Aluminum vs steel- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Aluminum vs steel

    Hi all,

    I am contemlpating getting a Single Speed and found a great deal on one [with aluminum frame]. However, I know that steel frame would probably be a lot more durable and absorb more high-frequency bumps.
    This probably was already discussed before... but I would love to hear opinions specifically from "lightweight" riders. I weigh 115 pounds fully clothed with topped off camelback ;-) and suspect that durability of the frame would not be that much of an issue.
    What would you all recommend? Can you really feel the difference in material?

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
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    Aluminum bikes tend to be stiffer only because the tubes are larger in diameter (you don't want aluminum to deflect too much because it is not as strong as steel in fatigue). As a result, the frames are designed to give less.
    Take a look at a steel bike and you will see relatively skinny tubes. These allow for more flex, making the ride more confortable (slightly, in my opinion).

    Have fun.

  3. #3
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    Yep I agree but

    Quote Originally Posted by Allamuchy Joe
    Aluminum bikes tend to be stiffer only because the tubes are larger in diameter (you don't want aluminum to deflect too much because it is not as strong as steel in fatigue). As a result, the frames are designed to give less.
    Take a look at a steel bike and you will see relatively skinny tubes. These allow for more flex, making the ride more confortable (slightly, in my opinion).

    Have fun.
    nothing rockets up hill like a stiff ultra light aluminum frame.

  4. #4
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    My first mountain bike had an aluminum hardtail frame and I rode it over four years. I have recently switched over to a steel frame and can honestly say it is a night and day difference in ride quality. The aluminum frame was a really harsh ride that sent every crack on the trail directly up my spine. My steel frame rides like a dream and helps absorb the impact of the trail. I doubt I'll ever buy another aluminum frame hardtail again.

  5. #5
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    A more confortable saddle (more suited to you) would make a lot more difference then alu vs steel...

    Buy what is cheaper... Dont forget steel rust aluminium don't people often forget that.

    Some people like an alu frame (stiffer)
    So like steel frame (more confortable, less stiff)

    Personnaly i don't notice the difference... Otherwise that saddle make a huge difference, be carefull with people that say the steel IS A LOT MORE confortable, they usually change the whole bike including the saddle... Having a steel frame vs an alu one make a little difference in confort...

  6. #6
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    rocks make a different sound hitting steel... more of a ping

  7. #7
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    people are gonna make a lot of generalizations that I think dont help.

    For completness, here is mine: "The most important parameter in a frame build is HOW it is built, not what design is used, not what material is used, but HOW the material/design is implemented, period!"

    i acknowledge the subtle differences between materials but using a good builder, I definitely prefer Aluminum. This is based on MY preferences so nobody can argue what i have found I like....your results may vary.

    I have 1 Aluminum and 2 Scandium bikes.

  8. #8
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    From another angle...

    All other things being equal, steel has a nicer ride. How much of a nicer ride? Depends. If you've been a FS rider and now going to a HT you'll think both rides are bone jarring.

    One way I look at it is this. I've been riding a very nice scandium frame that I got used. It's a super frame in every way except its a harsh ride when compared to a good steel frame. But even a good steel frame is going to come in at least a half pound heavier. With that in mind I justify a fatter tire on the Scandium and I still save weight while getting close, if not more, of the cush that a steel frame would give.

    So, if you look at it from that angle it's kind of a wash.

    That's still not saying I'm not jonesing for a custom steel.

    Mike

  9. #9
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    I have a SS alu and a SS steel.
    I think it depends on your style and what you want to do with it.

    When I want to go fast & more agressive I take my Cannondale , or else , I have my Kona Unit.
    Don't forget that there are alu bikes that are surprisingly comfy.

    Give me the choice , I'd say alu.

    When I feel too much bumps & rocks & stuff , I take my road bike
    "There is a big difference between kneeling down and bending over" -FZ

  10. #10
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    What are these steel frames that everyone keeps referring to and ride so compliant? I can understand some of the more pricier frames, but what about those that the majority ride? I have tried out a Surly 1X1 and will say that a very stout frame built from 4130 cro-mo leaves alot to be desired as far as comfy goes. I now ride a Fort Onix steel SS frame and while I like it, it is also one solid frame. I find it hard to believe that most 16 to 17" steel frames that weigh well over 4 pounds and made of 4130 or equivalent, are going to ride any different. I still have my steel Stumpjumper, so I do know what a nice steel frame feels like. For someone dressed out at 115 pounds, unless they go custom, I do not think they are going to feel much difference between most aluminum frames and the more popular steel SS frames. As far as durability, I believe that and value are what companies like On-One and Surly really target.

    Brian

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by FoShizzle

    I have 1 Aluminum and 2 Scandium bikes.
    Isn't a Scandium frame an aluminum alloy frame...... just like the aluminum frame...except that the alloy is scandium instead of something else?

    edit: I agree with your take on design and build being more important than the material.

  12. #12
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    So to summerize your post

    Quote Originally Posted by Miker J
    All other things being equal, steel has a nicer ride. How much of a nicer ride? Depends. If you've been a FS rider and now going to a HT you'll think both rides are bone jarring.

    One way I look at it is this. I've been riding a very nice scandium frame that I got used. It's a super frame in every way except its a harsh ride when compared to a good steel frame. But even a good steel frame is going to come in at least a half pound heavier. With that in mind I justify a fatter tire on the Scandium and I still save weight while getting close, if not more, of the cush that a steel frame would give.

    So, if you look at it from that angle it's kind of a wash.

    That's still not saying I'm not jonesing for a custom steel.

    Mike
    When it comes to quailty made hardtails all things (price, weight, durability, stiffness, etc.,) considered you are splitting hairs on frame material?

    I agree and would even throw Ti and carbon into this statement.

  13. #13
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    You can't decide by material alone.

    Not too long ago, I would say all aluminum frames were fairly primative. Straight gauge or minimally butted tubes. And it was fairly easy to say then that ALL aluminum frames rode harshly. But now, with more and more manufacturers using more extensively butted tubes and different alloys, I don't think it's wise to say aluminum rides one way and steel another. There's enough varience in the ride quality that you really have to talk about individual bikes. Aluminum frames still all have really big tubes compared to steal frames, and aluminum is not a good material for making springs so it's still probably fair to say that in general aluminum frames are stiffer but to rule out a bike strictly because of what it is made out of instead of actually riding is probably dumb.

    When aluminum first made the bike scene, in the shape of glued together Vitus and Alan frames, the rap on them was that they were too noodle-y. So material alone is obviously not a good way to judge the way a bike will ride.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bike Nazi
    When it comes to quailty made hardtails all things (price, weight, durability, stiffness, etc.,) considered you are splitting hairs on frame material?

    I agree and would even throw Ti and carbon into this statement.
    Yeah, the differences are small, and can pretty easily be overshadowed by tire choice and tire pressure. On the other hand the difference between xt and xtr is pretty small too; and we know what how important _that_ difference is too some. Some guys can hop on a bike and ride whatever. They wouldn't know if you added 15psi to there tires or dropped their bars by an inch. Some guys are bothered if the pressure is off 2 psi in their tires or if their seat is off by one angle.

    Lucky are those who can ride whatever and just be happy.

  15. #15
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    A well built aluminum frame will, by definition, be stiff. If it's not, it will fail. Unlike steel, aluminum has a finite limit on how many time it can flexed.

    A steel frame can be designed to flex without the hazard of metal fatigue.

    Bottom line. Design of the frame is more important than material.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Shorts
    Bottom line. Design of the frame is more important than material.



    If you live in a city where the winter is 5 months long and there is calcium on the road , I'd say the choice of material is definitly the priority...

    It all depends on what your priority is , for me , alu is more durable than steel.
    "There is a big difference between kneeling down and bending over" -FZ

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by fokof
    If you live in a city where the winter is 5 months long and there is calcium on the road , I'd say the choice of material is definitly the priority...

    It all depends on what your priority is , for me , alu is more durable than steel.
    Good points... I was referring to ride quality, not a material's properties vs corrosives. In your case, aluminum would be better than steel.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Megaclocker
    Personnaly i don't notice the difference... Otherwise that saddle make a huge difference, be carefull with people that say the steel IS A LOT MORE confortable, they usually change the whole bike including the saddle... Having a steel frame vs an alu one make a little difference in confort...
    Steel IS A LOT MORE COMFORTABLE!!
    Ride a Brooks saddle.
    People with aluminum bike usually change them up as well, it's called upgrading...What if you just buy a frame??
    Black Sheep...where it'ss at!!
    "I'm not known for my patience. Patience is a polite quality and often appropriate, but it rarely gets things done. Impatience, however, is the hunger for results and intolerance for excuses and delays." LA

  19. #19
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    Thank you all for your responses. Very good points made. Just wanted to clarify: I don't really have any preference as to what material the bike is made of and what properties those materials possess other than the ones pertinent to rider's comfort. I know I will be taking a lot more beating riding a single speed rather than my trusted geared aluminum squeeshy.

    It does seem like steel gives more flex/shock absorbtion and aluminum's rigidity provides for better climbing. I would definitely prefer to be a little less beat at the end of a long ride, that's why I brought up the materials. Other than that, it doesn't really matter to me what it's made of [Titanium would certainly be pretty darn nice if I could get it for the same price]

    So far I am leaning towards building up a nice custom steel frame, that can be made very very light. But I wish I had an opportunity to ride a steel SS and an aluminum SS for some time to help me decide whether I see the difference or not. Unfortunately, there aren't many girls of my size that ride SS that I could borrow a bike from. Appreciate all the advice I can get!

    Thanks.

  20. #20
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    Have you tried asking about the relative comfort of frames and getting some rides on each ones in the womens forum?

    There are some very nice ladies in there who would be willing to give you some more help.



    R.
    It is inevitable ...

  21. #21
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    Things to consider besides frame

    Quote Originally Posted by fulcrum
    Thank you all for your responses. Very good points made. Just wanted to clarify: I don't really have any preference as to what material the bike is made of and what properties those materials possess other than the ones pertinent to rider's comfort. I know I will be taking a lot more beating riding a single speed rather than my trusted geared aluminum squeeshy.

    It does seem like steel gives more flex/shock absorbtion and aluminum's rigidity provides for better climbing. I would definitely prefer to be a little less beat at the end of a long ride, that's why I brought up the materials. Other than that, it doesn't really matter to me what it's made of [Titanium would certainly be pretty darn nice if I could get it for the same price]

    So far I am leaning towards building up a nice custom steel frame, that can be made very very light. But I wish I had an opportunity to ride a steel SS and an aluminum SS for some time to help me decide whether I see the difference or not. Unfortunately, there aren't many girls of my size that ride SS that I could borrow a bike from. Appreciate all the advice I can get!

    Thanks.
    Fork (rigid or sus), tire psi, tubes / tubeless and wheel size will also make a difference. Really just comes down to personal preference and budget. Both materials have their place.

    Good Luck!

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by fulcrum
    It does seem like steel gives more flex/shock absorbtion and aluminum's rigidity provides for better climbing.
    I don't think that either of these generalizations is reliable. For example, I'm willing to bet that you would feel a lot better after a long day on a scandium/aluminum Niner One 9 than on an overbuilt steel Surly Karate Monkey.

    OT again: In terms of durability, I talked to someone from Niner Bikes and he noted that the scandium/aluminum frame had a better fatigue life than their steel frame.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeanutButterBreath
    OT again: In terms of durability, I talked to someone from Niner Bikes and he noted that the scandium/aluminum frame had a better fatigue life than their steel frame.
    i'd be very interested to know the specifics behind this. i think it's generally known (assumed?) that a well maintained steel/Ti bike should outlive an Al bike by a factor of 10.

  24. #24
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    Alloying aluminum with scandium seems to give it some remarkable properties. Just look at the Dos Niner (primarily) aluminum soft-tail.

    Also, this was a comparison of a scandium-aluminum alloy frame to a specific, fairly lightly built Reynolds 853 frame.

  25. #25
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    We talking off the shelf or custom?

    At 115 lbs I seriously doubt you can feel much difference between a production steel and aluminum frame let alone make one flex. I am a <i>steel is real</i> believer but have to admit that modern aluminum frames with s-bend stays do have some compliance to them.

    A custom frame is a different animal. I cannot believe the feel of a custom Ti frame, a good custom builder can balance the feel to be lively without feeling flexy for a given rider weight. I think a steel frame could be built with almost the same feel.

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ratt
    At 115 lbs I seriously doubt you can feel much difference between a production steel and aluminum frame let alone make one flex. I am a <i>steel is real</i> believer but have to admit that modern aluminum frames with s-bend stays do have some compliance to them.
    My alu SS is a C'Dale CAAD5 frame (large) and I must say that it is in fact surprisingly comfy. Thats why I use it more than my Steel Kona , lighter , stiffer , yet comfy.

    PeanutButterBreath:
    All aluminium have finite fatigue life.
    Scandium frames are made of 7000 series alu , wich has 1-2% scandium in it.
    Other types of alu have different ingredient but all have the same aluminium caracteristics.
    "There is a big difference between kneeling down and bending over" -FZ

  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeanutButterBreath
    Alloying aluminum with scandium seems to give it some remarkable properties. Just look at the Dos Niner (primarily) aluminum soft-tail.

    Also, this was a comparison of a scandium-aluminum alloy frame to a specific, fairly lightly built Reynolds 853 frame.
    The differences in materials is crucial to me. I can almost taste Reynolds steel when I ride it. 7005 tubes are in a different universe as far as feel goes. 4130 is just a different flavor of steel. I can tell and feel the difference in all my bikes. Of course, build is a huge factor in feel, but once you ride frigid with these different materials, the difference in the qualities is like night and day.

    I was concerned with this when buying my One Niner. My rides are long. I don't need brittle feeling rides. I'm riding Reynolds and 4130 lately just while waiting for the Niner, and I have a Reynolds roadbike. I asked Chris at Niner what he felt. Would the One, being Scandium, hurt me on a 6 hour ride more than a SIR would? It is obviously a debatable question, and the premise is that the bikes are fully rigid. Chris said that if you stacked up the Scandium between a Reynolds steel, 856 is it?, and a 7005 Al tube on a 1 to 10 scale, that the Scandium would fall in at about a 7 in regards to stiffness vs. compliance. 7 is a reasonable comfortable number to me and I feel I will be able to judge that number from reasonable experience with the materials.

    There is as difference, and it is huge to those that have the experience to judge the feel of the material. Until you have experience with the different materials, you won't be able to judge the qualities that you enjoy or dislike anyway. Just ride them all, and start with one. That is the great thing about it. There is no wrong decision.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by fulcrum
    Unfortunately, there aren't many girls of my size that ride SS that I could borrow a bike from. Appreciate all the advice I can get!

    Thanks.
    where are you located? how tall are you? i have a custom 12" steel frame i'd let you cruise on.
    can i get some pixie dust w/my gu, please?

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by fokof
    PeanutButterBreath:
    All aluminium have finite fatigue life.
    Scandium frames are made of 7000 series alu , wich has 1-2% scandium in it.
    Other types of alu have different ingredient but all have the same aluminium caracteristics.
    Regardless, the One is purported to be more durable that the SIR.

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