Why are hand-built steel bike frames so good?
Although at our Sheffield bike-shop we now sell some great value carbon fibre cycle frames we cant help feeling steel frames are still the best choice, including for the racing cyclist where the advantages outweigh the perceived disadvantages we feel (we'll have a look at some weight and frame flex misconceptions further down the page).
So what are the advantages? Well of course you get a cycle frame to your own specification or to our calculation of just whats needed - no odd-looking saddle positions or handlebar stems will be required if you aren't a standard fit. Steel frames are easily repaired (crashes are not rare in bike racing after all and after a crash, any damage is usually easy to see, reducing the risk of "surprise failures". Steel frames tend to bend on impact rather than snap (something which has caused injury to one notable top rider). Each of our hand-built bike frames has its own individual character which you won't find with mass produced frames - not only that, but our frames don't usually cost as much.
|So what if carbon fibre bike frames are a little stiffer?
What of the greater "stiffness" claims of the carbon fibre bicycle frame lobby?
||There seems to be a misconception that the small amount of energy it takes to flex a bicycle frame during pedalling is lost. Heres what happens: As you push on the pedal the frame flex builds up (along with flex in other components) up to a maximum deflection roughly mid-stoke when pedal pressure starts to decrease and the frame-flex gradually "unwinds". As the frame is "winding up" the pedal has to be forced further than on a (theoretical) perfectly rigid frame in order to achieve the same amount of rotation of the rear wheel. As energy = work= force X distance it is easy to see that the frame has grabbed a bit of your energy here. However as the frame returns to its original configuration further down the stroke you need to force the pedal less far than on the perfectly rigid frame in order to produce the same rotation at the back wheel. Here the frame is giving back the borrowed energy.
Of course not - even steel is perfectly elastic so a small amount of the borrowed energy will not be returned. But energy loss due to frame and component flex represents only a small percentage of the small percentage of your energy required to induce flex.
Do you remember when the world number one rider used to use a frame made of small diameter aluminium tubing infamous for its flex?
OK, so steel bike frames are slightly heavier than carbon fibre ..
How much will the extra pound you carry on a steel frame slow you down on a hill? Well if the bike + rider weight is, say, 150 lbs then on a steep hill it would take you well over two minutes to loose one second (but how many race organisers have the courage to throw in steep hills?).
What about the "loss of acceleration"? In the first few seconds of a standing start where nearly all your power is going into producing acceleration the extra weight holds you back in the same small way it does on a steep hill, but if you were trying to get from say 25mph to 30 mph in a sprint, your acceleration would be much smaller than during a standing start (due to wind resistance), so any "weight handicap" would be much less significant than when riding up a steep hill.
We conclude that in most events our customers are likely encounter it would need to be a very tight race indeed for frame material to make a difference. Would it have affected the winner of the last 7 Tours - we don't think so.
Having said that, please feel free to order one of our very competitively priced carbon fibre cycle frames - we make more money on that deal.
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