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Steel or Alu for gravel and cobblestones?

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Steel or Alu for gravel and cobblestones?

Old 06-18-10, 06:22 AM
Polka Dot
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Steel or Alu for gravel and cobblestones?


Would be very glad for some advice on which way to go...

I used to do lot of road cycling a while ago, but due to work and moving to a different country couldn't practice it any more. I would like to pick it up again and am looking around for a new bike. Cycling would be a weekend hobby for me. I would like to be able to ride also on smaller roads, which lack good pavement and may be occasionally include stretches of gravel roads or forest paths. Nothing extremely bumpy though... Comfort on longer trips would be another thing I am looking for.

I figured that a cyclocross bike would be a way to go. Yet, due to my budget I would mostly be limited to used bikes. In the used marked the cyclocross bikes come up very rarely and go for a higher price than road bikes with equal components. So I am thinking that may be a used steel bike would be a good option? Considering my intentions, do you think that I would be better off with a high quality 80s steel frame (with downtube shifters) or with a more contemporary aluminum bike with 105 shifters? I would probably put wider puncture resistant tires on it. I figure out that I could get a high end italian steel bike for the money of beginners aluminum frame. I need to save extra funds for all kinds of small things in addition, like helmet, shoes, etc.

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Old 06-18-10, 06:43 AM
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steel is more comfortable than aluminum, and considering you won't be much sprinting, go with steel.

alternatively, frame geometry could dampen a rough ride quite a bit. look for things like the giant defy or cannondale synapse
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Old 06-18-10, 06:52 AM
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many modern racing style bikes will not have the clearance for wider tires. if your budget and abilities allow, in your situation i would look to build up an older steel bike with some modern components, thats the best of two worlds for what you're looking to do.
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Old 06-18-10, 07:26 AM
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An older touring bike would work. Plenty of tire and fender clearance and slack geometry.
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Old 06-18-10, 07:27 AM
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Steel or aluminum ride will depend on the build. Some steel bikes will rattle you. Most aluminum bikes will (because of the larger diameter tubing).

With a CX bike, just run bigger tires and lower tire pressure and the frame material won't matter a bit. Tiny impact on rolling resistance, but not much difference in the big picture for efficiency.
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Old 06-18-10, 08:06 AM
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Since your choices will be limited, get a road bike that can accommodate larger tires. Bigger tires will improve your ride a lot more than a frame can. My girlfriend's bike with 700x28 is a very plush ride. Her bike is also an older lugged steel Centurion.
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Old 06-18-10, 06:35 PM
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i agree with the folks who have said the most important thing for comfort on rough roads and security on gravel is larger tires. So whatever frame material, get a frame and brakes with clearance for wide tires. I have outfitted my ALUMINUM commuter (an old, stiff, supposedly very harsh hybrid frame w/ stout, supposedly harsh aluminum fork!) with 32's and they are just NICE. The tires make so much more difference than any frame material. And I'll have to say, they really don't feel slow and aren't according to my commute times. They feel much faster than my 23-25mm road tires (on a modern comfort-oriented carbon road bike frame) on the rough stuff and not appreciably slower (if at all) on the smooth stuff. Much more comfortable, night and day difference.

I didn't put the 32's on for comfort as much as just to deal with the very rough and steep hilled gravel road that is part of every commute. There is no substitute for wide tires on gravel for security. Frame material doesn't matter, it's the tires. (these are "city tires", minimal tread, not knobby off road tires).

But in addition to the security, this supposedly harsh aluminum frame w/ 32s is very comfortable.
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