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I decided to build my own bike. Went to a bike shop, took the first broken bike they had for 40 euro that I kind of liked and fixed it up to a nice (what I think) build (thanks RJ bike guy videos) (frame was not broken, just wheel and other parts):

enter image description here

I have no info on the frame/bike. It has a "Ficarius" logo on it so it seems some kind of Dutch company. It's a steel frame. It rides good I think.

I wanted to understand how to find out if this Ficarius frame is of good quality or bad quality. What are the things I could get from a more quality frame. How can I tell whether this Ficarius frame is cheaper in quality compared to say a Peugeot frame?

Reason I ask is because I have some free time and want to get my hands busy with it again so I figured a good project would be to replace its frame. But I thought: it's just a steel diamond metal thing, can replacing it really make much of a difference to how it rides? If so, what are the differences?

EDIT here are some more closeups of the frame https://imgur.com/a/qIXXL0b

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    When comparing one bike maker to another - in your example Ficarius to Peugeot - keep in mind that most bike makers, Peugeot included make a variety of frames ranging in quality to meet specific price points from inexpensive to very expensive. It's best to talk about and compare specific frames rather than frames made by a bike maker in general.
    – David D
    Jul 8 at 18:52
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    From the shape of the downtube I'd guess this frame could be aluminium. A magnet test will bring clarity. Alloy frames are harsh.
    – Carel
    Jul 8 at 20:11
  • @Carel: Yes, that was my first thought as well. The down tube looks way too wide for steel. The other tubes are kind of narrow though which suggests a low quality aluminium frame with thick walled tubes.
    – Michael
    Jul 9 at 13:40
  • It's steel. Magnet sticks to the frame. Jul 9 at 15:39
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I would say that what you ask is an ability acquired with time and practice. It is difficult to "teach" by words alone.

And yes, one frame can have a very different ride characteristic when compared to another. I'd say that besides raw material and craftsmanship quality, bike geometry and proper fit play a major role in how comfortable you feel while riding a particular bike. Bike maintenance and component quality are also a factor.

In my limited experience, when just evaluating a frame (i.e. not being able to ride it) the main giveaway are the welds. Good quality frames usually have "beautiful" welds, well polished joints. By "beautiful" I mean they are very regular, uniform and have a clear pattern to it.

enter image description here

Bad q. frames have splotchy, irregular welds and some time you can even see that the tubes/pipes/parts where not very precisely cut, so you see gaps that where filled with welds or similar. Also, they would have weld splatter not cleaned, so you see metal droplets stuck near the welds that where just painted over. (At least if rod welder was used, i.d.k. if bad MIG or TIG weld would show similar defects.)

Another place to look is inside the seat tube and inside the head tube. Both of them usually have a seam that is not noticeable from the outside. Good quality bikes uses tubes where this seam is nice and smooth. Bad quality ones use low quality tubes where this seam protrudes inward, often irregularly. Since it is not visible when the bike is fully assembled, almost no builder wastes any time filing it smooth (except maybe in the top part of the seat tube, to allow for seatpost insertion. I had a particularly bad bike where the seat tube badly scratched the seatpost, making it very difficult to adjust the height or install/remove).

On the other hand, when you are able to ride a decently built bike that used the frame you're interested in, you can asses the ride quality. In my experience with steel and CrMo (?) frames there are two kind of opposite extremes of bad: They either flex too much in a weird way then pedaling hard or have an unusually harsh ride. In the first case you'd say the bike feels like it is made of spaghetti and for instance, if you apply both brakes and try to pedal, you will see the whole bottom bracket area moving sideways. In the second case, it is like the frame "multiplies" any bump you ride over. For example, a simple 2 inch curb drop would make you feel like the handlebar hammering your hands upwards. Both cases make you feel more tired after riding for a while, much more than the same ride in a good quality bike.

Conversely, good quality frames sit happily in some middle ground. They are firm but not harsh. I had a dutch Gazelle. Int it's ride quality was way beyond any bike I've had tried before. It was somehow very comfortable, would not feel harsh even inflating the tires to the maximum, for example, riding over pavement cracks or shallow potholes would be "felt" but not exaggerated. Overall, the bike was not particularly tiring to ride, specially considering its weight. The frame was heavy and the material itself was very hard on tools. I tried drilling a hole and it dulled the bit quickly, while the same bit was enough for mild steel.

Caveat: The rigidity or compliance of other components may affect how you perceive the ride, as do tire pressure and quality, type of saddle and handlebar grips or tape. Having experience riding bikes of several types and quality levels gives you "good eye" recognizing good from bad parts and you become able to generate a more or less accurate ride quality expectation just by looking at a frame or bike build. I'd suggest you take time to ride several different bikes for about at least an hour, 10 km or 7 miles. Maybe some friends may lend you their bikes or if there are rental services in your area, there is a good opportunity.

(For context: I'm mostly an MTB rider accustomed to various types of suspension, and usually ride urban rigid hybrids built around aluminum frames with slick tires. I have built myself most of my bikes or changed major components of them.)

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    Very good point explaining the two extremes. The example of the Gazelle bike is spot-on: if you would take the frame only in your hands, with no decals, you would swear "how bad, this is super heavy" and then when you ride it, it is super comfortable, with the right combination of rigidity-weight-geometry.
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 9 at 8:57
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One rule of thumb for identifying higher quality frames is the type of dropouts on the frame.

enter image description here

Generally, a frame with forged dropouts will be of higher quality than a frame with stamped drop outs. Stamped dropouts are made just like the name sounds - they are stamped out of inexpensive sheet metal. They are fast and cheap to produce. Forged dropouts generally appear on frames with better quality tubing.

Forks follow the same rule of thumb

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  • I don't want to naysay because there are many genres of bikes where this is a fast heuristic that tells pretty much the whole story, but in my experience the various Euro town/city/commute/utility bikes can be a counterexample. Jul 8 at 21:20
  • @NathanKnutson You are correct, there are exceptions. That's why it is a rule of thumb rather than an absolute law.
    – David D
    Jul 8 at 21:24
  • I took some more closeup pics of the frame here: imgur.com/a/qIXXL0b Seems like it's a forged dropout. What are your thoughts on the frame? Any other things I should be looking at? Jul 9 at 7:39
  • Notice also for instance how the down tube is ticker (not perfectly round) compared to the other parts, which is unusual for steel. But I can confirm it's steel (magnets stick to it). Does this odd shape make it less quality? Jul 9 at 8:11
  • Maybe its obvious to many but I have a bit of a difficulty making out distinguishing features that I could transfer to real frames, maybe you could describe them a bit?
    – PlasmaHH
    Jul 9 at 10:44
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How can I tell whether this Ficarius frame is cheaper in quality compared to say a Peugeot frame?

Usually high quality frames specify the type of tubing used. For example Reynolds, Columbus, Tange or today increasingly often generic 4130 chromium molybdenum steel. Also the label that specifies the type of steel probably also specifies whether the steel is butted.

If there's no label or if the label says "hi-ten" steel, then it's probably ordinary gas pipe steel, not butted. Those frames are heavy as hell, and sometimes the frame maker has recognized this weight problem and tried to avoid it by making the frame too weak to reduce weight, but unfortunately non-durable.

Frame is usually of no concern for ride quality. A diamond frame flexes far less than for example the tires.

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  • Here are some more closeups of the frame. It seems to have forged dropouts which is good but how can I tell whether it's a pipe steel or butted? imgur.com/a/qIXXL0b Jul 9 at 7:42
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One trick is to look for the price of similar new bicycle. By searching in the internet for "Ficarius" "te koop" and similar words, you will find easily that a very similar model can be bought new for https://www.promobutler.be/fr/promotions/velo-de-ville-ficarius-molecule-2747268 159 Euro.

At this price point, the new bicycle is worthwhile to be bought just to have new spare parts, while the frame will be used to prepare a bike with spare used parts from other scavenged bicycles.

Look at your bicycle: it has no mudguards, no rack, no lock, no dynamo, no lights, no chainguard: these things altogether can cost between 50 and 100Euro (cost to the client, not value of the items).

Assuming the cost is the double of the value (for lower end component it may be even three times) you are left with a frame having a value between 15 and 50 euros. It will be for sure not a frame with much design and production control involved.

But, this do not mean your bicycle is bad, or good: only time will tell you. If you find it comfortable, good for you. By seeing the shape of the tubes (large diameter = a lot of materials) it should be heavy, which is not an issue until you try to tackle the hills around Maastricht (and even there, it is likely that the bike will be quite comfrotable, albeit slow).

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  • Thanks for that. I figured the frame would be heavier than more quality ones. What's your suggestion? I know nothing about frames. Should I just look for a Peugeot race frame that fits me from used market? My goal is to improve my ride :) Jul 9 at 9:41
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    To improve your ride, you just have to ride :) ! There are hundreds of books and training plan. I cannot really suggest what's best. The most important factor to keep in mind is to train to have a rather high pedal cadence, rather than struggling to push hard gears. You want to train your legs, not to break your knees. Do some yoga or light gym, to prevent back pains and to retain some elasticity and core strength. The Netherlands are flat, and windy, so it boils down to aerodynamics and comfort, if by "improving" you mean higher mean velocity for longer times to travel farther.
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 9 at 9:53
  • Yes, hills on a heavy bike are perfectly doable with the right gears. My tourer is around 20kg and my local hills comaparble to Vaalserberg. I've also taken it to the Alps; on a TdF moutain stage I really did curse the weight.
    – Chris H
    Jul 9 at 12:09

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