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General aluminum frame perceptions.

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General aluminum frame perceptions.

Old 02-24-11, 06:05 AM
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ftwelder
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General aluminum frame perceptions.

Hi, I have been making mostly aluminum frames for many years. In the recent past, I usually used 6061 exclusively. I got great results regarding performance, weight and durability using that material but the demand has gradually vanished for 6061 MTB's. I have begun to build more 7005 aluminum frames. I usually sell to shops or brands at this point. I have made about 500 custom frames over the years and have welded may be 5000 frames in both steel and aluminum.

I don't ride very much road but I have built myself a nice Zona TIG welded frame. I am also going to do a lugged/brazed frame in the same geo as well as a 7005 aluminum frame for some comparisons.

In doing research, I see that there are special 7005 sets advertised by manufacturers claiming to offer better mechanical properties. Columbus would be one example with XLR8R and AIRPLANE.

These kits are quite expensive when compared to "commercial" versions. I like the idea of trying to make something better (from my standpoint) but I only do the construction. I would like to make an high-end aluminum product that is attractive to a segment of the market.

I know I can make a frame that can rival or best any aluminum frame made anywhere but that is really quite a small accomplishment when one considers the potential drawbacks of a custom purchase compared to the typical experience provided by "well rounded brands".

Are people looking for builders to push the envelope with these aluminum materials?

I make high-end steel frames, more now than ever and that is OK. What about 7005? What didn't you get with your last frame that aluminum could have done better? What sucks about aluminum? (share your aluminum vs vs vs if you used the same fork and wheels on both frames.

Thanks in advance.

PS. Please stop frightening people then sending them to C&V. Noobs think we are bigger prcks than you guys.
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Old 02-24-11, 08:38 AM
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I wouldn't get hung up on the type of aluminum. I've seen many builders boast about their 7005 Al tubes, but the most widely acclaimed CAAD10 uses 6000 series.

I get the impression butting, hydroforming, and geometry makes far more difference.
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Old 02-24-11, 08:59 AM
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I think a lot of people think of aluminum frames as a low cost alternative to high end cf.
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Old 02-24-11, 09:28 AM
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Got a web site? I'd like to see your stuff.

I worked as a R&D engineer for Alcoa for several years and know that aluminum is a fantastic material for all kinds of things, but performance-wise the bike market thinks that carbon is where it's at and I doubt that anyone can change it. As for custom steel, so many people love the look of narrow tubes and lugs, which aluminum can't match. FWIW, I have a BikesDirect Windor Fens with a 7005 frame and 105/Ultegra shifting that only cost $700 for the whole bike.
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Old 02-24-11, 09:40 AM
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The thing I dislike the most about aluminum is that the extremely thin walled tubes, necessary to make the frame competively light, make the frame susceptible to denting.

My wife's CAAD 8, suffered a fatal dent in the top tube from the bike falling over in the garage.

Our Aluminum Co-Motion tandem, has small dents in the TT, which fortunately are just a cosmetic issue, from sliding down a pole in front of a convenience store.

Whether correct or not, the market perception is that AL is a low cost alternative. Thus the market for a high end Al frame, i.e. anything over $1,000 would be very small.
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Old 02-24-11, 09:47 AM
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I'm a racer and I ride aluminum, Cdales usually, because I think of them as a cheap / reliable commodity choice for racing. For my only custom, I bought a lugged steel bike.

I'd consider a semi custom or small-batch type alu frame if it had some distinguishing feature from the Cdales, maybe aero tubes or something. I really don't pay attention to alloys or weights etc, but maybe I'm an outlier in that regard. I just suspect that the guys that obsess about that kind of stuff are buying carbon.

Just my .02
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Old 02-24-11, 09:53 AM
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I have a Specialized S-Works E5 - probably the best riding bike I've ever owned. I don't know what they did but it doesn't feel like aluminum. It's light too. The bike is 16 pounds with some fairly heavy components. When I get done upgrading them it will probably be sub 15.
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Old 02-24-11, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by ftwelder View Post
These kits are quite expensive when compared to "commercial" versions. I like the idea of trying to make something better (from my standpoint) but I only do the construction. I would like to make an high-end aluminum product that is attractive to a segment of the market.

I know I can make a frame that can rival or best any aluminum frame made anywhere but that is really quite a small accomplishment when one considers the potential drawbacks of a custom purchase compared to the typical experience provided by "well rounded brands".

Are people looking for builders to push the envelope with these aluminum materials?
Cdale CAAD9/10, Specialized Allez E5, Felt FA, Trek 2.x... all light, stiff, lots of R&D put into these over the years, very optimized aluminum bikes.

These bikes have quite a reputation (as you can see in this forum) warranties, and widespread LBS support. Not trying to discourage you, but if you have innovation to contribute to the design, you really need to hedge on that, be aware of and fully address your competition.
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Old 02-24-11, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Creakyknees View Post
I'm a racer and I ride aluminum, Cdales usually, because I think of them as a cheap / reliable commodity choice for racing. For my only custom, I bought a lugged steel bike.

I'd consider a semi custom or small-batch type alu frame if it had some distinguishing feature from the Cdales, maybe aero tubes or something. I really don't pay attention to alloys or weights etc, but maybe I'm an outlier in that regard. I just suspect that the guys that obsess about that kind of stuff are buying carbon.

Just my .02
I suppose every benefit comes with a price. Even thin-walled carbon fiber bikes can crack if they fall over and an object strikes it in that thin spot.
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Old 02-24-11, 10:27 AM
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Originally Posted by big john View Post
I think a lot of people think of aluminum frames as a low cost alternative to high end cf.
They are wrong.
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Old 02-24-11, 10:36 AM
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It might help to look at another smaller producer of bikes such as Soul Bikes. They have a 6000 series aluminum and a 7000 series aluminum, with the 7000 being their higher-end bike. A lot of members on this forum own the "Faith" bike from the November group buy. You should do a search for their bikes on here. I'll link to the Faith below:
https://bikesoul.com/2009/index.php?o...d=28&Itemid=38
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Old 02-24-11, 10:43 AM
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I think you would need:

1. Access to the same custom tubing the big makers use.
2. The ability to fine tune the frame characteristics using said tubing the way they can.
3. Enough volume to make the above worthwhile and affordable.

If not you'd be another builder using standard tubesets to build custom-to-fit frames. The big boys are already pushing the envelope with Al.
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Old 02-24-11, 10:45 AM
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There's just not much of a market for road bikes from Al. CF can be made lighter and stronger. Many people prefer the feel of Ti and steel. Even Cannondale is making Ti bikes.
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Old 02-24-11, 12:11 PM
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Maybe this can settle some debate about which frame material is inherently better, but probably not.

Carbon fiber is clearly the best material in terms of strength/weight, although it is much more expensive.

That being said. I love aluminum frames, which shows that it's more about what you do with the tubing, rather than what the tubing is.
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Old 02-24-11, 12:25 PM
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The big thing with aluminum is the fact that it can be handmade quickly, i.e. cheaply. No monocoque molds and all that - when Boonen needed a custom frame "right now" Specialized made him an aluminum one until they could get a mold done for his Tarmac or whatever.

I buy custom geometry aluminum frames because I can be involved in the design, I can afford it, and the frames seem durable enough to bang around a bit (from Tsunami Bikes).

I think the limiters for aluminum marketwise:
- lack of a lightweight tapered head tube (I want a 1.5" lower race setup).
- lack of marketing by the tubing folks; it's hard for me, a non-builder, to understand advantages/features/benefits of the different tubing
- weight; since weight isn't as low as carbon (800g-900g) aluminum needs to be sold on cost and, for a small builder, geometry. Or customization in general (paint, aero/not, etc).

At least this is my experience.

cdr
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Old 02-24-11, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by ilovecycling View Post
I suppose every benefit comes with a price. Even thin-walled carbon fiber bikes can crack if they fall over and an object strikes it in that thin spot.
Yes and no. You have to remember that Al is the weakest of all frame matierials used. In order to make a frame light and stiff, AL has to have large thin tubes, which are more prone to damage than any other material. Any dents with sharp corners in an Al frame will eventually fail too, unlike steel or Ti.
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Old 02-24-11, 12:41 PM
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Originally Posted by carpediemracing View Post
The big thing with aluminum is the fact that it can be handmade quickly, i.e. cheaply. No monocoque molds and all that - when Boonen needed a custom frame "right now" Specialized made him an aluminum one until they could get a mold done for his Tarmac or whatever.

I buy custom geometry aluminum frames because I can be involved in the design, I can afford it, and the frames seem durable enough to bang around a bit (from Tsunami Bikes).

I think the limiters for aluminum marketwise:
- lack of a lightweight tapered head tube (I want a 1.5" lower race setup).
- lack of marketing by the tubing folks; it's hard for me, a non-builder, to understand advantages/features/benefits of the different tubing
- weight; since weight isn't as low as carbon (800g-900g) aluminum needs to be sold on cost and, for a small builder, geometry. Or customization in general (paint, aero/not, etc).

At least this is my experience.

cdr
I disagree, the premiere Al options have those features and the weight nailed.

Specialized Allez E5, Al, has a tapered head tube, 1.5" lower race. Butted hydroformed tubes, all the good stuff.

CAAD10 is reportedly 1050g. That's not far off your 800-900g desire. Other premier Al frame offers are probably close to that. With a DA/RED drive train and diligent cockpit/wheel selection, you'd probably be bumping up against or dropping below UCI weight limits without huge difficulty.

$550 for the Allez frameset, unknown on CAAD. To get a quality stiff 800-900g carbon frameset, your talking $3-4K. That's a huge HUGE price premium.
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Old 02-24-11, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Menel View Post
I disagree, the premiere Al options have those features and the weight nailed.

Specialized Allez E5, Al, has a tapered head tube, 1.5" lower race. Butted hydroformed tubes, all the good stuff.
Do you really think there are many custom makers who have the ability to hydroform tubes?
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Old 02-24-11, 12:51 PM
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It is really a shame, in that the aluminum industry has not really taken the bicycle industry as seriously as they should. I kinda came to this thought recently by watching a recent show about aluminum on NatGeo cable channel. It was quite an impressive show about the characteristics/uses/benefits of aluminum. I was quite impressed.

Personally, I have liked the speed of aluminum bikes I have owned in the past, but as soon as I got my butt on a carbon bike on a long ride, I knew I had to have a carbon bike. I just don't get beaten up after my rides, as I use to on aluminum frames.

The challenge for the aluminum industry is to make aluminum alloys and fabricate tubes that won't beat riders up.
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Old 02-24-11, 12:55 PM
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Originally Posted by SalsaPodio View Post


I haven't seen an Ashby chart in a while. Material selection hardon
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Old 02-24-11, 01:23 PM
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I also wonder about a small custom builder's ability to use the most advanced aluminum alloy tubes (formed, manipulated, etc). Even entry-level bikesdirect bikes come with tapered/manipulated top and down tubes. Having custom geometry is nice, but not with the compromise of lesser tubes. In terms of perception, aluminum doesn't have the perceived longevity like "steel is real" or "ti lasts forever", so people aren't as drawn towards custom aluminum frames (although I'm still a fan of aluminum). I also have to say that my carbon bike is smoother than my Ti and Al bikes.
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Old 02-24-11, 02:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Menel View Post
I disagree, the premiere Al options have those features and the weight nailed.

Specialized Allez E5, Al, has a tapered head tube, 1.5" lower race. Butted hydroformed tubes, all the good stuff.

CAAD10 is reportedly 1050g. That's not far off your 800-900g desire. Other premier Al frame offers are probably close to that. With a DA/RED drive train and diligent cockpit/wheel selection, you'd probably be bumping up against or dropping below UCI weight limits without huge difficulty.

$550 for the Allez frameset, unknown on CAAD. To get a quality stiff 800-900g carbon frameset, your talking $3-4K. That's a huge HUGE price premium.
I understand that the features I mentioned are available on mass produced, stock framesets.

I was talking about product for a small builder (i.e. the OP, who sounds smaller than a Cannondale size company), meaning tubing etc, so that small builders can make custom geometry frames based on a wider variety of tubing. Tapered head tubes available individually (low quantities, like half a dozen at a time or similar numbers), tubing groupsets marketed towards end consumers as much as the actual clients like frame builders, etc.

Based on my conversations with the guy that built my last two framesets things like a tapered headtube is unavailable. That kind of bums me out, although I assured him that when they do become available I'll be ordering another frameset.

cdr

*edit* it would be a moot point if, say, Cannondale made a 40 cm seat tube, 56.5 cm tt, 9.5 cm head tube, 75.5 deg ST, 39 cm chainstay frame. But they can't anymore (they offered full on custom frames for a very short time in the mid-90s).

Last edited by carpediemracing; 02-24-11 at 02:49 PM. Reason: add sizing comment
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Old 02-24-11, 02:42 PM
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Originally Posted by ilovecycling View Post
I suppose every benefit comes with a price. Even thin-walled carbon fiber bikes can crack if they fall over and an object strikes it in that thin spot.
Originally Posted by clink83 View Post
Yes and no. You have to remember that Al is the weakest of all frame matierials used. In order to make a frame light and stiff, AL has to have large thin tubes, which are more prone to damage than any other material. Any dents with sharp corners in an Al frame will eventually fail too, unlike steel or Ti.
+1. My CF bike has been crashed twice in races, and fallen over leaned against walls etc, and has zero damage. The only 2 aluminum bikes we've had, both got dented from just falling over.
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Old 02-24-11, 03:53 PM
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Too thin tubes that compromise durability can be considered a design flaw, which is easily avoided.
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Old 02-24-11, 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by sced View Post
Too thin tubes that compromise durability can be considered a design flaw, which is easily avoided.
Dropping bikes on the ground/curbs/other hard surfaces is a user flaw that can be easily avoided.
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