If you are looking for a new bike, you need to consider many features and factors. There’s the gear system, the brakes, the shape of the bike, size, weight, the pedals, and more to consider.
However, one of the most important factors to keep in mind when buying any bike is its frame. You could go for a high-end carbon fiber frame, but those can be costly. If you are looking to rein in your spending, you will want to consider either steel or aluminum.
That said, while both are metals, steel and aluminum are very different. So, which is better for you, an aluminum or a steel bike frame?
Let’s first look at all of the advantages and drawbacks of a steel frame bike.
Steel Bike Frame Pros
Although you might think that steel is more rigid than aluminum, it’s actually a bit more forgiving. Steel frames have a bit of give and can absorb a bit of impact for a smoother ride overall.
Something else that stands out about steel bike frames is that they are relatively easy to repair. Every bike shop, and even someone who knows how to weld metals, will be able to easily fix a steel bike frame. Steel might be tough, but it will give out eventually, particularly with heavy use.
Since steel is a bit more pliable and forgiving than aluminum, you can expect a steel bike to last longer. You can expect a steel bike, if you treat it well, to last for decades.
Something essential to note is that steel frames won’t just snap in half without warning, which aluminum has unfortunately been known to do.
For this reason, most people would say that steel bikes are safer because they will bend, warp, and crack before totally breaking, giving you some warning.
Steel frames are also nice because, if need be, the rear dropouts can be bent slightly to accommodate narrower or wider rear hubs.
Steel Bike Frame Cons
One of the drawbacks of steel bike frames is that they are heavy, and quite so. Of course, the heavier the bike, the more force you need to move it, and the slower your top speed will be.
On average, a steel bike will cost more than an aluminum bike. Steel is heavier and more expensive to manufacture than aluminum.
Because steel is slightly pliable and can flex, every time you hit a bump, and it flexes, you lose speed, and you waste energy propelling yourself forward.
Steel can rust, so if you ride a lot, especially in rainy weather, your bike will rust, probably sooner rather than later.
Let’s next take a look at all of the advantages and drawbacks that come your way with an aluminum frame bike.
Aluminum Frame Bike Pros
Aluminum frames are much lighter in weight than steel frames, allowing you to use less force to propel yourself; it allows for a lower level of fatigue and a higher top speed.
On average, a bike made of aluminum will be significantly less expensive than one made of steel. It’s less costly to mass-produce aluminum.
Because aluminum is less pliable than steel, it does not flex when you hit a bump, and therefore you don’t lose as much speed. Aluminum bikes are faster because they are lighter and more efficient due to the material’s rigid nature.
Steel tubes usually need to be round, which is not overly aerodynamic. Aluminum frame tubes don’t need to be round and can be built more speedily.
Quite simply, an aluminum bike won’t rust on you.
Aluminum Frame Bike Cons
To weld and repair aluminum, it takes special tools and the right knowledge. Repairing anything made of aluminum is harder than steel.
Aluminum is rigid and therefore efficient, but this does reduce comfort. With an aluminum bike, you will feel the road, and quite so.
Overall, aluminum is not as durable as steel. An aluminum bike will usually always give out sooner than one made of steel.
Because of the chemical makeup of aluminum, it comes with the threat of snapping on impact. If you hit a big bump and the bike isn’t in the best condition anymore, the aluminum frame can snap without warning, and that’s dangerous.
With a steel frame, you can bend the rear dropouts to adjust for hub spacing, something you cannot do with aluminum; if you try to bend aluminum, it is likely to crack or break.
As you can see, there are some key trade-offs to consider when comparing aluminum to steel frames.
Aluminum is lighter, faster, cheaper, and more efficient to ride on, but steel is more durable; you can adjust the hub spacing; it’s safer, more comfortable, and easier to repair.