Bikes are made of many different materials such as bamboo, wood, carbon fiber, plastic and aluminum to name a few. The most popular is probably aluminum, carbon fiber, and of course steel because we know steel is real. You now know this because I just told you.
Most bikes you find in both big-box stores and your local bike shop will be made with steel or aluminum. You’ll probably find a few of the high-end bikes in carbon fiber or titanium. What you may not know are the pros and cons of the materials. Often times you’ll go in to buy a bike and not think about the frame material, you’ll look at the price and that will determine your bike. Don’t let that happen because each material has a different ride, weight, feel and purpose.
Steel is real because it’s been around the block a time or two and it’s fun to say. Try it, “Steel is real.” It’s known as being the workhorse of bicycles. It’s relatively light and will last through years of use and abuse. It offers a nice ride that’s not too stiff, not too heavy and depending on your ability, can be fast. Another benefit is steel can be fixed by a professional if the frame were to bend or crack. Salsa, Surly and STRIDER are a couple of brands that carry steel.
Aluminum has come a long way since its first inception into frame building. The tubes are now much smaller than they used to be and is probably the most popular material for most of today’s bikes. Aluminum bikes are usually lighter than steel but they offer a stiffer ride. Steel tends to have a little flex and gives a really nice ride whereas aluminum is the opposite. I’m not saying it doesn’t offer a nice ride, but it might be a bit less forgiving. Kona, Masi and Niner to name a few.
Carbon Fiber frames are super light and usually expensive. These frames are made with layers and layers of carbon fiber (think plywood). The problem is that although carbon fiber frames are becoming more reliable they are still susceptible to failure. Meaning, if you crash and the frame cracks, it is very difficult and often not recommended to be fixed. So, your frame is toast. On a good note, carbon fiber frames are light and usually fast because the frame is stiff. A stiff frame allows all of the power your legs apply to the pedal to get transferred directly to the wheels with no flex. Pinarello, Felt, Ibis and Santa Cruz are a few brands that carry carbon fiber frames although most brands have at least one.
Titanium is lighter than a steel frame but heavier than aluminum. The real bonus comes in its strength and ride quality. Titanium is extremely strong and usually more expensive which is why you’ll find high-end cross country and road bikes done up in titanium and it’s moving into other styles. If you are willing to spend money on a titanium frame you’ll love the ride quality, it rides much softer than any of the other frame materials, yet is still considerably stronger. This is by far my favorite bike material because they look like a wonderful work of art. They’re so pretty! There are many bicycle manufactures that offer titanium frames but Moots is probably the most well known for specializing in this material.
The most important thing to remember when picking out a bicycle is to find one that fits you. If it doesn’t fit and isn’t comfortable to ride, you won’t. If the shop you’re buying a bike from doesn’t let you take it for a spin, go somewhere else. The ride quality, bits and pieces, fit and style will all be different on each type of frame material so take your time and choose wisely.
You’ll ride your bike more if you think it looks cool. Don’t let anyone persuade your decision on looks because we all have our own unique style. If you child’s STRIDER needs some flair, check out our custom accessories.
See Tip #4