jayzbrady asked in SportsCycling · 1 decade ago

What's the difference between aluminium, steel and carbon framed bikes?

I'm kind of new to cycling and amn't sure what's the difference between bikes of differnet materials.

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  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    This could be a REALLY long answer so I will stick to physical properties and qualities of each...

    Steel- the benchmark for all materials. When other materials are reviewed they compare the ride to steel. Modern steels are comparable in weight to the best titanium and aluminum but still maintain that unique- and unbeatable "steel feel". Cheaper steels as found in mass market stores have changed little since the 1960s and are bulletproof but heavy. Curiously, steel frames are most prevalent in 2 price ranges- the very cheapest and about the same as titanium.

    Aluminum- is 1/2 the weight of steel but only 1/3 the strength which means in order to make the frame as strong as steel more material has to be used. More material=more weight and much stiffer ride qualities. ALL aluminum frames will eventually fail but higher end bikes have been engineered to take advantage of the weight savings and still maintain a reasonably long life structure.

    Carbon fiber- about 1/2 the weight of aluminum. All CF frames are composites meaning that they are only about 60 to 80% fiber with the remainder being, um, glue. Yes, in order to make a CF frame it needs to be soaked in an expoxy solution then laid up similar to fiberglas. Some like the softer feel of CF to aluminum. CF frames can be punctured and broken fairly easily, and despite some claims to the contrary can not be repaired. Cheap CF frames are easily as heavy or heavier than a similar aluminum model.

    Source(s): 28 years in the industry
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  • 1 decade ago

    Basically, there are a lot of factors already mentioned here. I don't think there is an 'ideal' material, since each has its pro's and con's.

    All the material have different grades or alloys or series, so you could find a good carbon fiber (CF) frame or a poor one, as well as Titanium (Ti) or aluminium or steel.

    There are some pretty light steel frames, but they're usually expensive, where the cheap bikes are made of other steel alloys that are cheaper and heavier. Supposedly they provide a very good ride for road and XC riding.

    Aluminium has a lot of different alloys, but usually you will find that most mid to high level mountain bikes are made of Al.

    Titanium is strong and light, and can last for a long time (no material is indestructible, and the frame is only as strong as the welds), but its flexible. This makes it very good for shock absorving on road and mountain bikes frames hardtails, but when Ti is used on a full suspension bike, the builder either has to decide on using more material to make the frame rigid or go for less material but have a flexy frame. So some full suspension bikes might weight more than the aluminium version of the same bike.

    Other companies come with nice techniques, like Titus ExoGrid, which is taking a Titanium tube and perforing it with lasers and puting an carbon fiber inner structure, so you have qualities of both titanium and CF.

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  • ttt
    Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    Aluminum, steel and carbon are all alike in that they're not titanium!

    Carbon? Ok, no matter what way you try to spin it, Carbon fiber is basically glorified plastic. Shock absorbing? Well, no one rides a carbon fiber touring bike on a cross country trip. The mountain biking community has a saying, "friends don't let friends ride carbon fiber". This is because it's too fragile and can break. It's most popular cycling use is for road bikes. Even titanium bikes however often have carbon fiber forks and seat posts because carbon fiber is easier to work with and can be easily shaped into any form desired, can be both shock absorbing as well as stiff. Some of the BEST road bikes are constructed of carbon fiber, such as the Trek Madone.

    Steel. It's real all right. Good choice for touring and mountain bikes because it's solid, sturdy, strong, absorbs shocks well making it far more comfy than aluminum. Some entry level road bikes are made out of steel, but most higher end ones are constructed from carbon fiber or aluminium--and of course--Titanium! The problem with steel is the weight, but bikes made out of "chromoly" steel tend to be lighter weight, while still retaining the other advantages of steel. The shock absorbing qualities of steel also absorbs some of your pedaling power--slowing you down.

    Aluminium. Well, yes it's bone jarring, but it's also inexpensive, lightweight and fast! If you're looking for a fast bike at a reasonable cost, aluminum delivers. Aluminum bikes are springy and responsive, and glide right up hills. It's also the most popular material as it can be used for just about any type of bike, from the cheapest, to some of the best road bikes on the market. It has a "finite" life though meaning each time you put stress on it, it will lose strength and eventually fail. If you ride a lot, after 3-5 years you run the risk of it snapping--same applies to carbon fiber bikes.

    So that brings us to Titanium, which offers all the advantages of the others, with the only disadvantage in that it is somewhat expensive, but a top quality carbon fiber bike can cost far more. Titanium is strong, sturdy, shock absorbing, light weight, fast and sprite, infinite fatigue life, virtually indestructible, plus, well, the fact is, it just looks so darn good!

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  • Steve
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Basically, it's a matter of quality, mainly strength and weight.

    Most bikes are made of steel, which is strong but pretty heavy. It's cheaper to make bikes out of steel.

    More expensive bikes (like $400 and upwards) are made from aluminum, which is about as strong as steel, but quite a bit lighter.

    Really expensive bikes, especially road/racing bikes, have carbon fiber frames. Road bikes have carbon frames starting at around $1000, but there are still many road bikes more expensive than this with aluminum frames. Carbon fiber frames on mountain bikes are much more rare, and most that are cost over $10,000. Carbon fiber frames are even stronger than steel or aluminium frames, and are way lighter.

    Another rare (and expensive) frame material is titanium. It is stronger than carbon fiber, and weighs only a bit more. Mostly found on mountain bikes over $5000.

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  • 1 decade ago

    it is just various materials used to build bike frames. all have various strengths and weaknesses. builders have worked for years to find materials with the best riding characteristics. naturally opinions are as varied as the materials.

    personally i adhere to the old saying that steel is real. steel goes back a long ways. it has a good combination of ride and stiffness. on the downside it fatigues and is more prone to corosion.

    aluminum has a great weight, but to get stiffness out of it the thickness or diameter that must be used can make it harsh to ride. carbon dampens vibration, but it can feel dead and lifeless if it isnt done well. i havent tried a titanium bike, so i can really comment on it. my main objections there is price.

    in the end, the fit is more important than anything. having a bike that fits you, and is set up for your body type is more important than anything else. you would be better off using some of the bike money to get a fit kit done, and modify a cheaper bike to fit correctly, than to just spend a lot of money on a bike.

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  • 1 decade ago

    aluminum and steel are medal and carbon is.. well carbon. For road aluminum provides the worst ride and carbon the best. For mountain biking the biggest difference is weight and strength. Go to specialized or treks website and then you will see all sorts definitions of the materials and what they are..

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  • 1 decade ago

    Steel is heavier than aluminum which in turn is heavier than carbon fiber. Lighter is faster and more expensive

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  • 1 decade ago

    Basically, strength, weight and cost. Look at the specs for each, it will be very easily discerned.

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