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old school drop out
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Generally, there are three manufacturers that make "drive train" components for bikes. All three make super-high race quality components, down to entry-level (some more entry-level than others). Below I listed the order for each from highest to lowest price. The further down the list the less you'll pay for a bike.

Beyond this there are many manufacturers that make specific components that may be substituted for any of these. In particular with cranks, you'll often see a different brand substituted in for a multitude of reasons. But if you look at a bike you can kind of judge it by the components - it will either be mostly Tiagra, or it could be a mix of Tiagra and 105 (for instance). Since 105 is a more expensive group, either the price of the bike will be more, or another component has been downgraded to offset the cost of the 105.

Shimano: Dura Ace >> Ultegra >> 105 >> Tiogra >> Sora

SRAM: Red >> Force >> Rival

Campagnolo: Super Record >> Record >> Chorus >> Athena >> Centaur >> Veloce


Tubing is harder to explain because every company's marketing department makes up names to differentiate it's tube sets from other companies. There's no standard to any of the naming, and the names can be misleading.

Generally frame come in either carbon fiber, aluminum, or steel. All three can be used to make great bikes. Each has their strong points and each their weaknesses - none is particularly better than the other. Instead of trying to learn all of the differences, it's better to concentrate on how a particular bike rides and if you're comfortable on it. Pick the bike that you want based on how it feels when you ride it.
 

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old school drop out
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1,578 Posts
Nick09 said:
Can't you judge the frames quality by the welds (on metal frames), the weave (on carbon fiber), and the quality of the material used ex: 6061 Aluminum, etc...? Shouldn't the manufacturer have some type of label on the bike of the material used, or at least have it printed somewhere in a specs list that you can look up? If they do print the material, there has to be superior materials and inferior ones.

Just a guess here, feel free to call me an idiot if I am wrong.
It's not impossible to compares frame, but it's difficult. For instance, according to their respective web sites, Giant's top of the line road bike is made from "Advanced SL-Grade Composite" and Trek's is made from "OCLV2 SSL Carbon." Which is better?

What's better double butted 6061 aluminum, double butted 7000-series aluminum, or Scandium (which is not actually made from Scandium, but is another alloy of aluminum)? How is a newbie who didn't take a materials science class supposed to know which is better for them and why?

Was your aluminum bike heat treated, if so for how long and at what temperature? What was the temperature of the torch that welded it? What does a good weld look like? Can you still tell if the weld was good if it's been sanded down (like Cannondale does)?

Someone new to the sport, or most people that have ridden for years, can't really know most of what makes a frame good or bad. There's a lot of trust put in the person/company that built it - you trust that they picked the right materials and used them correctly, because as a consumer it's nearly impossible to really know.
 
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