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Steel vs. Aluminum(18 posts)

Steel vs. Aluminumlemmy999
Dec 21, 2002 5:25 AM
My wife is looking around for a new road bike and for some reason she has almost 100% ruled out steel. She says she doesn't want a frame that will rust. I had a steel mtn bike and didn't take care of it at all and after 3 years there was not one spot of rust on it. How likely is a rust problem on a steel bike and how much work is usually needed to prevent it? I know it is a good idea to touch up any nicks in the paint to prevent rust. It is not that I want her to get a steel bike, I just don't want her ruling them out. What are the negatives of an Aluminum frame? I have heard they have a harsher ride. I have heard of some mountain biker that replace their AL handlebar/stem every 3-5 years because they don't want it to break. Do AL frames last?
Basket of snakes.Spoke Wrench
Dec 21, 2002 9:13 AM
I put the potential of quality steel frames rusting in the same basket with the potential for quality aluminum frames failing due to fatigue. I don't doubt that both happen, just not nearly often enough to raise a blip on my worry radar.

Harshness of ride is a subjective factor. If you want to make a decision based on facts insted of on old bikeriders' tales, ride the bike and decide for yourself. I think that there is a huge range of difference in feel among bicycles constructed of similar materials. A bicycle designer manuliplates metallurgy, tubeing diameter, wall thickness, shape, configuration and butting, frame geometry, component and tire selection to produce altogether a bike that rides in a certain way. Yet we are constantly subjected to pronouncements made with an air of infallability as if it came from the pope that using a certain material can only produce a certain result. I just don't think so.
Basket of snakes.The Human G-Nome
Dec 21, 2002 10:25 AM
hey, well said SW! most of us believe that to be true, but the summation was concise, excellent.
Titanium or Carbonfbg111
Dec 21, 2002 9:30 AM
If rust is her main concern, tell her to get a Ti or Carbon bike. They're the only materials that are guaranteed not to rust, and all else equal they should have a softer ride than Aluminum. I think many Ti frames come with a lifetime warranty as well. But really, like Spoke Wrench said, there's a lot more factors affecting ride than just material, and rust isn't much of an issue anyway with well made Al and Steel bikes.
I can tell you this.....DINOSAUR
Dec 21, 2002 9:41 AM
I have two bikes. A '99 Klein Quantum Race and a '02 Colnago Master X-Light. These are entirely two different animals. The Klein is a lightweight zootracer. The frame is light and rigid to say the least. The bottom bracket offers no flex at all and the thing climbs and descends like a demon. On the other hand, the Master X-Light is just as stiff in the bb and no flex that I can detect. It is a very comfortable frame for long rides and weighs about a pound more than the Klein. It offers the magic ride that only steel can provide. I've owned steel bikes my whole life, starting back with my first road bike in 1962. The only steel frame that rusted out on me was the cable guides on the top tube caused by perspiration and my neglegence of failing to wipe down the bike after my rides. The main difference I notice between the two bikes is the difference in acceleration. The Klein seems to take off on it's own and the Master X-Light seems more connected to my body. The steel bike would be my pick for doing long rides and centuries, but this is because the Colnago fits me better and the component group/wheel set is newer. The Colnago seems to descend better than the Klein, it's a very good handling bike, designed for durability and comfort. But the Klein is no slouch either. If I had both bikes set up side by side with the same components in would be a tough call as I like both bikes. I spend more time on the Colnago and use the Klein for short, fast rides, but that is mainly because of the fitting. The only way for your wife is to real find out is for her to ride a bunch of bikes (if that is possible) so she can see the difference. Aluminum might (note "might") be too stiff for her liking, but perhaps not. But she should not cross out a steel bike just because of the rust factor. She should focus on finding a bike that fits her and suits her needs. Does she need a lightweight zootracing machine or a comfortable bike for long rides? There is no correct answer, that's why some of us have more than one bike...don't rule out steel though....
re: Steel vs. AluminumMRS
Dec 21, 2002 10:52 AM
Don't listen to people telling you that all Al frames offer a harsh ride. It is just not true. You can build a comfortable Al frame and a harsh steel frame. The frame itself will only contribute to comfort in the way you fit it. Shock absorption will come from your tires, maybe a little bit from stem/bar and seatpost. I don't think there should be any issues with an Al frame not lasting. As long as your wife is not getting one of the superlight frames out there, you shouldn't worry. On the other hand she shouldn't worry about rust either. My rain bike is a steel frame that I have had for a couple of years now and I haven't had any problems. And I must admit I am not taking too much care of it. So like the others said, your wife should ride some bikes to see what she likes and dislikes. Don't worry too much what the frame is made of.
re: Steel vs. Aluminumgtx
Dec 21, 2002 11:30 AM
My main reason for not buying AL is that if you mess them up in a crash there is more of a chance the frame will be un-fixable. Steel you can almost always repair or bend back--this is more important to me with cross and mtb frames, though, where crashes are more frequent. Rust is a non-issue if the paint is decent and you make some effort to maintain it. In terms of long-term durability most modern AL frames are very good these days and most come with good warranties. And I would buy an AL mtb frame if it had a good no-fault crash replacement warranty.
one more thinggtx
Dec 21, 2002 11:33 AM
Al bikes tend to be noisier--more of a chance for creaks from the hs and bb, and they amplify noise more.
Steel repairingmotta
Dec 21, 2002 1:52 PM
The argument that one can repair a steel frame is not really valid. By the time you find a qualified frame builder to do the repair, and then have painted so it looks half way decent you may as well buy a new frame. Of course that doesn't even take into consideration the Tig welded frames. Can those be repaired?
Steel repairinggtx
Dec 21, 2002 2:08 PM
I've done the following on my steel frames with no repaint

rolled out a big ding on the seat tube (myself)
bent the hanger back into alignment (myself)
re-aligned a frame and fork after I rear-ended a car (done by a framebuilder)

Sure, you can get AL frames with replaceable der hangers, but as Santa Cruz has always maintained, that's a crummy setup. Also, paint is pretty tough on higher end US frames.
Frame Saver!peter in NVA
Dec 21, 2002 2:45 PM
Years ago my brand new steel road bike rusted badly in the seat tube, and I never rode it in the rain. It was fillet brazed with all vent holes sealed. Babied it too much by bringing it into the house after each ride - temperature cycles here in humid Virginia built up water in the bike. After 6 months, to my horror, I removed the seat post, turned it upside down, a cup of water poured out.

I didn't give up on steel, put Frame Saver in my cyclocross bike...and no rust at all in 3 years with constant immersion in mud and water.
ditto on Frame Savercyclopathic
Dec 23, 2002 7:50 AM
and it works well on my beater in winter; subject to salt overspray

for nicks and scratches you can get a rust converter which converts rust to primer (PepBoys sells aerosol Permatex rust treatment)

with respect to steel vs Al, with few exceptions like Cdale warrany on most Al frames limited to 5 years vs to 25 to lifetime on steel.

The best choice for your wife would be Ti, you get steel like ride, lifetime warranty and no rust to worry about ;)
re: Steel vs. AluminumMikeDee
Dec 21, 2002 2:40 PM
Well, if you want a bike that weighs a couple of pounds more, by all means buy a steel frame.
Dec 21, 2002 9:25 PM
What Sheldon Brown says about frame material..
What Sheldon Brown saysDINOSAUR
Dec 21, 2002 9:29 PM
You can build a good bike with either material...joekm
Dec 23, 2002 6:36 AM
Because I'm a structural engineer, I've been inclined to comment on this matter in the past but, frankly this is starting to look like another "Campy vs. Shimano", "Linux vs. Windows vs. Mac", "Honda vs. Yamaha", etc. type of nonsense.

As far as rust is concerned, I've never known a quality steel frame to rust. My old steel frame is 14 years old with a few odd scratches on the paint and not a spot of rust on it. I also have a 10+ year old steel mountain bike that I've beated the hell out of and it also does not have a spot of rust on it (unless you count the exposed control cables). Keep the bike clean and well maintained (including the paint) and you should not have a problem.

I've read the Sheldon Brown article. He's basically correct although I disagree with his suggestion that you could build an aluminum frame that behaves like steel (or vice versa). Trying to match all of the frame properties between the two materials (bending, torsion, resonance, etc.) is going to be like trying to hold Jello with rubber bands. Quite frankly, there is no reason to even try. You can make a good bike with either material, they just won't be the same good bike.

Another website that, in my opinion, give a pretty good discussion of steel and aluminum as a bicycle materials is Tom Teesdale's site (

You wife should get whatever she feels most comfortable with. My only advice would be to test ride if she can and not automatically rule out steel based on a belief that it will rust.
Well put, too many ignorant comments above...miposy
Dec 23, 2002 12:17 PM
To not choose steel because it can rust is foolish. Rust is a non-starter in any well-built steel frame.

All who said you should choose a frame based upon how you like its ride are correct in every way. It is almost always a bad idea to choose frames based on material; you should choose them based on how you, personally, like the ride.

I like how my steel Strong Frame rides, my buddy likes how his Trek OCLV rides, and my other buddy loves his aluminum Bianchi. All are high milage frames.

They are all sweet bikes, and each frame weighs within a pound of the others, ranging from 3 to 3 2/3 pounds. Each bike complete weighs between 17 and 18.5 pounds including pedals.

Clearly, the (fill in your own insult here) above, who said steel frames are a couple of pounds heavier than other materials, is wrong.

Your wife needs to stop considering what the frames are made of, and start considering how the bikes she is interested in actually ride.
re: Steel vs. Aluminummapei boy
Dec 23, 2002 3:19 PM
Tell your wife not to worry about frame material. Chances are, whatever the material, a reputable maker will make a frame that won't fall apart beneath you. Have her just test as many as she can. Tell her to go with the frame that makes her weak with desire...if you guys can afford it, of course. In the case of my wife and I, in 2000, it was time to replace our mid-Eighties Columbus SL steel frames. After trying everything from Merlins to Litespeeds to Cannondales to Treks to Looks to Bianchi, we both ended up with Aluminum Colnagos. We started off the search thinking we wanted Cadillacs. We ended up with Porsches. Let the games begin.