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I often hear people say that, aside from proper fit, frame quality is the most important factor in a bike. Why? If a no-name brand, cheap frame weighs approximately the same and has the same measurements, what makes the other one worth the $1,000+ extra? It's not meant to be a combative question, I just really would like to understand. I have a cheapo triathlon frame and (now that I have more money) have wondered whether it would make sense to hang its ultegra components on a "better" frame.
 

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mark2ther said:
I often hear people say that, aside from proper fit, frame quality is the most important factor in a bike. Why? If a no-name brand, cheap frame weighs approximately the same and has the same measurements, what makes the other one worth the $1,000+ extra? It's not meant to be a combative question, I just really would like to understand. I have a cheapo triathlon frame and (now that I have more money) have wondered whether it would make sense to hang its ultegra components on a "better" frame.
Better might mean stronger welds, prettier welds, more attention to detail, better finish, BB or HT already faced, better alignment, yada yada yada. A lot of it comes down to personal preference. Other things, like strength of welds, are more difficult to suss out with visual inspection: you can't see if the welds properly penetrated, are embrittled, or whatever.

Don't discount the value of how much the frame in question appeals to you. If it trips all your horny levers and costs a bit more money, then the extra cost might just be worth it.
 

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my mountain bike is my best example. 89 Wicked Fat Chance with 91 Yo Eddy fork.

Fork.
1. quad butted
2. campy dropouts
3. straight with 1.5" rake
4. on back side of each leg in the weakest part, there is a teardrop piece of metal welded.
5. beautiful welds.

frame.
1. beautiful welds.
2 head tube reinforced on top and bottom (I have seen a friends frame "mushroom out" here, it was not reinforced.)
3. 2 Triangular reinforcements on bottom of downtube where it meets headtube
4. Gusset where seattube meats seatstays.

beautiful welds typically mean stronger welds. the bike is indestructable. i've also probably left out some features.
 

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I think that materials used would also make a difference. Double butted, thinner walled tubes can make for a stronger frame, with a more resilient, lively, responsive ride. Frame geometry also plays a part. Slacker angles = a softer ride. Steep angles = a stiffer, but quicker handling, more nervous ride. You can often choose what geometry you want from more expensive frames.

I've owned frames in the past thhat weighed very close to the same, had the same, or very close to the same angles, but the bikes were completely different when on the road. One was very lively, yet comfortable. The other felt dead; very stable, but very unresponsive. It felt like it was made from sewer pipe.

If you can, find a couple of frames that you're interested in, that are built up, and ride them. Another alternative is to contact the frame makers. Tell them that you're considering buying either one of their frames, or one of Brand X's frames. Ask them. "Why should I buy one of yours? What the difference between your frames and Brand X's?"
 

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Mr. Versatile said:
I think that materials used would also make a difference. Double butted, thinner walled tubes can make for a stronger frame, with a more resilient, lively, responsive ride. Frame geometry also plays a part. Slacker angles = a softer ride. Steep angles = a stiffer, but quicker handling, more nervous ride. You can often choose what geometry you want from more expensive frames.
This isn't so. Butting makes frames a bit lighter but doesn't really change the ride characteristics. It does put more material where welds are or in the lugs. There are all kinds of frames made with straight guage tubing that have lively, resilient, responsive rides.
 

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The truth is that the price of a frame has very little to do with its "quality," however you might define that. It has more to do with the value of the brand and the financial investment that has been made to it. Since most high "quality" frames are made in Taiwan, the differences in manufacturing cost between them is pretty minor. I have experienced no advantage at all in expensive frames in terms of performance. That's why I've never spent more than $650 for a frame.
 

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alienator said:
This isn't so. Butting makes frames a bit lighter but doesn't really change the ride characteristics. It does put more material where welds are or in the lugs. There are all kinds of frames made with straight guage tubing that have lively, resilient, responsive rides.
Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't butted tubing just use thinner thickness metal in the middle of the tubes. The thickness of the tubing where the welds/lugs are would be the same thickness of "comprable non-butted tubing". The main goal of butting as mentioned above is to reduce overall weight. I just never thought that butted tubing puts more material where welds/lugs are. Oh yeah my wicked frame is double butted.
 

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Friction_Shifter said:
Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't butted tubing just use thinner thickness metal in the middle of the tubes. The thickness of the tubing where the welds/lugs are would be the same thickness of "comprable non-butted tubing". The main goal of butting as mentioned above is to reduce overall weight. I just never thought that butted tubing puts more material where welds/lugs are. Oh yeah my wicked frame is double butted.
You can look at it that way, if you like, but what butting does is allow the use of a tubeset that's a bit lighter while maintaining a thicker end for welding.
 

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Having worked for a framebuilder who built in-house, I can tell you that the cost of tubing as a proportion of the total is not only small but also in quite a narrow range.

Typically, Reynolds steel tubing's cost price varied from £60 for 531 up to about £90 for 653. The retail prices of these frames built with cast lugs were £400 and £500 respectively.

The big difference between material cost & retail price is due to the cost of skilled craftsmanship required to braze the thin tubing without overheating it & weakening the frame.

That's why a well made frame rides better than an averagely built frame in the same tubing.

One way of looking at it is like scrambled eggs - it's easy enough to make it edible, but it takes skill to make them taste really good!
 

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"If a no-name brand, cheap frame weighs approximately the same and has the same measurements, what makes the other one worth the $1,000+ extra?"
.
If it uses the same tubeset, then it isn't really "better". It all comes down to Ego, and what you want your bike to say about you. It's like cars.
 

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MR_GRUMPY said:
"If a no-name brand, cheap frame weighs approximately the same and has the same measurements, what makes the other one worth the $1,000+ extra?"
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If it uses the same tubeset, then it isn't really "better". It all comes down to Ego, and what you want your bike to say about you. It's like cars.
You could buy a 531 frameset from Ribble for £180 a few years back. A frame in the same tubing by Condor, Cougar or Terry Dolan would have cost £300+.

The reason wasn't ego or kudos. It was because the first builders work was not to the same standard so they weren't paying the same cost. It was noticeable in the junction of the seat tube & seat lug. The Ribbles typically had a ripple where the tube had been forced into the lug. The braze quite often had gaps in it.

Anyone can get a set of tubing, but if that tubing isn't built properly you will end up with a frame that weighs the same, looks the same but is not the same in longevity, and possibly in extreme cases safety.
 

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These types of frame builders don't last very long. Word gets around.
531 and other "old school" steels are harder to weld than modern steels. If you got the joints too hot, the joints and tubes would tend to crack after a short period of time.
 

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MR_GRUMPY said:
These types of frame builders don't last very long. Word gets around.
531 and other "old school" steels are harder to weld than modern steels. If you got the joints too hot, the joints and tubes would tend to crack after a short period of time.
Ribble are still there. They were cheap & passable. Good enough for your average "Cycling Weekly" classifieds pond life.
 

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mark2ther said:
I often hear people say that, aside from proper fit, frame quality is the most important factor in a bike. Why? If a no-name brand, cheap frame weighs approximately the same and has the same measurements, what makes the other one worth the $1,000+ extra? It's not meant to be a combative question, I just really would like to understand. I have a cheapo triathlon frame and (now that I have more money) have wondered whether it would make sense to hang its ultegra components on a "better" frame.
It's a fair question, but one that has no easy answer. There are lots of factors that can add to the cost of a frame and you may appreciate some or none of them. It's true that individual builders and brands may work hard to build (and then profit from) brand identity. At the same time, at least in some cases, it's not just--or chiefly, or at all--about putting different stickers on the same stock offerings from offshore factories. There really are some different products out there. As to weight and "geometry"--weight is an objective feature of a frameset (although often misleadingly represented in marketing), but one that is often over-rated as a performance advantage. And there is more to design than a couple of obvious frame angle measurements. Some builders do quite a bit more research and design work than others, and some do quite a bit more labor per frame, in the building or the finishing or both, than others. Not all 55 x 55 frames with the same seat and head angles will ride the same or look the same. Making them the same weight might not change that. Build them all from some Columbus tubeset line or another and they might still be pretty different. That doesn't mean that you'll necessarily notice big differences between any two bikes or that you'll necessarily care about the differences you do notice (or care in a way that correlates with price). But if you think of geometry as representing everything geometric about a bike, at every scale subject to a builder's manipulation, it's pretty easy to see that quite a few basic features can be held constant without getting everything material to be equal. All sorts of things might make SOME bit of difference. Or not.

You mention having a "cheapo" triathlon frame. Some tt frames offer, among other things, better aerodynamics than others. Whether that saves you a half a second or thirty times that depends on the particulars and upon how fast you ride. Whether you care enough to get the latest and greatest, and to pay the difference, is up to you.
 
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