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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi. I'm looking for a new frame and am considering a standard steel frame or a custom aluminum frame.

My budget is set at $1000. For that price, I can get a custom 7005 aluminum frame or an "off the shelf" steel frame (Soma, Surly, Gunnar).

My proportions aren't too odd and standard frames usually work for me. I have a lot of experience with Aluminum and Carbon, but am itchy to try to understand why "steel is real."

I've also heard that the quality aluminum with the right geometry can provide as smooth and lively a feel as steel.

Thoughts?

Ray
 

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I don't see any point in getting a 'custom' bike unless you have a particular need/desire to get something that isn't available stock. Nor do I really see the point in getting a steel bike simply because it's steel.
Sounds like you need to identify exactly what you want from a bike instead of just what it's made out of.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Hank Stamper said:
I don't see any point in getting a 'custom' bike unless you have a particular need/desire to get something that isn't available stock. Nor do I really see the point in getting a steel bike simply because it's steel.
Sounds like you need to identify exactly what you want from a bike instead of just what it's made out of.
you're absolutely right...thank's for stating the obvious.

If the issues was solely materials, I'd go with carbon. Unfortunately, I've experienced carbon failure and am looking at alternatives.

Obviously, fit is the greatest factor in riding and the assumption is that whether it be aluminum or steel, the bike will fit.

I'm really soliciting opinions from people who have had experience with custom aluminum and off the shelf steel. There is very little written about custom aluminum and I'm looking for first-hand experiences.

Is it possible that an aluminum frame with the proper geometry tweaks can provide better handling and ride than a comparably priced steel frame? I 'm looking for opinions.

Ray
 

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What do you want the bike to do?

When you know, you will be closer to your answer.
 

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raymond7204 said:
you're absolutely right...thank's for stating the obvious.

If the issues was solely materials, I'd go with carbon. Unfortunately, I've experienced carbon failure and am looking at alternatives.

Obviously, fit is the greatest factor in riding and the assumption is that whether it be aluminum or steel, the bike will fit.

I'm really soliciting opinions from people who have had experience with custom aluminum and off the shelf steel. There is very little written about custom aluminum and I'm looking for first-hand experiences.

Is it possible that an aluminum frame with the proper geometry tweaks can provide better handling and ride than a comparably priced steel frame? I 'm looking for opinions.

Ray
I ride a steel bike and I think that they ride awesome. I rode off the shelf aluminum for a while and didn't like how it felt. It had a harsh ride. People will say that its the components, tire pressure, etc, and not the frame, but the same components on the steel frame makes the bike much nicer.

My al frame was the typical inexpensive oversized frame so it may not be the best. A custom builder may be able to make al weigh like carbon, ride like steel and be durable like ti.

However, to me, steel rides awesome and you don't have to pay much for it.
 

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raymond7204 said:
you're absolutely right...thank's for stating the obvious.

If the issues was solely materials, I'd go with carbon. Unfortunately, I've experienced carbon failure and am looking at alternatives.

Obviously, fit is the greatest factor in riding and the assumption is that whether it be aluminum or steel, the bike will fit.

I'm really soliciting opinions from people who have had experience with custom aluminum and off the shelf steel. There is very little written about custom aluminum and I'm looking for first-hand experiences.

Is it possible that an aluminum frame with the proper geometry tweaks can provide better handling and ride than a comparably priced steel frame? I 'm looking for opinions.

Ray
I think that for not a whole lot more, yer into custom steel...

otherwise, it really doesn't matter what it's made of. You can make a steel frame that's stiffer than anything else on the road, you can make an aluminum frame that's a total wet noodle, you can make a carbon fiber frame that will never break.

What it really boils down to is what do you want this frame to do? What kind of riding do you do, how are you built, what do you want?

Don't start with "this builder will build me a frame for $1000"- start with "I want a frame that will do this- who can build it for me?"
 

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It all depends on the geometry/build of the bike. A bike can ride the same no matter the material if the builder is competent.

Just curious - what builder will do custom aluminum for under $1k?
 

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Hank Stamper said:
I don't see any point in getting a 'custom' bike unless you have a particular need/desire to get something that isn't available stock.

...like parallel dropouts, or a frame that'll track straight.

Which is not to say that every custom frame will have those (imho necessary) features. But there's a really good chance that an "off-the-shelf" steel frame for under $1000 won't, and with a custom builder you can at least make him/her aware that you're concerned with a high standard of precision.
 

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I'll chime in a bit late...

I agree with the others, knowing what you want out of a bike is the first step. Custom or off-the-shelf frame that fit you and likely do what you want can be made out of any material. Cost, need, and availability will be a determining factor in off-the-shelf or custom. Custom bike should always fit. Off-the-shelf may or may not fit depending on your body proportions and the builders that you look at.

To me, when deciding about aluminum of steel (I own and ride both) is:

- Higher-end aluminum frames are lighter than most steel frames. (Note that not all aluminum frames are particularly light.) Custom aluminum would be my first choice when looking at a light bike. Off the shelf aluminum is generally less expensive and would be my first choice for a bike that I knew was going to be trashed (i.e. if you were to raced crits).

- Steel lasts a long time. It can be repaired more easily than any other material, can easily be re-painted in the future, and is easy (for builders) to work with. High-end steel is also light - maybe not as light as high-end aluminum or carbon, but you can easily build a steel frame under 4 pounds. And the reason that I'd opt for steel is durability - if you break it it can usually be repaired fairly easily and relatively inexpensively. It could last a life time.

- Custom versus off-the shelf? Go custom for fit or options that you choose. How many water bottle cages do you want? Do you want mounts for fenders and racks? Do you want a less common wheel size? Do you want additional clearance for wide tires? Do you not like the look of a sloping top tube? Do you want a longer than normal head tube? Does the set of options that you want not exist on a stock frame that has geometry that you like? These are the types of questions that you need to ask to decide if you should get a custom frame.

So how do you want your bike to ride? Tell a custom builder what you want and the builder can make you an aluminum, steel, titanium, or carbon bike that rides that way. The material isn't going to affect your ride nearly as much as other design parameters. For off-the-shelf bikes, ride them and see how they feel. Bikes that look similar on paper may ride more differently than you expect.
 

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Does anyone really make custom aluminum frames? Al is a material that's been relegated to the entry level performance range of bikes.

Aluminum is light, and in oversized, thin walled tubing it's stiff....and it's relatively inexpensive and lots of offshore factories can churn them out like sausages for rebranding by large bike companies.

Too stiff for road bikes, in my opinion. "Geometry" doesn't really affect the ride quality, nor would a "quality" custom builder. Geometry affects the handling more so than ride...unless you had long stays and a long wheelbase, but then it would be slow and pokey. Custom builders weld pipes together....they don't sprinkle magic pixie dust on the frames to give them some ethereal ride quality. An experienced builder can mix and match different tubes to get desired ride characteristics and make the bike look pretty, but they're not alchemists.

Cannondale has taken the all-aluminum road frame about as far as it will go. They're nice crit bikes because they're stiff, not really bone jarring like other alu bikes, and the price is good for the components you get.

Does your current frame fit you like a glove? If you're not sure, think about a good bike fit. Work with the fitter to dial in the ideal frame size and geometry based on how you want it to handle, then go shopping from there. Do you want really high zoot, lookin' like the coolest cat in the local fred peloton....and you don't want carbon....there were some good suggestions with the ti frames in this thread. There's a whole thread devoted to the Douglas.

If you want classic...maybe even a little retro...think steel. The ride is definitely nice.






raymond7204 said:
Hi. I'm looking for a new frame and am considering a standard steel frame or a custom aluminum frame.

My budget is set at $1000. For that price, I can get a custom 7005 aluminum frame or an "off the shelf" steel frame (Soma, Surly, Gunnar).

My proportions aren't too odd and standard frames usually work for me. I have a lot of experience with Aluminum and Carbon, but am itchy to try to understand why "steel is real."

I've also heard that the quality aluminum with the right geometry can provide as smooth and lively a feel as steel.

Thoughts?

Ray
 

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patchito said:
Does anyone really make custom aluminum frames?
It's less common then steel, but yes. Tsumnami was already mentioned. Rock Lobster and Sycip make custom aluminum (and steel) franes as well. I'm sure that there are plenty of others.
 

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get a custom frame because your chasings a certain geometry or special features. the Soma, Surly, Gunnar may do custom work for an additional cost. as others have said talk to a builder about what you want the bike to do and what changes to an off the shelf that he would do to achieve those goals.
 

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Someone mentioned already mentioned one builder, I'll throw in another: TET cycles will build you even an S3 steel frame for less than a $1000 - custom.
 

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Custom aluminum frames are still available, but not under $1k. I love my Rock Lobster steel frame, and Paul Sadoff builds aluminum road frames as well but they're slightly over the OP's budget.

Yes; aluminum can be tuned to damp the harshness which was initially a complaint when AL frames appeared on the market. I think the popularity of Cannondales clearly bear this out and is a testimony to their perseverance with the material.

buck-50 offers some very rational observations about how you should go about this. And remember; it's the stingy man that pays the most, so while I realize you have a limited budget I would almost expect to be disappointed with a sub-$1k aluminum frame as I don't see how it can be offered at such a low price unless you're willing to take a risk with an unknown, new builder. The tried and true Gunnar frame might be more of a sure bet that you'll get something you'll be happy with. Spend maybe $1500 and I'd say you can get a quality aluminum custom frame such as from Rock Lobster mentioned above.

A Gunnar is about the best you're gonna do with stock, high end steel in the OP's price range. I haven't heard good things about the "tuning" of Soma and Surly frames, but I have with Gunnar. As a side benefit, even though the geometry of the Gunnar would be stock, they have a wide array of colors that usually are available for no upcharge, which to me constitutes a badge of "custom" that's close enough for me!

I don't think it's the geometry of the aluminum frame that is going to give you the smooth and lively feel as much as the tube shapes and diameters. The geometry will affect the fit and handling, though.

I'd also like to note that many custom aluminum builders offer LIMITED warranties on their frames as they know from experience that they have a very finite lifespan, especially when ridden hard, although I realize this is not true with the big names such as Cannondale, but they may be building with a greater margin of safety at the expense of pushing weight savings as the custom builders can do. Most steel frames, custom and stock, you can expect to come with a lifetime warranty.
 

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I have three of the four materials normally used in bicycles in my road bikes. I have a Serotta tI (stock size), Serotta steel (custom) and a Ridley aluminum (stock). I used to have a Cannondale 2.8 and that one rode like the reputation of Aluminum. I also had an original French steel Motobecane which was horribly whippy in the front end

Fast forward to current, my aluminum Ridley is just as nice (but different) in the ride department as the other two mega buck bikes. The Ridley is stiff but not harsh in any way. I should say that I ride a 58 to 59 top tube so one of my issues is having a top tube that is stiff enough for aggressive riding.

For my personal bikes, I normally reach for the Ridley or the steel Serotta before the ti Serotta if it is going to be an aggressive ride. The ti bike is not stiff enough in the front end which is the build not the material.

In the end, it is the builder more than the material. You can have a very nice bike made out any of the materials. If you are large or powerful, the custom aluminum might be a better choice. Remember custom aluminum was winning the Tour de France until recently when the sponsor's marketing departments put the riders on ill fitting carbon bikes you see today.
 
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