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i've been researching frame materials and frame designs lately, as i plan to have a custom ride in the not-so-distant future. i always thought titanium was the best material for frames and forks, at least for rigid bikes. but i have seen posts stating that steel is the best. whats up with that? can steel be better than titanium, on rigid bikes in endurance races?
 

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it's a bit chiche, but asking "what's the best material?" is like asking "how long is a rope?"

there isn't a best material. any frams is a bunch of comprimises between handleing, stifness vs compliance vs weight vs durability.

personally, I don't believe frame material matters to the extent you should worry about it. I believe that the frame material debates started in because when companies started making bikes out of materials other than steel (and before that it was different steel alloys) found that it was easier to advertise one frame material as a feature rather than try to explain the subtleties of how frame and tubing geometry affects the ride - indeed, the latter is very a very complex subject, and way over the heads of many riders. It's much easier to say "aluminum is stiffer than steel." than "we are making frames with oversized aluminum tubes in an effort to minimize weight while keeping strength and stiffness up to standard. These frames we are selling are stiffer than most steel frame manufactureres currently believe is appropriate."

Even then, if you give a rider a bike to test ride and tell them it is a stiff ride, chances are they willl agree with you - 90% of the time people are just repeating what they've been told about a bike, or about materials. I'd bet the rent money that if there where a way to have people test ride several bikes without knowing what they are made of (i.e., they would have to identify the material from the ride, not tube shapes or a ping-test), less than 1% of riders would be able to reliably correctly identify frame material.

If you are getting a custom frame, IMO your best bet is to find a builder you want to work with, hopefully one that works with a few different materials, explain to them your riding style, weight, what components you plan on using and what you want out of the bike, (and how much you want to spend) and ask them what material they reccomend. Hopefully you will get their honest opinion based on experence, and not the tubing vendor's bs line about how great this material or that is.
 

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Joules said:
it's a bit chiche, but asking "what's the best material?" is like asking "how long is a rope?"

there isn't a best material. any frams is a bunch of comprimises between handleing, stifness vs compliance vs weight vs durability.

personally, I don't believe frame material matters to the extent you should worry about it. I believe that the frame material debates started in because when companies started making bikes out of materials other than steel (and before that it was different steel alloys) found that it was easier to advertise one frame material as a feature rather than try to explain the subtleties of how frame and tubing geometry affects the ride - indeed, the latter is very a very complex subject, and way over the heads of many riders. It's much easier to say "aluminum is stiffer than steel." than "we are making frames with oversized aluminum tubes in an effort to minimize weight while keeping strength and stiffness up to standard. These frames we are selling are stiffer than most steel frame manufactureres currently believe is appropriate."

Even then, if you give a rider a bike to test ride and tell them it is a stiff ride, chances are they willl agree with you - 90% of the time people are just repeating what they've been told about a bike, or about materials. I'd bet the rent money that if there where a way to have people test ride several bikes without knowing what they are made of (i.e., they would have to identify the material from the ride, not tube shapes or a ping-test), less than 1% of riders would be able to reliably correctly identify frame material.

If you are getting a custom frame, IMO your best bet is to find a builder you want to work with, hopefully one that works with a few different materials, explain to them your riding style, weight, what components you plan on using and what you want out of the bike, (and how much you want to spend) and ask them what material they reccomend. Hopefully you will get their honest opinion based on experence, and not the tubing vendor's bs line about how great this material or that is.
I would say that you are right on for the most part. I would also say that with the addition of shocks and fat tires at low pressure that frame material becomes a non-issue as far as ride quality is concerned.

I used to own a Cannondale MTB that was made of aluminum and, I swear, had tubes wider than my arms. On a road bike without shocks and with 120 PSI tires that would have caused me to be quite uncomfortable by the end of any ride longer than 30 miles. Any ride longer than 100 miles would have had me stiff and sore for the better part of a week. But as a MTB hard tail with front shock and 40 PSI tires I was able to ride it without problems during a 12 hour race.

In my opinion, frame material on MTBs should be based on cost, weight, and durability, not ride quality. For a road bike, especially during ultra-events, ride quality should be near the top of the list.

For cost, steel and aluminum are similarly priced, carbon and Ti are similarly priced. Steel is typically heavier than aluminum and has the potential issue of rust. On a road bike, steel is touted for its ride qualities over aluminum, but I just stated that ride qualities don't really matter on a MTB. I would therefore suggest Aluminum over steel.

Carbon and Ti are similarly priced, with the weight advantage to carbon and the durability advantage to Ti. Depending on whether durability or weight is more important you may choose one or the other material.
 
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