Sunday, April 3, 2011

The First Piece of "The Sophisticated Cycle"

In order for this bike to function in well in all settings, it must be built from the ground up to serve that purpose. Therefore frame materials and fork materials are the first piece of this decision making process. The four materials of course are Carbon, Aluminum, Titanium and Steel. All four materials are great for various reasons, which will be summed up as quickly and as best as possible in the following paragraphs. One note that does need to be made is that each material will be different in every batch made, from every bike builder and material supplier to those builders. Therefore, one carbon bike is not equal to another, one aluminum to another, etc. So please note these are generalizations for each.



Steel

The original choice of material for bikes, it is also by far the heaviest, not making it great for speeding around. While heavy it has many great qualities, making it a very comfortable ride, but not allowing to to be competitive unless you happen to be drastically superior to every other cyclist in the world. If I were working in a zero gravity environment, this would be my first choice. Otherwise if you're building a commuter-only bike you're not trying to zoom around on, this is a great choice. It's durable, easily reparable, inexpensive and with good design you can keep the weight pretty low, but not as low as carbon or aluminum.


Titanium

Lighter than steel, but heavier than aluminum. It's got a better ride than aluminum, worse than steel. Middle ground between the three metal materials. A good choice over aluminum if you'd rather choose the comfort over the weight difference. I believe the ride difference is negligible and therefore would choose the aluminum over the titanium. I seem to also find that aluminum frames are more plentiful.


Aluminum

Lighter than steel and titanium, but still in the metal class of materials. It is said to provide less of a comfortable ride than steel and titanium. I believe that in regard to the steel, but can't tell the difference between the titanium and aluminum frames. In the past several years it has been developed more, providing it with a lighter weight nearly that of carbon, while still maintaining its metallic and strong structure. If taken well care of it will last as long as a steel frame will. Aluminum is also much less prone to rusting than steel. Compared to carbon it can be repainted easily (although I have found a solution for painting carbon). I would choose this as my frame since normal competitors ride around on aluminum/carbon frames, and the aluminum remains strong even if it's picked up a few war wounds. In contrast, carbon fiber does not have this benefit, if it's integrity is compromised, the ride will be as well and possibly your safety as it may snap. I also find that the frame is more prone to damage for me therefore that leads well into the discussion of...


Carbon

Premier choice of racing bikes, lightweight and progressing rapidly in it's technology, carbon fiber has quickly jumped to be the material of choice for racers in the past 20 years. The frames are stiff, they deaden vibration, and as long as it's from a good builder, is made pretty well. However, carbon fiber is not without it's short comings. If you get on a nice road, it'll take everything out of the vibration which is great. On a bad one, not so much since the dampening of the carbon is overcome. When it get's damaged it will inevitably break. It's expensive to replace and repair. Additionally it cannot be repainted without serious care (will be discussed when paintjobs are addressed). While ideally wanting to keep the weight and price of the bike to a minimum, a carbon fork and seatpost would be used, but not the frame. This will deaden vibration coming from particularly vibration heavy and vibration conducting areas as well as decrease the overall cost and weight of the bike. Note: I didn't mention this, although I knew it before the original write, most professional racers are not paying for their bikes and this is partly why they can afford the bikes, because sponsors are forking over the money. A follower did note this and also noted that they usually get new bikes every year. This is also true. So if you're looking for a good, carbon fiber bike that's only been used for a year: find your local bike shops and find out which ones have sponsored teams and find out when they'll be switching out this years bikes.


That's the end of the bike material choices. Please remember, these are generalizations, and not specific to any manufacturer, supplier, bike model or individual bike. Things can vary greatly and unless you make it yourself, you have to cross your fingers and hope you didn't get the "bad egg." I've chosen to go with an aluminum frame, carbon seatpost and carbon fork. This discussion took place in my mind over the past several weeks, the next post will be a description of what I ended up purchasing. Stay tuned.

2 comments:

  1. As recently as a decade or so ago, some racers were still riding steel frames. These days, that's what most dedicated, long-time and high-mileage riders are still riding, as its ride (at least for the better grade of steels) has not been replicated in other materials.

    About carbon: Yes, that is what most racers are using now. And it has the qualities you describe--including its breakability. However, it should be noted that professional riders rarely, if ever, buy their own equipment: They ride what their sponsors give them. And, these days, they get new bikes every season.

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  2. Very true. There is some mysterious rule about riders over 200 lbs not being able to ride carbon fiber frames although that has been widely shown to not be true. However, if people are afraid of that, steel is always going to hold.

    As for about the carbon, you are also correct and I forgot to mention that in my post. I went ahead and included that as a note at the end of the carbon section with a little detail as to keeping an eye out for these bikes being sold at bike shops with sponsored teams. You can get them for a *relative* steal.

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