Right now, there are loads of people buying new bikes. Here in the UK summer has finally arrived just as it is normally finishing. The fantastic Tour de France has been won by Bradley Wiggins and we’ve seen some inspiration coming from the Olympic and Para Olympic games. These are all great reasons for people anywhere to start cycling.
Bicycles are wonderful machines and shops are getting their act together in terms of being more professional in the way cycling is promoted as a positive lifestyle. It is because of this that there is a bewildering choice of bike. I’ll blog soon about the different kinds of bike soon but in the meantime here is some information on the different materials used to make the frame of a bicycle.
Choosing the right frame material is important , unless you’re thinking of buying a horrible heap of junk from a supermarket for £99 (cheap bikes like this will probably be crudely welded steel of the lowest gas-pipe grade and best avoided). The frame material will be reflected in the price but they will have considerable overlap. The very “feel” of a bike will be determined by the frame material, as will the speed, weight and stiffness of the bike. Below is a break down of the different materials:
|Mass produced aluminium frame MTB:|
Aluminium is a quite popular material for bicycles and I remember seeing my first Cannondale back in the late 1980s when steel was the norm. It was Cannondale who made aluminium bikes so conspicuous with the over sized tubing at the time. Having a bike which looked like it was made of drain pipes seemed attractive for many and they were pretty good bikes, well presented and equipped with some nice components.
- Dawes Giro 300 – road bike costing about £450
- Cannondale CAAD10 road bike – road bike costing about £2000
Best to avoid tarring these bikes with the same brush. No doubt the frames have a totally different feel and performance along with components which are (almost) from opposite ends of the spectrum. If you’re thinking of buying a new bike for well under £1,000 there’s a good chance it’ll be aluminium to a degree. It’ll serve you well but recognise it’s not an Aston Martin; instead be content with the Ford, Nissan, Toyota you have.
There are probably more bikes around the world made from steel than any other material. These will range from cheap junior bikes through to bespoke made-to-measure touring bikes costing thousands. Frame tubes will also range from crude gas pipes that are heavy, through to very light tubing made my Reynolds, Columbus etc. This better tubing will normally be butted, meaning it is thicker at the ends (where it joins other tubes) and gives strength and thickness where it is most needed. The middle section of the tube can be extremely thin but still retain much strength and rigidity.
|Some neat welding with Reynolds steel tubes|
Steel can be pretty light (Reynolds 753 springs to mind) as well as the inevitable gas pipe weight. Yes, compared to carbon fibre, steel frames are a fair bit heavier.
The ride quality, however, is something different. A good steel frame will combine stiffness (i.e. not twisting from side to side when stomping on the pedals) with comfort. The comfort comes from the frame and forks flexing a little over a rough road surface. In fact if you position yourself so you are looking straight down in line with the forks, you can see them absorb lots of road imperfections and road “noise”.
Steel is a material favoured by many a tradtional frame builder; in the UK there are a number such as Argos, Dave Yates, Mercian and others. Such frame builders can create a custom frame for you, with all the right angles, braze-ons and every other detail desired by you. This is useful if you want a lot of braze-ons and can be helpful on touring bikes with pannier rack fittings, three water bottle bosses, cantilever brakes and so on. A good frame builder can also repair a frame if it’s damaged or needs a modification.
While twenty years ago there was a lot of steel around, nowadays it’s a minority and the decent tube sets tend to be used for touring bikes, tandems, trikes and so on. My Thorn Audax is made from steel and for me it is an ideal choice.
Some examples of other steel framed bikes:
- Ridgeback Voyage 2012 long distance tourer
- Pashley Princess Soverign town bike
- Dawes Ultra Galaxy 2012 long distance tourer
I have covered here the main frame materials but there are some others available and include titanium, carbon fibre mixed in with aluminium (i.e. carbon fibre forks and seat/chain stays) and I once even saw a bike largely made from bamboo. Bamboo bikes? That must be the most eco-friendly bike so far?