hydroformed frames really rival steel for ride quality. What about durability for touring or off road bikes? I guess mountain bikes have been made of aluminum for years but what about the gravel/adventure bikes in hydroformed aluminum - just as tough as aluminum mountain bikes?

thanks
Modern Al frames are not as "harsh" as the older Al stuff, but its a difficult comparison to make because all bikes are setup and designed different and cycling is devoid of scientific measurements. FWIW I ride old high end steel, old Al, modern hydro Al, and modern steel. The differences in tire, suspension, and design are more apparent than construction technique
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Old 04-24-16, 09:34 AM
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Whoops. DorkDisk beat me to it ... he posted a better answer while I was typing.

As I understand it "hydroformed" is just a production twechnique where water pressure is used to push aluminum into molds in shapes it would be impossible to form using other techniques (drawing and bending, reaming, butting.) Hydroforming gives designers a lot more variety in shapes and thickness and should result in a frame designed to be either stiffer or more compliant than a straight-tube frame, as the designer desires.

Nowadays you can buy pretty inexpensive hydroformed frames or really exotic ones ... the ride quality you like might be found in any of them, or none. Having ridden really good Al and decent steel, I'd say that a top-end Al frame can be as comfortable and compliant as steel ... if you can afford it. A cheaper frame will give a less refined ride, of course. And if you buy a biker built for racing, regardless of frame material or production technique, it will probably be stiffer and less comfortable but more efficient.

Only way to make the judgment is on a bike-by-bike level. generalizations won't be accurate ... it is like asking "Does steel give a better die than aluminum?" Well, a $100 steel tank from a box store won't come close to a high-end Cannondale, and a crap aluminum Box-store BSO won't either ... and what each person considers to be a "better" ride will differ.
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Old 04-24-16, 09:56 AM
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I believe that hydroforming does not allow the designer to vary the wall thickness at will. Hydroformed tubes are wider and thinner than the initial tubes. So I think that we can generalize to some degree: hydroformed aluminum tubes are going to be more rigid than their round tube counterparts but with weaker sides. They lack the wall thickness tweaks that allow carbon fiber designs to design flexibility or strength in certain directions and leave some give in other directions. So, stiffer and harsher would be in general true.
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Old 04-24-16, 10:21 AM
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I think seats, tires, suspension, & road surface have more of an impact on ride quality than anything else. But, there's definitely a difference in steel and aluminum frames. Really good quality steel frames ring like a bell. Aluminum frames don't.
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Old 04-24-16, 10:51 AM
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I agree with maelochs.
Hydroforming is a technique and it's up to the designer to use it intelligently for a given performance level.
The ability to have variable and/or unique cross-section tubing provides a huge advantage for tuning stiffness/compliance despite the variable wall-thickness that comes with it.

As far as durability, it's usually about the weld quality and placement for low-cycle fatigue failures. Again, things will vary based on design and manufacturer but, in general you shouldn't expect less durability compared to another comparable frame.
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Old 04-24-16, 10:55 AM
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Get something that accepts wider tires , then Buy expensive, supple casing, tires.

Hydro Forming used in Bike frame design alters the size and shape of the tube to match the forces it will be subjected to, In service.
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Old 04-24-16, 11:12 AM
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Originally Posted by kaplac
I agree with maelochs.
Hydroforming is a technique and it's up to the designer to use it intelligently for a given performance level.
The ability to have variable and/or unique cross-section tubing provides a huge advantage for tuning stiffness/compliance despite the variable wall-thickness that comes with it.

As far as durability, it's usually about the weld quality and placement for low-cycle fatigue failures. Again, things will vary based on design and manufacturer but, in general you shouldn't expect less durability compared to another comparable frame.
It would if hydroforming allows that. Does it? AFAIK the only way with hydroforming aluminum is to start with tubes engineered to different thicknesses, and currently that's more theoretical than production. Or have there been some advances?
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Old 04-24-16, 11:28 AM
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Originally Posted by wphamilton
It would if hydroforming allows that. Does it? AFAIK the only way with hydroforming aluminum is to start with tubes engineered to different thicknesses, and currently that's more theoretical than production. Or have there been some advances?
You're not entirely wrong-- you do need to do some tube forming before putting it into the dies to prevent defects but here are some practical examples of what I'm thinking of in terms of variable cross section and unique geometries.

Niner's hydroforming video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5bNNzf71BY

Specialized on Hydroforming for the smartweld frames
https://youtu.be/UNx6mufEWcI?t=2m49s
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Old 04-24-16, 12:12 PM
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^^ Looks like a tapered tube, which isn't the same as engineering wall thickness. The specialize video was about "smart weld" not shaping?

I don't think that the tech exists yet, not in production.
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Old 04-24-16, 12:48 PM
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I think my post might have been misinterpreted.

My intent was to say that the technique allows for net profile changes across a beam length which allows for better performance tuning.
Wall thickness does thin out as a result of forming and being able to engineer it would be great for the future. But, the tube profile engineering can compensate for this to a great degree.

OP shouldn't have any concerns regarding ride quality or durability specific to the hydroforming process-- the bigger concern is bike fit and application.
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Old 04-24-16, 01:16 PM
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Thanks for the info - very informative. This helps as I'm deciding between a couple bikes right now - a Jamis steel Renegade and a Felt aluminum V85 (see gravel forum). The comments about tires may be relevant. Just rode both today and the Jamis felt a little more solid but less comfortable fit -wise. the Felt was more comfortable fit-wise but a little more jittery. Tires were different with stock tires on each. This will be used for rail trails and C/O towpath riding.
I wish we could rent the bikes of interest for a couple days and decide after many miles.

Appreciate any input with regard to the intended use of the bike.
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Old 04-24-16, 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by wphamilton
^^ Looks like a tapered tube, which isn't the same as engineering wall thickness. The specialize video was about "smart weld" not shaping?

I don't think that the tech exists yet, not in production.
I think you guys were talking about different things, but yes, there are production aluminum frames that have variable wall thickness across the tube length, and are HF'd for profile as well as tapered. See the Pivot Mach 6, for example. I believe Kinesis pioneered the process with SPF (super plastic forming) made possible by it's Kinesium alloy.

Introducing the 2016 Pivot Mach 6 - Aluminum - Pinkbike
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Old 04-24-16, 04:02 PM
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Originally Posted by kbobb1
Just rode both today and the Jamis felt a little more solid but less comfortable fit -wise. the Felt was more comfortable fit-wise but a little more jittery.
Never buy a bike which doesn't fit.

Think about it---if you were going to run a marathon, would you consider shoes which didn't fit? of course not---you'd get blisters, then burst blisters, then bloody burst blisters, and end up sitting on the sidewalk crying because you were completely unable to walk.

So why spend ten times as much to buy a bike which doesn't fit?

If neither bike feels right to you, you aren't done shopping.
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Old 04-24-16, 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Maelochs
If neither bike feels right to you, you aren't done shopping.
+1
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Old 04-24-16, 05:34 PM
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Hydroforming dampens the aluminum.
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Old 04-24-16, 07:25 PM
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Nowadays, steel is a compromise because CF provides the best ride. Lemond went for a while with a mix of materias, using CF on the back half of their steel bikes.

You'll never see a CF frame with a steel fork. CF forks started showing up on expensive steel bikes in the '90s.

My thought is that you get so much more for your money going to alloy in a modern hydroformed bike frame that steel makes sense now if you are buying used or are willing to spend the bucks for something new on what essentially has become heritage/retro by choosing a steel frame. And then you have to wonder... why aren't I getting Ti?

For more comfort you will see CF forks and seatposts on alloy frames for the same reason all of the best steel bikes had them. And, most bikes now come with 25 tires instead of 23 (and, the 25s probably will measure out fatter --e.g., ~27.5 on my bike and you can put less pressure in them if you want a smoother ride).

For me greater comfort, irrespective of whether steel or alloy frame material is used, comes from--e.g., a longer wheelbase, a slacker seat tube, a setback seatpost, a CF fork, 25 or greater tires, a seat that works (which is sort of a mystery), padded bike shorts, gloves and perhaps a double-wrap of tape on the bars (or grab on foam grips).
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Old 04-24-16, 08:44 PM
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Originally Posted by chaadster
I think you guys were talking about different things, but yes, there are production aluminum frames that have variable wall thickness across the tube length, and are HF'd for profile as well as tapered. See the Pivot Mach 6, for example. I believe Kinesis pioneered the process with SPF (super plastic forming) made possible by it's Kinesium alloy.

Introducing the 2016 Pivot Mach 6 - Aluminum - Pinkbike
It looks like I should elaborate. By "tapered" I mean the original tube had tapered thickness to begin with. allowing a thicker hydroformed result at one end. I don't mean the final result was tapered. They can easily make all sorts of shapes including tapered. But using the initial "tapered tube" only allows thickness to be varied in one dimension - along the line of the tube - and does not enable the Carbon fiber kind of tricky design having variable thickness in specific locations.

I don't know what the kinesis SPF actually is, but kinesis says that it is not hydroforming.
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Old 04-25-16, 02:56 AM
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Originally Posted by wphamilton
I don't know what the kinesis SPF actually is, but kinesis says that it is not hydroforming.
I think I read that it is hydroforming with oil ... oleoforming? ... and apparently allows for even greater variety in shape or control of shape.
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Old 04-25-16, 05:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Maelochs
I think I read that it is hydroforming with oil ... oleoforming? ... and apparently allows for even greater variety in shape or control of shape.
I'm not sure either, but I think that's right. The key, anyway, is that the shaping takes place at high temp, when the metal is in a plastic state.

I also understand it was the first shaping process to allow for controlled, variable, wall thickness, taking HF to the next level.
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Old 04-25-16, 08:42 AM
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Modern Al represents a maturation of Al manufacturing. Instead of following the steel meta of tubes, butting, and tight junctions, we now have profiled hollow sections and other techniques that cater to the strengths of Al that liberated Al from the "rigid to limit cracking" mentality of the 90s to the more supple Al frames we have now.

Forming is but one type of process, and hydro-forming is but one way to form (using hydraulics)

Maybe we should be talking about the entire process instead of one way of forming modern Al "tubes."

We can see cutting edge 90s Al fabrication here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMdrPxD3I_Y to see how far we have come
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Old 04-25-16, 09:04 AM
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Originally Posted by DorkDisk

Maybe we should be talking about the entire process instead of one way of forming modern Al "tubes."
Excellent point. We don't ride tubes, anyway, but rather bikes, so even in the "tubes" paradigm, discussion eventually gets down to how the bike was put together and how it rides rides.

Farbon fiber had the luck of monocoque construction to divert the attention from tubes onto the whole frame, and how it's designed as a single unit. As the Specialized Teixiera video above showed, it's gotten quite difficult to conceive of how Al bikes are performing based on "tube dynamics." There's just so much more going on there.

I dunno how to move the focus from tubes, because even HF, as we've seen in this discussion, is pigeonholed and viewed through a narrow, rigid prism which distills the focus down to that simple "tube paradigm," when in fact HF probably brings Al frame design and performance closer to carbon monocoque than it does to traditional tube construction.

Can we even learn to think in terms of FEA?!
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