Different frame materials

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New Member
Ok, so reading people's posts I think I now understand that steel is heavier than aluminium which is heavier than carbon which is slightly heavier than air. But, there are suggestions that there are other attributes to the materials which make each preferable in different situations. Can somebody explain please? And the same for forks?


Legendary Member
Phew, theres a whole raft of steel materials alone. My knowledge isnt that good, but you could start with cheap'gas pipe' frames..heavy and cheap.
You would progress something like
18-30 (IIRC)...cheapish steel
Reynolds 501..better
Reynolds 531..better still
Reynolds 531c....competition ?

Then you go to butted and double butted tubes which lighten the tubes by tapering them internally...shedding weight of course.

Dont quote me, thats just the way i understand it in very simple terms...no doubt someone will come along and put you (and probably me too) right.

Aluminium, carbon....wont even begin on those :?:

Monty Dog

New Member
Steel- probably the heaviest, but is springy and resilient. Commonly used alloys are chrome-moly and chrome-managanese. Main disadvantage - it rusts! Predominantly used for touring and expedition bikes - can be easily repaired - or with 'old-timers' and retro-fanatacists. Traditionally brazed but now welded. Good for forks but heavy.

Aluminium - most commonly used alloy are 6000 and 7000 series. Can be very light, but has fatigue limit and therefore has to be over-built to compensate - can be overly-stiff as a consequence. 6000 series frames need heat-treatment and so almost impossible to repair. Falling out of favour with top-end bikes these days. Common on bottom-mid range bikes up to £1000. doesn't make for good forks.

Titanium - weight-wise somewhere between allly and steel, but has the benefit of vitually infinite fatigue limit and corrosion resistance. Requires specialist cutting and welding, so pretty expensive. Has a reputation for a comfortable ride and good longevity. Commonly used alloys - 3al2.5v and 6al4v - the second is stronger and therefore more expensive. Some reasonably priced frames now available from China and Russia. Some mid range bike but prices can go stratospheric. One for the bike you'll keep. Probably too 'soft' for forks and expensive (I've got some!)

Carbon - increasingly popular on £1000+ bikes - stiff light and can be specifically engineered to suit many applications. Very good reputation for vibration damping. Big disdvantage - it doesn't like crashes or compression. Ubiquitous fork material these days - resilient and stiff.

Keith Oates

Penarth, Wales
Monty Dog has given a very good discription that I could not improve on, except to say for me the carbon bikes are very comfortable and I thoroughly enjoy riding them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Of course a heavy steel bike is heavier than a light aluminium bike...
...but a heavy aluminium bike is heavier than a light steel bike as well !

Even 10 years ago, cheaper bikes were steel, aluminium was more expensive, titanium was mega-megabucks and carbon stratospheric.

Because they're more shock and particularly vibration absorbent, steel and titanium are frequently used for touring and audax bikes, rather than harsher aluminium or fragile carbon.

But for road-race bikes or MTB's, manufacture and construction of aluminium frames in Taiwan and China means that aluminium is today comparatively a lot cheaper than it was and it's now the norm for starting-level enthusiast road race bikes or MTB's from Specialized, Trek, Giant, etc.

Yes, really, really cheap rubbish bikes (the £59.99 from Argos MTB type stuff) are really heavy steel (usually sold as 'high-tensile', not even as Chromoly or other alloys), but the norm for an aimed-at-enthusiasts bike is aluminium these days rather than steel.

If an enthusiast is riding a steel road bike, it's usually a more expensive, low-volume or frequently custom bike, using 653 or another exotic alloys, which will be more expensive than the mass-production aluminium bikes and perhaps lighter too.

Carbon has come down in price too, as a spin-off from its greater use in aerospace, sportscar, etc applications, and off-the-peg full-carbon bikes can be had for about a grand - but again you can get lighter weight but more expensive exotic aluminium or steel frames.
[Sacrilege] Does it matter?[/Sacrilege]

Before I am beaten to death with a club made of a suitable material.

I must admit that this has never been a great factor in my choice.

Most of my bikes have been bought as a "overall package". When I bought my Catrike earlier this year I looked at aesthetics, design strength, luggage carrying, comfort, price and performance. Whilst it being aluminium obviously contributes to this, I did not exclude the Trice, Greenspeed or Scorpion because of the material.

If you are having a custom bike, or are at a performance level where it will make a diffrence then fine

For most of us though the material will be simply "one of the features" contributing to the choice.


New Member
What helped me (as a newbie) most about the replies was that they taught me that aluminium or carbon weren't the be-all and end-all of materials and that steel wasn't obsolete. The two links in particular put things in perspective.


Home Counties
Aluminium has its disadvantages. Just a bit too much power on a climb, and bang goes the bottom bracket... Still, that's a folder and if that was steel it wouldn't be portable.

I was pleasantly surprised last weekend when I made it through the 5000km barrier on my Claud Butler, with frame intact - first time I've had an Alu frame last that far. But:

Steel bike owned: 3
Steel bike frame failures: 0
Alu bikes owned: 3
Alu bike frame failures: 2

Any future bikes, I'll be buying steel whenever possible


banjoblues said:
What helped me (as a newbie) most about the replies was that they taught me that aluminium or carbon weren't the be-all and end-all of materials and that steel wasn't obsolete. The two links in particular put things in perspective.

The trouble is, you'll be hard pressed to buy the frame material you want; fashion and the industry dictate what bikes are available from the mainstream suppliers. This is no bad thing, and in my view 'budget' bikes such as Trek 1000, Specialized Allez are superb (Ok, apart from wheels), and nearly as good as what I was racing on 10 years ago.

I've found low end Carbon bikes to be a disappointing from the ride point of view, but my current Trek Madone is brilliant in all respects. (well, apart from having to spend money that is). For TT'ing I've found my Litespeed titanium to be just the ticket.


New Member
some people will be interested in longevity and i understand that a steel bike can go on for as long as you want it to, but aluminium has a shorter life as there is risk of failure when the frame ages
The bike industry seems to like alu, I should imagine its easier to shape into complicated designs and I am impressed with the ride quality on a the 2007 Allez frame. I have had alu bikes that ride quite harshly though almost "zingy". Not always that unpleasant and maybe the sign of a stiff frame.
My experience of steel frames new, old, is a ride that could be described as "supple" I dont cycle hard enough to tell whether this comfort is at the expense of performance. Its enough evidence for me to fancy a titanium frame over expensive aluminium.
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