steel versus aluminium for touring frame

Discussion in 'Bikes and Buying Advice - What Bike?' started by rob dixon, 10 May 2010.

  1. rob dixon

    rob dixon New Member

    Re earlier post (that's two now!), I've just been out for a ride on a borrowed Dawes ali framed bike, forerunner to the Karakum. I don't know if it's the harder, narrower tyres than my steel MTB with road tyres or not, but it was a bit of a bone shaker.
    Question - how much smoother a ride is a steel-framed bike, all other things being equal (which of course they never are...)?
    Thanks again.
     
  2. RecordAceFromNew

    RecordAceFromNew Swinging Member

    Location:
    West London
    Like many I have always found my steel bike rides much smoother than my aluminium bikes. However I can not prove it, let alone describing how much smoother it is due to the frame material. Analyses and logical assessment made by respectable folks however tend to suggest it is due to other things, such as tyres, saddles, geometry etc.

    Welcome to the forum, by the way!
     
  3. HelenD123

    HelenD123 Veteran

    Location:
    York
    My steel tourer is definitely smoother over the bumps than my alu hybrid, but then it's a much more expensive bike so it's not exactly a fair comparison.
     
  4. OP
    OP
    rob dixon

    rob dixon New Member

    RAFN & Helen - thanks! It gets more and more complicated...
    Helen - interesting to see your trip plans. Makes mine very humble - but you've got to start somewhere!
     
  5. rich p

    rich p ridiculous old lush

    Location:
    Brighton
    My steel is very comfortable compared with my aluminium bikes but to be fair they're not tourers.
     
  6. HelenD123

    HelenD123 Veteran

    Location:
    York
    Indeed. I've taken a massive step up for this trip so let's hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew.
     
  7. RedBike

    RedBike New Member

    Location:
    Beside the road
    I've somehow ended up with all of my bikes being either steel or carbon.

    I don't think steel is any better than aluminium at absorbing vibration / road noise. It does however flex slightly more and therefore provides some 'suspension', although most of the bump absorbtion of a bike still comes from the tyres not the frame.

    Modern production techniques allow designers to cleverly butt and form the aluminium tubes so the frames are only in the stiff where they need to be. So a well designed modern aluminium frame could be on par with, if not better than a lower end steel frame.

    For comfort carbon is far better than both aluminium and steel at absorbing vibration and noticably smoothes out the road.

    So why do I ride steel frames?
    Because I think the combination of carbon forks/ seatpost and bars to absorb vibration and steel to absorb the bigger bumps is a winning combination for durability and my wallet.

    Given the choice I would go for a titanium or all carbon frame. But steel with carbon parts works out a lot cheaper.
     
  8. Davidc

    Davidc Guru

    Location:
    Somerset UK
    I've ridden both and also carbon, but not enough for a really fair comparison.

    With that caveat I thought the carbon bike I used was superb. However, I wouldn't buy one after reading of and seeing pix of how they break. They're too expensive as well.

    I find steel much better to ride than aluminium, but I'm long enough in the tooth that familiarity may have an effect on this, and I don't think there's as much difference with the modern compact frames and better aluminium alloys now being used.

    IMO the saddle, the tyres and riding position make a bigger difference to comfort on long rides on a touring bike than does the frame material.

    I'm sure the best thing is to try to borrow a bike similar to the one you're hoping to buy, get it set up for your comfort, and ride it 50 miles.
     
  9. ColinJ

    ColinJ It's a puzzle ...

    I agree with that.

    I have a very stiff aluminium Cannondale and a much less stiff oversized steel Basso.

    I make the Cannondale tolerably comfortable by running my tyres at 95 PSI rear, 90 PSI front.

    The Basso can be rendered horribly uncomfortable (on crappy West Yorkshire road surfaces) merely by pumping the tyres up to 100+ PSI. With lower tyre pressures it doesn't feel dramatically more comfortable then the Cannondale, it is just heavier and more flexy.

    If I stomp on the Basso's pedals I can feel the frame twist and get chainrub.

    If I stomp on the Cannondale's pedals, it takes off like a scalded cat!
     
  10. OP
    OP
    rob dixon

    rob dixon New Member

    Thanks all - keep 'em coming!
    It may be that the wider tyres of the Karakum make it perhaps on a par, comfort-wise, with steel (Dalesman or Galaxy being considered)?
    But I'm still slightly unsure about the durability and repairability of ali. On myBalkans trip, some of the driving was far from good on the main roads, so there is the chance of getting pushed off the road with obvious risks to self and bike. I imagine that there might be circumstances where the bike is damaged but repairable if steel, less so if ali. But I don't know how likely that is, assuming the rider is not written off!
     
  11. RedBike

    RedBike New Member

    Location:
    Beside the road
    I would think the most likely causes of frame failure would be being squashed during shipping and being involved in a crash.

    In theory a steel frame can be cold set (bent back into shape) and re-welded wereas an aluminium frame can't. In reality, if the bikes frames been damaged in a crash to the extent it needs welding you'll have a broken forks, wheels and maybe even a few broken ribs to contend with. Simply popping into a back street car garage and asking them to weld your frame isn't going to get you back on the road again.

    If things are really bad you could always order a frame (or a complete bike!) online and get it shipped out to you within 2/3days.
     
  12. GrumpyGregry

    GrumpyGregry Here for rides.

    I <3 my ali framed tourer. Comfort wise; spesh bar phat and a Brooks Flyer put 150km+ back-to-back days easily within my capabilites. If it fits properly and you sort the contact points and tyres/tyre pressure job is a good un.

    Whilst steel is real, rust never sleeps.
     
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