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By Andy Wallen, of Ask the Mechanic
This excerpt from our Winter '99 Ask the Mechanic column is especially pertinent to all die hard bikers who can't hang up the ole two-wheeler during those sloppy and slushy winters so common to the Northern and Border States of our Union.
Will road salt effect my aluminum frame, especially where the paint is rubbed off?
My educated guess is that since salt is a corrosive, and since aluminum does "rust" (you can say that it oxidizes or some other euphemism, but, in truth, it rots, just like anything else), then any corrosive will accelerate the rusting action. This is not as obvious as what happens to your '73 Pinto after a few Northern WV winters, but is probably somewhat dangerous in a sneaky sort of way.
Many factors contribute to the breakdown of an aluminum frame. Any one of these factors, and I would include corrosion, could cause an imperceptible crack to develop. Cyclical fatigue can turn these little cracks into catastrophic failures rather quickly. My rule, which everyone is too cheap to follow, is to replace aluminum ATB frames every five years, and road frames every eight. If either was crashed, regardless of the lack of any apparent damage, replace it. If your paint is bubbling up because of corrosion, I would replace the frame rather than risk death or injury.
PS: On the sales floor, we are often hit with the concept that "Joe the Know-It-All Mountain Biker"--who rode in a race once--said to buy an aluminum frame because it won't rust and will therefore outlast steel. While it is true that the type of breakdown that generally occurs in a 20-year-old, abused steel frame is not as obvious in aluminum, aluminum is prone to cyclical failures, corrosion, and once bent it should never be straightened. It is also the most popular frame material on the planet (and The Backstreet Boys is the most popular singing group in America, and Bill Clinton is the most popular president since George Washington).
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