New bike? How to choose a frame

Recently we came across an article on a cycling magazine which discussed frame materials and it started like this: “The steel era has come to an end…”.

Let’s stop right there. It was a bad start, there was no point in reading further. The days of steel are far from gone. Actually, steel has just taken on a new lease of life due to the popularity of Grandfondo events on white gravel roads such as Eroica and the like, where vintage bikes are de rigueur.

At this point, some people might ask: “But what is the best material then? Which one should I choose for my new bike?”

Bad question. We are not going to get anywhere here. A right question would be what exactly are you going to do with the bicycle. That would be a good starting point for the frame decision.

But let’s take it one step at a time.

When it boils down to it, our choices of materials are limited to three: in addition to good old steel, we also have aluminium and carbon fibre. Each one differs from the other and has its own special features and qualities. In actual fact, titanium and magnesium also exist on the market, but they are niche products…

How frame can we choose?

Often cycling enthusiasts’ choices are motivated by personal taste and fashion rather than by actual needs. But prior to making a good buy, we should carefully analyse the characteristics of each material, see whether they fit our requirements and match them to the way we will be using the bike.

Weight is important, but it is not the only factor. If it were, carbon fibre would win the contest hands down. Other vital considerations are ductility, strength and durability. So let’s look at these aspects more closely.

Steel

Steel has always been the archetypal material for bikes. Steel-bike manufacturing was a badge of honour for Italy, at least until 1986 when Greg Lemond won the Tour de France on a French-made carbon-fibre frame for the very first time.

But even today steel retains a number of unrivalled qualities: It is easy to machine and weld, it boasts immense ductility, sturdiness and durability, low production costs and, most of all, it lends itself to making bespoke bicycles because the various rods can be mounted to a high degree of precision. Many experts reckon that the perfect bicycle can only be made from steel, especially one used for touring purposes.

The only drawback is weight, which is why this marvellous material has been routed by carbon fibre and aluminium.

Aluminium

Much lighter than steel, aluminium (in actual fact, it is an alloy made with other minerals such as silicon, magnesium, copper, etc.) has conquered a substantial market share particularly due to its excellent value for money and the ensuing spread of mass-produced bikes. It is perfect for an “ordinary” cyclist who wants to buy a good-quality product.

As far as mechanical properties are concerned, aluminium frames are quite rigid, especially because they are often built from oversized rods to overcome the problem of them being so brittle. Lastly, aluminium doesn’t rust, but it deteriorates and won’t last a lifetime.

Carbon fibre

In the popular imagination of cyclists, carbon fibre stands for weightlessness and high performance. Its reputation also derives from the fact that professional riders don’t seem to use anything else. It is extensively used not only to build frames, but also component parts: fittings, cranks, brake levers, seat posts and, of course, saddles.

Like the SP01, for instance, the brand new Special Performance saddle featuring a trailblazing split design with two separate parts which create a “suspension-link movement”. The use of cutting-edge processing technology has brought its weight down to a mere 125 grammes without altering its high levels of comfort and strength.

Carbon fibre (actually it is a composite material made from carbon fibres and resins) has some outstanding qualities. It weighs one quarter less than steel and is 10 times stronger. A superlative material, but it is not for everyone. A carbon-fibre frame is costly, it is highly prone to denting and buckling and it cannot be mended.

It is intended for pros who cycle a lot and go fast. Anyone who is used to a 50-km Sunday outing with their mates should not fall into the trap of thinking that a carbon-fibre bike will automatically mean a more effortless ride.

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New bike? How to choose a frame | Technology on the saddle – Selle Italia
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New bike? How to choose a frame | Technology on the saddle – Selle Italia
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Weight is important, but it is not the only factor. If it were, carbon fibre would win the contest hands down. Other vital considerations are ductility, strength and durability. So let’s look at these aspects more closely.
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Selle Italia
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