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My Kuota carbon frame of 10 years is trashed. It was ridden for 100 000km in the most abhorrent weather conditions and never cleaned. It makes cracking sounds when under torsional loads, the steering tube jams and some screws are completely stuck despite not fully tightened.

I need a new bicycle frame, and I want it to last 50 years and I'm trying to figure out what material to use. Is Titanium just an overhyped, lighter steel frame for rich people, or is it truly indestructable and the be-all end-all of durability? Considering the price, am I better off replacing a steel frame every 10 years?

I gathered some prices from chinese retailers:

  • Aluminum frame: 150$
  • Steel frame: 300$
  • Titanium frame: 1000$

EDIT: Frames are cheap as they are manufactured in China. They are bulky and heavy and by no means low quality. Each frame weighs 2kg.

I don't care much about weight/performance. I need sturdy and bulky. (My high-end click pedals weighing 200g lasted 2 years. My Saint flat pedals for 60$ are still spinning like new after 8 years after driving through mud and snow and never cleaned) I will also make the shift from road bike to gravel bike.

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    100000km, wow!!
    – MaplePanda
    Apr 10 at 20:33
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    Are you trying to buy your way out of doing bike cleaning/maintenance ?
    – Criggie
    Apr 10 at 22:03
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    Unlikely a titanium or steel frame will outlast carbon, even more so if the bike maintenance is neglected. Are you sure its the frame? Sounds like a bit of maintenance on the headset and bottom bracket is all that's needed. Stuck screws can probably be removed with right techniques.
    – mattnz
    Apr 11 at 0:17
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    Agree with mattnz. Unless your frame really has a crack or is making noises (e.g. because of loose bearing seats or the seatpost no longer fitting correctly) your problem is not the frame.
    – Michael
    Apr 11 at 4:57
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    If you believe steel from cheap frames is the same as steel used in expensive frames, we cannot answer the question as you are starting from a flawed premise. There is a very big difference in quality of steel used in bicycle frames at different price points.
    – mattnz
    Apr 12 at 0:19

2 Answers 2

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From personal experience riding mostly steel and titanium (Ti) for decades, as well as general engineering understanding, I'd say probably yes, Ti is the best (in the same quality class, of course) if you're indeed "trying to buy your way out of doing bike cleaning/maintenance".

That said, this relates to the frame itself, while most maintenance is done on other parts. On a Ti frame, you will likely replace everything several times before the frame dies of neglect.

Even if, for the purposes of this answer, we ignore "repairability", a typical Ti frame will win over carbon in one important aspect in terms of longevity: it tends to use standard ISO components (headset, bottom brackets etc.) This will facilitate replacement later, in 10-30+ years time. Modern carbon frames tend to use a lot of custom components.

Even after 100K+ of lack of cleaning a Ti frame will be fine (mine is less K but 20+ years), provided it was designed and assembled well. But over that time, you will likely have some crashes and have some dents on it. That's about the worst that can happen (save for a wrecking damage).

(By the way, a Ti frame designed for longevity will not be the lightest: it will be about the same weight as good modern Al or even steel ones, i.e. in the vicinity of 1.2-1.3 kg. Avoid the lightest Ti frames, lest they will be too floppy (even if strong enough) and dented easily).

So, Ti frame might be the best choice if:

  • You don't want to clean the frame and maintain its paint, and
  • You prefer to keep the same bike and gradually replace its components as they wear, rather than buying a new bike every 10 years or so (even if the latter might be more cost-efficient in absolute terms).
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  • I disagree on the difference between parts compatibility between Ti and Carbon (or steel of aluminum). If the the rate of design obsolesce we see in MTB carries over to road, parts will be next impossible to get in a decade for any frame.
    – mattnz
    Apr 11 at 8:18
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    @mattnz, road components standards have 40+ years history. Standard components are so common they will probably always be available. It is true that manufacturers try to push users to their proprietary 'standards' (a sorry practice of many industries, esp. in the last decade or two), but if one cares about "50 years" of longevity, he will need to restrict himself only to the common standard (ISO) components, at the cost of fancy stuff like non-round seatposts. Ti (and steel) frames tend to be more standards-based (which is somewhat fair as the standards were designed around classic frames).
    – Zeus
    Apr 11 at 9:01
  • It's more of a Ti vs Steel debate. Im done with carbon. The Ti & Steel frames from china come in at 2kg. I heard Ti frames are more prone to cracking and Steel frames are more prone to rusting. Confused as to how bad the problem is and how they compare against each other.
    – AzulShiva
    Apr 11 at 9:40
  • To all practical purposes, steel does not rust beyond cosmetic blemishes, at least high quality steel. If a bike is neglected enough for the frame to rust structurally, the components (worth many times more than the frame) deteriorate to unusable well before hand.
    – mattnz
    Apr 12 at 0:15
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    @AzulShiva, 2 kg is rather heavy even for a steel [road] frame. Perhaps it's with a fork? I haven't heard of Ti frames cracking more. On the one hand, Ti is more pliable and the walls will be thicker, which should cause it cracking less; but on the other hand, it's harder to weld Ti properly, and demands to quality are higher. Also, as I hinted, Ti is such a wonderful material it can easily be abused by making the frame too light (yet still formally strong enough); but its other properties will suffer.
    – Zeus
    Apr 12 at 1:31
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With a well made frame, titanium is likely the most durable material. Aluminum does fatigue while steel rusts. Ti is about as strong as steel. Personally my ti road bike is in its 20th year.

However titanium is only as good as its welds. If it is not well made, you may have a failure on a weld point.

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