Daily commuting bike - steel, carbon or Alu?

Keen but clumsy

Well-Known Member
I imagine that this is a very contentious subject but I thought I would ask the question.

I'm currently loving commuting to work on my 2nd hand Giant OCR. The commute is about 6 miles right through Leeds city centre but at least once a week I do a ~20 mile loop through the countryside to supplement my running training. Over the winter I am planning to significantly up that mileage. I am now thinking of cashing in a C2W voucher and am prepared to spend up to the grand limit.

I want a bike that I can cycle every day all year round. I'm happy to maintain it myself but would generally take durability over weight. I'm not intending to use it as a race machine - maybe an annual duathlon but nothing more. Roads in Leeds are of the general poor English standard so wouldn't want anything too stiff. Given the winter usage the ability to fit mudguards would be a bonus.

I am attracted to a steel beast like the Charge Juicer Mid or Gensis Equilbrium. What are people's opinons on the benefits of the different materials given my proposed use? The Verenti Kilmeston with Alu 7005 frame and carbon forks seems like a good deal. Otherwise I would look at the Boardman Team Carbon (full carbon) or Cannondale CAAD9 Tiagra (amongst others).

Not really looking for specific bike brands just people's opinions on and experiences of the different materials. I am a novice when it comes to interpreting the differences between the different grades of steel, alu etc.

Cheers all.
 

StuAff

Silencing his legs regularly
Location
Portsmouth
Frame materials...now there's a perennial can of worms. I have two aluminium bikes (the two Dahons), a full carbon one (the Viner), and my n+1 (which should be getting built this week) is an alu/carbon mix. The Viner is clearly faster, but that's more down to weight & drag (both aero and mechanical) than materials. In terms of ride comfort, not much in it- the Viner's carbon frame compensates well for the 23mm tyres, the Dahons' 40mm ones do the same for their frames. I think rather than getting hung up on material choice you should first decide what you need the bike to do. The Boardman and the CAAD9 are both typical road frames- no clearance for tyres wider than 25mm, no fittings for permanent mudguards (so SKS RaceBlades, Crud RoadRacers or equivalent- and no tyres wider than 23mm) or racks. And would you really want to ride something like that every day of the year in all weathers? Wider tyres will compensate to some extent for harsher frame design and would make the bike more practical for mild off-road use and/or adverse weather.
 

accountantpete

Brexiteer
Quick history lesson - Post War Reynolds 531 steel frames ruled, then came oversized Aluminium based frames (and Titanium) which were lighter but just as strong.

The main problem was that these transmitted a lot of road buzz to the rider so along came either Carbon based bike frames which are generally as strong but dampen the vibration if designed correctly or Alloy frames mated to carbon seat forks and seat post which again cuts the road buzz.

IMHO it's not the materials that is important - you can get uncomfy carbon bikes -but rather the design which is where the brand comes to the fore.
 

P.H

Über Member
My choices - Robust frame able to take day to day knocks as well as riding abuse. I think that really excludes carbon though I know others disagree.
Low gears - My limited experience of Leeds is that it's hilly. I'd go for a triple, you may feel you don't need it, but what about that tough day at work, when you're not feeling your best, you have to take a load of stuff home and it's pissing down?
Tyre size - for day to day riding I prefer 28mm or bigger, it adds more to the comfort than frame material at very little cost in effort.
Fittings - all year riding needs mudguards with decent clearance. I've seen loads of Audax style bikes where the guard almost touches the tyre, it's not a good idea. And rack fittings just make sense.
Lights - If you could squeeze your budget to include a hub dynamo and Cayo light (£150 - £200) you'll never have to think about lighting again (Well almost) Fit and forget.
Just an opinion :laugh:
 

aberal

Senior Member
Location
Midlothian
Some good advice above re the frame material. For a daily commuting bike it sounds that you should be aiming for an Audax/light touring/cyclo cross type of bike rather than the full road bike you describe. These are not good commuters.
 

Howard

Senior Member
Keen but clumsy said:
I am attracted to a steel beast like the Charge Juicer Mid or Gensis Equilbrium. What are people's opinons on the benefits of the different materials given my proposed use? The Verenti Kilmeston with Alu 7005 frame and carbon forks seems like a good deal. Otherwise I would look at the Boardman Team Carbon (full carbon) or Cannondale CAAD9 Tiagra (amongst others).
To summarise:


  • Steel: should last forever and generally very pretty, heavy but comfortable. Must be treated right to stave off corrosion in the winter
  • Alu: lighter than steel, will not last forever (someone quoted 50K miles), can be "harsh"
  • Carbon: less harsh than steel, jury seems out (to me) on longevity. There's no "bustedsteel.com".

The bikes you describe are all somewhat aggressive racers, so do not feature commuter friendly features such as braze-ons for panniers. That's not to say you can't use them for commuting - just that that is clearly not what they we designed for (with perhaps an exception for the Charge).

For what it's worth, I own a Charge, though not the model in question, and a CAAD9 (105) and they are both bikes built with love.
 

Coco

Well-Known Member
Location
Glasgow
I think the frame material is almost secondary to your other requirements, such as tyre size, the ability to take mudguards, panniers, etc. Also, if your winters are anything like ours, your components will wear out a lot sooner that your frame.

You don't say what you carry into work, but for a 6 mile ride you'd manage fine with a rucksack as long as its not too heavy. If you need to carry a lot e.g. a laptop, then I'd recommend panniers. That'll narrow your choices down a lot more than frame material will.

Its hard to find a bike that'll be a good commuter and give you the joy of riding at the weekend that a road bike will. That's why I've got two bikes :laugh: Having said that, the Equilibrium was on my short list as was the Kinesis Racelights. The Kinesis is probably the best all-rounder.
 

battered

Über Member
I think the frame material is *entirely* secondary to the design of the thing. Bike frames last indefinitely, the bits wear out rather more quickly. As an example my original MTB, now a commuter/pub bike that occasionally gets used for touring, is a steel/titanium bonded affair from 1995. It's on about 15000 miles and original paint, but all but one of the moving parts have been replaced at least once. I also have a 10 yr old ally framed MTB that a friend gave me - it was corroded and scruffy so I had it blasted and powder coated at a place in Thorp Arch. Brace yourself though, that cost £30. Not everyone's got that sort o'brass here in Leeds.:smile:

As a result I don't think you should worry about durability, since any regularly used bike will one day hand you a repair bill that exceeds its market value. Rather select a bike that rides well and has the things you want. Given your stated use I'd be looking towards a tourer with guards and panniers. Rucsacs are OK, I commuted for years with one but now I have panniers I've never looked back.

Having recommended a tourer, I must say my everyday bike of choice is the old slick-shod MTB that I bodge round the clock with the bits from the bits box. I recently wore out a chainring, had one from an old junker, on it went, and before that it was a rear wheel, replced with one from a friend. "All it wants is a bearing rebuild..." it got it and it runs. Here's to the next 15000 miles, I plan to do it for free.:biggrin:
 

RedBike

New Member
Location
Beside the road
As many of the posts above say the design of the frame is arguably more important than the material.

Stereotypically steel frames are more comfortable than aluminium ones though.
My race bike is aluminium/carbon for the weight. My commuters steel for comfort.

Having said this tyres (in particular the width) make more of a difference than the frame.
 

aberal

Senior Member
Location
Midlothian
RedBike said:
Having said this tyres (in particular the width) make more of a difference than the frame.
No they don't. The frame is the heart and soul of the bike and should be the primary consideration when buying a bike. Tyres make a difference, sure. So do wheels. And saddle. And bars. But all f that is secondary to the frame.
 
OP
K

Keen but clumsy

Well-Known Member
Cheers guys - some good food for thought. I think I am going to stick with the OCR but replace the casette, chain etc to give it a new lease of life.

I will then go for a light tourer for the winter or if I want to carry loads.

It's been a really interesting insight into the world of bike materials! Thanks for taking the time to educate me.
 
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