Al: Brief description: pure aluminium is a silvery-white metal with many desirable characteristics. It is light, nontoxic (as the metal), nonmagnetic and nonsparking. It is somewhat decorative. It is easily formed, machined, and cast. Pure aluminium is soft and lacks strength, but alloys with small amounts of copper, magnesium, silicon, manganese, and other elements have very useful properties. Aluminium is an abundant element in the earth's crust, but it is not found free in nature. The Bayer process is used to refine aluminium from bauxite, an aluminium ore.
I enjoy reading the various online discussions of what material is best for a bike frame. It is one fraught with peril. Broad statements are offered up as fact, rumors fly about this and that, and one's own bias adds to the blurry lines that get drawn in the sand.
I have written about the desire to have a Ti SS frame someday, but right now is not a good time for that. And, despite what I might hope it would be like to ride one, I have never even tossed a leg over a Ti 29er of any kind, so it may all be an illusion.
Then, GT gets on his blog and writes this: http://g-tedproductions.blogspot.com/2010/03/thoughts-on-materials.html
So lately I have been bouncing between riding some steel and aluminum SS bikes. First it was the SS Karate Monkey. Revered as a cheap, nearly indestructible and versatile 29er frame, it is also heavy as all get out and stiff riding for a steel bike. But, it was a place to begin.
Then I was intrigued by the allure of inexpensive aluminum and tried the diSSent frame. Immediately I was struck by the way it moved out when pedaled. Big difference over the KM. Steep grades felt flatter all of a sudden and I saved some weight in the frame. All good to have. But the ride was too darn stiff for me, not so much in the rear of the bike, but up through the crankset. Man, it would 'whack' ya good and send shockwaves up through the bottom of your feet when crossing a deep rut.
SO it went onto the chopping block and I went back to the KM for a bit. Compared to the diSSent, the handling sucked and it was not all that much better riding, but it was still more merciful to me on the trail. Then I moved to the Jabberwocky, a slightly lighter, slightly more expensive, and slightly smoother riding steel frame. The KM hangs in the rafters. The Jabber pedals well and is a very nice all day SS bike, laid back, low and long.
Then the other day the Rockhopper SS shows up, all hydroformed and bent aluminum. Very sexy. I am intrigued once again. The first ride is impressive as it flat out gets it when you stomp on the pedals. I am reminded of the diSSent and the way it responded to prodding. It handles much better than the Jabber and goes down the singletrack like a missile, but at a cost. I found myself cringing at ruts and such again, even though at first it seemed like a pretty smooth ride. Still, could it be my imagination? I find myself looking at catalog pics of the Stumpjumper SS frame set and thinking...hmmmmm...maybe for me?
Three rides on the Rockhopper and back to the Jabber. Not nearly as sharp a response at the BB, and it handles like a long bed pickup truck compared to the Rockhopper, but oh, the ride! Sooo much smoother. This was the first time I could move from bike to bike like this as before I had to swap all the parts back and forth to go from one to the other.
So, here I am, faced with a dilemma: I love the pedaling response of the Al bikes and the ride of the Fe ones. One would say that the Al bikes are simply flexing less than the Fe one, but that is not quite true. The Jabber is quite a bit stiffer in the rear section compared to the Rockhopper, something I can demonstrate by watching the frame twist under hard pedaling loads. Maybe it is the bigger main tubes on the Al bikes that are hammering me into submission.
Maybe. But besides the smoother ride, I was aware for the first time how alive the Fe Jabber felt in sections of the trail. I have to say that a hardtail mtn bike frame benefits from being a better spring and Fe is a better spring than AL.
I am not smart enough to figure it all out and back it up with fancy words and terms, but there is an old saying that gets a lot of razzies in these days of super fancy bikes...'Steel Is Real'.
Steel is real. I am not a luddite, just an old guy looking to get a sweet SS ride. So, in perspective, the saying is not something to live and die by for all things cycling, but in this area of bike/owner romance, it may still be tried and true.
Maybe I should take out an ad: "Mature, 29er riding SS guy seeking a harmonious relationship with a bike frame. Must dance well, not abuse me, cannot be overweight or have a fragile personality, and needs to be able to keep up with me. Does not need to be a cheap date, but has to be able to appreciate a simple life."
I keep hoping her name will be Al (sounds odd) but so far, it seems to be Fe.