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I can appreciate that some materials are lighter than others and some have more flex than others, but overall, how do different frame materials affect handling of the bike?

Assuming the same geometry and design. What are the main handling characteristics of each of the below common frame materials?

  • Aluminium alloy
  • Carbon Fibre
  • Steel
  • Titanium
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    @kifli: i don't think you're right at all. the materials have different characteristics and handling performances... have you ridden all four types of frames? i think this is a very legitimate question and deserves a decent answer. – dru87 Nov 14 '16 at 15:12
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    Tube profiles are far more important than the materials you have listed. For example it is quite possible to make a harsh steel bike or a compliant alloy bike purely by manipulating the tubing profiles. – OraNob Nov 14 '16 at 16:26
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    I've definitely heard complaints that aluminum is stiffer than steel and hence produces a "harsher" ride. Understand that stiffness and strength are two different things, and with, eg, aluminum, the tubes must be made thicker to make the bike strong enough, and this leads to greater stiffness. Has to do with the elastic vs plastic strain characteristics of the metal. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 15 '16 at 13:14
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    @DWGKNZ the lack of agreement is because the question is so broad that it's impossible to answer. The OP is also only listing a few of the more common materials in a way that doesn't usefully describe them when it comes to the analysis required to give a useful answer. Which answer would necessarily be the new record-holder for "longest answer here". A more answerable question would be "list the different frame materials that have been used, with links to examples". – Móż Nov 15 '16 at 22:07
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    Note that this question is a subset of "what affects bike handling" which was also closed as too broad. This question about analysing handling is also relevant – Móż Nov 15 '16 at 22:46
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There is a plethora of alloy and carbon bikes which contradict a lot of the above. Certainly with early alloy framed bikes a lot of what has been written above was true - fat tubes, straight gauge, non-profiled. This is where alloy got its harsh ride reputation from. And cheap alloy frames probably still bear this unfortunate hallmark and reputation.

If you look at the other end of the spectrum with the likes of Canyon's Ultimate SLX AL or Cannondale's CAAD12 - you will see careful design can produce a frame which is both compliant and light. The Canyon frame weighs in from 1kg - lighter than a lot of carbon frames. It has a stiff bottom bracket and the over-sized head tube ensures handling is tight. The stays are pencil thin for compliance - and I can confirm it rides great. I would have no hesitation riding it on distance rides.

On the other hand - if you look at a Cervelo S5 aero bike - that has one of the firmest rides I have ever experienced. Harsher than an old Scott Foil. And these bikes are carbon. Supposedly "Soft, You can feel the Flexing".

Then you look at the Genesis Volare in Reynolds 953 steel. You'd instantly think sublime ride - but the frame had to be revised because it was too harsh. And this coming from feedback from the race team.

My point being - material choice alone - does not dictate handling of a bike.

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    Spot on. While a material is a good starting point, frame design plays a much larger part. One need only look at pivotless suspension designs to see the truth in this. – Deleted User Nov 15 '16 at 15:19
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Addressing handling (response, drive and control) and weight separately:

Handling

  • Aluminum Alloy - Tight, Firm with Light Flexing.
  • Carbon Fiber - Soft, You can feel the Flexing.
  • Steel - Hard, Firm with No Flexing.
  • Titanium - Very Hard, Firm, Relatively Unbendable.

Weight Placed in order lightest to heaviest

  • Carbon Fiber
  • Aluminum Alloy
  • Titanium
  • Steel

In summary, the material science of bicycle frames is focused on strength and weight. Stronger and lighter is the goal.

Carbon fiber will continue to advance and out perform any metal. Older generation carbon fiber frames do flex more than some riders are comfortable with. I've spoken with enough guys that give a recommendation for carbon, just not the first generation due to flexing in the tail end and between the neck and the front fork.

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    The materials you are listing have inherent properties, however, how the frame is executed will play a larger part in determining ride characteristics. Several companies make carbon fiber downhill frames which are lighter than steel or aluminum downhill frames, but heavier than any well designed cross country mountain bike frame. – Deleted User Nov 15 '16 at 15:23
  • This is a good start on a list answer, but leaves out a great deal of critical information. Could you possibly expand it with reference to the various different alloys used in both "steel" and "alumninium" bikes, and the various composite materials (including both "steel" and "alumnium" composites), and the different titanium alloys. Referencing magnesium alloys as well as non-carbon fibre composites would also be useful. – Móż Nov 15 '16 at 22:10
  • Since the question will likely be closed as too broad, @Móż has created a wiki that you could contribute to: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/43838/… – andy256 Nov 16 '16 at 0:24
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    The weight ordering you list is not necessarily true when you factor in purpose of bike, and build quality. There are high-quality steel frames considerably lighter than BSO aluminum. – whatsisname Nov 16 '16 at 5:00
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I have done thousands of km's on both alloy and carbon. Alloy is heavier, not as responsive or rigid, but it is cheaper. A lot cheaper. Most you'd pay for an alloy road bike would be $2-3k.

Carbon is totally different, Lighter, more responsive, stiffer, yet absorbs more vibrations from the road, so actually feels more forgiving, and smoother. Plus, because you lose less energy from it being absorbed by the frame when your trying to peddle hard/sprint, effectively, more of your energy ends up going through the cranks, and making you accelerate much faster.

Don't know about the other two materials. But hope this helps :)

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Frame materials can severely effect the handling of a bike.. Even different steel materials can. For example when you steer quickly on a bike, that steering force is transmitted through the frame which then acts like a spring and you can feel it. Softer materials will 'give' making for a slower steering response. Not only that but a lot of pedaling force can be lost/absorbed by a flexing frame.

Materials like aluminium and carbon are far stiffer and this can be felt both in quicker & sharper steering and also when sprinting on the bike. The frame will flex much less which transmits more power though the drive train to the rear wheel, as opposed to that potential effort and energy being absorbed & lost through a springy frame material.

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    Flexing does not necessarily absorb energy. Springs flex and store energy then release it later; this can be observed in some steel frames. Carbon fibre composites can be made with various design parameters to give different properties, so it's difficult to generalise about it. Most handling properties of bicycles are due more to geometry than materials. – andy256 Nov 15 '16 at 7:31
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    The above answer is NOT strictly true. As said before - it is the tubing profiles which affect the ride qualities the most. – OraNob Nov 15 '16 at 11:21
  • In reality carbon fiber has the lowest Young's modulus of the materials listed above and steel the highest. It's about tube design and low density that allows large diameter tubes. – ojs Nov 15 '16 at 18:39
  • @OraNob: your selection of available tubing profiles is affected by material choice in a non-obvious non-linear fashion. – whatsisname Nov 16 '16 at 5:01

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