Aluminum: Who cares?

Discussion in 'Cycling Equipment' started by B. Sanders, May 7, 2003.

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  1. B. Sanders

    B. Sanders Guest

    What's with the hype about aluminum? Apparently, aggressive marketing has worked: Everybody thinks
    that aluminum is inherently better than steel. When asked why, the standard answer seems to be
    "it's lighter and stiffer." Of course, hefting an aluminum WalGoose puts the "lighter" argument to
    rest in a hurry. As for stiffer, I think we've beaten that argument to death, and the verdict seems
    to be that *any* material can be built stiff; but stiffness isn't always what you want (hence the
    popularity of Ti...). So is it just the triumph of marketing that makes everybody chant the
    aluminum mantra?

    I was talking with a store manager at a big-name bike shop fairly recently about this very topic,
    and she agreed with me that it's all marketing hype. We both agreed that we preferred the classic,
    sleek look and ride qualities of steel tubed road bikes. Thankfully, they're still being produced.
    We compared one of the heavy aero-tubed aluminum road bikes to a simple, lightweight Fuji CrMo steel
    road bike. The steel bike was cheaper and had better components, too. Yet the aluminum bikes were
    selling like hotcakes. The fat aero tubing has been imbued with all sorts of magical speed enhancing
    properties. It's a lot like the spoilers you see on Chevy Cavaliers, I guess: Adds 50 HP to the
    engine and 50mph to the top end. :)

    -Barry
     
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  2. S. Anderson

    S. Anderson Guest

    "B. Sanders" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...
    > What's with the hype about aluminum? Apparently, aggressive marketing has worked: Everybody thinks
    > that aluminum is inherently better than steel. When asked why, the standard answer seems to be
    > "it's lighter and
    stiffer."
    > Of course, hefting an aluminum WalGoose puts the "lighter" argument to
    rest
    > in a hurry. As for stiffer, I think we've beaten that argument to death, and the verdict seems to
    > be that *any* material can be built stiff; but stiffness isn't always what you want (hence the
    > popularity of Ti...). So
    is
    > it just the triumph of marketing that makes everybody chant the aluminum mantra?
    >
    > I was talking with a store manager at a big-name bike shop fairly recently about this very topic,
    > and she agreed with me that it's all marketing
    hype.
    > We both agreed that we preferred the classic, sleek look and ride
    qualities
    > of steel tubed road bikes. Thankfully, they're still being produced. We compared one of the heavy
    > aero-tubed aluminum road bikes to a simple, lightweight Fuji CrMo steel road bike. The steel bike
    > was cheaper and had better components, too. Yet the aluminum bikes were selling like
    hotcakes.
    > The fat aero tubing has been imbued with all sorts of magical speed enhancing properties. It's a
    > lot like the spoilers you see on Chevy Cavaliers, I guess: Adds 50 HP to the engine and 50mph to
    > the top end. :)
    >
    > -Barry
    >
    >
    >

    I've always liked steel bikes. However, when I decided to upgrade my MTB a year or two ago, I looked
    at the alu vs steel argument again. It's untrue that dollar for dollar a steel frame is lighter or
    as light as an alu frame. Stiff alu frames are often a pound lighter than an equivalent steel frame,
    at least in MTB frames and cheaper to boot. I ended up buying the alu frame out of curiousity as
    much as anything and I don't mind it in the least. It's as stiff at the BB as my steel MTB and when
    you're riding an MTB with
    2." tires I don't believe anyone can complain about ride quality compared to steel!! I'm concerned
    that it might self-destruct with it's 5 year warranty, but I've read with interest the arguments
    here about aluminum and fatigue life. In any event I'm happy to ride it to failure and I'm quite
    capable of checking for cracks. I still like steel..I'd love an 853 road frame..but for now alu is
    not a bad compromise frankly, IMHO.

    Cheers,

    Scott..
     
  3. nospam

    nospam Guest

    In article <[email protected]>,
    B. Sanders <[email protected]> wrote:
    >Thankfully, they're still being produced. We compared one of the heavy aero-tubed aluminum road
    >bikes to a simple, lightweight Fuji CrMo steel road bike. The steel bike was cheaper and had better
    >components, too. Yet the aluminum bikes were selling like hotcakes.

    Were you weighing complete bikes or just the frames? Did these bikes have similar dimensions,
    geometries, and ride properties? What was the specific brand and model of the aluminum frame? If you
    want people to take your argument seriously, you need to be complete and accurate.

    I think there are many popular steel bikes on the market (LeMond, etc.). On the other hand, aluminum
    is easier to work with and usually cheaper for the same weight and quality level.
     
  4. Regarding the "hype" about aluminum bikes... aluminum has become the material of choice for many
    manufacturers because it is now less-expensive to build a strong, lightweight frame out of aluminum
    than steel. Didn't used to be that way, but that's the case now. It's not a conspiracy, it's not
    strictly a marketing phenomenon (although marketing is used to support the choice). It's simply less
    expensive for a manufacturer to offer a given quality of product using an aluminum frame than steel.

    And, if you buy into the idea that material is irrelevant, the only reason to support buying a steel
    frame would be based upon aesthetics or some notion about repairability that no longer applies
    (because it typically costs as much, if not more, to repair a steel frame these days as it does to
    replace it, if it suffers major trauma, and if it's minor stuff, what's the big deal, since some
    other material would have survived as well?).

    There's nothing wrong with buying a material based on aesthetics, nor is there anything wrong with
    believing that one bike rides significantly different than another and buying it for that reason.
    But it's not a conspiracy.

    Oh, regarding those WalMart "Worker's Comp Specials" (that's what we call them... we make sure, when
    employees pick them up, that they lift with their knees, not their backs, to avoid hurting
    themselves!)- obviously, they prove that aluminum has become the all-purpose material, capable of
    building complete trash as well as nice stuff. That doesn't make aluminum bad, any more than the
    fact that a Schwinn Varsity made steel bad.

    --Mike-- Chain Reaction Bicycles www.ChainReaction.com

    "B. Sanders" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...
    > What's with the hype about aluminum? Apparently, aggressive marketing has worked: Everybody thinks
    > that aluminum is inherently better than steel. When asked why, the standard answer seems to be
    > "it's lighter and
    stiffer."
    > Of course, hefting an aluminum WalGoose puts the "lighter" argument to
    rest
    > in a hurry. As for stiffer, I think we've beaten that argument to death, and the verdict seems to
    > be that *any* material can be built stiff; but stiffness isn't always what you want (hence the
    > popularity of Ti...). So
    is
    > it just the triumph of marketing that makes everybody chant the aluminum mantra?
    >
    > I was talking with a store manager at a big-name bike shop fairly recently about this very topic,
    > and she agreed with me that it's all marketing
    hype.
    > We both agreed that we preferred the classic, sleek look and ride
    qualities
    > of steel tubed road bikes. Thankfully, they're still being produced. We compared one of the heavy
    > aero-tubed aluminum road bikes to a simple, lightweight Fuji CrMo steel road bike. The steel bike
    > was cheaper and had better components, too. Yet the aluminum bikes were selling like
    hotcakes.
    > The fat aero tubing has been imbued with all sorts of magical speed enhancing properties. It's a
    > lot like the spoilers you see on Chevy Cavaliers, I guess: Adds 50 HP to the engine and 50mph to
    > the top end. :)
    >
    > -Barry
     
  5. Spacey Spade

    Spacey Spade Guest

    B. Sanders wrote:
    >What's with the hype about aluminum? Apparently, aggressive marketing has worked: Everybody thinks
    >that aluminum is inherently better than steel. When asked why, the standard answer seems to be
    >"it's lighter and stiffer." Of course, hefting an aluminum WalGoose puts the "lighter" argument to
    >rest in a hurry. As for stiffer, I think we've beaten that argument to death, and the verdict seems
    >to be that *any* material can be built stiff; but stiffness isn't always what you want (hence the
    >popularity of Ti...). So is it just the triumph of marketing that makes everybody chant the
    >aluminum mantra?
    >
    >I was talking with a store manager at a big-name bike shop fairly recently about this very topic,
    >and she agreed with me that it's all marketing hype. We both agreed that we preferred the classic,
    >sleek look and ride qualities of steel tubed road bikes. Thankfully, they're still being produced.
    >We compared one of the heavy aero-tubed aluminum road bikes to a simple, lightweight Fuji CrMo
    >steel road bike. The steel bike was cheaper and had better components, too. Yet the aluminum bikes
    >were selling like hotcakes. The fat aero tubing has been imbued with all sorts of magical speed
    >enhancing properties. It's a lot like the spoilers you see on Chevy Cavaliers, I guess: Adds 50 HP
    >to the engine and 50mph to the top end. :)
    >
    >-Barry

    Aluminum frames can be made stiffer than steel because you can use larger diameter tubing. Steel
    tubing of the same diameter and same weight of many aluminum frames would require too thin a wall
    thickness (which can lead to buckling).

    Spacey
     
  6. Matthew Reed

    Matthew Reed Guest

    > Aluminum frames can be made stiffer than steel because you can use larger diameter tubing. Steel
    > tubing of the same diameter and same weight of
    many
    > aluminum frames would require too thin a wall thickness (which can lead to buckling).
    >
    > Spacey

    This is not exactly true. Larger tubes are used on aluminum bikes because they are less flexible.
    When aluminum flexes it loses strength and ultimately breaks. Steel and ti can flex all day and
    maintain their ability to bear weight. Aluminum is made with bigger diameter/stiffer tubes not
    because it can be made stiffer, but because it has to be made stiffer. Stiffness is not mecessarily
    a good thing, which is why many of us spend extra money to ride compliant high end steel and ti
    bikes. This is not to say the aluminum is just hype. It can be very light at a fraction of the cost
    of a high end steel or ti bike and has nice jump when you stomp on the pedals. I personally choose
    steel for my road bike because the aluminum bikes I have owned beat me up more than I like, I can
    not afford ti or carbon and I feel good about steel tubes with Campi drivetrain. Other people will
    put up with or even enjoy some extra stiffness in exchange for a weight advantage which makes me
    think no material is superior, just different.

    Hopefully this will not start the silly material means nothing, design is everything argument
    again. The next time I see a cast iron f15, I will think, "Hmmm, all materials are the same if
    engineered properly." Until then I am sticking to what I have read from experts and experienced on
    multiple bikes.

    Matt
     
  7. Peter

    Peter Guest

    Matthew Reed wrote:
    >>Aluminum frames can be made stiffer than steel because you can use larger diameter tubing. Steel
    >>tubing of the same diameter and same weight of
    >
    > many
    >
    >>aluminum frames would require too thin a wall thickness (which can lead to buckling).
    >>
    >>Spacey
    >
    >
    > This is not exactly true. Larger tubes are used on aluminum bikes because they are less flexible.

    It sounds pretty true to me. As I recall, it was the argument Klein made when describing the
    materials properties that went into his college (I believe MIT) engineering project for which he
    chose to build an aluminum bicycle frame with larger than normal diameter tubing.

    > When aluminum flexes it loses strength and ultimately breaks. Steel and ti can flex all day and
    > maintain their ability to bear weight. Aluminum is made with bigger diameter/stiffer tubes not
    > because it can be made stiffer, but because it has to be made stiffer.

    But prior to Klein's popularization of large diameter tubes for aluminum bike frames there were
    several makes of aluminum frames with 'normal' diameter tubing, of which the best known was the
    Vitus. These frames were known as being rather lightweight, but not at all stiff. They were
    described almost exactly opposite to the popular descriptions used now for aluminum - i.e. that they
    might be comfortable but that they flexed too much on climbs. So durable aluminum frames can
    certainly be made that are not particularly stiff. It is an engineering choice by Klein, Cannondale,
    and others to use large diameter tubes which provide more lateral stiffness, but it's not a
    requirement for all aluminum frames.
     
  8. Matt O'Toole

    Matt O'Toole Guest

    "Peter" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:[email protected]...

    > As I recall, it was the argument Klein made when describing the materials properties that went
    into his college
    > (I believe MIT) engineering project for which he chose to
    build an
    > aluminum bicycle frame with larger than normal diameter
    tubing.

    Damn school was easy back then...

    Matt O.
     
  9. Matthew Reed

    Matthew Reed Guest

    I forgot to ask if manufacturers are comfortable with making compliant aluminum tubing, why is it
    that many high end aluminum bike makers are adding carbon dropouts to smooth out the ride? Also, I
    must add that it is important to note that I think aluminum is a great bike frame material just like
    steel, carbon and ti. I was not trying to beat up the material like earlier posts, in fact I love
    the stuff on my mountain bike, I just prefer a different material on the road.

    Matt "Peter" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:[email protected]...
    > Matthew Reed wrote:
    > >>Aluminum frames can be made stiffer than steel because you can use
    larger
    > >>diameter tubing. Steel tubing of the same diameter and same weight of
    > >
    > > many
    > >
    > >>aluminum frames would require too thin a wall thickness (which can lead
    to
    > >>buckling).
    > >>
    > >>Spacey
    > >
    > >
    > > This is not exactly true. Larger tubes are used on aluminum bikes
    because
    > > they are less flexible.
    >
    > It sounds pretty true to me. As I recall, it was the argument Klein made when describing the
    > materials properties that went into his college (I believe MIT) engineering project for which he
    > chose to build an aluminum bicycle frame with larger than normal diameter tubing.
    >
    > > When aluminum flexes it loses strength and ultimately breaks. Steel and ti can flex all day and
    > > maintain their
    ability
    > > to bear weight. Aluminum is made with bigger diameter/stiffer tubes not because it can be made
    > > stiffer, but because it has to be made stiffer.
    >
    > But prior to Klein's popularization of large diameter tubes for aluminum bike frames there were
    > several makes of aluminum frames with 'normal' diameter tubing, of which the best known was the
    > Vitus. These frames were known as being rather lightweight, but not at all stiff. They were
    > described almost exactly opposite to the popular descriptions used now for aluminum - i.e. that
    > they might be comfortable but that they flexed too much on climbs. So durable aluminum frames can
    > certainly be made that are not particularly stiff. It is an engineering choice by Klein,
    > Cannondale, and others to use large diameter tubes which provide more lateral stiffness, but it's
    > not a requirement for all aluminum frames.
     
  10. Matthew Reed

    Matthew Reed Guest

    I remember the vitus, but I do not remember it being durable. As for Cannondale, their mid eightees
    frames were downright mushy and I actually witnessed one breaking, though I also watched a steel
    Bridgestone MBzip break as well around the same time. "Peter" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...
    > Matthew Reed wrote:
    > >>Aluminum frames can be made stiffer than steel because you can use
    larger
    > >>diameter tubing. Steel tubing of the same diameter and same weight of
    > >
    > > many
    > >
    > >>aluminum frames would require too thin a wall thickness (which can lead
    to
    > >>buckling).
    > >>
    > >>Spacey
    > >
    > >
    > > This is not exactly true. Larger tubes are used on aluminum bikes
    because
    > > they are less flexible.
    >
    > It sounds pretty true to me. As I recall, it was the argument Klein made when describing the
    > materials properties that went into his college (I believe MIT) engineering project for which he
    > chose to build an aluminum bicycle frame with larger than normal diameter tubing.
    >
    > > When aluminum flexes it loses strength and ultimately breaks. Steel and ti can flex all day and
    > > maintain their
    ability
    > > to bear weight. Aluminum is made with bigger diameter/stiffer tubes not because it can be made
    > > stiffer, but because it has to be made stiffer.
    >
    > But prior to Klein's popularization of large diameter tubes for aluminum bike frames there were
    > several makes of aluminum frames with 'normal' diameter tubing, of which the best known was the
    > Vitus. These frames were known as being rather lightweight, but not at all stiff. They were
    > described almost exactly opposite to the popular descriptions used now for aluminum - i.e. that
    > they might be comfortable but that they flexed too much on climbs. So durable aluminum frames can
    > certainly be made that are not particularly stiff. It is an engineering choice by Klein,
    > Cannondale, and others to use large diameter tubes which provide more lateral stiffness, but it's
    > not a requirement for all aluminum frames.
     
  11. Peter

    Peter Guest

    Matthew Reed wrote:
    > I remember the vitus, but I do not remember it being durable. As for Cannondale, their mid
    > eightees frames were downright mushy and I actually witnessed one breaking, though I also watched
    > a steel Bridgestone MBzip break as well around the same time.

    Your claim before was that "Aluminum is made with bigger diameter/stiffer tubes not because it can
    be made stiffer, but because it has to be made stiffer."

    The existence of at least one successful aluminum bicycle frame design that was less stiff than most
    steel frames shows that this is not a true statement.
     
  12. Billx

    Billx Guest

    I owned 3 steel framed bikes before my first aluminum frame and none of them lasted more than 6
    years before the frame was totaled due to rust. The aluminum frame I bought in 88 (a Trek 1500) is
    still quite functional with no signs of corrosion. For me aluminum is the best value.

    Matthew Reed wrote in message <jjua.9809$%[email protected]>...
    >I forgot to ask if manufacturers are comfortable with making compliant aluminum tubing, why is it
    >that many high end aluminum bike makers are adding carbon dropouts to smooth out the ride? Also, I
    >must add that it is important to note that I think aluminum is a great bike frame material just
    >like steel, carbon and ti. I was not trying to beat up the material like earlier posts, in fact I
    >love the stuff on my mountain bike, I just prefer
    a
    >different material on the road.
    >
    >Matt "Peter" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:[email protected]...
    >> Matthew Reed wrote:
    >> >>Aluminum frames can be made stiffer than steel because you can use
    >larger
    >> >>diameter tubing. Steel tubing of the same diameter and same weight of
    >> >
    >> > many
    >> >
    >> >>aluminum frames would require too thin a wall thickness (which can lead
    >to
    >> >>buckling).
    >> >>
    >> >>Spacey
    >> >
    >> >
    >> > This is not exactly true. Larger tubes are used on aluminum bikes
    >because
    >> > they are less flexible.
    >>
    >> It sounds pretty true to me. As I recall, it was the argument Klein made when describing the
    >> materials properties that went into his college (I believe MIT) engineering project for which he
    >> chose to build an aluminum bicycle frame with larger than normal diameter tubing.
    >>
    >> > When aluminum flexes it loses strength and ultimately breaks. Steel and ti can flex all day
    >> > and maintain their
    >ability
    >> > to bear weight. Aluminum is made with bigger diameter/stiffer tubes
    not
    >> > because it can be made stiffer, but because it has to be made stiffer.
    >>
    >> But prior to Klein's popularization of large diameter tubes for aluminum bike frames there were
    >> several makes of aluminum frames with 'normal' diameter tubing, of which the best known was the
    >> Vitus. These frames were known as being rather lightweight, but not at all stiff. They were
    >> described almost exactly opposite to the popular descriptions used now for aluminum - i.e. that
    >> they might be comfortable but that they flexed too much on climbs. So durable aluminum frames can
    >> certainly be made that are not particularly stiff. It is an engineering choice by Klein,
    >> Cannondale, and others to use large diameter tubes which provide more lateral stiffness, but it's
    >> not a requirement for all aluminum frames.
    >
     
  13. In rec.bicycles.tech Matthew Reed <[email protected]> wrote:

    > I forgot to ask if manufacturers are comfortable with making compliant aluminum tubing, why is it
    > that many high end aluminum bike makers are adding carbon dropouts to smooth out the ride?

    Carbon seatstays and chainstays are added for marketing purposes, not to magically smooth out the
    ride. Besides, they are also seen on titanium and steel frames.

    -as
     
  14. B. Sanders

    B. Sanders Guest

    "BillX" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:[email protected]...
    > I owned 3 steel framed bikes before my first aluminum frame and none of
    them
    > lasted more than 6 years before the frame was totaled due to rust. The aluminum frame I bought in
    > 88 (a Trek 1500) is still quite functional with no signs of corrosion. For me aluminum is the
    > best value.

    Fair enough. Where do you live? Near the ocean? I have a couple of steel bikes that are nearly 20
    years old, and neither of them are approaching rust-death. Did you leave yours out in the rain?

    FrameSaver is all you need to keep a steel bike running until you die of old age.

    -Barry
     
  15. Matthew Reed wrote:
    >
    > I forgot to ask if manufacturers are comfortable with making compliant aluminum tubing, why is it
    > that many high end aluminum bike makers are adding carbon dropouts to smooth out the ride?

    :) It's interesting to see what people will believe - or what people
    will spend money on!

    But I have a confession. I finally became convinced that my aluminum frame _was_ harsh. I saw the
    light! How could I have been so deluded?

    Then my astrologer pointed out that if I rubbed the seatstays with the juice of spring violets
    harvested during a full moon, it would smooth out the ride.

    And it did! Just as effective as adding carbon dropouts - and it smells better! :)

    --
    Frank Krygowski [email protected]
     
  16. B. Sanders

    B. Sanders Guest

    "Frank Krygowski" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:[email protected]...
    > Matthew Reed wrote:
    > >
    > > I forgot to ask if manufacturers are comfortable with making compliant aluminum tubing, why is
    > > it that many high end aluminum bike makers are adding carbon dropouts to smooth out the ride?
    >
    > :) It's interesting to see what people will believe - or what people
    > will spend money on!
    >
    > But I have a confession. I finally became convinced that my aluminum frame _was_ harsh. I saw the
    > light! How could I have been so deluded?

    Go to the light, Frank! Go to the light!

    > Then my astrologer pointed out that if I rubbed the seatstays with the juice of spring violets
    > harvested during a full moon, it would smooth out the ride.
    >
    > And it did! Just as effective as adding carbon dropouts - and it smells better! :)

    Well, that begins to explain some of your previous posts. I thought you were using a Magic 8 Ball to
    come up with your wacky ideas.

    -B
     
  17. Jeff Wills

    Jeff Wills Guest

    "B. Sanders" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:<[email protected]>...
    > What's with the hype about aluminum?
    <snip>
    >
    > I was talking with a store manager at a big-name bike shop fairly recently about this very topic,
    > and she agreed with me that it's all marketing hype. We both agreed that we preferred the classic,
    > sleek look and ride qualities of steel tubed road bikes. Thankfully, they're still being produced.
    > We compared one of the heavy aero-tubed aluminum road bikes to a simple, lightweight Fuji CrMo
    > steel road bike. The steel bike was cheaper and had better components, too. Yet the aluminum bikes
    > were selling like hotcakes..

    All I gotta say is that bikes are 500 times better than they were 20 years ago when I was working in
    the local Schwinn shop.

    Recently, one of my friends was shopping for a donor bike for a recumbent project. He found a
    road bike at Toys 'R' Us- and it turned out to be such a sweet deal that he and another friend
    ended up buying
    4.

    It had: aluminum frame (an apparent Trek clone) Shimano Sora cranks and derailleurs 700C Weinmann
    rims and a variety of no-name Taiwan parts.

    All this at a close-out price of $99! That's less than what the bottom of the line Schwinns were
    going for when I was selling them!

    Granted, the bike only came in one size, and the bottom bracket self-destructed in a matter of
    weeks, but it's a remarkably servicable bike for a minimal cost. He's been riding one (the one that
    wasn't stripped for parts) for a couple months and threatening to enter some local criteriums just
    to annoy the guys who pay $100 or more for their tires.

    Dang, I gotta get out and ride.

    Jeff
     
  18. > FrameSaver is all you need to keep a steel bike running until you die of
    old
    > age.
    >
    > -Barry

    Barry,

    Please explain what "FrameSaver" is and what it does. I would like to keep my steek Torelli as long
    as possible.

    Thanks in advance.

    MB
     
  19. Kurd

    Kurd Guest

    Wow, this arguement was relevent 10 years ago. Its a religious argument, no less reason or facts
    than that.
     
  20. A Muzi

    A Muzi Guest

    > > FrameSaver is all you need to keep a steel bike running until you die of
    > old
    > > age.

    "news.sonnet.com" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]...
    > Please explain what "FrameSaver" is and what it does. I would like to
    keep
    > my steek Torelli as long as possible.

    What is it? It's $12.95 here.

    Seriously, it is a thick oil with a carrier. Sprays inside the tubes, the carrier evaporates leaving
    an oil film on the inside of your steel tubes.

    --
    Andrew Muzi http://www.yellowjersey.org Open every day since 1 April 1971
     
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