I was thinking this weekend about frame materials for bicycles and what the common perceptions/ misperceptions of each are. It's pretty funny when reading the internet forums sometimes. People have some pretty wonky ideas out there about what frame materials are best, how they ride, and what makes them fail. I figured that I have some wonky ideas of my own on the subject, so why not share them with you? This is what this weeks posts will be about.
I figured that each frame material will get it's own post and I'll spout off what I know about each one and then give my personal opinions on each. I've owned and ridden them all but for titanium, to which I will defer to an "expert" for an opinion on. (You'll have to wait to see who that is) Well, I did ride a titanium stem once! So I guess I've used a little Ti on a bike.
I will say this about anything you can make a bicycle frame out of. First of all; any frame material can be used poorly or brilliantly. Anything can be broken. Any frame material common to bicycle building in this day and age can be made into a lightweight bicycle. A really light weight bicycle. So, there is no best material out there based upon these attributes.
The key to making the best bicycle is to match all of the frame materials best attributes to the riding style and purpose of the rider in the best way possible within budget constraints. Now it might be that the frame material chosen might not be the wisest for the riding style, purpose, and money available, but I bet a pretty decent bike could still be made, within reason. Of course, you can totally screw up everything by poor design, execution, lack of proper funding, or by mis-using the end product.
So, if we are all aware that the above stated things are true, then we can talk about the nuances that might make a difference in the world of bicycle riding in terms of different frame materials.
The materials I would like to discuss are Aluminum, steel, titanium, and carbon fiber. There are other frame materials, (magnesium, and even bamboo!) but I'm going to focus on these four materials since they are the most commonly used and available materials for bicycle frames today. I'll throw in some 29"er commentary on each as well!