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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Sometime back in the late 70's, I heard of some guy by the name of Gary Klein doing research on the praticality of mass producing an aluminum bicycle. I thought it was somewhat of a quaint and novel idea, but oddly enough, remained cautiously optimistic.

Sure enough, by the late 80's, the Klein bicycle company debuted thicker tubed aluminum bicycle models. Just about every year, Klein brought about improvements in bicycle performance. Cannondale had also entered the aluminum bicycle market in the 80's, with its ST500 Sports/Touring bicycle. By the early 90's, Cannondale had several aluminum models, consisting of both road bikes and mountain bikes.

Many of us witnessed the gradual displacement of steel bicycles, once aluminum entered into the world of cycling. At first, I thought it was just a fad, or perhaps even a new trend. I had absolutely no idea, that aluminum would ever attain the status of the most popular bicycle frame material that it has become.

But why? Why has aluminum taken over? How has aluminum become the most prominent member of all bicycle frame materials? Is it because most cyclists immediately fell in love with aluminum, due to the high level of comfort it provides them?

OTOH, perhaps aluminum has become so popular because, the bicycle industry itself has recgnized the fact that while aluminum is the most expensive raw material to extract from its ore (bauxite), it remains the least expensive material to recycle, due to its low melting point. Aluminum is also lighter in mass than steel. Therefore, aluminum is cheaper to transport. Aluminum is easier to cut, manipulate, and mold, than steel.
In short, aluminum became a material of profit for bicycle industrialists, or bicycle profiteers.

Don't get me wrong! Aluminum has come a long way in terms of research and development. Aluminum, indeed remains in many ways on the cutting edge of technology in many applications. However, IMHO, it should never have displaced the popular status of steel, as a the primary bicycle frame material. Aluminum just can't stand up to the superior features of chromoly.
 

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What is the first thing everyone asks at the club ride when a rider shows up on a new bike? How much does it weigh?

This is why steel will never be popular again. Carbon has taken over now due to low cost and ability to customize tube shapes. I completely agree though that the cheapest material often wins, which is why the Chinese frame and wheel threads are so big. I own all the big 4 materials and spend almost all my time on carbon and Ti. They few aluminum bikes I have ridden have been hard on my back but that could mostly be design, which is more important than material.
 

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Perception is an "AMAZING" thing ... if somebody tells you something and you believe them, it's the truth "To you" regardless of what anybody else says.

Anybody here watch the show "Brain Games"???

I watched one of the shows not long ago and they took food items and changed something about them to see how people reacted.

1) They took "Box" wine and put it into two bottles ... one with a fancy label, the other with a cheap looking one. People unanimously chose the expensive looking label, some saying it was the best wine they ever tasted. When they found out it was not only the same wine, but "Box" wine, they couldn't believe it. Their brain told them the fancy label must be more expensive ... thus better!

2) They took Jello and changed the color ... So lemon flavor was colored red ... when tasted people said it was Cherry flavored ... because their brains looked at it and said, that must be Cherry, so that's what they tasted.

3) They took milk and put green dye in it ... no other changes ... people wouldn't drink it and even when they did they said it tasted like normal milk, but some still felt a gag reflex because their brain told them it was bad.

With that said ... the same thing happens with bikes. People read the marketing campaigns (never underestimate the power of marketing!!!) and fall for the hype. Eventually, regardless of what studies tell them, what statistics tell them, what tests tell them ... the marketing takes over and it becomes the truth. If you hear something enough times, eventually it will become the truth to you.

The reality when it comes to bikes is Steel, Aluminum, Carbon, Wood, etc. are all viable building materials for frames ... it's what the builder does with the material that makes the difference, not the material it's self.

It's all about perception and what you believe in the end.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
What is the first thing everyone asks at the club ride when a rider shows up on a new bike? How much does it weigh?
That's the wrong question to ask! The question should be:

How much is the combined weight of both you and your bicycle?

This is why steel will never be popular again. Carbon has taken over now due to low cost and ability to customize tube shapes.
So does providing cyclists with a cheaper mass produced frame material and the ability to customize their tube shapes ever compensate for the actual loss of a quality frame material that actually fits into the natural environment.

I completely agree though that the cheapest material often wins, which is why the Chinese frame and wheel threads are so big.
Bicycle industrialists will always sell us the most profitable frame material possible. Somehow, they will make it more psychologically palatable, to the point of becoming "popular".
 

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the why was about economics, prior to the aluminum boom and now the CF boom bike manufactures were making very little profit and most LBS's were in the same boat. When someone discovered they could make a cheap costing frame out of AL the takeover began. Since then bike manufactures and LBS's profits skyrocketed because they could sell a bike whose frame cost $95 instead of $300 (back in the early 80's) market it as if it was superior and sell it for the same cost as steel frame bikes. Then of course later more profits came a long in the form of Chinese made components and frames.
 

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Poor college student here, so it simply came down to economics for me. I tested out a few of the cheaper carbon bikes two years ago, all with 105 components, usually a shitty crank and brakes and pretty crummy wheels. I then decided I could get an aluminum bike equipped with better components for a little less money. I ended up getting an almost brand new '06 CAAD8 frame for almost nothing that I built up with a mixture of Sram Force and Red components, Thomson elite seat post, DEDA Zero stem, FSA wing bars and Mavic Aksium wheels. The wheel set on the bike is probably the "worst" thing about the bike, and it still rides, IMO, better than low end carbon. I have a mid 70s Fuji Dynamic 10, lugged steel frame, and that thing is silky smooth, but not quick and snappy like the CAAD8. I did demo a Trek Madone, fully equipped with DuraAce and carbon wheels, and that thing was just ridiculous. I couldn't notice the difference on the smooth bike path, but the Madone did feel smoother on the cracked blacktop. I took it up one quick climb, about half a mile long, and it did climb a little better than my CAAD8. I think the ability to manipulate tube diameter and frame shape has more to do with anything than just the material itself. I do agree that it is probably cheaper for companies to use aluminum over steel and carbon. I believe if you're into something, buy the best item you can afford that suits your needs.
 

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Firstly, bicycle frames are not made of aluminum. Frames are made of aluminum alloys. This is a very critical distinction.

Secondly, what's wrong with the obvious answer: alluminum alloys have much better strength-to-weight ratio than steel. This is the same thing that determined alluminum alloy use in aviation. Duraluminum is what enabled modern aviation. Steel does not fly. Aluminum alloys do. So, it is perfectly natural that alumunum alloys become popular as frame materials.
 

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Now about recycling carbon fiber. While it is relatively cheap to make carbon tubes, but properly recycling those tubes is quite an expensive proposition. I wonder if Chinese carbon would still be cheap after one factor in the cost of recycling?

It would be cheaper for China to pay a 3rd world country to allow them to dump toxic material on their lands than to attempt to recycle. And in fact, this is a dirty rotten Chinese practice that is going on on a massive industrial scales that most Westerners don't know about when they purchase "cheap Chinese goods". If most Western consumers would become aware of such practices, then I'm pretty many will shy away from Chinese goods based on their own conscience.
 

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Firstly, bicycle frames are not made of aluminum. Frames are made of aluminum alloys. This is a very critical distinction.

Secondly, what's wrong with the obvious answer: alluminum alloys have much better strength-to-weight ratio than steel. This is the same thing that determined alluminum alloy use in aviation. Duraluminum is what enabled modern aviation. Steel does not fly. Aluminum alloys do. So, it is perfectly natural that alumunum alloys become popular as frame materials.
BS, your using nonsensical reasoning, but I think you know that to start an argument. You want strength factors don't look to airplanes look to bridges and skyscrapers, how many aluminum bridges and skyscraper frames are there to steel? How many aluminum springs do you see suspending your car or truck? That's right NONE! Birds fly, does that make their bones the toughest bones in the world? No, their lightweight for flight but fragile and break easily. Just like my old aluminum bike, it broke easily for no reason, no crash nothing, it just cracked.

Read this and learn something: The Titanium Advantage | Metallurgy for Cyclists | Technical Articles | Support | Ibis Cycles US
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
Firstly, bicycle frames are not made of aluminum. Frames are made of aluminum alloys. This is a very critical distinction.

Secondly, what's wrong with the obvious answer: alluminum alloys have much better strength-to-weight ratio than steel. This is the same thing that determined alluminum alloy use in aviation. Duraluminum is what enabled modern aviation. Steel does not fly. Aluminum alloys do. So, it is perfectly natural that alumunum alloys become popular as frame materials.

Most normal cyclists don't casually converse using the term "aluminum alloy". It's generally understood that we're all talking about the alloy, and not the pure element, when we simply say, "aluminum". That said, the aluminum alloy, just as any alloy is comprised of at least two elements. The principle element present will lend the entire alloy most of its properties. This is the case with aluminum. Since aluminum has to be shaped with a larger diameter of tubing, than that of steel, it tends to offer a stiffer ride. Also, an aluminum frame is use dependent. That is, whenever the aluminum frame is subjected loads or forces, it undergoes stress cycles. All aluminum bicycles have a finite number of stress cycles, before they will most certainly fail. The same is true for all aluminum based airliners.

Steel has no such limiting factor where the number of stress cycles causes it to fail.
 

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BS, your using nonsensical reasoning, but I think you know that to start an argument. You want strength factors don't look to airplanes look to bridges and skyscrapers, how many aluminum bridges and skyscraper frames are there to steel? How many aluminum springs do you see suspending your car or truck? That's right NONE! Birds fly, does that make their bones the toughest bones in the world? No, their lightweight for flight but fragile and break easily. Just like my old aluminum bike, it broke easily for no reason, no crash nothing, it just cracked.

Read this and learn something: The Titanium Advantage | Metallurgy for Cyclists | Technical Articles | Support | Ibis Cycles US

Bridges and skycrapers don't fly, and weight is not an issue for them. Their support pillars can be as dense or heavy as you want.

Airplannes need to fly, support structures need to both strong and light.

Titanium is nice, but unless you're the US military with unlimited and irresponsible budgets, you don't use titanium because your customers operate on real world budgets, not the fuzzy Pentagon budgets.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Now about recycling carbon fiber. While it is relatively cheap to make carbon tubes, but properly recycling those tubes is quite an expensive proposition. I wonder if Chinese carbon would still be cheap after one factor in the cost of recycling?

It would be cheaper for China to pay a 3rd world country to allow them to dump toxic material on their lands than to attempt to recycle. And in fact, this is a dirty rotten Chinese practice that is going on on a massive industrial scales that most Westerners don't know about when they purchase "cheap Chinese goods". If most Western consumers would become aware of such practices, then I'm pretty many will shy away from Chinese goods based on their own conscience.
+1

Agreed! CF is most cetainly NOT an environmentally friendly bicycle frame material! It doesn't naturally decompose.....
 

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I have 3 steel bikes, 10 spd, fixed and single speed, a crabon 10 spd, and a Cannondale CAAD 5 set up as a triple. The rides are all good, and the CAAD 5 with a Time fork (OEM) rides just fine, quite comfortable. They're just different. I would not hesitate to use the CAAD5 on a century; in fact I have.
 

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Most normal cyclists don't casually converse using the term "aluminum alloy". It's generally understood that we're all talking about the alloy, and not the pure element, when we simply say, "aluminum". That said, the aluminum alloy, just as any alloy is comprised of at least two elements. The principle element present will lend the entire alloy most of its properties. This is the case with aluminum. Since aluminum has to be shaped with a larger diameter of tubing, than that of steel, it tends to offer a stiffer ride. Also, an aluminum frame is use dependent. That is, whenever the aluminum frame is subjected loads or forces, it undergoes stress cycles. All aluminum bicycles have a finite number of stress cycles, before they will most certainly fail. The same is true for all aluminum based airliners.

Steel has no such fatigue limit, where the number of stress cycles is limited.
Aluminum has fatigue, that is true.

But to say that steel alloys or Ti don't have fatique limits is not 100%.
See here for explanation of the definition of fatigue:
Fatigue limit - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As you can see, the fatigue of steel is only "unlimited" if the stress is kept under a certain level, and above which steel certainly does undergo fatigue. (I'm not metal chemistry expert, but that is what I understand from the wiki).

As for a an aluminum bicycle frame failing due to hitting its fatigue point,.. well I think this is a bit sensationalized science here. Let take a look at the Boeing 747, this aluminum jet has been around since the 70s, that's close to 40 years, and the 747 probably has one of the most (if not the most) reliable safety record in aviation history (given its long years of service and passengers it has carried). Simply put, you do not see a 747 simply shear its wings or rudders out of the sky. The long and reliable history of the 747 is a testament to the sensationlization of the notion that an aluminum bicycle frame will just fail within a typical user's lifetime.
 

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That's the wrong question to ask! The question should be:

How much is the combined weight of both you and your bicycle?



So does providing cyclists with a cheaper mass produced frame material and the ability to customize their tube shapes ever compensate for the actual loss of a quality frame material that actually fits into the natural environment.



Bicycle industrialists will always sell us the most profitable frame material possible. Somehow, they will make it more psychologically palatable, to the point of becoming "popular".
Riders will never ask for another rider's weight because they themselves do not want to be asked that question. Most riders with a big budget have a few pounds to lose.

I am not sure that environmentally responsible frame materials will be a factor in the near future. Most cyclists see themselves as doing their part by just riding. If we really cared, we would all be riding old components and old bamboo frames. The bike industry would never allow that.

There is a bike manufacturer just down the street in Sausalito that makes wood bikes. Someday I want to ride one just to see what it is like. I will probably do that once I lose those extra few pounds...
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
Aluminum has fatigue, that is true.

But to say that steel alloys or Ti don't have fatique limits is not 100%.
See here for explanation of the definition of fatigue:
Fatigue limit - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As you can see, the fatigue of steel is only "unlimited" if the stress is kept under a certain level, and above which steel certainly does undergo fatigue. (I'm not metal chemistry expert, but that is what I understand from the wiki).

As for a an aluminum bicycle frame failing due to hitting its fatigue point,.. well I think this is a bit sensationalized science here. Let take a look at the Boeing 747, this aluminum jet has been around since the 70s, that's close to 40 years, and the 747 probably has one of the most (if not the most) reliable safety record in aviation history (given its long years of service and passengers it has carried). Simply put, you do not see a 747 simply shear its wings or rudders out of the sky. The long and reliable history of the 747 is a testament to the sensationlization of the notion that an aluminum bicycle frame will just fail within a typical user's lifetime.
All aluminum aircraft get retired, primarily due to approaching stress cycle limitations.
 

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All aluminum aircraft gets retired, primarily due to approaching stress cycle limitations.
It's the stress caused by repeated cycles of pressurization and de-pressurization that's critical. It's also important to note that many of the first 747-100s from the 70s aren't in service any more. Like most modern aircraft, several modernizations have taken place. The original 747-100s and 747-200s had a 3 crew cockpit. Later versions are 2 crew cockpits--no FE. And they're more fuel efficient. Older 747s, that are still in use, have been used primarily on longer routes, and don't undergo as many pressurization cycles as, say, a typical 737 that might make 3-4 stops on a route.
 

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Good argument but I must say this would have been better made in the 90's given the preponderance of affordable carbon fiber frames. Each material brings unique riding characteristics to the frame, so it might really come down to what you like best.
 

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When someone discovered they could make a cheap costing frame out of AL the takeover began. Since then bike manufactures and LBS's profits skyrocketed.
This is nonsense. Bike shops are not a great business now and they never were and it has nothing to do with whether frames are cheap or expensive. Competition sets the price and cheap frames from Asia have resulted in cheap bikes (relatively).
 

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But why? Why has aluminum taken over? How has aluminum become the most prominent member of all bicycle frame materials? Is it because most cyclists immediately fell in love with aluminum, due to the high level of comfort it provides them?

OTOH, perhaps aluminum has become so popular because, the bicycle industry itself has recgnized the fact that while aluminum is the most expensive raw material to extract from its ore (bauxite), it remains the least expensive material to recycle, due to its low melting point. Aluminum is also lighter in mass than steel. Therefore, aluminum is cheaper to transport. Aluminum is easier to cut, manipulate, and mold, than steel.
In short, aluminum became a material of profit for bicycle industrialists, or bicycle profiteers.

Don't get me wrong! Aluminum has come a long way in terms of research and development. Aluminum, indeed remains in many ways on the cutting edge of technology in many applications. However, IMHO, it should never have displaced the popular status of steel, as a the primary bicycle frame material. Aluminum just can't stand up to the superior features of chromoly.
Since when do bike manufacturers care about the cost of recycling the finished product?

The costs of transportation of bikes to the manufacturer are driven more by package size than weight.

Aluminum replaced steel as a frame material because they could make a lighter and stiffer frame not because of some conspiracy against steel. Cheap mass market and kids bikes are still made from steel. High end bikes, aside from a small niche market, are made from newer materials because they make better bikes. You can't stop progress.
 
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