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Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home Bits 'n Bolts from the Fall '02 Ask the Mechanic Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home 

By Andy "The Mechanic" Wallen

We borrow two noteworthy Q&A's from our resident handyman/advisor's most recent Ask the Mechanic column. Each has the "frame" at its hub.

1) Aluminum, Steel, Chromo, Titanium, Carbon - Which Road Bike To Buy?!

Andy,

It's time for a new bike. How do I go about sifting through all of the materials about compact vs. standard, fiber or chromo this, alum that, TIG this, brazed that, multi-shape this, over-sized that? You get the picture.

How do I decide if a $1200 frame is better than a $600 frame? Is it always you get what you pay for?

Is there a significant difference in frame and components selection if riding 1500-2000 miles a season?  Obviously I want it to last.

Tom

Tom,

If I knew what to buy, then I wouldn't have all this left over crap cluttering up my store!

"Bisickling" rag is a fountain of disinformation, or maybe that should be misinformation. The truth of the matter is, most manufacturers are using aluminum almost exclusively. If you spend enough on an alu frame, it'll be as light as possible. It may last your 2,000 mile season, if you are light and don't abuse it, and it'll have a 1-year warranty, and cost of over $1,500. These would be your Starship, Altec 2, etc. frames form Cinelli, Colnago, etc. The quality of that aluminum contrasts greatly from the total crap used by most manufacturers--Derby, Fuji, Pacific, etc. (so-called 7005 alloy)--that is so cheap. They should give it away. But the former is heavier than a good steel frame and has the ride quality reminiscent of the old penny farthings, a.k.a. boneshakers. In between is the stuff made by Trek and Cannondale--reasonably priced, reasonably light, durable to a point, even guaranteed for life. The ride quality of these 6000 alu frames is better than the 7005s, but it is pretty unforgiving. I only recommend these frames to bigger (both taller and heavier) guys, or to younger riders who don't care so much about ride quality. 

My opinion is that for the money spent, most people are better off with high quality steel. This opinion is not shared by many; however, it is a fact that people ride 30-year-old steel frames every day and enjoy it. A good quality steel frame will be almost as light as alu, will out last it, and will be comfortable on an all day ride. It will be half the cost of titanium, (not counting chi-com-prison-labor made ti, like Airbornes) and should last nearly as long. If you buy a steel frame, you will lose in weeny points, but you'll be happy with your investment.

I have some issues with ti. Without going into details and opinions, it is either cheap and crappy (Airborne), or it is too expensive to be worth the money to most consumers. Buy a Lightspeed, Merlin, Seven, or Lemond if you have no price restraints; otherwise, look at something else. 

I ride a carbon bike, and I love it. I know that it will not last as long as steel or ti, but I don't care. A good carbon frame can have all the positive attributes of all the other materials, without most of the negative attributes. My bike has survived a few crashes without breaking, most recently 40 mph into a large deer, so it is more durable than ignorant people would have you believe. Carbon is relatively expensive, but anything worth buying is.

Don't buy mail order, and insist on test riding several bikes. If you think the guy at the shop is an idiot, you're probably right, so go somewhere else, somewhere with a reputation. Buy a frame, not components. You can get a crappy Raleigh for almost nothing, spec'd miles ahead of anything else, but you are paying for components, and getting a giveaway cheap frame.
My picks for under $3,000 include the Calfee Luna (built to order for $1,200, no fork), Trek OCLV (5200, 5500, etc.), Lemond 853 bikes (namely the Zurich) several Torelli bikes and framesets (your best buy in good steel), and, if you must have aluminum, Cannondale has a whole pile of bikes from $800 and up, but I'd buy a Klein.

Andy

2) Another Road Bike Question: How Do I Build Up a Frame Into a Compete Bike?

Andy,

I am wanting to build a road bike from the frame up. Just to have done it. Any recommendations on getting started? Not sure what brand of parts to use where; and what is compatible with other parts. 

I have my eye on an unpainted Columbus Chromoly frame for starters.

Thanks,
Steve

Steve,

For best results, you should buy a complete gruppo, or kit. A gruppo is all the Shimano or Campagnolo (Campy) parts you'll need to build the bike, except rims, spokes, tires, bars, stem, tape, other details. A kit has everything but the frame. You can mix and match most Shimano parts, but parts of the same quality seem to work better together. If you use Campy stuff, you can run into some compatibility issues when you mix groups. All Shimano 9-speed stuff works with other 9-speed stuff. If you get older 8-speed Shimano stuff, it all works pretty much together except for Dura Ace, which should only be used with other Dura Ace stuff of the same vintage. You can buy some stuff, cranks and wheels, for example, that are not made by the Big Two, but can be compatible with either one. Make sure if you buy third party rear wheels or hubs that they are compatible with the brand of drivetrain parts you are using. You're going to have a minimum of $600 in parts, and probably much more. 

Andy

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