Steel or aluminum bike frame for touring?

cycling in UtahOne of the current debates about touring bikes is whether an aluminum or steel bike frame is a better choice. In the end, it comes down to personal choice. Aluminum is more rigid, which some people prefer. Steel flexes, which leads to a more comfortable ride for many.

There is, however, another consideration that needs to be looked at – the ease of repair should something happen to the bike. If you are riding an aluminum bike, you will need to get to a specialized facility in a large city if you need anything welded on your bike. There are people in every tiny village throughout the world who can weld steel.

Some people say this is all a moot point – when was the last time you had your bike welded anyway? The chances of something happening to your bike that would require welding are very small.

One argument is that you will not be able to find someone to properly weld a frame back together in any case. Should your frame completely break in two, you will need a new frame, so it makes no difference if you are riding a steel or aluminum bike.

Much more likely than the frame totally failing, however, is the likelihood that some small braze-on will break off. If that happens, you could be stranded with an aluminum bike, but will be able to get a steel bike repaired easily.

When I was loading my bike on a bus in India many years ago I broke a small braze-on that held my brake cable in place. Fortunately, I was able to get it welded back together in the small village I was in and we continued on our way. If my bike had been aluminum, I’m not sure where I would have had to go to get it repaired.

Which is better – a steel or aluminum bike frame? There is no easy answer. If you will be riding in areas where you have an easy out, it will make no difference whatsoever, so just ride whichever bike you feel more comfortable on. If your plans include riding around the world, consider a steel frame just in case you happen to break some small piece. In either case, if your entire frame should fail, plan on getting a new one sent out.

Here’s another post you might be interested in: What to look for in a touring bike

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books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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2 Responses to Steel or aluminum bike frame for touring?

  1. Todd September 24, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    I’m a fan of steel. And actually, though it wasn’t in a remote location on a tour, it also wasn’t just some small braze-on, either. Before my son and I got our “real” tandem, we had an older single-speed tandem that we used to get around town. One night on the way home the front chain kept falling off. After a couple of times I noticed that the reason why is that the bottom bracket housing was pulling away from the tubes connected to it. A few days later we took it in to be welded. Worked a treat.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel September 26, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

      @Todd, Yup. Steel is so easy to fix. Although I would not say “never” to aluminum, I would choose steel any day.

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