Making a Choice
For a new rider or an experienced rider looking for a new bike or bike frame, there is a wide selection of different options. While the sheer variety may seem great, it can often lead to a long decision process. Navigating through the marketing hype can be tricky. In this article, we will look at the four main bicycle frame materials and let you decide what is best for you.
Carbon fiber frames are synonymous with higher-end bikes and pro cycling. They are unique among bike frame materials in that they can be easily moulded into any shape, allowing manufacturers to experiment with different tube profiles and frame shapes. Bikes using carbon fiber can be made to be more aerodynamic, lighter weight, more comfortable, as well as stiffer. As the possibilities with carbon fiber frames are virtually endless, most R&D is going towards this wonderful material. It’s properties as well as improvements in production have led it to become the favorite of many.
While it is the material of choice for professional riders, it does come with some drawbacks. The manufacturing costs are higher as the production involves many more steps. Also, if the bicycle is involved in a crash, it can be more difficult to fix. It is important to inspect it from time to time. Also, not all carbon frames are built the same. Some brands and manufacturers build their frames to higher standards, while some others might not.
Steel used to be the material of choice for road bikes, regardless of who the rider was. They predated carbon fiber, aluminum, and titanium frames. Today, they are still available and offer many benefits. The can be much easier to fix as well as manufacture, though due to the lower demand, they have increased in price. Many will say “steel is real.” It known for being durable and long-lasting. Steel frames can truly last a lifetime. Many also prefer the classic aesthetics of a steel bike.
While steel bikes can offer something for those nostalgic about the past, just like all bike frame materials, there are some drawbacks. Steel bikes, despite their appeal, tend to be heavy and less aerodynamic due to the fact that it cannot be molded like aluminum and carbon fiber frames for example.
Aluminum alloy is yet another great choice for bicycle frames. Today it is commonplace on more entry level bikes. It can be made lighter than steel and is cheaper than carbon fiber as it is less labor intensive. Despite its lower cost, it can offer great performance. It can be made to be quite stiff and has some flexibility in how what tube shapes can be made. Repairs are also fairly straightforward.
The choice of aluminum, while good for many does still have its drawbacks. It lacks the versatility of carbon fiber as a material. It cannot be made to be as aero, lightweight, stiff and compliant where needed. Nevertheless it is an excellent choice for those just getting into cycling or those on a budget.
What makes titanium special is that, like steel, it can last a lifetime. It is especially durable as it won’t rust like steel. Titanium is also lightweight in comparison. This frame material, just like steel, is less common than aluminum and carbon fiber which can give it a cool factor.
Just like the other frame materials, titanium is not perfect. It can be very hard to work with which makes it more expensive, and like aluminum and steel, it does not have the versatility of carbon fiber.