A detailed analysis of the materials used for the frames' construction
The cycling world is constantly evolving and this progress increases the scrupulous research for the perfect frame's material.
Several decades ago the frames were produced exclusively using steel but over the time different materials, like Aluminum, Magnesium, Titanium, and Carbon, appeared on the market.
Nowadays carbon is the reference material among bicycle manufacturers, but after years of improvements other materials made their return on the market.
Steel has been almost the only frame material for decades. Until the end of the 1980s most bicycle models, from the city-bikes to the road racing ones, were built with 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 different pipes, the steel bicycle could be completely tailored.
In addition to being extremely durable, steel is on sale at a very cheap price.
An important detail to considerer if you use to face long bicycle trips is the practicality of remedying any breakages, in fact a common welding machine will be enough to repair any structural damage.
So a steel frame is suitable for cycle travellers and lovers of classic style that are looking for comfort and resistance without worry too much about the bike's weight.
This material made its market debut in the early 90s and had soon become used by all the professional cycling teams. Thanks to its qualities this material is still used by many manufacturers for their mid-range models.
Aluminium is a light alloy, obtained by the combination of various materials like zinc, magnesium, and silicon, used differently depending on the quality and the manufacturer.
Its main characteristics are lightness, rigidity, and resistance.
Its high stiffness means little ground vibrations leakage, making the frame quite uncomfortable if not combined with a carbon fibre 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 aluminium, even after suffering a trauma, you can reach your destination and then even evaluate a possible repair.
The aluminium processing costs are way lower than the competing materials one, which allows the bikes manufacturers to produce frames with an excellent quality/price ratio.
Nowadays aluminium bicycles are still great for a lot of cyclists categories. The stiffness of the latter makes them ideal for dealing with criteriums or very short and nervous rides.
Among all the analyzed materials Magnesium is by far the lightest, which is why it was often used by professional teams on the early 2000s.
Some of its qualities such as high mechanical resistance, excellent vibration damping and lightness, make this material ideal for high-quality bike frames construction.
However, its processing requires dedicated measures and high investments, which prevent a real economic advantage for those who decide to produce Magnesium frames.
Its general processing difficulty combined with its high corrosion predisposition are the main causes for which Magnesium is not massively adopted despite its incredible characteristics.
After several years of improvements, several companies have resumed Magnesium producing frames.
A bicycle with a Magnesium frame is made for demanding cyclists looking for a niche carbon fibre alternative.
Titanium made its debut in the cycling world in the early 1970s but for some reasons it has never been used on a large scale. The latter must be obtained from the ilmenite through complex chemical processes as is not a mineral available in nature.
Titanium is classified according to its quality in ascending order from grade number 1, the purest, to grade number 9, the most easily weldable. The most used grades for cycling are number 7 and number 9.
The realization of a titanium frame is complex and particularly expensive. Its processing requires tools suitable to withstand its hardness and the grooving of the pipes must be handmade, to not compromise its characteristics.
During the production process, to not expose the alloy to external agents that could weaken its properties, you have to carry out the welds in a dedicated environment.
Due to their lightness and thanks to the possibility of having the same mechanical properties of other materials using a smaller material quantity, and to their resistance, the titanium frames are the best on the market, but given the very high production process cost the use of the latter remains limited to a niche of enthusiasts.
Carbon is the frames reference material as it has been the one-to-one bikes choice of pro teams for nearly 20 years on.
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 fibre composite combined by epoxy resin.
To indicate its robustness, a number is combined with the letter K (12K, 6K, 3K, 1K) and the UD acronym (unidirectional) identifies the highest quality.
These values are visible thanks to the texture, the higher the number is the wider the textures are.
Extreme lightness, unique stiffness and excellent vibration damping are the main features that enhance carbon fibre frames.
Carbon fibre frames are recommended for amateur cyclists and professional riders, these kind of frames are less suitable for cycle travellers since even a small clique can make the entire frame unusable.