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Compare Bicycle Frame Materials: Steel, Aluminum, Titanium, Carbon fiber

 

There is much debate in cycling circles about which frame material is "best". Here's my take on the pros and cons of the different options.

frame SteelSteel Frame
Steel is the traditional material for bicycle frames. It has the benefit of being strong, but with some flex, so it tends to make for relatively comfortable ride.
Also, steel does not lose much of its strength when you bend it; so you can bend it back without any problem. Finally, steel is straightforward to repair by any welder
(there are different tools and skills required for different types of metal, and steel is the most common). So if you have a problem in the back of beyond, the local
welder should be able to fix you up at least until you can get more permanent repairs done. On the downside, steel is generally seen as being relatively heavier than
aluminum or titanium, although because you need more aluminum to get a similar strength, the differences can be pretty much moot. Also, steel can rust, if the paint
becomes chipped (though steel frames can last a lifetime if treated at all well). Traditionalists tend to prefer steel; the saying you'll hear is "steel is real". I
like steel, because it is reliable, strong, and can be bent back or welded easily. It has a high stress tolerance, which means it can hold up to the knocks and flexing
of touring for a long, long time. And finally from an aesthetic standpoint, steel frames often have smaller tubes than aluminum, which you may or may not find more
attractive - though it's certainly possible to find oversized steel bike frames too. My Co-Motion Americano has a pretty hefty downtube, for example.
You'll often hear people talk about steel framed bikes being more "forgiving" or flexible. This can be true, and it often is, but you should be aware that the
stiffness of a frame is not solely determined by the material. I looked into building my own bicycle frames (learning TIG welding etc) and during my research I saw
many comments from framebuilders to the effect that you can make any frame as stiff or flexible as you want - regardless of the material. So it's perfectly possible to
make a very stiff steel frame, or a more flexible aluminum one. Much depends on the diameter and thickness of the tubing used, and the geometry. In the end, though you
just have to ride the bike and see how it feels for you. A general rule of thumb seems to be that the larger diameter the frame tubing, the stronger and stiffer the
bike will be (which is a good thing for carrying a load). So the frame on my 725 steel Co-Motion Americano has fairly beefy "tandem grade" tubing, which you can see in
the thick downtube and monster chainstays.
Which steel is best? There are many different names and numbers you'll see thrown around - Columbus, Reynolds 531, 725, 853, Cromo 4130, and so on. The differences are
quite technical, but they usually come down to relative strength, hardness, and the properties of the metal when it is heated (during the welding process). The thing
is, metal usually gets weaker when it's heated up, which is not a good thing around the joints (where welding and brazing applies heat). But some steels are made to
deal with this - for example, Reynolds 853 tubing is "air hardening", which means basically that 853 is very well suited to TIG welding, since it actually gets
stronger at the weld points. One downside, however, of 853 is that it's very hard, which means it is also harder to work the metal. This is why most beginner
framebuilders will use a softer steel, like 4130, which is commonly used in the aerospace industry. Basically you don't need to get into the details of this - most
likely you'll either be taking whatever the bike maker used in the production bike (and it'll probably be just fine, whatever it is), or else the custom builder you're
talking to will be able to go over the relative merits if you want to go to that level of detail. The specific steel does matter, but only if you know exactly what you
are looking for, so if all this sounds a bit technical then don't worry about it - it'll still work, your bike won't spontaneously explode just because it's not made
of 853 or whatever. The Surly Long Haul Trucker, for example, is made of 4130 Cromo, which is about as basic as you can get, and it's a rock solid bike that people
take all around the world. The more fancy steels are mostly there as a result of a quest to get lighter race bikes (since a stronger material means you can use thinner
tubing, which means a lighter frame), and for a touring bike that's going to weigh upward of 80 lbs anyway, you really shouldn't care too much about a pound or two
here or there in the frame.

frame alu
Aluminum Frame

Aluminum started to take over from steel because, I think, it was cheaper to make. Aluminum frames usually have oversized tubes, because this metal is not as strong as
steel and so needs the additional diameter to achieve the same stiffness. Actually, aluminum frames tend to be a lot stiffer than steel frames, because of those
oversized tubes. This can be good for touring, where frame flex can be a problem if you're carrying a lot of gear. But on the other hand, any flexing at all is bad for
aluminum, since after bending, you cannot bend it back without losing much of its strength. So once an aluminum frame is bent, it is basically trashed. Also, it's much
harder to repair an aluminum frame, since the welding process is very different from steel. Aluminum frames tend to have a shorter lifetime than steel, because of the
fatigue issue. Many aluminum bikes have detachable rear derailleur hangers, because of the problem where this part can break easily, and it would otherwise make the
entire frame unusable. Overall, as stated above, I think aluminum frames are excellent choices for applications where reliability and longevity is not your primary
concern (e.g. racing). Of course, some will argue that they've used a particular aluminum frame for years without problems; but I think the underlying issue of fatigue
is still there, and I just prefer to have a material that can be bent back if necessary, and welded easily if it came to it.
Well, that's the theory. In practice, there are excellent aluminum touring bikes out there - Cannondale is a standout company that makes top notch bikes which do not
have a reputation for failure. They are extremely stiff, and as a result tend to be good matches for heavy riders (so I understand, I've never owned one myself).

frame ti
Titanium Frame

Titanium is gaining recognition in the biking world, as it is extremely light and very strong. It used to also be very expensive, which is probably the main argument
against it. I honestly don't know about its characteristics as far as longevity goes; I do believe that the welding process is different from steel, but I could be
wrong there, so I don't really know how difficult it would be to repair a Ti frame in the middle of nowhere. The things it has going for it is lightness and strength,
and the fact that it won't rust like steel. On the downside is the expense. I don't know if titanium can be bent back without losing strength, in the same way that
steel can. If you have the money to build your own Ti frame then it would be worth contacting someone who has already done it to get their impressions. Victor
Weinreber is one such person.frame carbon

Carbon Fiber Frame
Lightweight – carbon fiber is a low density material with a very high strength to weight ratio
High tensile strength – one of the strongest of all commercial reinforcing fibers when it comes to tension, carbon fiber is very difficult to stretch or bend
Low thermal expansion – carbon fiber will expand or contract much less in hot or cold conditions than materials like steel and aluminum
Exceptional durability – carbon fiber has superior fatigue properties compared to metal, meaning components made of carbon fiber won’t wear out as quickly under the
stress of constant use
Corrosion-resistance – when made with the appropriate resins, carbon fiber is one of the most corrosion-resistant materials available
Electrical conductivity – carbon fiber composites are an excellent conductor of electricity
Ultra-violet resistant – carbon fiber can be UV resistant with use of the proper resins

Xiamen Most Sports Goods Co.,Ltd supply bicycle carbon frame(road carbon frame and MTB carbon frame) with Toray T700 Carbon Fiber.all our products are strictly according to EN standards and SGS standard.

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