Full carbon, aluminum with carbon forks (and maybe seat stays), high quality steel? There is as much discussion about frame materials as there is choice and confusion.
I am no expert but suffice it to say of my... eight or so personal bikes, five are steel frames, one is titanium, and only the tandem is aluminum.
And sure, if you just dead lift any bike you will certainly find the carbon "really light" and by comparison a steel framed by "heavier". My rule of thumb is that a good steel framed bike, fully equipped should weigh between 9.5 and 11 kg, aluminum, 8 to 10kg and carbon 6.5 to 8 kg.So, we are talking a range here of about 2-3kg, 5lbs. Is a 175 lb rider going to notice 5 lbs extra? Apparently not since rotational weight (that is to say, in the wheels) is far more significant than frame weight.
So, I like steel. (And maybe I would probably like carbon and aluminum just as much.) My concern with carbon is that I am not gentle with my bikes. I have to drag them inside for storage, put them in the car for road trips... with steel, I never have to worry.
Aluminum has gone somewhat out of fashion these days. Aluminum was a material that made best sense post-steel, pre-carbon, as it was the only way to get the weight of a bike down. The best aluminum frames are still excellent. And there are excellent values to be found in aluminum frame bikes. You will read that aluminum is a harsh ride. I can't say as a) I've never ridden aluminum and b) I am not that sensitive or picky that I would notice the difference. I am usually just so glad to be out and rolling that I could be on a bamboo bike for all I care. If you consider aluminum though, look for a carbon fork which apparently dampens some road vibration.
But what I really love most about high-quality steel frames is that they are works of art. The best have all been handcrafted -- it was the only way. There is a wonderful connection between the artisan who made my bikes and me, the rider. (It's like wine. The Australians make good technical wine but it lacks the soul and personality of a small production wine which had an actual winemaker behind each decision.)
But don't listen to me. Here are some interesting articles on the subject:
Here is a must read for anyone considering any bike purchase: "It's All About the Bike" (The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels) by Robert Penn. In this short book, Penn chronicles the process of building his "dream" bike. In various chapters he goes behind the scenes to explore frame building, choosing components, wheel building, etc.
While we might not all be able to have a bike custom built for us, Penn does make a compelling case for the virtues of a high-quality steel frame, even for modern everyday riding, not just for collectors.
Here is a link to an excerpt On why his choice of frame material was steel and not carbon. (most important)
This is a terrific and detailed article on the pros and cons of steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon frames.
"Bicycle weight and commuting time: randomised trial"
An academic basically designed a real scientific experiment where he compared his commute times on his heavy steel framed bike versus a much lighter carbon job.
"The Best Material for a Bike Frame" (bikecycling reviews)
The Fuso FX
A Fuso FRX. Serial # 1643 (of 3,000 Fusos) made in the work shop of Dave Mouton. Columbus SLX tubing 62cm equipped with 8-speed Dura Ace.
The Ron Spencer
I got this from a fellow near Liverpool in England.Reynolds 531 tubing. "Ron Spencer" refers to a bike shop in Warrington. Apparently the shop brand frames were made by a famous UK frame shop called Harry Quinn. Very nervous. Clearly a racing geometry. But it rides beautifully. First edition Dura Ace downtube shifting.
Masi Team 3V
A very cool "Made in The USA" Masi Team 3V Volumetrica, made with oversize Reynolds tubing and reverse lugged (the tubes fit over the lugs, instead of the other way around.)
Also interesting is the advertising slapped all over the frame UNDER the clear coat. This was a conscious decision to pre-sell advertising to brands like Power Bar and Bell Helmets (how quaint). I am amazed that Trek hasn't taken a similar route to subsidize their bikes.
Aside from the gasps at the downtube shifters (But hey Campy Nuovo Record!) the bike rode, as I described it later, as if I were riding butter. So smooth and graceful, so responsive, so classy. Really, I don't understand what all the fuss is about carbon.
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