The different materials used for the construction of the frames
The world of cycling is constantly growing. This progress brings with it an increasingly scrupulous search for the perfect material, especially in the frames field.
Several decades ago the frames were produced exclusively in steel, but over the time differents materials made their appearance on the market: Aluminum, Magnesium, Titanium, and Carbon.
To date, Carbon is undoubtedly the reference material, but it’s not always the best solution; despite its incredible features, are you sure it’s suitable for your needs?
Analyzing each of them in detail, we will write down a guide for the correct choice of the right material for you.
Steel has had a monopoly in assembling frames for decades. Until the end of the 1980s, any kind of bike, from the city bike to the road racing ones used by champions riding the Tour de France, was made of steel pipes.
This material is obtained through a metal alloy, formed from iron and carbon, made stainless through a chemical pickling procedure through which the chromium is brought to the surface, creating an insulating patina from oxygen.
Thanks to the assembly carried out by joining the different pipes, the steel bicycle will be completely tailored. After a consultation between the biomechanical and the frame builder, the pipes will be sized and related to the client’s body structure.
In addition to being so durable that it can last a lifetime, steel is on sale at a very cheap price.
A detail that should not be underestimated concerns the fact that, for those facing long bicycle trips, steel can be repaired with a simple welding machine in the event of breakage.
In conclusion, a frame that adapts to bike-travelers in search of comfort, resistance, and repairability at the expense of a few extra kilograms.
This material entered the market in the early 90s, soon becoming common use for all professional teams. Thanks to its qualities, it’s still used by many manufacturers for their medium-range models.
Aluminum is a light alloy, obtained by the combination of various materials including zinc, magnesium, and silicon, used differently depending on the quality and the manufacturer.
Its main characteristics are lightness, rigidity, and resistance.
The very marked stiffness results in the direct transmission of all the vibrations imposed by the ground, making the frame uncomfortable, if not combined with a carbon fiber fork.
A note that should not be underestimated is that, unlike carbon where even the slightest crack can be fatal for the life of the frame, with aluminum, even after suffering a trauma, you can reach your destination and then even evaluate a possible repair.
In addition to all of that, the processing costs are far lower than competing materials, which allow you to take advantage of an excellent quality/price ratio.
Nowadays aluminum bicycles are still suitable for a large number of cyclists. Their rigidity makes them perfect for criterium or very short and nervous races, rather than downhill.
The category that fits the best this kind of frame is the one composed by novice cyclists, looking for a still excellent frame but at an advantageous price.
Titanium made its appearance in the world of cycling as early as the 1970s, but for various reasons it has never caught on like competing materials and has never been used on a large scale by high-level athletes. The latter is not a mineral available in nature, but must be obtained from the ilmenite, through complex chemical processes. By combining particular additives with other minerals, Titanium alloys will be obtained, and there are classifiable, according to their quality, in ascending order from grade number 1, the purest, to grade number 9, the most easily to be welded. At the cycling level, the most used grades are number 7 and number 9. The realization of a titanium frame is complex and particularly expensive. Its processing requires tools suitable to withstand the hardness that characterizes it and the stripping of the pipes must be done by hand, so as not to compromise its characteristics. A further peculiarity in its production process is the need to do the welding part in a specially dedicated environment, so as not to expose the alloy to external agents that could weaken its properties.
Their rigidity, lightness, and resistance combined with their aesthetic cleanliness place the titanium frames as the best on the market, but given the very high cost derived from the onerous production process they limit their use to a niche of enthusiasts.
Carbon is the material par excellence when it comes to frames, used by all professional cyclists for 20 years now. Thanks to its different qualities and varieties of matching components, carbon bicycles have reached a price range that sweeps from 1000 to over 20,000 euros.
This material, unlike the alloys mentioned above, is a carbon fiber composite combined by epoxy resin. To indicate density, therefore robustness, a number is associated with the letter K (12K, 6K, 3K, 1K, UD) where UD (unidirectional) identifies the highest quality.
These values are visible thanks to the texture, the larger the higher the number.
Another division of the fiber is inserted according to their resistance, in order of how many pressure losses per square millimeter they can bear. The use of a fiber with greater resistance involves the use of a smaller quantity of material, eliminating excess weight. Mainly 46ton and 60ton fibers are commonly used.
Given the large scale of use, carbon today boasts continuous research in improving product quality. It adapts to cyclists engaged in amateur competitions and competitive cyclists, less to cycle-traveler, since even a small crack can compromise the entire frame.