Frame Materials Explained – Steel, Aluminium & Carbon

Here is a video from Bike Radar featuring the legendary Mike Burrows. Mike is famous for designing and building the Lotus bike, on which Chris Boardman won his Olympic Gold Medals and also the creator of the compact road frame for Giant Bicycles. So it’s fair to say that Mike knows a thing or two when is comes to bike design. In this interview, he explains what the differences are between the various materials used in bicycle frame fabrication. There are a lot of myths and old wives tales, such as that steel is more flexible and can therefore absorb more bumps¬†and that aluminium is stiffer and is a more jarring material. He explains that the feel or stiffness of a bike is more to do with tube shapes and sizes, rather than the material itself. Because carbon fiber and to some extent, aluminium, are easier to shape, bicycle manufacturers can create large and varying tube shapes which give the frame additional stiffness under load. Over the last decade or more, we have seen the growing use of aluminium and carbon, however, these materials are more relevant for the racing cyclist who wants to get every ounce of performance out of the bike.Steel is a very hard and strong material but cannot be manipulated into different tube shapes as easily as the other materials, as it will loose its natural tensile strength. But on the other hand the size of the tubes don’t need to be as big, therefore cutting down on weight and retaining a classic and aesthetically pleasing design. In addition, as it is easier to weld and requires less of a manufacturing process, it is cheaper and more affordable for the end user. A lot of people will describe the ride of a steel frame to be nicer or more comfortable than the stiffer aluminium or carbon frames. Therefore steel is an ideal material to build, not only classically beautiful frames but also bikes for the leisure cyclist, commuting cyclist or touring cyclist.

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