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  1.  
    Just starting to pay attention to materials frames are made of (beyond steel, aluminum, carbon, etc.) and want to have a better understanding of quality levels. For example, what's the difference between reynolds and columbus tubing? What's the difference between columbus zona and colunbus spirit? how does butting effect things? I see these terms all the time but it's so easy to get overwhelmed. Does anyone have any resources they can point me to that break this all down, or does anyone care to give me a bit of a briefer? I JUST bought a bike, but quality of the steel wasn't top of the list for qualifiers but I'd live to be able to make more informed decisions when the time comes around again.

    Thanks!and then the time will come when you add up the numbers
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2015
     
    Overall, material is far less important than build quality. A bike built by a competent framebuilder from rough seamed 1020 steel with appropriate construction will feel better than a bike built from the lightest and most expensive tubeset by a turkey. (whisper me for a list of turkey framebuilders in the Boston area)

    That said, you asked for it - so here are

    My Thoughts On Bicycle Frame Materials Part One: Steel

    Keep in mind I'm not a framebuilder, metallurgist, or materials engineer and thus am not an expert on this stuff. Some of this information may not be 100% accurate.

    Steel is super common and steel bikes are amazingly variable in quality level. Steel is mostly iron alloyed with carbon and other stuff. The good stuff tends to have chromium and molybdenum (hence chrome-moly) in there, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Some chrome-moly steel is labelled as 4130, but 4130 tends to imply lower quality generic tubing rather than a brand-name, quality-controlled product. Many of the higher-end steel alloys are different enough that they can't be called 4130, and I'm pretty sure that Columbus and Reynolds' most expensive tubing has no molybdenum content and can't be called chrome-moly. Each tubeset is a proprietary alloy that has some specific balance of strength, stiffness, weight, and workability. "Strength" has a number of metrics involved with measuring it (tensile and torsional strength, ductility, hardness, fatigue limit, dent resistance) that I don't fully grasp because I took drugs and had sex at college and dropped out after one semester. But for simplicity's sake, the label strength is good enough.

    There are three major manufacturers of high quality steel tubing that I'm somewhat familiar with: Reynolds, True Temper, and Columbus. Over the years they have all produced dozens of unique tube models each, but they tend to have only a few standard steel tubes on the roster at a time. For Reynolds (their better tubing is made in the UK) the common ones are 520, 631, 853, and 953. True Temper (US-made) is Verus, OX Platinum, and S3. Columbus (Italian-made) is Zona, Life, Spirit, and XCr. There are plenty of other manufacturers out there (Kasei, Tange, Nova to name a few) but I'm not too familiar with their lines and they don't have the same gravitas as Reynolds and Columbus. True Temper is essentially a US-only product and while it's considered to be as good as the big boys here I think that it's not widely known overseas.

    There are dozens of varieties of each and other specialty types available from each manufacturer. This information is really only relevant to a framebuilder, there are different lengths, wall thicknesses, and diameters that they choose from to cater the frame to a specific application, a downtube will be more stout than a top tube, etc. Outside of an attentive custom builder giving you the crib sheet for your bike, no stock bike will say "the downtube is OX Platinum 08, the top tube is OX Platinum 03, etc" they will say it's OX Platinum.

    Here are some generalizations of the three tube manufacturers. Please keep in mind that any differences in feel between modern high-quality tubes are going to be incredibly small and if a builder made you three identical bikes from S3, Spirit, and 853 you'd likely not be able to feel any difference.

    Reynolds - tends to be stronger and slightly heavier than Columbus and TT. Their tubing heirarchy is easy to understand, the larger the three digit number, the stronger the material. Stronger materials often mean you can use thinner tubes and save weight, but not always. 520 is a poop tube that they put their name on to make money but don't actually manufacture. 631 is their standard "good quality" tubeset with the same composition as 853 but using a simpler and cheaper manufacturing process. 953 is their high-end stainless tubeset. Stainless is very difficult to work with and is reserved for top-notch framebuilders.

    Columbus - tends to be lighter and slightly weaker than Reynolds and TT. Zona is their basic "good quality" tubing, Spirit and Life are the same? I don't know, everyone refers to them pretty much interchangeably, but there's probably some small difference. They're thin-walled and lighter than Zona. Careful clamping Life and Spirit bikes in a repair stand! They can be easily crushed. XCr is their stainless offering. I've never seen an XCr bike but I know Firefly has made them.

    True Temper - They've got a Columbus-style lightweight tube and a Reynolds-style tough tube. Has the advantage of being completely fabricated domestically. The Verus is the entry level tubeset. OX Platinum is their stronger and heavier "good quality" tubeset. S3 is their lightweight, maybe the lightest of all the above. S3 tubes are even more prone to crushing than Spirit/Life. Do not take these bikes to be repaired by turkey mechanics who use Park Tool repair stand clamps. (whisper me for a list of turkey mechanics in the Boston area)

    All the good tubes are going to be butted somehow - this you will actually feel vs. straight gauge steel. Butted tubes concentrate more material where heat deformation from welding and brazing would damage thinner materials, at the joints. Non-butted tubes are the same wall thickness throughout. Because straight gauge steel must be thick enough to accommodate the heat of welding they are too thick in the center to make a lightweight frame or provide a supple ride. Part of the appeal of steel is its "lively" feel, which is due in part to movement within the tubes. You want some elastic deformation to absorb the road vibrations.

    Another consideration people care about is construction. Build methods are important but are less important than the care and craftsmanship that go into a frame. If one chainstay is 3mm longer than the other and the headtube is off center, what difference does it make if the bike is soldered, brazed, or welded? But here's a rundown of the three common ways to build.

    Lugs - Looks great and is harder to fuck up than the rest. Classic appeal. Heaviest but slightly strongest in a crash because of all the extra material at the joints. Lugs offer fewer angle/size options so lugged bikes, unless unique lugs are cast, must be built in common sizes. Takes the longest to do a good job (polishing lugs and prepping tubes, getting the right capillary action, cleaning shorelines) but the shortest to do a bad job - the bike practically miters itself!

    Fillet Brazing - Super clean futuristic look. Medium in terms of time and weight. Like with lugged frames you may need to use a tubeset with longer butts (heavier) to prevent heat distortion in the thinwall sections.

    TIG Welding - Most common now, can be done very poorly in the case of department stores or very well. Less of a classic feel, but you didn't buy a new bike for a classic feel anyway. Lightest steel construction technique. Can be made in any shape and size. My preference.

    All are good options if done right. Again it's not the construction type or the materials but the design and quality of manufacturing. And please don't be fooled into thinking that bikes produced in Taiwan are necessarily low quality.

    All bikes built in eastern factories are not equal, even in the same factory. Taiwanese fabricators are in my opinion about as good as it gets but they adhere to whatever quality standards the bike company requests. If the bike company asks for alignment tolerances to .001" and wall thickness tolerance to .0005" then they will take longer and make a better product than if tolerance requests are .020". They're doing this all day and have jigging equipment set up to repeat precise and accurate cuts and joints. If they produce 500 seat tubes that are 56.00mm and use the same miters the statistical likelihood of getting yours spot on is high. Quality control, both at the factory and at the western warehouse, weeds out the bad product anyway. But if your custom framebuilder decides that based on your measurement that you need a one-off 55.83mm seat tube what are the chances that they'll get it right? If they paint it a bright color will you even notice?

    Factories don't do any design work, branding, customer service, or engineering, they do pure manufacturing. A framebuilder that has to do all that stuff AND builds the frames usually has a weakness somewhere. In bikes we often hear the "fast, cheap, or strong - choose two" trope. I have a good one for framebuilders too - "brand image, design, fabrication - choose two or fewer." Though maybe a few exceptions could be made, in these cases the price is very high. Obviously framebuilders are required for a decent bike if you're outside the bell curve in size or requirements (see Nandy) but should be chosen with care and not considered inherently better than stock bikes. This is less true with steel than with other materials and you can get away with more error in a steel bike.

    Of course supporting local economy is important, but when you want a good bottle opener you shouldn't reach for the one I lovingly hand machined in South Boston. Yes, it, as well as some other local products, has character and was made locally, but like the other local products it's a functional piece of shit that looks cute.
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2015
     
    stay tuned for aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2015
     
    also the Reynolds website is a .biz domain and their parts list is written in comic sans http://reynoldstechnology.biz/assets/pdf/rtl_2010_parts_list.pdf
    •  
      CommentAuthorpocky
    • CommentTimeJan 31st 2015
     
    Alex, that was a tour de force. Thank you for doing your part to enhance the Internet's collective bicycle knowledge. I can't wait for parts 2, 3, and 4.::lols at Dan's great photoshopping job:: ::slowly stops laughing:: ::googles:: ::kills self:: -tinyhonkshus
    • CommentAuthorryan t
    • CommentTimeFeb 2nd 2015
     
    It should probably be noted that if you come across obsolete tube sets on vintage bikes, there's a good chance they bear little resemblance to the companies' current offerings. For instance my bike made out of Columbus SP is pretty much the most bomb proof thing you can imagine, or at least I don't have to worry about crunching the seat tube in a bike stand.
    •  
      CommentAuthorNandy
    • CommentTimeFeb 2nd 2015
     
    Here is a pretty neat page on Tange and Ishiwata history."life is hard, cats are soft." - surprisefries
    •  
      CommentAuthorNuggetross
    • CommentTimeFeb 2nd 2015
     
    TANGE TANGE TANGE

    which is cooler: custom bike problems or pewp tubes?
    •  
      CommentAuthorNandy
    • CommentTimeFeb 2nd 2015
     
    rock dathe:...There are plenty of other manufacturers out there (Kasei, Tange, Nova to name a few) but I'm not too familiar with their lines...
    "life is hard, cats are soft." - surprisefries
  2.  
    Alex thank you so much! This is super helpful. Sometime I may take you up on that part 2 on Aluminum heheheheheand then the time will come when you add up the numbers
  3.  
    True Temper has always had a special place in my heart for some reason. Maybe the USA reason.

    True or false:

    True Temper is the only rolled steel tubing (like, uh seamed) used for bicycles?You said time was infinite, so why the watch wrapped around your wrist?
  4.  
    paul jameson:True Temper has always had a special place in my heart for some reason. Maybe the USA reason.

    True or false:

    True Temper is the only rolled steel tubing (like, uh seamed) used for bicycles?


    Can't answer this, and sorry if I'm forgetting something Alex touched on in his post, but what is the main difference between seamed and seamless tubing? Aside from what I can infer, which is that seamless tubing is one uniform piece that was cast? machined? that way whereas seamed tubing was rolled into shape and set? bonded? eh??and then the time will come when you add up the numbers
    •  
      CommentAuthorNandy
    • CommentTimeFeb 2nd 2015
     
    Tange Infinity is rolled. NO ONE READ MY LINK, geez."life is hard, cats are soft." - surprisefries
    • CommentAuthordavidvanchu
    • CommentTimeFeb 2nd 2015 edited
     
    Look uses Tange Infinity seamed tubing on their AC 364 "Fixe", so yes.

    Edit: One minute too late :(
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeFeb 2nd 2015
     
    Much of Reynolds' product is seamed including 953. Lots of tubing is seamed and high quality rolled tubing (seamed) is generally as good as drawn tubing (seamless).

    Seamed tubing starts life as a sheet and is rolled into a tube and welded. The weld is then physically and thermally manipulated until it is uniform. Seamless is drawn into a tube shape. Seamless sounds fancier and that word is used as a selling point but there's no quality difference if things are done well, everything else being equal. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference looking at them.

    Keep in mind this info is for steel only. More info later
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeFeb 3rd 2015
     
    To clarify, seamless tubing is manufactured by forcing hot raw material through a die and piercing mandrel until it's hollow. Drawing isn't the best description for this.
    •  
      CommentAuthorpocky
    • CommentTimeFeb 3rd 2015 edited
     
    paul jameson:True Temper has always had a special place in my heart for some reason. Maybe the USA reason.

    No. It's because of The Thunder Chicken.
    ::lols at Dan's great photoshopping job:: ::slowly stops laughing:: ::googles:: ::kills self:: -tinyhonkshus
    • CommentAuthortheboy
    • CommentTimeFeb 3rd 2015
     
    Different metals have different properties (ie Titanium has a lower density than steel, making the same volume of tubing lighter, hella) Builders choose the best material for their application (Oftentimes they use a mix of different tube sets on one frame), and this is why they are professionals.

    What's the difference between X and Y tubing?
    Do some binging around, you can find manufacturer specs, and maybe an info graphic, for some tubes your interested in. For example:

    If your interested in knowing

    How does butting effect things?
    Basically, material is there where it needs to be, and not where it doesn't. TIG and Filet brazing need thicker tubing, as its not reinforced by lugs. Butting can help reduce weight. Let the local pros explain.

    This forum contains an endless knowledge bank, here is a thread on aluminum specifically: Velocipede Salon

    A supplier of True Temper with some cool info and technical drawings: Henry James

    And this guy always has some knowledge to drop on ya: Sheldon Brown

    Heres some insight into the process at the local crabon bros factory: feckin pahlee dood
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeFeb 3rd 2015
     
    That cutesy thunder chicken horseshit and Henry James' new graphics makes me like true temper way less
    • CommentAuthorryan t
    • CommentTimeFeb 3rd 2015 edited
     
    The bike that Hampsten rode was actually made of Tange, but frame builder John Slawta put a True Temper sticker on it because he's crazy like that.
  5.  
    theboy:Different metals have different properties (ie Titanium has a lower density than steel, making the same volume of tubing lighter, hella) Builders choose the best material for their application (Oftentimes they use a mix of different tube sets on one frame), and this is why they are professionals.


    Thank you v much. So, backing up a bit to some basics, and I'm sure this is stuff I can find v quickly on the internet but while we're all having fun drinking coffee talking bikes, what is the difference in different strength metrics (i.e. tensil strength), like what does that say about the frame? I know you can't just say this reynolds tubing is stronger than this columbus tubing, because as that chart indicates there are specific measurements to determine this things- ELI5 what those different measurements mean in the real world.and then the time will come when you add up the numbers
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeFeb 4th 2015
     
    theboy:Different metals have different properties (ie Titanium has a lower density than steel, making the same volume of tubing lighter, hella) Builders choose the best material for their application (Oftentimes they use a mix of different tube sets on one frame), and this is why they are professionals.
    First off, this doesn't tell the whole story. Styrofoam and lithium metal have lower densities than steel too but the idea behind Ti or Al used as a frame material is that they have similar strength to steel at a lower density. Aluminum has a density 1/3 that of steel, but Al frames are not 1/3 the weight of steel frames because of other strength issues that aluminum has.
    I'm sure this wasn't implied but to clarify, builders don't make a single frame out of a mix of steel and ti, or a mix of aluminum and steel, etc. Yes they'll use different types of steel, and in some cases different titanium alloys in the same frame.

    Basically, material is there where it needs to be, and not where it doesn't. TIG and Filet brazing need thicker tubing, as its not reinforced by lugs. Butting can help reduce weight. Let the local pros explain.
    Second, this is not quite right. Yes TIGing creates more heat deformation than brazing and soldering but the butts on modern tubesets can handle all 3 in the hands of a skilled builder. For using lugs, however, a tube with a longer butted section (which is heavier) is required because the heat affected zone (site of the brazing) is larger with lugs.

    gastronomin:ELI5 what those different measurements mean in the real world.
    Very little to the rider or consumer. This chart is just stainless tubes by the way and stainless is such a small part of the steel market that you'll likely not have any contact with it. Yield strength is how far your front wheel can move backward after you hit a telephone pole when drunk before the downtube deforms slightly. Ultimate tensile strength is how far it can move before it completely fails. Hardness is how much a turkey mechanic has to clamp the frame before it crushes in the repair stand. And elongation and stiffness? I was going to make a joke but elongation is whether a bike will crack or bend and stiffness is how much force can be applied before something bends. Tube manufacturers take all this into account during conception and production. All those tubes will feel the same, except you'll feel real cool riding an XCr bike knowing that you spent more money than the chump riding 931. The measurable difference is that the stronger tubes can be drawn to be thinner and lighter and frames made from them will weigh less.
  6.  
    So what I've kind of been gathering from a lot of this is ultimately, at least for the kind of riding I'm doing, most people who don't race are doing, the differences between these tubesets is almost a non-factor? It doesnt matter if I ride 931 or XCr, reynolds or tange or columbus? But I feel like there must be a noticeable difference between my Steamroller, made from 4130, and a steezy track bike made with some columbus or reynolds tubing, in terms of ride quality, handling, some noticeable way- no?and then the time will come when you add up the numbers
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeFeb 4th 2015
     
    Just like with other components, you're going to get a similar product across price lines. All else being equal S3, Life and Tange Ultimate frames will all be very similar. XCr and 953 are similar. Surly 4130 and 520 are similar. Spirit and straight gauge Tange Champion are different enough to notice.
    •  
      CommentAuthorpocky
    • CommentTimeFeb 4th 2015
     
    rock dathe: I'm sure this wasn't implied but to clarify, builders don't make a single frame out of a mix of steel and ti, or a mix of aluminum and steel, etc. Yes they'll use different types of steel, and in some cases different titanium alloys in the same frame.

    Crabon bonded to a metal is the exception to this rule.
    ::lols at Dan's great photoshopping job:: ::slowly stops laughing:: ::googles:: ::kills self:: -tinyhonkshus
  7.  
    Doesn't firefly also make an Ti-Carbon bike? Titanium lugs and dropouts, headtube, etc. with carbon tubing?and then the time will come when you add up the numbers
    •  
      CommentAuthorNuggetross
    • CommentTimeFeb 5th 2015
     
    i lugged your mom's carbon tubes last night.
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeFeb 5th 2015
     
    yeah you can bond carbon to any frame material i know of, but no welding unlike materials
  8.  
    So what is the "bonding" process if you can't weld carbon?and then the time will come when you add up the numbers
    • CommentAuthorryan t
    • CommentTimeFeb 5th 2015
     
    They put glue on it and fit it together.
    • CommentAuthorryan t
    • CommentTimeFeb 5th 2015 edited
     
    It might be slightly more involved than that, but from what I understand, bonding is a cold process. Although rarely done, steel can also be bonded together, like with this Raleigh Technium made out of Reynolds 753 with aluminum lugs.
     photo attachment_zps9e18ff89.jpg
    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeFeb 5th 2015
     
    I have experience with one Al bonding process and it is done cold.

    Also noteworthy are old Al frames that are "mushroom wedged" and not welded or bonded like the silver king hextube

    •  
      CommentAuthorrock dathe
    • CommentTimeFeb 5th 2015
     
    Also I'll write an aluminum primer today or tmr
    •  
      CommentAuthorpocky
    • CommentTimeFeb 5th 2015 edited
     
    The bonded Techniums were themally bonded into the lugs with epoxy that required heat activation. Here's a reasonably detailed explanation about a Technium where the top tube, down tube, and seat tube were 6061-T8 aluminum tubing epoxied to the lugged cro-moly head tube, bottom bracket and stays. Make sure you read to the bottom for the Picasso-esque picture of the bike after it had been hit by a car and was all twisted, but none of the thermally-bonded joints failed!



    I believe all frames with carbon/anything bonds (you can buy carbon/steel, carbon/aluminum, or carbon/titanium bonded frames) or bamboo/anything bonds always need to be a cold-set epoxy -- just regular two-part epoxy like you get at a hardware store -- because a heat-set epoxy would damage the carbon/bamboo. You can do this yourself at home. Here, build yourself a bamboo-carbon fatbike:

    ::lols at Dan's great photoshopping job:: ::slowly stops laughing:: ::googles:: ::kills self:: -tinyhonkshus
    •  
      CommentAuthorNuggetross
    • CommentTimeFeb 12th 2015
     
    STILL WAITING