1. The most important thing about buying a new bike is to make sure it fits. The only way you'll know if the bike is right for you is to size up the bike and make sure that the bike's geometry matches your body's geometry. Ask questions and do some research.
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2. If possible, try to find a shop that will let you demo the bike on real dirt. Five minutes in a parking lot won't cut it. You wouldn't buy a car without a real world test drive, and a bike should be no different.
3. Don't belive the hype. Just because your favorite rider or best friend rides a certain bike, that doesn't mean that's the best one for you. Have an open mind and be realistic about your needs and ability.
Results 1 to 14 of 14
  1. #1
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    Steel vs aluminum frames....

    What are the major differences and advantages?

    Currently, I ride a 2002 Trek Mamba steel frame. I am 210 lbs fwiw. What differences will I notice changing to an aluminum frame other than weight?

    Trying to decide if I should make component upgrades and keep this frame or move on to newer technology.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by comphynum View Post
    What are the major differences and advantages?
    Steel is heavier. Disadvantage, usually.

    Steel tubes are smaller and have a sleek look to them that I like. Advantage.

    Aluminum doesn't rust. Advantage.

    Some will argue that steel provides a bit of flex. But that flex is minimal and in no way replaces suspension. I have two rigid bikes right now -- one aluminum and one steel -- and the aluminum one is a more comfortable ride and seems to jar me less. So go figure.

    Honestly, if you buy a new frame you are far more likely to notice and benefit from new thinking in geometry than from a difference in material. There's been a trend the past few years towards shorter stems and longer top tubes, and also towards slacker head angles. Suspension designs are better too. You'll notice those differences far more than any difference from steel versus aluminum.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonathanGennick View Post
    Steel is heavier. Disadvantage, usually.

    Steel tubes are smaller and have a sleek look to them that I like. Advantage.

    Aluminum doesn't rust. Advantage.

    Some will argue that steel provides a bit of flex. But that flex is minimal and in no way replaces suspension. I have two rigid bikes right now -- one aluminum and one steel -- and the aluminum one is a more comfortable ride and seems to jar me less. So go figure.

    Honestly, if you buy a new frame you are far more likely to notice and benefit from new thinking in geometry than from a difference in material. There's been a trend the past few years towards shorter stems and longer top tubes, and also towards slacker head angles. Suspension designs are better too. You'll notice those differences far more than any difference from steel versus aluminum.
    I agree with what he said. I started off on steel (chromo), went to alum, then Ti, and now on scandium. Geo and fit where the biggest changes I noticed. You can tell the difference between the frames but I notice more of a difference going from a 2.1" tire to a 2.4" tire. Weight and price usually dictates the frame material for me.

  4. #4
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    I recently switched from a steel frame to an aluminum. My road bike is steel also. I agree with all the things mentioned so far. I do love my new aluminum ride mainly for its weight and the geometry. It does not have the same flex as my steel bike Ė itís a bit stiffer Ė but I really donít notice a huge difference on the trail (with a 2.4 up front and 2.3 in the back, its pretty cush). I notice it more with a road bike where there is a lot more transfer of road roughness to the frame. I used to have an aluminum/carbon road bike that beat the hell out of me on long rides.

    Another factor is that steel will stand up to a bit more abuse than aluminum, though both are plenty tough for most riding situations. But a nick in the wrong place on an aluminum bike can be problematic and they can also get more prone to cracking over time (fatigue failure). But itís a pretty long time and more and more builders factor this into the design, ensuring key stess points are adequately reinforced, so probably not a big concern. Steel, though, will go the distance.

    If I had the money for a new bike, personally, I would probably go for another steel bike. I just like the skinnier lines and the bombproof nature of them. Or Ti if I had the funds. But I am totally happy with what I have.

    I say ride before you buy and go with what feels best.

  5. #5
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    I've had steel and aluminum frames and I don't notice any difference in the frame flex. I agree with above, it's more about the geometry and suspension than the frames when you're just comparing those two materials. That said, I haven't had my aluminum frame long enough to do an endurance test, but the steel frames are virtually bombproof.

  6. #6
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    Steel is softer which mean you can bend some parts back, Alu frame is not possible as it would degrade the strength.

    As for the difference in ride quality, hmmm, it's tough to say because like john mentioned bike companies can now make just any material ride as comfortable or stiff as they want within the premiss of the materials.

    I'll say this, when compares the typical HT in different materials after an epic 20-25 miles ride, I'd walk or limp back to the car. On short ride there's no difference.


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  7. #7
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    Steel says ting, aluminum says thunk.
    Steel is springy, flexy, aluminum says thunk.
    Steel can rust, aluminum says I don't thunk so.

    IMO aluminum isn't a better choice for rigid rides unless it's got some big soft tires.
    Round and round we go

  8. #8
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    "Steel" is pretty broad.

    From a materials perspective, steel is stiffer and has a higher yield by volume, but it also has more mass by volume. That means it doesn't take as much steel to make a structure sufficiently strong for some purpose, but it'll weigh more than the same volume of aluminum. While it takes more aluminum, it's enough less dense than steel that usually within the same pricepoint, aluminum bikes will be lighter.

    But there's steel and steel. Nicer chromoly frames or those with higher-end branded tubesets can easily be lighter than a Walmart Schwinn frame in aluminum. Skank-iron frames need a lot of metal to be strong enough and weigh more than just about anything else. A few really high-end steels are available that can be built up into frames that compete directly with aluminum and carbon fiber.

    Your Mamba is probably either chromoly or skank iron. If it's chromoly, you might lose up to a pound going to aluminum. And you can lose quite a lot going to a high-end carbon frame. At least, relative to the weight of a bike frame. If it's skank iron, you should just replace it on principle.

    Even a swing of over 3 lb won't make a big difference here, IMO. That's still only 1.5% of your weight, and frames aren't as far away from the rider as the further parts of the wheels, or as high as the saddle. If you like the geometry, don't sweat it.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  9. #9
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    I love the feel of steel on a hardtail. My back isn't as sore on a steel after riding for a couple hours. I think the older Mambas were indeed 4130 cromo.

  10. #10
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    Over the years I've found that the material the frame is made of makes little difference. It's more the way the frame builder manipulates the tubing, how and where the tubing is butted, the gauge of tubing used, tube shapes, etc. All combine to determine how a frame rides. I've ridden aluminum, steel, carbon, and ti frames that would simply beat the snot out of you. And I've ridden frames in each material that were very nice as well. It really depends on the builders philosophy and purpose.

    Anyway, steel vs. aluminum can be a very slippery slope. Steel and aluminum are very different materials with very different properties, kind of an apples to oranges comparison. The same can be said when comparing any two common frame materials. When you strip away the technical differences, it boils down to the ride. Generally speaking a well thought out and constructed Aluminum frame will usually ride a bit harsher than a well made steel frame. However, where it really counts is in the seat of your pants. Will your butt be able to tell the difference? Maybe, but probably not. As the others have said, and I agree, what you'll be more likely to notice is the difference between the older design geometry and modern, and the difference in modern components. Things have come a long way since 02.

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  11. #11
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    so, what if you are comparing the same company, and the same geometry's? ie Niner for example. a mondern day higher quality steel (sir9) especially the new one with upgrades, vs their air9 which is run of the mill decent quality aluminum. if seats, parts, wheels, tires, and geometry is the same, now would the ride of those two compare? i ask because i am in the market for a new 29'er hardtail frame. a nice one. but trying to keep it around $1k. and no one in a 600 mile radius of where i live has a steel Niner demo...

    thoughts?
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mayor69PRS View Post
    so, what if you are comparing the same company, and the same geometry's? ie Niner for example. a mondern day higher quality steel (sir9) especially the new one with upgrades, vs their air9 which is run of the mill decent quality aluminum. if seats, parts, wheels, tires, and geometry is the same, now would the ride of those two compare? i ask because i am in the market for a new 29'er hardtail frame. a nice one. but trying to keep it around $1k. and no one in a 600 mile radius of where i live has a steel Niner demo...

    thoughts?
    The steel would be slighly heavier than alu, and would be a bit more comfortable over the long ride. If anything you'd feel the difference in the corner riding back to back. I like the SIR9, I have it. I tested ride a few niners before getting the SIR9, after a few months of riding I rode the Air9 and EMD, I couldn't tell the difference except for the difference traction and comfort of the tires.

  13. #13
    Wasting time
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    My old bike was a magna (terrible), that had a stell frame and it was heavy as all get out. I switched to an Aluminium frame and its been worlds better for me. Plus I like the look of the bigger tubes with the aluminium
    2012 Diamondback Recoil

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  14. #14
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    I just built a 2002 Mamba up - for the hell of it. I missed the sprintability of a hardtail, after riding FS for 10 years or so.

    Two disclaimers:
    - I'm definitely outta riding shape right now, I wasn't much faster on my FS on a recent ride.
    - I built this up for cheap, primarily because I was using spare parts I had laying around - a handbuilt XT hub/Mavic 519 wheelset that is heavy, Avid mech disc brake up front, old V brake set.

    But this bike feels HEAVY. I'm missing the sprinting I was hoping for. I explicitly was hunting for a steel frame since I like my steel road bike. I bought this bike off craigslist for $90 so no big loss if I change directions. I haven't weighed it yet, I should.

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