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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Specifically, any danger/drawbacks to buying vintage frames from the 80s if they are well cared for and free of corrosion?? Does steel soften over time??
 

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tswei said:
Specifically, any danger/drawbacks to buying vintage frames from the 80s if they are well cared for and free of corrosion?? Does steel soften over time??

The softening thing is a complete myth. Also, it's really unlikely for a 20-30 year old frame to have significant structural rust unless it was stored outside the whole time in salty conditions (like at the beach).

Steel frames can wear out/fail, especially if designed poorly- but I'd bet a ~30 year old steel frame is still less likely to fail than a new carbon or aluminum one.
 

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Steel doesn't fatigue if it's not stressed to the point that it takes on permanent folds, unlike aluminum which eventually fails if it moves at all- albeit after a long, long life. I'm sure an engineer here can explain it better. As others have pointed out, rust is the real problem with steel. Check for rust on the inside.
 

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it is true that a steel structure can be dimensioned to last indefinitely (corrosion apart), but it is also true that a steel bike frame made with this resistance criteria would be too heavy for the lightness requirements of today's racing bikes.
Therefore it is reasonable to say that lightweight steel frames will most likely last longer than alu frames, but not indefinitely.
They do have a limited life too.
 

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California L33 said:
Steel doesn't fatigue if it's not stressed to the point that it takes on permanent folds, unlike aluminum which eventually fails if it moves at all- albeit after a long, long life. I'm sure an engineer here can explain it better.
Actually, that's one of the best explanations I've heard around here in a long time. What a (knowledgable) engineer would say would be technically more precise, but usually contains words that have different meanings to engineers than humans. As a result, what most folks walk away with ends up being a less correct understanding rather than more.

Plus, a lot of folks that claim to be engineers get it wrong.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks for all the responses. If this is the case (i.e. that frames do not degrade), is there really much difference between what was being made in the mid 80s and what is being made today??

Given the choice between let's say a Merckx Professional w/ Columbus SL for maybe $500 and a new DeRosa Neo Primato or Colango MXL for $1,600, is there that much to gain from the newer builds??

My sense is that geometry has been pretty stable on steel frames for some time.
 

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And if you're worried about rust, don't forget something like JP Weigle frame saver for inside the frame. (if for no other reason than you would worry less)
 

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android said:
Steel only softens over time if you're a bike salesman trying to make a sale.
:thumbsup: LOL! Good one! :thumbsup:
 

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tswei said:
Thanks for all the responses. If this is the case (i.e. that frames do not degrade), is there really much difference between what was being made in the mid 80s and what is being made today??

Given the choice between let's say a Merckx Professional w/ Columbus SL for maybe $500 and a new DeRosa Neo Primato or Colango MXL for $1,600, is there that much to gain from the newer builds??

My sense is that geometry has been pretty stable on steel frames for some time.
That's a good question. I started adult riding in the early 60s on Schwinns, Falcons, Raleighs, and bikes like that. At that time almost EVERYTHING was made from Reynolds 531 tubing. Columbus tubing was around, but not nearly as popular as 531. You may be right, although I haven't checked, that geometry has changed little, but even very small changes can make a huge difference. I've always ridden steel bikes with the exception of 2 aluminum bikes. My "new" bike is a '94 DeRosa that I bought new in '94. A also have a late 70s Panasonic that's built as a commuter. I can say this...there's a galaxie of difference between the bikes of the '60s and '70s rode compared to the bikes of the mid '90s. The '90s bikes are significantly more comfortable, lots more lively feeling, and lighter. I should add here that I don't have one shred of evidence that would prove the ride quality statements. That's just my personal, anecdotal experience, and opinion.

In the early '70s a very high quality race bike would weigh 23-25#. My '94 60cm DeRosa weighs under 20" with pedals and bottle cages. knocking 5+ pounds off a bike is a big difference. Of course, components are significantly lighter, and mostly better than they ever were before too. I think most of the improvements have come via different materials that make up tube sets, and methods of construction. I honestly can't say anything about steel bikes from the mid '90s and newer because I haven't ridden very many of them. I like my DeRosa so much that even though it's now 15 years old, I've never seriously considered any other bike since the day I got it. The frame has close to 100,000 miles on it. I've had if refurbished and repainted, and it still looks, rides, and handles as good as the day I got it. I'm 66 now, and it may be the last bike I ever buy. Never say never though.
 

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A steel frame will soften . . . in a volcano.

One practical difference, apart from weight, would be the design of the rear triangle. A 1980 Derosa didn't have 130 spacing in the rear and it will not take more recent 9/10/11 speed setups without some surgery (somebody good can probably spread the rear triangle for you, but it wasn't designed or built for that spacing).

Newer alloys allow for lighter steel bikes -- they also offer builders a greater selection of tubing choices (say, a really beefy downtube or chainstays, or what have you).

If you're asking whether you can find an older bike that rides great (or a newer one that does not), then I think the answer is just yes. For me, I'd rather have a contemporary frame from a good builder. YMMV.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
the choice I am looking at is a late 85 Merckx (Columbus SL) with 130 spacing so I can use modern components (thinking 09 Centaur alloy to match aesthetically), or buying a neo classic like De rosa Primato or Colnago MXL. I still think there are some 7-11 Merckx frames about which would get me something form the early 90s. BUt I wonder since it's Columbus SL tubing anyways whether it is worth another $1,000 or so on a frame. I think Merck's geometry has been pretty stable.
 

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Old is overbuilt, heavy, and stronger.

tswei said:
Thanks for all the responses. If this is the case (i.e. that frames do not degrade), is there really much difference between what was being made in the mid 80s and what is being made today??

Given the choice between let's say a Merckx Professional w/ Columbus SL for maybe $500 and a new DeRosa Neo Primato or Colango MXL for $1,600, is there that much to gain from the newer builds??

My sense is that geometry has been pretty stable on steel frames for some time.
Steel bike degrade around the joints, usually from being heated too much when brazing. The over-torched metal is brittle. Its lost it's "modulus of elasticity." I've seen steel frames break where the chainstays join the bb shell, and once a seat tube crack right above the front derailleur braze on, from too much torsional flex.

Merckx and his mentor, DeRosa, knew how to build really strong frames back in the 80s, with mitered tubing carefully brazed onto investment cast (very stiff) lugs. The bikes would ride very stiff, because of the lugs, but the tubes would flex to absorb shocks, and stand up for 120,000 miles or so under rigorous racing, before they'd get replaced. The brazing didn't destroy their modulus of elasticity, their ability to flex without developing fractures.

Mr. Versatile, I've put almost 100,000 miles on a DeRosa SL/SLX bought in '84. It's just as responsive and fun to ride today as it was the day I bought it, and I'll probably run into the ground before it does. It weighs about 22 pounds with the original Campy gruppo and 36 spoked clincher wheels. I could probably lighten it up to 18 or 19 lbs. easily with modern components and wheels. I don't think the half pound or so weight handicap of the frame would make any difference, climbing or keeping up on club rides. A light set of wheels would make much more difference. When I want to, I've always been able to get the bike up into a sprint really fast, same with chasing down someone on a climb. That bike is still awesome, thanks largely to the excellent brazing. Its a keeper, the bike I have the most confidence in. Eddy Merckx's of the time had the same reputation, which Colnago actually did not share 100%.

The frames today might be lighter by a pound or so, but they might not hold up as well, because the tubing is even thinner than the half mm thicknesses of the 80s stuff, and therefore might break more easily. Ever tried to bend a cro-moly tube? They had it down pretty much in the 80s. My feeling is the Neo Primato rides lighter than my old Professional, but otherwise there's no difference, and the Neo Primato is slightly less "crashworthy," that is, more susceptible to denting or bending out of alignment in a crash.
 

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85 Merckx was a winner.

tswei said:
the choice I am looking at is a late 85 Merckx (Columbus SL) with 130 spacing so I can use modern components (thinking 09 Centaur alloy to match aesthetically), or buying a neo classic like De rosa Primato or Colnago MXL. I still think there are some 7-11 Merckx frames about which would get me something form the early 90s. BUt I wonder since it's Columbus SL tubing anyways whether it is worth another $1,000 or so on a frame. I think Merck's geometry has been pretty stable.
Geometries haven't changed. Merckx and DeRosa had steep angles for quick handling, but long top tubes to spread rider weight out, fore-aft. Together with the stiffness of the lugs, excellent frame alignment, and modulus of elasticity of steel, they ride very straight and comfortable.

SL tubing was a little more flexible than SLX that replaced it for racers, but wouldn't soak up energy climbing or sprinting if the lugwork were stiff.
 

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The top end steel frames made nowadays can be considerably lighter than something made back in the early '80s. Oversize tubes will make up the stiffness lost. The main difference is that the best tubes are heat treated.

There are various reasons why an old steel frame will fail, they are fairly unlikely though. If it was built with stresses left in the frame, it will often fail at the lower headtube lug. The annealed zone on the downtube has been known to fail. This is near the headtube lug.

I think a frame like you propose is not a bad idea. It saves money, and an older frame is going to give you years of service. Treat it with framesaver and ride.
 

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If I am remembering correctly from my Strength and Materials course, Steel has a higher yield point, which allows for elastic deformation, while Aluminum's YP does not allow a lot of forgiveness from elastic to plastic deformation. Aluminum bike frames have a specific life-cycle and is a less forgiving ride than steel. Each alloy has it's advantage... Steel> good ride, heavier frame. Aluminum> harsher ride (at least in comparison to steel), lighter BUT brittle frame.
 

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Your strength of materials class probably didn't prepare you very well for this discussion. Bike frames rarely see loads on the order of their tube's nominal yield strength. And the discussion of fatigue is generally misguided to some extent, because it's a very complicated subject. The experiments they use to generate S-N curves are quite old, and fairly useless if you want to know if something is going to crack. To have a cracked bike frame, it takes some kind of defect to create a stress riser or low material properties. Barring crashes, this would come from some kind of problem due to construction or defective parts.

The issue with aluminum is not the yield point, although the fatigue properties of aluminum make cold setting aluminum frames a really bad idea. The real issue is that there is no fatigue limit. With steel, if your loads are below the fatigue limit, you have infinite life. With aluminum, there is no such load, every load cycle can contribute to the growth of a fatigue crack.
 

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I'm riding a 1987 steel frame. The only reason I eventually want a new one is for a better fit and looks. And a pump peg. Then again, I might get a plastic bike next. But I sure like the look of steel bikes so much more! Hmm...
 
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