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  1. #1
    RPG
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    Frame material/gravel bike question

    Is there a noticeable difference on a long gravel ride when riding an aluminum verses a steel frame? I know there is a noticeable difference on my ss mtb (have a steel kona unit), but want to get opinions on long gravel rides.

  2. #2
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    Every scandium frame I've ridden has felt better than comparable steel. Modern aluminum frames don't feel like Klein's from the 80's.

  3. #3
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    Be careful not to group all frames made from each material together, the frames design and intent has a huge effect on the ride.

    I put tens of thousands of gravel miles on a harsh aluminum frame that was designed for CX, and compared to some other alum frames that are designed for gravel and use flattened stays they are worlds apart.

    Who designed the frame and what experience they have with the riding style says a lot. Sean Maillen helped design the Ti Warbird frame i am on, and he has the personal experience of finishing multiple trans-iowas, dirty kanzas, and even winning the Almanzo Royal.
    I am in love with this bike and can't wait to go back to Trans-Iowa again next year with it, it really keeps me feeling fresher compared to my old rattle can.

    One thing i will say since you are getting input on a gravel bike, get a wheelset you can run tubeless. I've built up a few dozen high end gravel specific bikes in the last year and nothing is a better ride quality investment then a good 120tpi tire setup tubeless.
    I run Clement MSO 120tpi at 39psi on iron cross rims(180lb rider). Wow.

  4. #4
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    There tends to be a lot of discussion on the notions you're trying to clarify in the Framebuilders sub-forum.

    MORE than material, design intent will determine how a frame rides. That being said, some bikes step outside what you expect and truly surprise you with ride quality. Cheaper steel cx offerings tend to be harsher than some aluminum frames. My 2007 Redline Conquest Pro is shockingly comfortable over long gravel grinds, while a cheap BikesDirect steel frame I have in the stable is pretty jarring.

    As Hand/of/Midas expounded on, a tubeless wheelset gives quite a lot back in terms of comfort, besides the peace of mind one gets from running Stan's inside your tires.

  5. #5
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    Yeah, what they said.

    I was a bit wary of aluminum frames, after owning a 1991 or 1992 GT Zaskar, which was stiffer than a block of concrete. But I've taken my scandium cross bike on 130 mile gravel road rides and it was very comfortable. Never once felt it was harsh. There are soft aluminum bikes and ultra harsh titanium bikes. Depends on more than material.

  6. #6
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    The difference is most likely in durability. If bikes made from 6061/Al-Sc/steel/Ti/carbon are built to ride exactly the same (probably not entirely possible to compare this in reality, different brands etc) i'm guessing it would be night and day difference in durability. Personally I dislike everything alu, and carbon is disposable as always. Scandium doped alu seems much better than regular crap alu, better grain refinement, theoretically no welds cracking, possibly a little stronger. I would love to abuse the hell out of a scandium frame just to see how much it can take. Real men test to destruction.

    However is price is a factor then buy big brand mainstream bikes, and those are almost always alu. You get what you pay for.

    Who makes scandium cx frames?
    Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

    Quote Originally Posted by iheartbicycles View Post
    Specialized sucks ass.

  7. #7
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    Maybe Rock Lobster? I had a Voodoo Limba for 13 years before the frame cracked. I never did any real races on it but I didn't baby that bike in any way.

    Ti would be awesome but this whole gravel road thing is just starting (sorta). Everything seems up in the air right now - BB standard, discs, geometry, thru axle ... Does any of it really matter?

    I'd buy the best bike you can afford, don't worry about the frame material and ride the thing constantly. Then you'll be more educated while shopping for your next bike.

  8. #8
    RPG
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    Thanks for all of the replies. Makes sense to find a decent bike to get out. The most I would ride on gravel would be 50 miles, and not sure material would come into play. Plus, tubeless would soften the blow. The constant jarring would not be as great as my mtb either. That is where I can feel the difference from al and steel.

  9. #9
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    Get a carbon post with set back as well. That'll take out some road buzz.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by car bone View Post
    I would love to abuse the hell out of a scandium frame just to see how much it can take.

    Who makes scandium cx frames?
    My Redline Team is scandium, but from 2000

  11. #11
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    I will offer this explaination on the Alloy vrs Steel understanding.

    Steel when used for a rigid bike is superior in this application due to its ability to take cyclic loading (vibrations). The ride is more compliant.

    Alloy, being a stiff material and no-where as good at cyclic loads is less suitable for a rigid bike, passing vibration through-out its structure. It is however excellent for attaching suspension to as it gives rigidity to the structure for the suspension to function correctly.

    This why you have differing experiences between the 2 bike materials and confuses how the bikes feel.

    For gravel grinding, find the best frame in steel that you can afford and enjoy it. Cheap frames tend to be heavy walled and don't give the same supple feel as a good double-butted frame.

    Also, Carbon seat stems are excellent as are Carbon forks, because 50 mls is still along way to go sitting on a saddle for 3hrs, numbness to butt and hands being your enemy.

    Eric
    If I don't make an attempt, how will I know if it will work?

  12. #12
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    Frame material/gravel bike question

    I roll a Ti "CX" bike now. But I have been considering a Stainless Steel frame from a US builder like Mr. Quiring.
    http://quiringcycles.net/custom-fram...inless-frames/

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    You didn't ask about carbon frames but they're my favorite. Alu frames can be good if you spend enough money, but Scandium is not durable enough in terms of years of use. Rock Lobster, which makes frames in steel, aluminum and Scandium, also believes this. Carbon frames can be tuned in ways that are not possible with metal frames: they mute road buzz, can be incredibly stiff yet comfortable. Those who doubt carbon's durability aren't paying attention to all the carbon mtb frames out there.

    Watch this:
    Niner Bikes Fork Hammering - YouTube

  14. #14
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    In my opinion, frame material is one of the most over-discussed topics in cycling. Geometry and tires/pressure will make a much bigger difference to the feel of the bike than the material.

  15. #15
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    I disagree with that statement. While fat tires will mute the idiosyncrasies of any frame, material makes a big difference. Metal frames have some things in common, but when you go to non-metal frames, big difference.

  16. #16
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    Mudrock

    I agree with what you say regarding non-steel materials.

    I am concerned about the Niner Carbon video. Impact with a hammer on both materials
    leaves the Carbon looking good in appearance but in Niners own words - unusable. At least the steel fork can get you home, and in reality, can be kept in service for some time.

    I have seen a bike that was used on a tour of South America that did not have an undented tube any where still being used. Apparently in SA, air freighting, running around on the back of vehicles, bouncing about on buses with other freight is high risk.

    Eric
    If I don't make an attempt, how will I know if it will work?

  17. #17
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    the truth is this: the heavier the frame (unless walmart crap), the more durable, no matter what material. Steel is usually the heaviest and also the most durable when subjected to abuse.
    Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

    Quote Originally Posted by iheartbicycles View Post
    Specialized sucks ass.

  18. #18
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    That's a gross oversimplification. Lead pipe would be more durable that all of them. For longevity everyone agrees titanium can't be beat, yet it's lighter than steel.

  19. #19
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    Well in reality titanium is about twice a flexible as steel (e-module), but it snaps like carbon when overloaded, I find it very hard to permanantly bend Ti, the boundary where it bends and where it snaps is paper thin. Also Ti needs to be welded with 99,99999% (or similar) purity argon, and prepurged with long shielding gas flow after the weld for the material to not oxidize. Its also extremely sensitive to contamination during assembly and mitering of the tubes and while just handling the tubes. You can't even get finger/palmprints on the tubes/electrodes before welding, then its ruined. Everything needs to laboratory clean. Everything.

    So all in all its these little things that ultimately breaks most Ti frames. Incompetence. (just look at all those Lynskeys that broke a couple of years ago), its good in theory, if the fabricator don't take ANY shortcuts.

    While steel is not even close to being as sensitive to contamination or oxidation while fabricating, so it usually breaks because of completely different reasons. Incompetence while building it isn't that important. Sure for steel to perform at its very best you need to handle and weld it just as Ti.
    Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

    Quote Originally Posted by iheartbicycles View Post
    Specialized sucks ass.

  20. #20
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    I chose steel, heavy steel, in the form of a Ritchey Swisscross. My only concern is the carbon fork, good for cx but I wouldn't swear on it for singletrack, which I often ride. I wouldn't go back: supple ride (clèment Cx tires), MTB like handling, good climber notwithstanding the weight.

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