Which Mountain Bike is Best: Steel or Alloy?

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Which Mountain Bike is Best: Steel or Alloy?
Steel vs. alloy is a common debate among cyclists. (mountain bike downhill image by Maxim Petrichuk from Fotolia.com)

Mountain bike frames come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Two of the most common materials used to make frames are steel and alloy. Deciding which is best for you is important when shopping for a mountain bike.

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Features of Steel

Steel is a strong material, but it is also heavy. Steel bikes give a softer ride because of what is known as their "flex," meaning you don't feel the bumps and dips of the terrain as harshly as with an alloy frame. Steel is prone to rust, but is also easier to repair than alloys.

Featurs of Alloys

The alloy used in bike frames is an aluminium alloy. Alloy frames are lighter but don't have the strength of steel. An alloy frame is "stiff" and therefore gives a harsher ride than steel. Aluminium alloys are highly resistant to rust but more prone to damage in a crash than steel.

Considerations

Many newer steel frame bikes are actually a steel alloy. Unless you are purchasing a used bike, it can be difficult to find an all-steel frame. However, newer technology allows manufacturers to make steel alloy frames nearly as light as aluminium alloy. Appearance is also a consideration, as steel frames have a smaller tube diameter, giving the bike a sleeker look, while alloy frames have fatter tubes with a huskier look.

Misconceptions

There is no "better" for mountain bikes when considering frame material. If you want light and inexpensive and are willing to endure a harsher ride, seek an alloy frame. If you don't mind sacrificing extra weight for a smoother ride and more durable bike, go with steel.

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