Can Aluminum & Steel Tubing Be Used Together on a Bike Frame?

Written by jonathan d. septer
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Can Aluminum & Steel Tubing Be Used Together on a Bike Frame?
This bicycle has a traditional welded tube steel frame. (bicycle image by david harding from Fotolia.com)

Bicycle frames are traditionally steel, aluminium, titanium or carbon fibre, and there are various metallurgies and many combinations of these materials making up different styles of bicycle frames. However, few of these combinations can result in a steel and aluminium frame.

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Aluminium and Steel Frame History

One of the only bicycles manufactured using steel and aluminium was the kabuki brand manufactured by Japanese bicycle giant Bridgestone, according to bicycle expert Sheldon Brown. Bridgestone inserted the steel frame tubes with specially formed ends in a casting machine that cast solid aluminium "lug" joints around the tube ends. Occasionally Bridgestone even used stainless steel tubes such as those found on the kabuki Submariner to manufacture rust-less bicycle frames.

Welding Aluminum to Steel

Traditional welded bicycle frames use tubes welded directly together. When most metals are welded to the same or other metals the result is a new stronger material at the weld joints than what either tube strength was before. According to Tony Anderson, "Very brittle intermetallic compounds are formed when metals such as steel, copper, magnesium or titanium are directly arc welded to aluminium." Because of this brittle connection, it is not wise to weld aluminium to steel while constructing a bicycle frame.

Brazing Aluminum to Steel

While it is possible to braze aluminium to steel in some applications, it is not a suggested way to build a bicycle frame. According to henryjames.com, a leading manufacturer of bicycle frame building supplies and resources, "You don't see lugged aluminium [frames because this material] can't be brazed as easily as steel," and "that other frame materials can't match" the strength of steel. For strength reasons then, brazing an aluminum and steel bicycle frame is not recommended.

Bonding Aluminum to Steel

While it is possible to bond--usually a combination of industrial strength glue and fasteners of some sort--aluminium to steel, when constructing a bonded bicycle frame it is more cost effective, lighter and easier to bond like materials or metals to carbon fibre. Because of this, almost every bonded aluminium bicycle frame on the market bonds aluminium to either itself or carbon fibre. Therefore an aluminium and steel bonded bicycle frame is possible, but it is not the best option for frame construction.

An Unnecessary Option

While it is possible to build an aluminium and steel bicycle, the few options available to do so render a steel and aluminium bicycle frame merely an interesting relic of the past. An aluminium and steel frame weighs more and is less strong than available modern lightweight bicycle frame joints. While this style of frame has a storied past, it was merely a stepping-stone on the path to modern bicycle technology.

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