FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)
Frequently Asked Questions are just that. They deserve appropriate answers. I will even say when steel or lugs are not the answer, but overall, a custom lugged steel bicycle is still the best.
Frequently Made Statements (FMS's) are just that. Some are true, useful, and based on common sense experience and/or backed by sound engineering.
But there is a lot of hype in the bicycle industry. Misinformation is rampant. Many statements are repeated as if proven fact, when they probably just came from an ad campaign, or some poor soul trying to rationalize a bad purchase decision, or blowhards talking about things they don't understand, or a fact has been taken out of a narrow context and overgeneralized to promote someone's business. Too many FMS's contain more hype than fact...
Hype is defined as stimulating artificially; promoting, especially with tricks or stunts. The reasons for its presence range from well-intentioned (e.g. an honest but erroneous belief that a certain product is better) to the venal (e.g. pushing something primarily to make money). Hype is everywhere, not just in bikes. The best defense is to evaluate products primarily by whether they will be useful tools to help you do what you are trying to do.
My comments are intended to supply enough information for you to decide for yourself which type of FMS we are considering. WARNING: Some individuals who are quite happy naively accepting the industry hype, may experience discomfort, and are advised not to proceed.
The FAQ's and FMS's are arranged in categories, beginning with the most important overall aspects of the issue.THE MOST IMPORTANT FMS:
RIDE QUALITY RELATED:
CUSTOM FRAME AND CUSTOM BICYCLE RELATED:
THE MOST IMPORTANT FMS:
"A custom lugged steel frame made by a Custom Builder is the best overall choice for most people who want a good bike." (FMS)
This FMS is made by people who know what is really important about a bike is what it does for its rider. These knowledgeable people usually won't buy a bike just because it is what some marketing wonk wants to sell.
But, being human, some occasionally succumb to the hype of lightest weight and latest technology. Usually, they come back to steel. They have ridden enough that once the novelty wears off, the honeymoon is over: They see that the lighter weight doesn't make them any faster and the bike doesn't ride and respond as well. The "new" technology is indeed new, but it is only more expensive and creates more problems than it ever claimed to solve in the first place...
The best bikes have custom frames simply because no company could economically offer a line of stock bikes that could even begin to match the diversity of people and what they want to use their bike for.
Steel is the best material for building bike frames in part because it is the most manufacturable and reliable material out there. As a result it has the lowest cost of any of the alternatives. (The hype put out by the other makers is that their material is more expensive because it is better. Yeah, sure.... Other materials are more expensive because it costs more to try and make bike frames out of them. This has nothing to do with how good the bike will be for you, the rider.)
Steel is the only metal that can economically and technically be used with lugs. These simple sockets at each frame tube joint reinforce the joint to improve strength, reliability and (fatigue) life. Silver or brass brazing completes the structure with minimal metallurgical damage (unlike welding which must melt the metal under essentially uncontrolled conditions). The hype put out by aluminum and titanium makers is that welding is stronger, lighter, the latest technology, and magically better. In fact, they can't use lugs and have no choice but to weld, and so they turn to hype...
If you put what you want the bike to do for you first, you'll naturally choose a custom made lugged steel frame. This Henry James Web Site is a good place to collect information and learn about what will really make you happy.
If your goals have to do with owning what is most expensive or "new", how others look at you, following the "in" crowd, or you are gullible and are happy being so, then steel probably isn't for you.
"ARE YOU GOING TO WEIGH IT OR RIDE IT?" (FMS - If only this were an FAQ)
I first heard this question when a Custom Builder told me that his favorite dealer would ask this question of any customer who inquired about the weight of a product. The question is quite important. If all you want to do is own a lightweight frame, but never ride on it, there is no limit to how light you can go. If you plan to ride the product, other logical questions follow: How willing are you to risk injury if something fails? Are you a competitor so desperate for a win that you will ride a 'Stupid Light' frame and risk not finishing the race? Can you afford to replace the lightweight frame when it fails? Do you really like the idea of paying more to get a weaker product?
"LIGHT WEIGHT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN BICYCLE PERFORMANCE." (FMS)
Hype. Hype. Hype. The only instance where weight is important is in races that start at the bottom of a mountain and finish at the top. Even in this rare case, typical range of frame weights is so small today (less than 1 1/2 pounds at most, usually less than a pound) that if the only difference between riders is the frame weight difference, a 1% increase in power output will negate the advantage. Draft behind the lighter bike, and you'll stay right with him. And don't forget, this situation only occurs when climbing mountains. Speaking of mountain climbers, they usually weigh about 125# (56 Kilos), giving them about a 20# to 40# (9-18K) advantage over other riders. Your whole bike would have to weigh zero to approach weight parity!
Okay, so lighter weight won't make you go any faster. What's wrong with enjoying light weight stuff? If your interest is in owning light weight technology, nothing. If your interest has more to do with using a bike to achieve some personal goals, the pursuit of light weight is a waste of money. Your money and your time are better spent on aspects that directly improve your bicycling. Check out this incomplete list of what really can improve your cycling performance.
"HOW LIGHT CAN YOU MAKE MY FRAME?" (FAQ)
This FAQ follows from all the FMS's about light weight and its importance. Knowing that light weight for its own sake is of no real importance, you won't ask the question. You are much better off to ask questions about factors that are more important to how well your bike will ride.
"STEEL IS TOO HEAVY." (FMS)
This FMS is sooooo out of date! In recent years ALL manufacturers of quality double butted steel tubing have doubled the strength of their premium tubing. Aluminum, titanium and composites have changed little. The higher strength steels mean that frame stresses can be higher without reducing the design safety factor, yet the frame weighs less.
True Temper and the other makers have developed extensive lines of oversized steel tubes. The "moment of inertia" goes up by the cube of the tube diameter. The net result is that by going oversize the wall thickness can be reduced for an overall weight reduction. Stresses may actually drop.
But it is important not to get carried away with going oversize. If you weigh less than about 150 pounds (68 Kg) and are not usually tall or strong, an over size tubed bike will feel too stiff, feel dead to you, and not be fun to ride.
To cover the wide range of requirements people have, True Temper offers a wide range of tube wall thicknesses and double butting proportions so weight can be kept low (for marketing reasons) while ride and liveliness are not sacrificed. Similarly, Henry James offers regular and oversize lugs in the same classic Henry James style, so Custom Frame Builders can mix and match tube diameters as well as gauges to provide you with the optimum ride.
"LUGGED FRAMES WEIGH MORE THAN WELDED FRAMES." (FMS)
Makers of welded frames never talk about how welding involves melting the metal, and the shrinking that has to occur as the weld joint cools off generates high forces that can and do distort the tubes. Lugged steel bikes only require a head tube wall of .9 mm (.035"). Head tubes for welded bikes are 1.2-1.5 mm thick (.05"-.06") so that there is enough metal to ream for the head set races. The thicker head tube walls make it easier to weld the thinner top and down tubes to the head tube. Welded bikes have head tubes that can weigh more than a pair of lugs and a thin head tube.
Welded frames need externally butted seat tubes so there is enough metal there after welding distorts the seat tube so the seat tube can be reamed to accept a seat post. A welded on seat bolt boss or an aluminum clamp add more weight. The net result is a wash.
Plain bottom bracket shells for welded construction are within a few grams of the weight of a lugged bottom bracket shell which has the advantage of sockets to reinforce the joints in this critical highly loaded area.
If you are looking for a welded frame with a long life, the end butts on the main tubes must be thicker than for a long lived lugged steel frame, because of the physical and metallurgical damage to the joint caused by the welding process. The brazing process does much less metallurgical damage and the lugs reinforce the joint, so lugged frames can actually have lighter tubes.
"ALUMINUM FRAMES ARE THE LIGHTEST AVAILABLE." (FMS)
For once, the FMS is true. But so what? To get to the magic 2 pound (900 g.) weight, the aluminum makers have to cut corners. The design safety factor is lowered. Since fatigue life of aluminum frames is inversely proportional to stress, when you lower the safety factor by letting the stresses go higher in a desperate attempt to save weight, the fatigue life drops.
As tube walls get thinner, denting can easily occur. Fatigue cracks often radiate from minor dents in aluminum frames.
Remember that weight is a factor only in races up mountains, and then only a 1% factor.
Forget about getting a good fit and good handling on a 2 pound frame! The rear triangle is as short as possible to keep the weight down. The top tube is as short as possible both to keep weight down and to minimize frame twist under load. Frame sizes are kept small for similar reasons. A RIDER ON A SUPER LIGHT FRAME CAN LOSE MUCH MORE IN BIOMECHANICAL EFFICIENCY THAN HE CAN EVER HOPE TO GAIN FROM A FEW GRAMS OF WEIGHT SAVED.|TOP|
"TITANIUM IS THE BEST CHOICE FOR FRAME MATERIAL." (FMS)
Titanium has a lower density than steel, and good strength. These two factors combine to give a strength to weight ratio that is higher than that of most steels. When frames are made of lower density materials, the weight can drop below steel, by a small margin, but at a cost. To get the weight down, the tube diameter must be increased so that the wall thickness can be lowered without creating stress problems. The bigger tubes and the resultant stiffer joints, leads to a ride that cannot match the feel of a good steel frame.
A low priced titanium frame will usually have straight gauge tubing, along with heavier walls, to save money. What happens is that a cheap titanium frame that weighs about the same as a steel bike will be too stiff, and feel dead. At the other extreme, a high end ultra light titanium frame, if not carefully designed, can be too flexible. The frame will last much longer than a light aluminum frame, but it will be too flexy. Build a steel frame that is too flexy and it will fail quickly. But a too flexible titanium frame will not fail. It just won't be worth the money.
"COMPOSITE FRAMES ARE THE BEST." (FMS)
The problem with this FMS is that it ignores what the term "composite" means. These frames consist of a mix of 300,000 psi. carbon fibers and 15% epoxy matrix which only has a strength around 20,000 psi. You end up with a zillion tiny stiff fibers glued together by a relatively soft epoxy. If the carbon delaminates from the epoxy, failure quickly occurs. Manufacturing quality control is critical, but it is hard to determine the quality of the bonding process. In the field, there is no way to tell how well the bonds are holding up.
My personal problem with composites is their nature of failure, which is instant brittle catastrophic failure. The stuff isn't supposed to fail, but if it does, it gets ugly.
"THE HIGHER THE MATERIAL STRENGTH IS, THE BETTER THE FRAME." (FMS)
The problem with this FMS is that it only addresses a small part of what is important in frame design. A frame has to have an optimum combination of stiffness, strength, reasonable weight, reliability, ride, and value. In the real world, by the time you have the stiffness right for steel, you have more than enough strength, so really high strengths are not essential.
Really exotic materials usually trade off reliability, ride and value. Strength alone does not a good bike make.
"WHICH FRAME MATERIAL IS STRONGEST?" (FAQ)
Again, strength isn't the most important factor in frame design. A good frame has an optimum stiffness for the intended rider and purpose. So the question is not important enough to deserve an answer.
"OVERSIZE FRAMES RIDE AND HANDLE BEST." (FMS)
This is true, but only for those for whom oversize frames ride and handle best (generally tall strong riders weighing over 170-180# (77-82Kg)).
"ALUMINUM HAS THE MOST EFFICIENT RIDE." (FMS)
This statement is usually based on the inherent stiffness of aluminum frames. If flexing is the source of lost efficiency, then the frame must heat up, as this is the only mechanism that can dissipate the useful energy. Ever heard of anyone burning their leg on their flexible frame after a hard ride?
More seriously, the efficiency claims for aluminum usually relate to higher stiffness. This narrow approach quickly degenerates into hype. The only "efficiency" that really matters is how the rider performs and feels at the end of the ride. If a frame is too stiff (made from any material), the rider feels more road shock and vibration, which is tiring. Also, handling can suffer as the bike tends to lose traction in hard cornering as the too stiff frame can not provide enough suspension effect to keep the tires in good contact with the texture of the road surface. To maintain traction, the rider must slow down, so "efficiency" suffers.
"COMPOSITES ABSORB SHOCK BETTER." (FMS)
The nature of composites that they absorb vibrations well. Thus, a composite frame will absorb the vibrations created by the surface texture of the pavement. This is not the same as shock absorption. The anecdotal reports I hear are that composite bikes tend to absorb more vibration than steel frames, while absorbing less shock than steel frames.
Too much absorption of vibration is not a good thing. The vibrations provide feedback to the rider during hard braking and fast cornering.|TOP|
"WELDED BIKES CAN HAVE ANY GEOMETRY, BUT LUGGED BIKES ARE LIMITED." (FMS)
If having "any" geometry would be of some value, this statement would be true. But geometries have evolved to a very narrow range. For example, it is almost impossible to find a stock mountain bike that does not have a 73° seat tube angle, 71° head tube angle, and 1.5" fork rake. Stock road bikes are almost always 73° parallel. Henry James is able to cover the range of angles needed by Custom Frame Builders with 2 or 3 head and seat angles and 3 or 4 down tube angles. A rider has to be away out at the end of the bell curve to need welded construction.
"ALUMINUM HAS BETTER CORROSION RESISTANCE THAN STEEL." (FMS)
This is one of my favorites. This FMS usually comes from people who make or ride disposable aluminum frames that are so light and flimsy that the slightest scratch or dent leads to premature fatigue failure. Sure enough, when that aluminum frame snaps in two, you can look inside the tubes and you will see no corrosion at all! High quality steel frames invariably have high quality paint jobs to protect the outside. A couple of ounces of Peter Weigle's Frame Saver© protects the insides.
"MEGATUBES ARE A TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCE." (FMS)
When tube cross-sections get too big, whether for technological reasons or marketing reasons, the ride suffers. The compliance of the main triangle of your frame approaches zero. Then, you the rider suffers. You get beat to death. Megatubes are okay if you like to look cool (if only in the eyes of those who don't know any better), you don't care that people who know what cycling is all about laugh at you, and you never ride more than a few miles a day.
"STRAIGHT FORKS PROVIDE BETTER HANDLING AND LIGHTER WEIGHT." (FMS)
The straight fork appeared on the first high wheelers around the turn of the century (the previous one). It was resurrected a few years ago. My guess is that it was a way to save a few bucks, since the fork blades don't have to be raked, because the angle between the steerer hole and the fork blade sockets in the crown sets the rake. I have seen engineering reports that show mathematically that the low bend in a fork blade does nothing to increase compliance/suspension of the fork. Intuitively, I want to think that this analysis is flawed.
What we offer as an alternative from Henry James Bicycles is one of our standard crowns with the steerer hole bored at a 3° angle. The fork blades still need some rake on them, but it is 20 mm (.8") less than for a traditional crown. The net result is a subtle difference in the way the blades exit the crown relative to the head tube (To me, straight bladed forks look like something is bent or broken at the crown.), and the very subtle curve of the blades just looks nice. Builders who have explored all 3 options say our 3° crown is half way between regular and straight blades in ride stiffness.
Anecdotal information from people who know about the straight blade production steel forks indicates that the head tube angles may be relaxed about a half degree, and the blade walls are .8 mm. instead of .9 mm. thick. This would suggest that simply going to a straight blades increases the stiffness so much that the compliance/suspension effect of the classic curved fork must be important to how your bike rides. The changes in head angle and fork blade walls would tend to compensate for the problem. Of course, thinner blade walls mean that the fork must now have more side-to-side flex, so cornering probably won't be as crisp.
"LOWER DENSITY METALS MAKE LIGHTER FRAMES." (FMS)
This FMS is true, and that is one of the reasons why so many people have gotten sucked into riding a bike that is too stiff for good handling and comfort. The technical reason behind this is that to make the low density frame lighter, tube diameters must go up as tube walls are made thinner. The relatively huge diameters (compared to steel) mean added joint stiffness. Excessive stiffness makes a frame that has little of the vertical compliance or suspension characteristics that make steel so wonderful to ride on. The suspension effect of controlled flex in a steel frame helps to keep the tires in proper contact with the pavement, especially in hard fast corners.
"STEEL IS DEAD/HISTORY/BORING/OUT-OF-DATE/et cetera." (FMS)
Let's just say that this statement is never made by anyone who is building with the fine double butted steel tubes available today.|TOP|
MARKETING RELATED (Unfortunately, these apply to all aspects of our lives, not just bicycles.):
"[Insert name of world class athlete] RIDES THIS BRAND/FRAME MATERIAL (or USES THIS PRODUCT)." (FMS)
Pros ride what they are paid to ride. This statement only reflects the marketing philosophy and advertising budget of the maker. It doesn't tell you anything you need to know about whether this is the right bike for you.
"I READ ABOUT IT IN A BICYCLE MAGAZINE." (FMS)
Any magazine which survives on its advertising income is in an awkward position. The ad income supports their editorial policy, but if the editorial content is negative about a major advertiser, they could lose a significant amount of income when the ads are pulled.
Students of media note that self-censorship can happen in even the most ethical publications. When all the major advertisers are pushing one frame material, the editorial content tends to mention its positive features, even though most of their readership doesn't have a real need for that feature. And, unfortunately, the negative features tend to be soft pedalled.
"OUR [Insert brand name] BIKES ARE MADE OF THE BEST FRAME MATERIAL AVAILABLE." (FMS)
"Best" for what? "Best" depends on the needs of the buyer who is choosing the bike. The "best" frame material for you is the one that produces the ideal bike for your needs technically, esthetically, and financially. Steel will prove "best" in a wider range of situations than any other frame material.|TOP|
"WILL I RIDE FASTER IF I SPEND MORE ON A FRAME?" (FAQ)
You'll ride faster only if spending the extra money gets you a better biomechanical fit. Your riding speed is determined by a combination of your power output, and wind resistance. The fit of rider and bike is the key factor that determines your biomechanical efficiency. The wind resistance is affected by how much frontal area your present to the wind, and how aerodynamic your riding position and style are.
Biomechanical efficiency and aerodynamic position can be in conflict with each other. The best biomechancial riding position may present so much frontal area that the gains in efficiency are less than the added aerodynamic drag costs. Or, the best aerodynamic riding position may prevent you from efficiently applying power to the pedals, so you end up going slower.
In any event, you are not going to find ANY stock frame in ANY material at ANY price that can address these complex inter-related factors affecting fast bicycling.
Your best bet is to work with a custom builder who knows how to fit people like yourself for the kind of riding you want to do. He or she will build you a lugged custom bike for less than an over-hyped stock frame in some exotic material.
"THIS IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE FRAME MATERIAL AVAILABLE." (FMS)
Just ask yourself, "Does the high cost of the material make this a better bike for me?"
Also, ask yourself, "If I can buy a custom built lugged steel bike for less that will easily outlast several component groups, will I have a good use, bicycling related or not, for the money I save?"
"WE HAVE AN EXCELLENT REPLACEMENT WARRANTY FOR THIS FRAME." (FMS)
When a company with any business smarts sets its prices, it includes ALL of its costs. Including warranty replacements. If they know that half the frames will fail, all they do is boost the price to cover the inevitable field failures. When you buy one of these frames, you are paying for the one you take home with you, and the replacement frame they will probably have to give you later.
Some frames have warranties that last for just 2 or 3 replacement frames. To me, this is an indication that the maker knows that these frames are intrinsically failure prone.
Lugged steel frames tend to have more straightforward warranties because of the inherent reliability that comes with the superior manufacturability of steel.|TOP|
"HENRY JAMES MAKES THE BEST LUGS." (FMS)
I like to think this is so, but using other lugs can still make a good frame.
"WHY DO SO MANY CUSTOM FRAME BUILDERS MAKE LUGGED STEEL BIKES?" (FAQ)Answer:
"I WANT TO MAKE MY OWN CUSTOM FRAME." (FMS)
Almost anyone can make a bicycle frame. Just don't fool yourself into thinking the first one can be justifiably called a "custom" frame. It will simply be your first frame, and you can be proud of it. But the pride lies in having built it, not in its being a highly evolved result of years of building and study of what makes a great custom bike.
"I WANT TO MAKE MY LIVING MAKING CUSTOM FRAMES."
We tell everyone, "Keep the Day Job!!" Being a Custom Builder is a difficult way to make a decent living. There are two reasons for this:
"I DON'T NEED A CUSTOM FRAME. STOCK FRAMES FIT ME JUST FINE." (FMS)This approach works fine for clothing because, once you take care of the purpose, style, fit to your body, and price, that's it. But a bike is much more complicated. Some of the additional factors include your:
THE MOST IMPORTANT FMS:
RIDE QUALITY RELATED:
CUSTOM FRAME AND CUSTOM BICYCLE RELATED:
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