Impacting important characteristics such as ride quality and feel, a frame is often the defining feature of your favorite bike. So regardless of whether you’re getting stuck into a dream bike build, considering a new ride or are just a sucker for the technical detail, we’ve put together this handy guide to help you better understand the foundation of your bicycle.
Often referred to as the heart of a bike, a frame can be made from either carbon fiber, aluminum, titanium, steel or a combination of these materials. Each bicycle frame material offers a list of differing characteristics that will affect the cost, comfort, weight, stiffness, strength and durability.
It’s worth noting that it’s often how the chosen material is used by the engineers and manufacturers that matters most, and this is something that each brand will typically play with. Before we jump into the details, it’s worth considering the following factors when deciding what material is best for you;
- Weight: Your bike needs to be strong enough to carry you and any extra luggage you plan on carrying in the form of panniers, racks or mounts. Each material will have different strength properties, fatigue rates and impact resistance but there is always a trade-off between weight and durability. Another aspect of weight to consider is how important having a lightweight bike is to you. For example, if you’re chasing performance advantages than having a light weight bike would be higher on your list.
- The Purpose of The Bike: If you plan on racing then a stiff, lightweight bike is the ideal choice, narrowing the type of materials to choose from. Conversely, if you are touring or planning a riding adventure that requires long hours in the saddle and the ability to carry items, then durability is the priority and again, narrows the type of material to choose from.
- The Area You Ride: It may not be apparent that your postcode could influence the type of material your bike is built from, but consider a material like steel that will rust in wet, humid climates. A material like aluminum might be a better choice given the conditions while still providing similar characteristics to steel.
- How Long You Plan On Having The Bike: All materials will fatigue over time but some faster than others. Steel will rust if not taken care of but is more durable than aluminum over the long term. Carbon fiber and titanium frames have exceptionally high fatigue rates meaning they will last and last and last.
- Your Budget: Budget is often the biggest factor in choosing a bike and consequently its material. As a generalization, in order of most expensive to least expensive, titanium takes the cake, followed by carbon fiber, aluminum and steel. As always, the tradeoff between what you are willing to spend for what outcome is the key consideration.
To help provide more clarity on the various bike frame materials available, we’ve summarized each material type, its properties, characteristics and more importantly how they translate into ride quality. But, today I only introduce the material part of steel. For more details about other materials, please click here: Bike Exchange
Ah steel, the no fuss workhorse of bike frame materials. Steel was the universal choice of racing bike frames until aluminum appeared in the 1970’s and 1980’s and carbon fiber took over in the 1990’s.
There are two distinct types of steel used in the bicycle industry. The first is high tensile, or otherwise known as ‘Hi-Ten’, this is a cheaper grade steel commonly found in cheaper bikes, especially those from department stores. It offers an incredibility poor strength-weight ratio and so manufacturers will typically use this material in order to hit low price points. By comparison, higher-end steel bikes are likely to use chromoly, or CroMo for short (generally short for chrome molybdenum) steel, which as an alloyed steel offers superior strength properties to Hi-Ten and so can be butted and made thinner/lighter.
Steel is inexpensive, exceptionally durable, highly resistant to fatigue, easily repaired and easy to work with. Unlike carbon fiber and aluminum, damage to a steel bicycle frame is typically easily repaired. Somewhat surprisingly despite its strength, steel offers good levels of compliance thanks to its elastic properties. The downside of steel is that it is prone to oxidization (rust) and carries a weight penalty over other materials.
Touring and adventure bikes are commonly made from steel thanks to the exceptional durability and strength on offer. This enables riders to carry large amounts of luggage without compromising the bikes performance. Steel also features heavily on entry level and recreational bikes where weight isn’t such an important factor.
- Pros of Steel: Cost and ease to manufacture, strength, durability.
- Cons of Steel: Weight, corrosion resistance.
How It’s Made
Joining steel tubes together involves similar welding processes to aluminum frames, but further options exist including ‘Brazing’ and the use of lugs. Brazing is similar to TIG welding but uses a ‘filler’ material that is melted and used to join the tubes. The filler material is commonly silver or brass but could be a myriad of other alloys too. Lugs act as connectors at junction points of the frame, creating a sleeve for the tubes to slide into. Prior to constructing the frame, the ends of the steel tubes are precisely cut to fit perfectly into the lugs and brazed together. The use of lugs creates an immensely strong joint, and being an older manufacturing technique carries a side perk of giving a bike a ‘classic’ look.
Steel bicycle frames are perhaps the easiest frames to repair due to the availability of the equipment and supplies, as well as the material’s resistance to repeated heat. For this reason, steel is a great option for commuters, recreational cyclists and touring riders that need a highly durable bike.
If you want to get more information about bike frames, I recommend that you can visit the website of Maxway Cycles Co., Ltd.: www.maxway-cycles.com. Maxway is a leading manufacturer of steel bicycle frames and other kinds of bike frames. The company has built up solid relationship with a lot of steel bicycle frame manufacturers in Taiwan who supply high quality steel bike frame, bicycle frame products at decent prices. For more details, please feel free to send inquiry to them.