carbon or steel

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carbon or steel

Postby dan z » Sat Feb 21, 2009 9:48 pm

Greetings all-

First le tme say I'm psyched to ride CO for the first time and look forward to seeing you all on the road. After riding a steel mountain bike for the past 20 years, I am currently looking for my first real road bike. So far, I really like the 2009 Jamis Aurora Elite and the 2007 Lemond Versailles. They have pretty similar geometries. The aurora elite has a longer wheelbase by 2.8 cm. I know this because I measured the Lemond. I can't find frame geometry for the Versailles on line. They both feel comfortable on test rides. The Lemond is all carbon and super fast and responsive. The Jamis is slower and heavier of course as it is all steel.

I'm basically torn between the versatility of the Jamis (switch out larger tires, fenders, add racks, etc.) and the lightness and speed of the Lemond. I also think steel is maybe more comfortable for a long ride and there is definitely something aesthetically pleasing about riding steel. Plus steel appeals to the cranky traditionalist in me. :) But the carbon bike is so light and so snappy...

Thoughts? Opinions?

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Re: carbon or steel

Postby capthawk » Sun Feb 22, 2009 9:22 am

All my best bikes are steel. It gives me great pleasure to beat my cycling buddies on their super light carbon bikes!!! Steel bikes last decades. Carbon is untested long term. My 2 cents...
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby wayneh » Sun Feb 22, 2009 10:18 am

I have bikes of carbon, steel, aluminum and titanium. Steel is sweet. If you go steel, make sure you frame-save it (or whoever builds the bike for you does so) so you avoid inevitable rust down the road. Personally, I think components and especially wheels have much more of an impact on ride quality that the frame material, but that's just me. Over the years, I can't say I have a favorite frame material. They're all fun to ride. If anything, I may lean towards titanium for the sweetest ride, but I agree with those who say "steel is real". It's like buying a stereo system. Most people focus on the electronics, but it's the speakers you actually listen to.
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby Force 5 Robert » Sun Feb 22, 2009 11:36 am

You beat me to the "Steel is real" comment!

Both of my recumbents are steel and are great on the road. My wife has an aluminum recumbent (still great) and a steel Burley road bike that she loves.
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby DWM » Sun Feb 22, 2009 12:01 pm

capthawk wrote:All my best bikes are steel. It gives me great pleasure to beat my cycling buddies on their super light carbon bikes!!! Steel bikes last decades. Carbon is untested long term. My 2 cents...

Carbon seems to be the material fo choice these days, but as noted "un-tested" long term. I'd go steel with apprpropriate rust proofing or titanium. If you crash a carbon frame, it's trashed and steel and ti frames can be repaired. I can't buy a new frame every few years, so I avoid carbon.

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Re: carbon or steel

Postby Sandra » Sun Feb 22, 2009 1:46 pm

I have Trek and a Cannondale and the only part that is carbon is
the fork but I really prefer no carbon. It does not last as long and you
really have to have them checked out if you ever crash. Treks and Cannondale's are very comfortable to ride.
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby leisure1 » Sun Feb 22, 2009 7:26 pm

Something about a bike that is glued together…. Just doesn’t seem right. Especially at speeds of 40 to 60 MPH. I have broken an aluminum frame…
When carbon fails it shatters. When aluminum fails it breaks. When steel fails it bends – but stays together.
Then consider stability. I am amazed that people think it is entirely reasonable to have to squeeze the top tube with your knees when coasting fast so that the frame doesn’t start to oscillate (death wobble) - and how much did you pay to shave off a pound of so for an unstable bike? By the time you add 2 water bottles, food and clothes – does the extra pound really matter?
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby Force 5 Robert » Sun Feb 22, 2009 9:02 pm

leisure1 wrote: By the time you add 2 water bottles, food and clothes – does the extra pound really matter?

Amen. I have seen light carbon bikes loaded with stuff and steel bikes with half as much added weight - likely they were even if put on a scale.

I run a carbon fork on my high racer recumbent (the one in my avatar - which is a pic taken on last years CO) and that alone makes me "think" a bit too much... But I am very careful in handling the bike and do pre, mid, and post ride inspections of the fork. 8)
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby PdxMark » Mon Feb 23, 2009 11:37 am

It sounds like you're comparing two bikes that are so different that the frame material is the least of the differences. There are great benefits to a versatile frame like the Jamis compared to a more traditional road racing style bike, but those do come at the price of weight (rarely a huge factor) and handling differences (often more noticeable).

The weight that matters on a bike is the total weight of the bike, rider and accessories. The total is often 150-200 pounds. A weight difference between two bikes of 2-4 pounds amounts to a total on-the-road weight difference of about 1%-3%. Weight doesn't really matter when riding on flat roads. It matters when climbing. The 1%-3% weight different means that a rider will either have to work 1%-3% harder to get up a climb at a given speed or will take 1%-3% longer at a given level of effort. These differences matter for closely-matched racers. They don't matter so much for many recreational cyclists.

On the other hand, a road racing geometry can "feel" faster, and the handling can feel different in a way that's more comforting at speed, like on descents. The enjoyment of that faster feel adds to the pleasure of riding for alot of riders.

On the other other hand, a versatile bike can more easily be used for supported touring rides like CO, and can be used for all-weather commuting, or maybe even gravel road-type riding if larger tires fit.

To me, this all comes down to figuring out what you want your bike to do, then finding one along THOSE lines that fits you well, feels good to ride, and costs what you're willing to spend.

Within THAT context it might make sense to wonder about the differences between steel and carbon.

PS The way many cyclists resolve these questions is to get one (or more) of each type of bike...
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby David R » Mon Feb 23, 2009 11:55 am

Everyone has an opinion but lets look at the science.

Aluminum has the highest modulas for stiffness. You want the best power transition buy aluminum but its also poorest material for vibration dampening. Titanium has the best vibration dampening qualities, it will give you the most comfortable ride and it has a better modulas rating than steel of course it costs more. Carbon has a modulas close to Aluminum but is lighter and has a better vibration dampening properties but it cost more than Aluminum.

bikes that cavitate while going down hill are built bad, materials don't have a say in this. Failures are all bad, there is no good way to fail. It might look more dramatic that a carbon fork shears off when a rider blast full speed into a curb, but the result to the rider is the same if his fork is sheared off (carbon), or bent back 12 inches (steel/titanium), he is on the ground injured either way. You can have bad bonds and you can have bad welds/brazes, bad is bad there is no reason to believe one system is better than the other.

So Steel is real if you can't afford titanium to maxamize comfort, Aluminum if you want max performance and you don't care how beat up your body is and Carbon if you want to maximize performance/weight/comfort.

Steel is real,titanium is real expensive,plastic is fantastic and aluminum is for the youth.
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby bradc » Tue Feb 24, 2009 12:23 pm

Not sure what "modulus for stiffness" is, but aluminum has a Young's Modulus, or Modulus of Elasticity that is approximately 1/3 of steel, meaning that, for the same cross section of any frame member, aluminum will be 1/3 as stiff as steel. This is why aluminum frames tubes usually look bigger, so they don't flex too much. Stiffness, in the realm of engineering, is a function of both the modulus of elasticity and the section properties of the elements under consideration (such as frame tubes). This stiffness will determine how much deformation that a frame will undergo before it returns to its original shape, which is what we all want out of bicycle frame.

A big concern with aluminum is fatigue cracking, which is the bane of airplane manufacturers, as well as bicycle frame builders, I would imagine. I have a Jamis aluminum frame, and having only one other steel bike (a mountain bike), I can't say anything for other materials in the road bike realm. I do, however, enjoy my aluminum frame. Perhaps at age 40, I should be looking at steel...but never carbon, for its lack of durability.
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby MarbleMtn » Tue Feb 24, 2009 9:36 pm

I love my steel frame Lemond Zurich. The carbon fork, stem and handle bars are nice when on chip seal. The combo is playful and forgiving on bad roads but fast and responsive. A good ride.

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Re: carbon or steel

Postby walter » Fri Feb 27, 2009 1:29 pm

airplanes are made of carbon-composites nowadays, so i don't see an issue there when used in bikes.
for compression-vanes titanium is used, for shock-struts steel, and for ventral fins and flaps carbon is used.

as quoted, when used in bikes (carbon-steel-aluminum)you will have to figure out your purpose, weight and budget. also consider that slick bikes are more prone to theft.
yes, steel can be repaired, but so can aluminum. at least in western countries.
yes, steel is heavier. but to make a rigid of alumium you will need to make a thicker tube; thus countering the weight ratio of aluminum.
i have ridden extensive trekking tours on trekking bikes, hauling 40lbs of gear. both steel and aluminum frames work great. only going uphill takes longer :), but you see more scenery too :lol:
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby dougnlis » Fri Mar 13, 2009 5:58 pm

"I'm basically torn between the versatility of the Jamis (switch out larger tires, fenders, add racks, etc.) and the lightness and speed of the Lemond."

On a ride like Cycle Oregon, which hits some pretty marginal roads, some fierce chip seal, maybe even a short unpaved section now and again, those larger tires can make a big difference. I run 700x28c and think they're just about enough for damping vibration, smoothing the pavement and holding enough air to last a few days between sessions at the pump. Versatility means you have a bike for a wide range of conditions, like training in the rain all spring, having transportation to and from the store with a means of carrying home your purchase, and for many years to come. If your pocket is deep enough to buy both it's likely you will smile wider on the carbon. If you want one bike that will handle this one week as well as a variety of other rides, you might make a different choice.

When all my friends have passed me by over a dozen years of CO on their carbon frames (many of them the same frame year after year after year), I tend to blame the fifteen pounds I have added around my middle year by year rather than the ounces they save by going carbon.

Didn't say it first, but have said it consistently:
Steel is Real
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Re: carbon or steel

Postby aktiv » Tue Mar 17, 2009 9:40 pm

It's all about the ride; the frame material is only an input to the ride, not the ride itself.

I suggest that you keep riding some more bikes to get a better feel for what you're looking for. Check some slightly different frame geometries as you go from company to company. Then go back to those bikes and see if they still ride the same.

If they still do, and you like the ride, then get the cheapest one :-) If they're the same price, then get the better-looking bike.

Although I share the sentimentality for steel, I do have experience riding a steel frame for 10 years and have it get soft on me. I've had a Ti frame since '94 and it has not changed the least bit. Just my $0.02



PS I still have my steel mountain bike (actually two)!
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