Although carbon may be dominating bicycle frame manufacture at present, consumers are confused about the type of material that is best for modern bicycle frames. Bike frame materials and their advantages and disadvantages are one of the hottest topics discussed at brunch after the morning tour, with carbon, titanium, steel, and aluminum enthusiasts getting in on the action.
Which frame designers are going against the grain, which metals and non-metals are in demand, what are the pros using nowadays and how does one make the call? Matmatch gets the specifications and takes the readers through it.
Steel Bike Frames
This is where it all started. While the first bikes were made from wood, steel was the key metal used in bike frames from the late 1800s even until the 1990s. It remains strong, reliable and durable even now, and will bend in an accident rather than break, which makes repair work easier.
Even though steel is no longer preferred by many manufacturers, it is still used to create custom bike frames. In order to reduce weight, modern use of steel requires thinner tubing. While a steel frame is good for shock absorption, it creates additional weight when compared to other material types.
Aluminum Bike Frames
Frame designers started experimenting with aluminum straight-gauge tubing for frames in the 1970s. These models were replaced in the 1990s with stiffer, lighter, TIG-welded oversized aluminum frames. Between the nineties and the noughties, aluminum was increasingly favored over steel.
Although carbon composites have since become popular on the market, aluminum has unique qualities that cause many manufacturers to stay loyal. Being lighter than steel, aluminum is durable enough for its structural purpose, extremely workable and most importantly, affordable. Sometimes, aluminum frames are criticized for making things slightly more uncomfortable on the road (the rider bears the brunt of the road vibrations with an aluminum frame), and do not have the stiffness of carbon or steel, but modern bikes deal with these problems by using modern wheel and tire technology and/or hydroforming.
This cost-effective and readily available metal is more popular for entry-level bike frames but also employed in high-performance frames.
Titanium Bike Frames
Titanium is a fascinating compromise between aluminum and steel, a lightweight yet highly durable metal that dampens well, does not rust, and lasts considerably longer. Although titanium is around twice as thick as aluminum, it is about half the density of steel and yet offers good shock absorption.
In terms of safety, titanium for bike frames is stress relieved and cold worked, boasting a much better yield strength than steel and a favorable elongation, meaning that titanium will bend before it breaks, though frame repairs can be difficult.
Carbon Fiber Bike Frames
Carbon, the non-metallic element, is endlessly flexible. It is manufactured as carbon fiber in the cycling world. Not only is carbon fiber incredibly popular in aerospace but it is also very workable on smaller scales.
Polyacrylanitrile (PAN) is the most common bike frame material which is reduced to long and fine fibers following heating at extremely high temperatures. It is then suspended in epox resin and molded into a composite material.
Major manufacturers and even some artisan frame builders make bike frames from carbon fiber sheets, and are hence not limited by tubing shapes. This allows manufacturing specialty frames, such as aero bikes. Being a fragile material, carbon fiber is difficult to repair after impact, but for experienced cyclists, the stiffness and lightness of carbon fiber has made it a go-to material for bike frames, especially in competitive cycling.
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Bike Frame
Usually, budget consumers opt for aluminum frames and so do racers seeking speed over comfort. When comfort is a major factor, steel frames can be customized and are affordable.
Titanium is an attractive compromise of all the relevant factors: lightness, smooth riding, price and durability. Although carbon fiber comes with a hefty price tag, it is the most common choice for professionals and hardcore cyclists, and is appreciated for its stiffness, unparalleled lightness and flexible design properties.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Matmatch.
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