The Great Frame Debate

As a cyclist, I get asked 3 questions all the time

Why do you shave your legs?
Smooth legs feel good in jeans!
Do you ride Seattle to Portland?
No, I spend my weekends racing my bike.
What frame material is the best?
They all have the strengths, let’s have coffee and discuss.

A reader recently sent us a story from composite world on Cannondale’s manufacturing process for their Six13 and a there’s that question again, “what frame is best” Is is the carbaluminum?

Well no. All frames have their unique qualities and depending on what you’re after (touring, racing, blowing all your disposable income), pick a material and either buy one or have it built. During the coffee discussion, I break it down like this: steel is the best, but heavy and requires paint; aluminum works well for mountain bikes cause they got suspension; I ride titanium for my rain and touring bike; carbon is the best all-around racing bike.

What I don’t agree with is slapping a carbon rear triangle on an aluminum frame so it doesn’t beat the crap out of you (or vice versa with a rear aluminum triangle and carbon front). Just buy a nice carbon frame and skip the aluminum unless you’re racing the Iron Man. Granted, marketing 101, is differentiation and “tuning” a carbon/ti bike with specific tubes is some good marketing, you could also spend that money on a great riding Rivendell, Time, Trek, or Litespeed.

What frame material do you recommend or would argue is best?


This article about metallurgy for the cyclist is probably the best primer I’ve read.  Sheldon Brown also has a shorter breakdown written more towards the tourist / adventure cyclist.

I personally am a fan of steel, because it’s relatively cheap and easily repairable.  Plus, it doesn’t have to be heavy - check out the sub 15lb Trillium that R+E put together sometime.  It’s ridiculous.  Of course, for $8000+, it’s alot more desirable for me to lose five or ten pounds of junk off my body and buy a stack of new bikes…

well obviously it’s pbr cans that are the preferred material.

honestly, only a simple minded plebian would anything else.  have a little pride, you can do much better than that madone.

PBR is nearly as good as the bamboo frame! And I def agree on Steel—I owned steel for years until I got a ti-frame and loved not having paint and who cares if it gets scratched. Considering the Madone, for a production carbon (and there’s no shortage of those), it’s a great ride. At least with Trek, they’re innovating stateside and it’s not the same factory everyone else is spec’ing, but I hear it and think it bodes well for niche builders.

I love my Trek Madone, but I quietly yearn for a custom made steel frame with S&S couplers.  Someday.

That or a travel bike like Mark’s which I give lots of due props—there’s something to be said about the minimalism of a fixie while traveling. I’ll travel with a folding bike to Beijing for the convience and report on how that works.

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