Frames Going Soft?

Frames Going Soft?

When talking to older cyclists and builders, you sometimes hear that old frames lose their stiffness. This apparently manifests itself in reduced performance – the “snap” is gone from the acceleration when you step on the pedals. On the upside, the bike is said to become more comfortable as the frame gets softer.
Does this really happen? Has the 1957 MacLean in the photo above turned from a sprightly roadburner into a sofa on two wheels? For bikes made from metal, the answer appears to be “No.” Metals do not change their elasticity, no matter how often you flex them, until they reach the point where they break. My 38-year-old Alex Singer has been ridden for 120,000+ miles, yet it should be as stiff today as it was when it was new. So how did the belief that frames “go soft” come into being?
There is the well-known phenomenon that a new bike feels faster. And the rider is more likely to blame their lack of training for a disappointing performance than the new bike they just bought. Once the rider no longer is in love with their new bike, they are more likely to blame the bike, rather than their lack of fitness. It’s easy to see how an old frame could be “starting to go soft” when the owner lusts after a new and shiny machine.
Psychologists also know that people are more likely to experience something if they are told that they will experience it. That brings up an interesting point: Frames “going soft” appear to have been mostly a British and American phenomenon (the two cycling cultures have been closely linked for decades). In France, frames apparently do not “go soft,” but instead are considered essentially eternal. It was common to ride a frame for decades, and then invest significant money into updating it, without worrying that the frame somehow might have lost its performance over time.

The Alex Singer above was built in 1954 with Nivex derailleurs and Alex Singer brakes. After riding it for more than 20 years, including Paris-Brest-Paris and many other strenuous rides, the owner had it refinished during the late 1970s. Braze-ons were removed and others added, and the bike now sports Mafac centerpulls instead of the original Alex Singer cam-actuated brakes and Huret Jubilee derailleurs instead of the original Nivex. The rack was modified for a new headlight and to fit around the Mafac brake arms. Rechroming and repainting completed the renovation, which must have been a considerable investment into a 20-year-old frame. Clearly, the owner had few worries about the frame “going soft.” For him, the bike was as good as new again. It still rides wonderfully today.
What about the old bikes becoming more comfortable as the frame softens with age? I suspect there is a simple explanation: As the rider rides the bike, they adjust the bike to their body, and their body adjusts to the bike, until they obtain that magic “fits like a well-worn glove” feel. So that part of the observation may be real, but the explanation is not that the frame is getting more flexible.
At Bicycle Quarterly, we have learned a lot from the past. If we examine cycling lore carefully, we can learn great lessons of how to make better bikes without getting sidetracked in blind alleys.
Photo credit: Elton Pope-Lance (1957 MacLean).
Postscript: Carbon-fiber components actually do get softer with use. As the component flexes, the internal fibers break free of the surrounding resin and delaminate invisibly. When TOUR magazine tested carbon forks, they found that after 100,000 test cycles, some forks had lost a significant amount of their stiffness. Today, the European Union standards for fatigue resistance specify how much stiffness a carbon component may lose over the test cycle.

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Comments (43)

  • Mateo Scoggins

    Great post. Something I have always heard and wondered about, but never worried about. I think the carbon wear phenomenon is intuitive, but what about aluminum? You said “metal” frames, so I assume you are including aluminum in your general dismissal of softening. However, I have heard of aluminum developing micro-cracks, and generally not aging well. Also, in the baseball world, there is a persistent rumor that aluminum bats soften, and lose their “punch” after a couple seasons. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated…
    Mateo Scoggins
    Austin, TX

    March 15, 2012 at 9:12 am
    • RJ

      Aluminum alloys are much more complicated than many people appreciate. When used in a bicycle frame, and properly processed, there is likely little change that the typical rider would notice. In a baseball bat the loads are quite different, to say the least, and it would be difficult for me to speculate what happens to the material over time in that use.
      The link below is an interesting primer to aluminum alloys and their tempering processes. It’s not difficult to see where improper alloy selection or processing could lead to poor performance or premature failure. Conversely, proper material selection and processing should result in a very stable final condition. As always, the difference is in the details.

      March 17, 2012 at 7:48 pm
  • Erik

    Your statement that metals don’t change over time is quite remarkable:there are several processes that are possible in metallic grids when a variable force is applied. Clearly corrosion is important, in all metals there is fatigue (in some alloys it might be virtually endless before the fatigue limit is reached, but it is there so the properties of construction change). Furthermore there is always some crack propagation when a heavy impact happens: in normal carbonated steel, cracks are stopped at irregularities in the metal grid due to the presence of carbon particles, but heavy impacts may break this stopping process and the microcrack might jump to the next stopping point.
    Good quality steel, used in a frame where care is given to all spots with tension concentrations and which has allways been protected from corrosion, might have a very long life expectancy but it is certainly gonna exhibit some changes. In any other case, the changes may be a lot bigger and might have let to the described softening. It is clear that the old frames that still exist today are not the ones that failed in the past.

    March 15, 2012 at 9:44 am
    • Greg

      No matter how much someone abuses / mistreats / ignores a lugged steel bicycle frameset (short of crashing it into a crumpled mess, obviously), it isn’t going to experience any significant changes in torsional rigidity or ‘stiffness’ due to said mistreatment over just the first couple years of its life, but the racer-boys (or so we were told) used to think that their lugged steel framesets were ‘softer’ after a season or two. Complete nonsense.

      March 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm
  • Skip Montanaro

    My guess is that “softer suspension” on the rider’s back-end and loss of “snap” in the rider’s legs more likely explains the phenomenon. At least by some objective measures (lighter weight, less rotational mass) new technology will often put the old technology at a disadvantage.
    Skip Montanaro
    Evanston, IL

    March 15, 2012 at 9:44 am
  • Doug in Seattle

    I am curious how “100,000 test cycles” would translate to real world riding. 100,000 big bumps? 100,000 minutes on the road? Also, do you know if a less stiff carbon fork is also a less safe carbon fork? I don’t use carbon myself, but I also don’t subscribe to Grant Peterson’s carbon apoplexia.
    I would love to use a frame for decades, but all the older steel frames I’ve ridden for any length at all have failed in a similar fashion: the bottom bracket shell cracks all the way around where the seat tube is brazed. Three frames so far. While I am not a small rider (200 lb.), this seems excessive. My best guess is that it’s poor construction quality, as all three were mass produced in Japan in the early to mid 1980s. One was a Bridgestone, the other a Japanese Bianchi, and the third a Panasonic-built Schwinn.

    March 15, 2012 at 10:01 am
    • Greg

      My experience over decades has been that a few folks break parts regularly (frames, crank arms, dropouts, handlebars, hub axles, you name it) but that the vast majority of riders never experience a component failure. It doesn’t seem to be an issue of rider weight, more one of force input type/style, in some not-easily-quantifiable way.
      Most lugged steel bicycle frames and forks will last 50-100 years, sometimes longer, assuming proper assembly methods (but certainly, an overcooked BB area can cause an HAZ failure later – yours may or may not have been that type of failure(s)). Can you be more specific about “any length of time?” Years/miles? Have you ever experienced component failures?

      March 15, 2012 at 12:24 pm
      • Alex Merz

        ” It doesn’t seem to be an issue of rider weight, more one of force input type/style, in some not-easily-quantifiable way.”
        The null hypothesis is that failures are, just as one might expect, stochastic. The appearance of “runs” of failure (or not) for different riders is more than likely due to the human tendancy to see “hot” and “cold” streaks where they don’t actually exist. This is will understood in baseball, for example, where it can be shown that “hot” and “cold” hitting streaks cleanly follow Poisson statistics, and where statistical evidence for “streaks” and “slumps” is essentially nonexistent.
        So it probably is with component failure and “force input type/style.”

        March 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm
      • Doug in Seattle

        I rode the RB-1 for about a year and half, most of the miles a 20 mile daily commute that was totally flat. When I moved to Seattle my commute got a lot hillier. It cracked within three months of moving here.
        The Bianchi lasted a lot longer, mostly because the RB-1 replaced it for a year and a half. Excluding the down time, I think I rode that one for about two years, again a lot of low-intensity commuting. When I moved to Seattle my commute was hillier and I started taking it on a lot more longer rides in the very bumpy Puget lowlands.
        The Panasonic lasted less than a year, Sep-June. I did put that one through hell, though: I put my CETMA on it and regularly carried loads of 20-40 lbs. Not sure how that’d bust the bottom bracket, but you never know.
        I emailed Grant Peterson about the RB-1 just to see what he thought. He said that the Bstone factories often didn’t braze the bottom brackets enough, which allowed the seat-tube to flex and move independently of the other tubes, eventually breaking free.
        I also broke my Jamis Aurora camping bike frame. The right rear dropout snapped while coasting down as sharp curve. I had R+E put a new one in, bought a Surly LHT for camping and am currently using the Aurora as my commuting/CETMA bike.
        A few years ago I did snap a crank. It was an old SR Campy knockoff, with the groovy in the crank arm. The drive side cracked at the end of the groove by the pedal eye. I could see that it had been cracking for quite a while, as half of the break was dark colored and half was nice and shiny.
        I should also mention that I am big and have a tendency to ride my bikes pretty hard. Not sprinter/bike racer hard, but I have giant legs and push hard.

        March 15, 2012 at 2:00 pm
  • Oreste Drapaca

    Great post indeed. Another factor to consider is the the fatigue cycle of metals – critical in the aviation industry, what with all those transitions through vastly different altitudes and pressures. The micro-cracks in aluminium alloys are, alas, well documented [see the crashes that afflicted the British de Havilland Comet with square windows]. Another factor is the limit of elasticity – beyond which the material deforms in a plastic manner [does not return to the original shape] or breaks; I think steel has better numbers than aluminium and carbon, possibly, and not sure where titanium stands. Of course, not all steel alloys have identical properties. Finally, sustained use of pieces of steel differs with each piece – the spring of a vehicle, strained daily, reaches the fatigue limit sooner than a bicycle frame, which flexes little in comparison to a spring.

    March 15, 2012 at 10:25 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      There is no doubt that metals can crack. Anybody who has seen classic Campagnolo cranks crack at the stress riser on the spider knows about this. However, my understanding is that until they crack, their elasticity does not change significantly.

      March 15, 2012 at 10:51 am
      • Erik

        Their elasticity does not change on a microscopic level: the metallic grid is unchanged thus has the same properties. It is clear the global elasticity of a crank which is 50% cracked is different. When you try to bend it in the direction of the crack, the crack is under pressure and the other part is under tension: you will not measure a difference. If you bend it in the other direction, the cracked part can not function under tension and you will measure a bigger displacement.
        Under vertical load the global elasticity changes as well, however the crack has only a very small “height”, so while the elongation in that part may be two or tree times bigger, it will be almost unmeasurable.

        March 19, 2012 at 2:55 am
  • Eric Norris

    I totally agree. I have several “old” bicycles (1972 Cinelli, 1973 Motobecane, etc.) and they all ride wonderfully. I may be getting softer as I age, but the bicycles aren’t.
    Regarding alloy components, my experience has been that they perform perfectly right up to the moment they fail. I had this happen with a set of Nuove Record cranks–the left side crank arm spontaneously broke as I was accelerating from a stop. It hadn’t given any indication of problems before that moment.

    March 15, 2012 at 10:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Often, you can see that the aluminum in part of the crack was polished as one side rubbed against the other. Then you also can see the grainy, rough aluminum. That is the part that failed spontaneously. Unfortunately, it is hard to inspect your bike parts so carefully that you can see these hairline cracks before they lead to a failure. For cranks, I recommend removing them every couple of years and inspecting them carefully.

      March 15, 2012 at 11:02 am
    • Greg

      I think that is true of both aluminum and titanium, which is one big reason why I only ride steel frames and forks, but if you look at the fracture surfaces (of that crank arm, for example), post-failure, you will typically see a dark area and a (small) bright area. The dark area is oxidized, and had been cracked for a long time. The shiny area is what was left, and then eventually failed suddenly (catastrophically…). This is why it is so important to periodically look for hairline cracks in things like aluminum crank arms. I recently replaced the 30-year-old Campagnolo Record arms on my wife’s primary road bike that had about 60,000 miles (or more, I’m just guesstimating) on it. I found no cracks, but just figured thirty years was a pretty good service life for those cranks arms, and why push one’s luck? Plus, the newly-installed NOS ones looked prettier….

      March 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm
      • Erik

        Steel has a fatigue limit which means that under a certain force no fatigue cracking will occur. However if you were to built a bicycle frame that is designed to keep the material under this limit it would be so heavy and bulky that you wouldn’t wont to ride it. So also your steel components can fail due to fatigue, and the fracture surface will look exactly the same. Good thing however is that steel rusts thus showing a brown line where the crack is forming.
        PS: like Jan stated: it is the shiny part that failed over a long time and the dark area where the final fracture appeared.

        March 16, 2012 at 2:24 am
      • msrw

        I think titanium may have a much greater fatigue life than steel–Ti is quite tough and springy. It’s survival rate in crashes is extremely good. The folks who founded Litespeed once told me that the fatigue life for Ti frames is basically infinite.

        March 17, 2012 at 10:01 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          When titanium was relatively new as a frame material in the early 1990s, the “infinite” fatigue life was touted a lot. However, especially for components, titanium doesn’t have a great track record – think bottom bracket spindles. Clearly, those BB spindles did fatigue, sometimes rather quickly.

          March 17, 2012 at 11:04 am
      • msrw

        Ti pedal axles also have questionable reliability.
        I think Ti component failures are because components are produced from 6AL/4V Ti, which is lighter weight, stiffer and more brittle than 3AL/2.5V, which most Ti frames are made from these days.
        3AL/2.5V used to be considered a lower performance Ti than 6AL/4V, but it seems to be a lot more tough. I don’t recall ever hearing about a 3AL/2.5V frame failure.

        March 20, 2012 at 4:38 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The problem with components is that you are dimensionally constrained. Replacing a steel part that was dimensioned appropriately with a titanium part of the same size will at best greatly reduce your factor of safety.
          With frames, you can make the tubes larger and the walls thicker to increase your factor of safety.

          March 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm
  • Bob

    Aluminum has nothing in common with steel other than being a metal.
    It does not normally have much “give” but rather, goes right to failure.
    As to the 100,000 cycles question, a bike will easily have even more more cycles than wheel rotations, but they won’t all be equal, Every crack in the road is a cycle to an extent, but like bumps, some are worse (greater) than others.
    That Jan’s bike has been able to go 120,000 miles is a testament to a bunch of factors but most likely owing to the quality of the steel, and assuming no broken/loose joints, the quality of the joinery.
    I see remarks about having that one bike forever. Life is short, and frankly, while I’m willing to keep one woman for life, that’s about where it ends(lol!)! I have a couple old Paramounts which are a nice trip down memory lane, but frankly, (and YMMV) compared to my Riv w/ SPD and STI etc., they don’t hold a candle. It’s not even close. And compared to my Calfee, or Specialized Roubaix, not even in the same solar system. Variety is the spice of life! get a bike bike, ride it to death (the bicycling equivalent of Keith Richards) and move on! If you can’t or choose not to, your free to do so.

    March 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm
  • Lovely Bicycle!

    Could it also be that the cyclist gains weight as they age, so that a frame that previously felt stiff starts to feel more flexible underneath their heavier body?…

    March 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm
    • freewheel

      Lovely Bicycle, please! Next you’re going to bring up how our skeletons shrink with age and how that affects bike fit…

      March 16, 2012 at 6:48 am
  • shecyclesnairobi

    Interesting insights. I am no bike techie but keen nonetheless. I ride a heavy Triathlon Ironman Pro. Boron Steel frame.

    March 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm
  • GuitarSlinger

    A most excellent article . Perhaps the best yet . Thanks for point blank dispelling the long held , yet utterly ridiculous Myth about steel frames going ‘ Soft ‘ . I’ve known this for decades , but never seem to run out of folks trying to argue in support of the myth . Now I’ll refer them to this ( as I have a multitude of times on your ‘ Who pays for your magazine ‘ ) essay .
    ( on reflection ; the ‘ Who pays for your magazine ‘ essay is still my #1 with this a very close 2nd )
    As to Carbon Fiber , you’re also correct with one additional aspect of CF that Porsche engineers have complained about since the company first built the CF Porsche Carrera GT . That is the ” One Hit and Trash it ” trait . CF has a habit of delaminating between the layers when hit or damaged , hiding said damage until it goes Critical Failure , by then being too late . Not to mention that even the best high tech protective coatings/paints made today do not ultimately protect CF from UV and moisture damage .
    Also I’ve heard , though wouldn’t swear by it , that Titanium does go ‘ soft ‘ over time as well as Aluminum breaking down structurally . Any thoughts on those two Jan ?
    In summation . Buy either a new , well built : or a used , well built and properly maintained frame that fits you : take good care of it yourself and your great grand kids will still be enjoying it 100 years from now

    March 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm
  • Andy

    “What about the old bikes becoming more comfortable as the frame softens with age? I suspect there is a simple explanation: As the rider rides the bike, they adjust the bike to their body, and their body adjusts to the bike, until they obtain that magic ‘fits like a well-worn glove’ feel.”
    In my experience, that happens in months, not years or decades. I had been riding one bike nearly exclusively on up to 160 mile rides last summer, and it felt very comfortable. Then I built up a new steel commuter and rode that through the winter. I tuned up the summer bike again, and it just feels odd, even though nothing about the fit has changed.
    I’m thinking my first century this weekend will need to be on the winter bike even though it’s less efficient, because I just don’t feel quite right on the older bike at the moment. But this happens 2x a year with the seasons changing, and I get used to one bike or another after 100-200 miles of breaking myself in to the bike again.

    March 15, 2012 at 1:30 pm
  • Tom in Iowa

    Just curious if some of the perceived “softness” could be a result of component wear. While the steel of the frame remains structurally unchanged there’s a whole lot of moving parts in a bike that are expected to be consumables over time, and all of them become looser as the bike is ridden.
    I recently experienced a miraculous restoration of “stiffness” in my aluminum Cannondale touring bike with a new headset, bottom bracket and drive train. But with 15,000 miles and about 1/3 of it gravel I wasn’t too surprised.
    Thanks for the great article

    March 15, 2012 at 1:52 pm
  • Bubba

    Completely off the topic of the article, but I’m digging the bike at the top with it’s 3 cable housings from the handlebars to the bike. Two for brakes and one for a 3-speed trigger in the hooks! That’s a ‘mid century’ brifter, almost! Totally love that.

    March 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm
  • GRJim

    This is a question that will never be resolved, but for discussion’s sake factors not discussed in the text are attachment points and rider’s age over lifespan of frame.
    Questions are: what happens at the joint/braze/weld?
    What happens to a person’s body and his perceptual system?
    Nature bats last.

    March 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm
  • Martin

    In practical terms this problem is resolved: Steel frames do not become more flexible over time. Neither does aluminum. Frames can fail over time , but do not (real world) change their elasticity.
    Dutch magazine measures Urs Freuler steel frame when it showed up 10 years later at exact the initial values for BB flex and torsion. German mags measure a lot more than in the US too.

    March 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm
  • jeff

    Does the change over time of bike geometries have any impact on this?
    Dave Moulton states ( that older frames had lower bottom brackets, contributing to more flexible frames vs more modern geometries.

    March 15, 2012 at 5:28 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Obviously, the geometry of the same bike won’t change over time. Also, I doubt that raising the BB by 5 mm will affect frame stiffness. Most of all, nobody has shown yet that stiffer frames perform better. In fact, there are indications that the opposite is true.

      March 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm
      • jeff

        “Obviously, the geometry of the same bike won’t change over time.”
        True, I was merely suggesting that when someone switched from an older frame with more BB drop to a newer frame, the change in geometry may account for the stiffer feel.
        “I doubt that raising the BB by 5 mm will affect frame stiffness.”
        I have no doubt that it will (though the post cited mentions a difference of 35mm in BB drop between 1953 and today for ‘racing’ frames ridden by one particular rider), whether it will be noticeable to the average rider is a different matter.
        Any industrial engineer would scoff at this discussion, the trope that steel softens over time in this application is ridiculous. The only question is whether the origin of this myth is psychological, socialogical (America=newer is better) or due to some other changes within the cycling industry.

        March 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The BB height in Moulton’s post of 235 mm is very unusual. When you look at the geometries of the bikes in our book “The Competition Bicycle” (we measured every bike we photogrpahed), you see that from the 1930s until the 1980s, almost all road racing frames have had a BB height of 265 mm. Today, most racing frames use 270 mm to compensate for the 5 mm longer cranks many racers use.
          Earlier, in the 1910s, you find some frames with bottom brackets as high as 300 mm, but those bikes were different in more than one way. They used much heavier tubing, so they were much stiffer anyhow.

          March 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm
  • msrw

    Allow me to play the devil’s advocate………..
    I used to be on a team that raced Colnago Supers–steel. Our larger riders/sprinters noticed that two year old frames that had been ridden hard but which were otherwise identical to the new frames, seemed to lack snap when attacking at full gas, while the new frames had better snap in sprints.
    American bicycle racers tend to be technical types, and none of us ever came up with a theory as to why this seemed to be the case–to be frank, it didn’t appear to make sense. And yet we felt it when riding. In this particular case, I don’t think what we were experiencing was wonderlust for the new (identical) bikes, nor a deterioration of physical fitness. Were we imagining it? Maybe, but I don’t know why we would have, and no one cared enough to explore this observation in depth.
    If there is something currently undefined that happens to steel bike frames and that changes the ride characteristics, it does seem telling that it is noticed mainly by stronger, more aggressive riders, who probably would have fatigued their frames somewhat more than lighter, less aggressive and/or non-competitive riders. If it’s simply a hallucination, wouldn’t it be hallucinated by riders across the physical spectrum, rather than mainly by sprinters?
    Granted, there isn’t any hard data (of which I’m aware) that would validate the anecdotes–but then that could have been said about “planing” not too long ago.

    March 15, 2012 at 5:34 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      “Planing” at least has a physical mechanism… But your anecdote is interesting. Somebody mentioned to me that it may be the wheels that loose spoke tension as the nipples set in the ferrules. Maybe there is something to that – many people report that with new wheels, their frame had its old feel returned.
      And then you have strong sprinters that rode a whole career on the same frame, like Geneviève Gambillon, who won almost a decade’s worth of French championships, plus two world championships, all on the same frame.

      March 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm
      • msrw

        It does seem possible that what has been experienced by sprinters as changes in the ride characteristics of the frame might possibly be something else–perhaps spoke tension variance.

        March 17, 2012 at 10:18 am
  • JD

    Great article as usual. I regularly switch between a modern CF race bike for mostly weekend riding, and a late 70’s steel race bike (has drop outs with fender eyelets etc.) during the week. My CF bike has 20-30K miles, and I’ve put considerably more on the steel bike over 25 years. Without some test bench measurements I would never be able to identify softening in either bike – there are just too many variables. I enjoy certain ride qualities of each; nice dampening in the CF, lovely handling of the steel. I ride lots of hills and can make either bike flex, but don’t think that’s really relevant. One fact I can’t ignore is that over a 20 mile hilly course that I ride 70+ times a year (on both bikes but mostly the steel bike) I’m consistently 2 mph average faster on my modern CF bike. I attribute it to weight and drivetrain efficiency (I don’t put the nicest bits on the steel bike). If I had the time and money It’d be fun to put comparable wheels and components on the steel bike and check the results. Another fact I can’t ignore is that it’s more fun to be out riding, and you’re more likely to ride with gusto, while on a bike you respect and admire.

    March 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The speed differences between bicycles can be surprising, especially when you are not going all-out. However, there is no way that 2 mph average speed difference can be due to weight and drivetrain efficiency. The weight is easy to check: Ride your CF bike with two full water bottles, your steel bike with empty ones… or put some weight into your seat bag on the CF bike. Drivetrain efficiency doesn’t amount to much (unless you use an internally-geared hub) – the losses are small to begin with, so making your drivetrain twice as efficient has only a small effect.
      From our experience of testing more than 50 bikes for at least 200 miles each, it’s the frame that influences the speed – how it flexes to get in sync with your pedal stroke (“planing”). There are steel frames that work great for me, and others that don’t. Same for aluminum and carbon. You can replicate the performance and handling of a bike in a variety of materials. Affordable steel bikes tend to be way overbuilt, and thus lack the “lively” feel that makes a great bike.

      March 16, 2012 at 5:57 am
      • Greg

        I would agree, particularly with your last sentence (above)!
        This has been a great discussion/thread. Interesting reading, as is often the case here!
        The talk of wheels changing a bit over time really got me thinking. Time to go re-tension some wheels and see if anything noticeable occurs, perhaps…?

        March 18, 2012 at 5:36 pm
  • Will deRosset

    Dear Jan,
    RE: spoke tension variation.
    Unless the spokes are going slack somewhere in the load cycle, then there isn’t any difference in the stiffness of the wheel with minor variations in spoke tension.
    William M. deRosset
    Fort Collins, CO

    March 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm
  • Jon Muellner

    Maybe it’s just our bodies softening with age…but we’re looking elsewhere for the reason!

    March 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm
  • David Feldman

    Having worked at a bike store that was the largest Bridgestone retailer in the continental US, and having sold other Japanese lugged bikes such as Fuji (70’s-80’s) Univega (Miyata-built) and Schwinn (the first Letours and Super Letours were Bridgestone product) It is my observation that
    the frames which failed were frames where the seat tube and down tube didn’t contact each other inside the bottom bracket shell–the shell itself was taking the load with no reinforcement. I have seen other steel, lugged frames including one I built crack around the bottom of the seat tube when there was contact between tubes. Considering the thousands and thousands of lugged steel frames of all quality levels on the road over almost 100 years the number of failures doesn’t seem high. Working at the same store where I handled all of those Bridgestones, my job included handling warranty claims for a Big Famous Bike Company whose machines were sold there.
    Big Famous was into using their customers as engineering guinea pigs as then developed their carbon frames from the late 1980’s until 2000–for the number of frames of each material sold, the total number of broken STEEL frames handled at that store was tiny in comparison to the number of carbon frames with various joint failures–for instance, I have yet to see the bottom bracket threads of a steel frame spinning free inside the rest of the bottom bracket shell!
    Ride feel of an old bike? Recently I overhauled a Merz bicycle built in the late 1970’s, Columbus SL tubing and the owner probably has 50 to 60,000 miles on it. The bike fits me well–one of those longer-than-necessary test rides, you know. It feels much like it probably did 30 years ago–maybe better, as the wheels have been rebuilt with superior modern spokes, rims, and tires. Nothing like DT Revolution spokes and Michelin Pro Race tires to liven a bike up!

    March 22, 2012 at 8:53 am

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