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  1. #1
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    Just Not Feeling the Advantages of Steel

    Hi all,

    I figure I will be rocking the boat with this post. People frequently bring up how nice the flexibility and vibration damping ability of steel is, yet I haven't really experienced it with the steel bikes I've ridden. I had a 1999 Trek 800 Sport with a rigid fork and it always seemed quite harsh on the trails to me. After owning an aluminum xc hardtail, I went to an On One 456 Evo II. I couldn't tell any difference from the aluminum xc hardtail or the old Trek. I get that neither is an especially nice steel frame, but based on these two experiences it seems like the ride quality of steel is overhyped to me. Anybody else feel the same way? For those who appreciate steel more, what are some steel frames that might show me the ride quality of steel?

  2. #2
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    If we are only discussing vibration damping on a modern MTB, IMHO, there is no noticeable difference in frame material. In a world were anything smaller than a 2.25 tire is considered "old school", and big tubeless tires are ran at very low PSI's, I don't see how someone could "feel" a difference in vibration damping between different frame materials. If the discussion was about road or CX bikes (rigid with high pressure tires) frame material can make a big difference in "feel".

    On the other hand, frame material can make a big difference in frame stiffness and pedaling efficiency.

  3. #3
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    Don't know what to tell you, you may just have the sensitivity of a rock Me personally, I feel a HUGE difference between my alu HT and my steel rigid, not even close. Both are setup with B+ rear, the alu even has a bit bigger tyre and when I land a drop, hit rough stuff on that, I can feel it, on the steel frame it's smooth. Granted, the construction of those 2 frames is much different, the steel frame has very thin stays designed for just that reason, the alu HT has box stays designed to be stiff and precise, but I've ridden quite a few other alu frames and I can definitely feel the difference over my steel one.

    Just FYI, no clue on your Trek 800, but I've ridden a Trek 8000 and it was definitely one of the smoothest alu HT frames I've ridden, so Trek definitely knows what they're doing in terms of design using alu. I would like to get ahold of that bike again now to compare it to my steel bike, see if I could feel the difference and to see if it is a solid ride in the tech, or a flexy noodle to offer the ride it does - my steel bike is very stable in the tech, it's a '08 Monkey.
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  4. #4
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    Any frame material can be made into a frame that will ride any way through tube shaping and butting, tube wall thickness and diameter, and to a degree tube shaping and other manipulation. There are flexy aluminum frames and stiff steel ones. Your Trek 800 is pretty low end and is probably overbuilt for durability and to control cost so it's going to have a stiff ride. Most low cost frames of any material are overbuilt to last and not break (liability). Higher end frames can be more nuanced and mission-targeted but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll offer a compliant ride. For example, an expensive touring bike will still ride stiffly because it is designed to carry a load and be stable. But a more expensive bike tuned and designed to offer a complaint ride can be made of any material if the designer/builder know what they're doing.

  5. #5
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    Most flexible and noodly bike I've owned = Aluminum

    Stiffest and most unforgiving bike I've owned = Steel

    I've had several steel, aluminum, carbon, and titanium frames that feel between those two.

    The frame design has more to do with the feel than the material. Your bodyweight is a big factor too. Most bikes have to be built strong enough to reliably carry people over 200 pounds. It doesn't matter what the bike is made out of, it's going to feel stiff if it's designed for a 200 pound rider and you weigh closer to 100 pounds.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by LyNx View Post
    Don't know what to tell you, you may just have the sensitivity of a rock .
    Just Not Feeling the Advantages of Steel-facepalm-newspaper.jpg

  7. #7
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    My first mtb was a 1991 Trek 820 which was a rigid steel bike. That was when suspension forks were in their infancy. Back then I couldn't have told you what type of ride it had because I had nothing to compare it to. I bought a Scott/Clark Kent UniShock fork for it and rode it for about a year then the frame broke at the seat stay. Trek warrantied it but let me upgrade to a 8000 frame. As LyNx mentioned earlier Trek knew what they were doing back then with their tubes. It was a bonded, lugged not welded frame and it rode sweet. I rode it for about 10 years then I thought I would see what all the talk is about with the "Steel is real" and bought a closeout re-branded KHS True Temper OX Platinum Plus frame. It had a down tube that was tear drop in shape. It was the harshest riding bike that I have ever owned.

    Fast forward a few bikes and I was finally able to get the bike of my dreams, albeit a much newer version and a 29er, a Breezer Lightning. Breezer Lightnings were legendary back in the day. They were a work of art and supposedly had a magic ride. I took all the parts (I had upgraded everything but the seatpost) off my aluminum Breezer Storm to build up the Lightning Team 29. The frames have almost identical geomentry except Lightning has 5mm shorter chain stays. The very first ride I could tell the difference. Wow this is what a premium steel bike is supposed to feel like! It has just the right amount of compliance to make the ride magical. Everyone who has ridden it has been impressed with it. As Joe Breeze says, " Let the tubing be the star of the show." and that is true with steel and aluminum. Here is an interview with him and he tells it much better than I could ever.


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  8. #8
    CS2
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    To be fair the OP is comparing a rigid bike to one with a suspension fork. At least that's what it sounds like. A cheap steel bike isn't any better than a cheap AL bike.
    A garage full of steel frames means happiness.

  9. #9
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    On the road the small diameter piped steel frames have their unique feel. On the trails I'll take a carbon frame any day over the others.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by CS2 View Post
    A cheap steel bike isn't any better than a cheap AL bike.
    I agree, a cheap frame rides like a cheap frame. Personally my days of aluminum hardtails is long gone. It's high end steel for me on anything other than full squish.

    I appreciate the ride qualities of steel. I love it's durability and repairability. There's nothing like the lively ride.
    Rigid SS 29er
    Fat Lefty
    SS MonsterCross
    SS cyclocross
    all steel

    Stop asking how much it weighs and just go ride it.

  11. #11
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    Totally agree its about frame design not material, though certain materials have characteristics that a good designer can exploit. I tried steel once and couldnt tell a diff from my alu frame HT.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by CS2 View Post
    To be fair the OP is comparing a rigid bike to one with a suspension fork. At least that's what it sounds like. A cheap steel bike isn't any better than a cheap AL bike.
    Not really, the On One 456 Evo II had a 130mm X Fusion Velvet on it and my aluminum xc hardtail had the same exact fork, just lowered.

  13. #13
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    I have two steel-framed road bikes that feel quite different. My 1987 Bianchi has an SLX frame. It is not very forgiving, and a wee bit twitchy, but is quite efficient. I also have a modern custom steel frame that is very plush and comfortable, but I am marginally slower on it than the old Bianchi.

    As for mountain bikes, I just got my first steel frame, and I am hoping it will be an improvement over my Al-framed bike (aluminum has an official IUPAC/periodic table two-letter abbreviation; no need to invent new ones).

    I have an Al-framed full-suspension mountain bike (2008 Trek Fuel EX7). I think the shock absorbers are there primarily to compensate for the harshness of the Al frame.

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