PFTV3 - What Are Bikes Made Of?

Aluminum and carbon and steel, oh my! With so many materials to choose from, how can you decide which one’s right for you? In today’s episode of Pure Fix TV, Amanda breaks down the differences between all those competing compounds so you can find the one that best suits your style.

Watch the episode right here, and keep reading for a detailed breakdown blog-style.

High-Tensile Steel

 

Price

Weight

Comfort

Stiffness

Durability

★★

★★★★★

★★

★★★★★

Hi-Ten for short, this steel’s durable and budget-friendly, but tips the scales as the heaviest commonly used frame material. Steel’s anything but soft, but it flexes more than the alternatives to soak up road noise and provide a comfortable ride. It’ll also bend long before it breaks, so catastrophic failure is unlikely and, if you do bust a tube, the fix is as easy as finding a welder! That combination of durability, comfort, and price-point makes this the perfect metal for our Original Series and anyone looking for a smooth ride without breaking the bank.

Chromoly Steel

Price

Weight

Comfort

Stiffness

Durability

★★★

★★★★★

★★★

★★★★★

Chromoly Steel a.k.a. Chromo, Cromo, and Cr-Mo is a steel alloy that’s stronger than hi-ten thanks to some metallurgical magic. Because it’s stronger, you can use thinner tubing and that means you still get a smooth steel ride without all the weight. That added strength also makes the frame more responsive without sacrificing durability– so it’s the material we picked for our Premium Series. It costs a bit more to manufacture, so there’s a jump in price as well, but if you’re looking for lifetime-frame that’s light and quick – Chromo’s the way to go.

 

Aluminum

Price

Weight

Comfort

Stiffness

Durability

★★★★

★★

★★★★★

★★★

Aluminum is light and strong, that’s why they make airplanes out of the stuff! It’s also incredibly stiff which is great for getting the most power out of your legs, but can be hard on your contact-points if you’re used to a smoother ride. Aluminum’s also slightly less durable than steel and won’t bend before it breaks so, if you wreck your frame, you’ll be headed to the bike shop for a replacement instead of the metal shop for a welder. Still, Aluminum’s combination of low-weight and high-stiffness makes it a great material for a race bike like our Keirins, but may be overkill for a commuter or cruiser.

 

Carbon Fiber

Price

Weight

Comfort

Stiffness

Durability

★★★★★

★★★

★★★★★

★★

Welcome to the space age. Carbon fiber is practically magic - stiff like aluminum, comfy like steel, light as a feather and, with its high-price tag, it’ll lighten your wallet too. Carbon fiber frames and components are made by “laying-up” layers of thin carbon sheeting and epoxy until the desired goal is reached. The engineering behind it is incredible, and the result is parts that are uncompromisingly stiff in the directions they need to be, but flexy and comfortable in all the right ways too. The two biggest drawbacks to carbon fiber are the cost (hand-laying, drying, setting, etc… sheets of carbon takes more than molding and welding metal) and the durability. Well-made carbon’s actually stronger than steel in the right direction, but if it’s hit the wrong way – crack! Carbon repair, when possible, is also pricey, so you won’t find many commuters on full-carbon rigs.

What you will find is a lot of serious riders who use carbon components to lighten up and smooth out their rides. Popping a carbon fork on an aluminum frame is a common way for riders to stretch their frame budget and still keep the bike light, with some much-improved comfort over an aluminum fork. Carbon seatposts, stems, and bars are also frequently used to soften a ride or lighten up a bike. In short, carbon fiber is perfect for the pros (and anybody else getting sponsor parts) where every gram counts, but if you’re just riding casually you’ll get more bang for your buck sticking to metal and mixing in carbon when you can.

 

And that’s it… for now! Engineers and material scientists are always coming up with cool new stuff to make bikes out of. Whatever they come up with, we'll test it out and keep you updated. For now, enjoy the rest of PFTV Season 3 and don't forget to subscribe so you never miss a vid!

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