Steel Vs Aluminum Bike Frame: Pros and Cons

by wheretheroadforks

When choosing a bike frame, one of the most important considerations is the material it’s made of. This guide lists the pros and cons of a steel vs aluminum bike frame. We’ll compare the weight, ride quality, handling, durability, cost, repairability, longevity, and more. Hopefully, this guide helps you decide which frame material is best for your next bike.

Road bike with steel frame
A classic steel-framed road bike

Steel Bike Frame Pros

  • Steel frames are easy to repair- After years or decades of use your bike frame will eventually fail, regardless of the material it’s made of. Pretty much any welder can repair a steel frame. This feature is particularly important for bicycle tourists traveling through developing regions. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, you can always find someone who knows how to weld steel. Even in small villages in the developing world. The weld may not look pretty and the frame may not be as strong as it originally was, but it will get you back on the road. Finding someone to weld an aluminum frame can be a challenge, even in the developed world.
  • Steel frames may be more comfortable- A comfortable bike offers some vertical compliance or flex. It isn’t completely rigid. This flex dampens vibrations and absorbs shocks from the road. This makes the ride smoother and more comfortable. When you hit a bump or pothole, it won’t feel quite as jarring. While riding on a rough gravel road, you’ll feel less arm fatigue because the frame absorbs some vibration. Many cyclists find steel frames to be more comfortable than aluminum frames because they flex more. Whether or not this is actually true is debatable. There is evidence that the frame material doesn’t really matter when it comes to comfort. This article from Cycling About suggests that bike frames flex so little that material is irrelevant. The tires and seat post play a much bigger role in the comfort of the bike. This does not take fork flex into account. Steel forks flex vertically so much that you can see them move on rough surfaces. This helps to absorb shocks and vibrations and improve comfort. Aluminum forks are almost completely rigid.
  • Steel frames last longer- Steel doesn’t fatigue like aluminum. This means the frame can last longer without failing. The reason is that steel has a fatigue limit whereas aluminum does not. A steel frame can withstand stress below its fatigue limit an infinite number of times without the frame failing. If you take care of it, a well-made steel bike frame can last a lifetime. For example, My Schwinn High Sierra that I converted into a touring bike has a steel frame that was made before I was born. Aluminum, on the other hand, does not have a fatigue limit. It will eventually fail, even under small amounts of repeated stress. Of course, after enough years of abuse, any frame will fail.
  • Steel frames are more durable- Steel frames can take a beating like no other bike frame material. A steel frame can be scratched deeply, dented, and even bent without losing structural integrity. In addition, steel can handle a harder sudden impact than aluminum without cracking because steel is less brittle than aluminum. If you crash your steel bike, chances are it will survive. You don’t have to worry too much about over-tightening a bolt and cracking your steel frame. For these reasons, steel frames are a great choice for bicycle tourists and commuters who need a strong and durable frame that can handle years of abuse.
  • You can change the hub spacing on a steel frame- If you want to install a slightly wider or more narrow rear hub in your steel frame, you can bend the stays a bit to make it fit. This process is often called ‘cold setting’. You can pretty easily move them 5-10 mm in either direction without compromising the frame. This allows you to use a wider range of hubs when the time comes to upgrade or replace your wheels. For example, many vintage bikes have 126 mm rear hub spacing. Many modern bikes use 135mm hubs. You can carefully spread an old frame to fit modern hubs. You can do the same with steel forks. For more info, check out this guide.
  • Steel frames may be safer- Steel and aluminum frames fail in different ways. A steel frame generally gives you a bit of warning before failing catastrophically. It won’t suddenly fail and break in half. Instead, steel bends or cracks slowly. If you inspect your steel frame periodically and after a crash, you’ll have plenty of warning that the frame is about to fail. If you spot a crack, you can get your frame repaired. Aluminum, on the other hand, can fail catastrophically. Aluminum doesn’t bend, it cracks and breaks. You could be speeding down a hill when your aluminum frame suddenly decides to break in half and throw you to the ground. Of course, this type of frame failure is pretty rare, but it can happen.
  • You can install S&S couplers- If you plan to fly with your bike, you may want to consider having S&S couplers installed at some point. These allow you to break your frame down into 2 pieces so you can pack your bike into a airline acceptable size checked bag (62 linear inches). The goal here is to avoid expensive oversized bag fees that many airlines charge for bicycles. S&S couplers are only possible to install on steel and some titanium bike frames. They are not compatible with aluminum frames. For more info, visit sandsmachine.com.
  • Steel is real- It’s the original bike frame material. In fact, it was the only choice until the mid-70s when aluminum frames were introduced. People have been riding steel bikes for well over a century. Many cyclists swear by the ride characteristics of steel frames. Personally, I like the look of steel frames as well. I find the small-diameter round tubes more visually appealing than thick aluminum tubes.
Road bike with a steel frame

Steel Bike Frame Cons

  • Steel frames are heavier- Steel is the heaviest bike frame material used today. For example, a lightweight steel bike frame weighs around 4-5 lbs. Complete steel road bikes weigh 20-22 lbs. A comparable aluminum frame weighs around 3 lbs. Complete aluminum road bikes weigh around 18 lbs. On average, a steel bike weighs 1-2 lbs more than an aluminum bike. Steel frames weigh more because steel is around 2.5 times more dense than aluminum. If you like to measure every gram that you put on your bike, you may want to avoid steel frames. That said, steel frame tubes can be smaller and thinner than aluminum tubes because steel is stronger. This offsets some of the weight difference.
  • Steel frames are less efficient- There are three reasons for this. First, steel isn’t as rigid as aluminum. When you pedal hard, a steel frame can flex laterally. When the frame flexes, energy is being wasted flexing the frame rather than driving you forward. Aluminum frames are more rigid so less energy is lost. Second, steel frames are heavier. It takes more energy to accelerate and maintain speed with a heavier bike. Third, steel frames are less aerodynamic because the tubes must be round. This creates more wind resistance which slows you down. Aluminum frame tubes can be shaped into aerodynamic shapes that reduce drag. With a steel frame, you’ll burn more energy. This means you’ll ride slightly slower and cover less ground before tiring out.
  • Steel frames rust- Steel is the only bike frame material that corrodes. If a steel frame gets rusty enough, it can weaken to a point that it’s not safe to ride. The most likely part of your bike to rust is the inside of the frame. To prevent this, you should apply a rust inhibitor. Also, store the bike in a place where it stays dry. If you scratch some paint off of your frame, seal it up with some fresh paint or nail polish so it doesn’t begin to rust. If your steel frame is already rusty, check out these rust removal tips from slocyclist.com to remove it before it gets too bad. Generally, surface rust is just cosmetic. You may want to stay away from steel frames if you live near the ocean or in an area that salts the roads during the winter. The salt speeds up the rusting process. Aluminum frames can corrode but the corrosion doesn’t weaken the material.
  • Steel bikes are more expensive- Steel bike frames cost more than aluminum. There are a couple of possible reasons for this. Steel frames are slightly more time consuming to produce. They are hand made. Aluminum frames were initially introduced because they are cheaper to mass manufacture. Much of the process can be automated with machinery. This led to cheaper bicycles. Steel frames also tend to be a bit higher end so they cost more.
  • You’ll ride slower and cover less ground with a steel frame- Because of the frame flex, heavier weight, and worse aerodynamics, you’ll probably ride at a slightly slower average speed when riding a steel frame. For recreational riders, commuters, and bicycle tourists, speed doesn’t really matter. For competitive riders, speed is important.
  • Steel is less technologically advanced- Steel frames are made from simple round steel tubes welded together. Many models are butted to save weight. Aluminum and carbon frames, on the other hand, use much more advanced manufacturing techniques. They can be shaped for aerodynamics and the thickness of the tubes can be optimized for ride quality. If you are the kind of person who has to have the best, most advanced gear, consider a carbon or aluminum frame.
An mountain bike with an aluminum frame
An aluminum-framed mountain bike

Aluminum Bike Frame Pros

  • Aluminum frames are lighter- On average, an aluminum bike weighs around 1-2 pounds less than a comparable steel bike. The reason aluminum is lighter than steel by volume is that it has a much lower density. The density of aluminum is about 2.7 g/cm³ while the density of steel is about 8.05 g/cm3. That’s about 1/3 of the density of steel. Of course, this doesn’t mean that an aluminum frame weighs a third of a steel frame. Because aluminum isn’t as strong as steel, more material must be used to make the frame strong and durable enough. In other words, aluminum has a lower strength-to-weight ratio than steel. For example, most aluminum bike frame tubes measure more than 1.5” in diameter. Steel frame tubes often measure around 1” in diameter. Even with the extra material, aluminum bike frames are almost always lighter than steel. For recreational riders, weight doesn’t really matter. For competitive riders, a couple of pounds is a big deal.
  • Cheaper- Manufacturers initially introduced aluminum frames because they were cheaper to produce than steel. Aluminum bike frames can be easily mass-produced in a factory. Manufactures automate much of the process. It takes fewer man-hours to build an aluminum frame. If you’re on a budget, aluminum frames offer the best value. Most budget bikes use aluminum frames. You can see this when you go to a big box store. For example, if you look at the bikes at Walmart, they are mostly aluminum.
  • More efficient- When you pedal hard, your bike frame wants to flex laterally. When this happens, energy is being wasted flexing the frame rather than moving the bike forward. Aluminum frames are torsionally stiff. They don’t twist when you pedal. This allows you to use your energy more efficiently. Steel frames, on the other hand, tend to flex a bit and waste energy when you pedal hard. Aluminum frames also weigh less. It takes less energy to accelerate and maintain the speed of a lighter bicycle because you’re moving less mass around. In addition, aluminum frames tend to be more aerodynamic than steel frames. The tubes can be shaped in a way that reduces drag. A more efficient bike allows you to maintain a higher average speed and ride further using less energy.
  • No rust- Aluminum does not rust. It does, however, corrode. Strangely, this is beneficial in a way. Aluminum forms aluminum oxide when it corrodes. This creates a thin film that protects the rest of the metal from further corrosion. Aluminum oxide is also much stronger than rust. This means that your aluminum frame isn’t weakened when it begins to corrode and it won’t corrode away over time. For more info, check out this interesting article on aluminum corrosion from Bicycle Universe. 
  • Aluminum frames can be more aerodynamic- Aluminum bike frames don’t have to be made out of round tubes like steel frames. This allows frame builders the freedom to mold the fork blades and frame into aerodynamic shapes that reduce wind resistance. This increases efficiency and allows you to maintain a higher average speed.
  • Aluminum frames are faster- Because of the lighter weight, reduced frame flex, and aerodynamic design, most riders can maintain a slightly higher average speed with an aluminum frame.
  • Aluminum frames tend to look more modern- Because the frame tubes can be molded into aerodynamic shapes, aluminum frames can look a bit jazzier. You can also get curved tubes. Aluminum tubes are also thicker. Some cyclists prefer the more modern look of an aluminum bike frame.
Mountain bike with aluminum frame

Aluminum Bike Frame Cons

  • More difficult to repair- If your aluminum bike frame cracks, you can’t just hire a backyard welder to weld it back together like you can with a steel frame. Aluminum requires specialized equipment and know-how to weld. For example, when you weld an aluminum frame, you must temper or heat treat the whole frame. If you skip this step, the weld probably won’t hold. Most frame builders won’t even attempt to repair a cracked aluminum frame for liability reasons. It’s just too risky for them. Another problem is that it is difficult to determine the structural integrity of an aluminum frame after a crack has formed. Another part of the frame could be compromised as well. To be safe, you should just replace your aluminum frame if it cracks.
  • Less Comfortable- Some cyclists find aluminum frames to have a harsher ride than steel. The claim is that because aluminum frames are so rigid, they don’t dampen any shocks or vibrations. Aluminum frames transmit every bump from the road through the frame into your body. That said, aluminum frame technology has improved over the years. The process of hydroforming allows manufacturers to vary the thickness of the aluminum tubes. They can make the material thinner where some flexibility is desired. This improves comfort. Really, the frame only plays a small role in the comfort of a bike. High volume tires and a flexible seatpost absorb most shocks and vibrations. A comfortable seat and grips can also greatly improve comfort.
  • Aluminum frames don’t last as long- Aluminum bike frames fatigue fail more quickly than steel frames. In fact, aluminum frames have the shortest lifespan out of any bike frame material. On average, you can expect to get 5-10 years or 10,000-30,000 miles of use out of a quality aluminum frame before it needs to be replaced. To compare, a quality steel frame can last 20 years to a lifetime if taken care of. You’ll know that your aluminum frame has reached the end of its life when a fatigue crack forms. At that point, it’s time to replace the frame. The reason that aluminum frames don’t last as long as steel is that aluminum doesn’t have a fatigue limit whereas steel does. Every time you apply a load to an aluminum bike, the frame fatigues. This adds up over time until the frame cracks. Steel frames only fatigue if the load reaches the fatigue limit. For this reason, aluminum frames tend to fail sooner than steel.
  • You can’t change hub spacing- Because aluminum is so rigid, you can’t bend the rear dropouts without risking damaging the frame. You could weaken or crack the metal. This means you can’t adjust your hub spacing like you can with a steel frame. This limits your hub options when replacing or upgrading your wheels.
  • Aluminum frames may be more dangerous- Aluminum frames can suddenly crack and fail without warning. A catastrophic failure of your aluminum frame could cause serious injury. Imagine bombing down a hill at 30 miles per hour when your frame suddenly splits in half under you. While this isn’t likely, it is possible. Steel tends to crack more slowly and give you more warning before it fails. To be safe, you should periodically inspect your bike frame, regardless of the material. Look for cracks, dents, or crimping on all of the tubes and joints. Pay special attention to the welds. Also, make sure that the wheels are aligned. Listen for creaking in the frame and feel for a change in ride quality. If you find any damage, you may want to get the frame professionally inspected to make sure it is safe to ride. If you’re in doubt, get it repaired or replace it.
  • You can’t install S&S couplers- These allow you to take your frame apart to pack it for packing. Aluminum frames aren’t compatible due to the natural properties of the metal.

More Cycling Pros and Cons Analyses from Where the Road Forks


touring bike with a steel frame
A fully loaded steel-framed touring bike

Steel and Aluminum Frame Tubing

Bike frames are typically made from alloys. An alloy is a metal that is mixed with other metals and elements. The goal of using an alloy is to increase the strength or decrease the weight of the frame. Several different alloys of both steel and aluminum exist with slightly different characteristics. Some metals are heat-treated for extra strength. The type of metal used plays a major role in the weight, strength, and price of the frame.

Steel Bike Frame Tubing

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. It is usually mixed with traces of other elements including chromium, molybdenum, nickel, manganese, copper, silicon, etc. This increases the strength or reduces the weight of the steel. There are a number of different types of steel used for bike frame building.

Chromoly (Chrome Molybdenum, Chrome Moly, or Cro-Mo) steel is the most popular and common kind of steel tubing used for bicycle framebuilding. Chromoly steel is an alloy that is made by mixing steel with chromium and molybdenum. Adding these elements improves the strength to weight ratio of the steel.

Chromoly is commonly used to build mid to high-end steel bike frames. Several types of Chromoly exist. The most common by far is 4130 Chromoly. Reynolds 520, 525, and 727 Chromoly are also common. Colombus also makes Chromoly tubes used for framebiluding.

High-Tensile steel is the weakest and heaviest type of steel used for manufacturing bike frames. It is common on low-end bikes and older bikes. High-tensile steel is also known as carbon steel or high-ten. It is a cheaper alternative to Chromoly.

Manufacturers continually experiment with various steel alloys and different heat treatments to create the lightest and strongest material. Some steels are designed to be lighter. Some are designed to be stiffer. Currently, one of the strongest steels is Reynolds 953. This specially developed steel is almost as strong as titanium.

For more info, check out this extensive guide on types of steel used for bike frames from Gravelcycling.

Aluminum Bike Frame Tubing

Pure aluminum isn’t strong enough to use for bicycle frame building. Aluminum is alloyed with other elements to increase its strength. Usually, aluminum is mixed with silicon, magnesium, or zinc to make it stronger and more durable. 6061 and 7005 are the most common aluminum alloys used for building bike frames. Of the two, 6061 is slightly superior due to its lower weight.

Aluminum tubing is thicker than steel tubing. This is necessary to give the bike enough strength to hold up to cycling forces. Aluminum has a lower strength-to-weight ratio than steel.

Bike Frame Tubing Shapes

The shape and thickness of the frame tubes greatly affect the weight and rigidity of the bike. The tube shape can also play a role in the bike’s aerodynamic efficiency. Some common bicycle frame tube types include:

Plain gauge tubing

Plain gauge tubes are straight tubes that have the same thickness throughout the entire length of the tube. They don’t use any butting, oversizing, or shaping. These are the cheapest tubes due to their simplicity. They are also strong and easy to manufacture. For this reason, plain gauge tubing offers the best value. Your only sacrifice is a bit more weight.

Butted Tubing

Butting is a method of reducing the frame weight by removing unnecessary material. Butted tubes are thinner in the middle and thicker on the ends. This is possible because the middle of the tubes don’t take as much stress so they don’t need to be as thick. Butting can reduce the weight of a frame by 3-4 pounds.

Types of butting include:

  • Double butting- Manufacturers add extra material to the interior ends of the tubes. The middle of the tubes remain thinner. Double butting is common in mid to high-end bikes.
  • Triple butting- Similar to double butting except with three layers. The ends of the tubes are the thickest part. Further in the tube, the walls get thinner. Even further in the tube, the walls thin out again. This cuts even more weight. You’ll find triple butting on high-end bikes.

Both aluminum and steel frames can be butted. Internal butting is the most common these days. This means that the outside of the tubes are all uniform. That is, you can’t identify butted frames by looking at them. The manufacturer will indicate whether or not the frame is butted in the specs. Some older high-end frames were butted on the outside of the tubes. This is rare these days.

Hydroforming

Aluminum bike frames can be shaped with a process called hydroforming. This modern involves pumping hydraulic fluid through the frame at incredibly high pressure to mold the frame tubes into the desired shape. This process allows manufacturers to control the exact thickness and shape of the frame tubes without creating any weak spots. Frames can also be hydroformed after they are welded to fine-tune the exact shape. Hydroforming can be used to optimize the frame for aerodynamics, comfort, and stiffness. Only aluminum bike frames are hydroformed at this time.

Bike Frame Tube Connection

The individual tubes that make up your bicycle frame are joined together using either welding, brazing, or lugging. Which type of connection the frame uses depends on the frame material, price, and desired look. Some frames use a combination of connection methods.

Welded Bike Frames

Welding melts the frame tubes together to create a single, solid piece of metal. Steel, aluminum, and titanium bikes can be welded. Bike frames are welded together using TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding rather than MIG welding. This process welds the tubes together directly without filler material to create a strong and clean weld. Welding is also the most affordable option.

Pretty much all aluminum bike frames are welded. Most steel bike frames are welded.

Brazed Bike Frames

Brazing connects the frame tubes together with a filler metal. Typically, brass or silver is heated until it melts. The molten filler metal is used to connect adjacent frame tubes. When the filler metal cools, it forms a solid joint that connects the frame tubes. With brazing, the frame tubes do not melt. They are essentially glued together.

In order for a frame to be brazed, the filler material must have a lower melting temperature than the frame material. For this reason, aluminum bike frames cannot be brazed. Only steel frames can be brazed. Generally, manufacturers braze smaller joints and weld larger joints. 

Lugged Bike Frame

A variation of a brazed bicycle frame is lugged brazing. In this case, the frame tubes are fitted inside of a metal sleeve called a lug. The frame builder then brazes the lug to the frame.

Lugged tube bike frame
An example of a lugged frame

For more info, check out this guide to welded vs brazed bike frames from missionbicycle.com.

Other Bike Frame Materials

Steel and aluminum are the two most common bike frame materials. A few more frame materials to consider include:

Titanium

This is a ‘buy it for life’ frame material. Many custom made high-end road bikes, touring bikes, and cross-country mountain bikes are made from titanium.

The material is incredibly strong, hard, and durable. Compared to steel, titanium is slightly lighter and stiffer. Titanium bike frames are known for their excellent ride quality. Like steel, the material offers a bit of flex. This allows the frame to absorb some vibrations and shocks from the road. Titanium frames are also corrosion-resistant and long-lasting. Most titanium used for bike frame building is alloyed with aluminum.

There are two main drawbacks to titanium. First is the cost. The material raw material is expensive and difficult to work with because it can’t be exposed to oxygen during the welding process. Prices start at around $3000. The second problem is repairability. Titanium is harder to weld than steel. Also, you probably don’t want just anybody welding on your custom titanium frame.

Carbon fiber

This is the lightest material currently used to build bike frames. It’s the frame material that professional cyclists ride. Carbon fiber was initially developed for use in the aerospace industry where parts need to be as light and strong as possible. The material is made from strips of super-strong fibers that are made from carbon atoms. These strips are bonded together with an epoxy resin and shaped into bike frames.

Manufacturers can vary the type of resin, thickness, and direction of the fibers, the density of the fibers, grade of fibers, shape of the tubes, and more to optimize the frame. All of these play a role in the price, stiffness, durability, and ride quality of the finished frame. Carbon fiber frames are known for their comfort, ride quality, low weight, and efficiency.

Of course, there are drawbacks. Carbon fiber frames aren’t as durable as steel or aluminum frames. The material can’t survive as hard of impact as steel or aluminum without cracking. Historically, carbon fiber frames had a high failure rate. This isn’t really the case anymore. Carbon fiber frames are also more expensive than steel and aluminum frames.

For more info, check out my carbon fiber vs aluminum frame guide.

Bamboo

These unique frames are made from bamboo tubes. This includes the top tube, seat tube, down tube, seat stays, and chainstays. The tubes are bound together with resin and fiber. The resulting frame is surprisingly similar to a carbon fiber frame in terms of ride quality, comfort, efficiency, and performance. Bamboo frames are also incredibly comfortable. The material has phenomenal vibration dampening qualities. Weight-wise, bamboo frames weigh about the same as aluminum frames and less than steel frames. Perhaps the biggest benefit of bamboo is that the material is sustainable and environmentally friendly. The natural look is also strikingly beautiful.

For more info, checkout my guide to bamboo bikes

a vintage steel bicycle

A Few Things to Consider When Choosing a Bicycle Frame

  • Wheel size- Most frames work with only one size of wheel. Usually 26 inch, 700c, or 650b. The reason that you can’t use different wheel sizes is that your bottom bracket may be too low or too high. You can also have problems with brake compatibility and tire clearance.
  • Hub spacing- You can bend steel frame seat stays and chainstays a bit to fit a number of different hub widths. Aluminum frame hub spacing is fixed.
  • Tire width- Make sure your frame offers enough clearance for the tires that you plan to use. For example, if you plan to ride off-road, you’ll want a frame that allows you to install tires that are at least 2.5 inches wide.
  • Rim brakes or disc brakes- Not all frames have mounts for both. For more info, check out my guide: Disc Brakes Vs. Rim Brakes
  • Thru-axles or quick-release axles- You can’t really convert from one to the other. To help you decide, check out my thru-axle vs quick-release pros and cons list. 
  • Frame Size- If your frame is slightly too large or small, you may experience joint pain or discomfort. If you fall between two sizes, it’s better to choose the smaller frame. Road bikes are measured in centimeters from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube. Mountain bikes often come in sizes small, medium, large, etc. Sizes vary by brand. To compare sizes, you can look at the exact measurements on the manufacturer’s website.
  • Frame Geometry- The geometry of the frame greatly affects the ride characteristics of a bike. Characteristics include handling, comfort, and steering responsiveness. The most important measurements are head tube, seat tube, top tube, and chainstay length as well as the wheelbase. For more info, check out this great article about frame geometry from Bike Exchange. 
  • Price- Aluminum is the cheapest bike frame material. Most budget bikes are aluminum. Hi-tensile steel frames affordable as well depending on the grade. Chromoly steel frames are more expensive.
  • Your weight- Frames have a maximum recommended rider weight listed in the specifications. If you’re over around 180-200 pounds, you’ll probably want to go with a frame with a strength rating on the stronger side. Steel frames can generally support more weight than aluminum frames because they can handle more stress without cracking without failing. If you’re a particularly heavy rider, you may want to consider a touring bike.  Manufacturers design these to carry a rider plus lots of gear. They can handle more weight than most frames.
  • How long you plan to ride the bike- Not all frame materials offer the same longevity. If you plan to keep the bike for many years or you plan to put a lot of miles on it, go with a steel frame. The material doesn’t fatigue as quickly as aluminum. A good steel frame could last a lifetime if you take care of it. Aluminum fatigues over time and eventually fails.

My Bike Frame Material of Choice: Steel Vs Aluminum

For me, steel is the winner. The material offers an excellent combination of durability, ride quality, longevity, and value. It can take a beating and keep going for decades. The ability to repair a frame anywhere also brings peace of mind to me, as a bicycle tourist.

That said, I have owned a couple of aluminum bikes and really enjoyed them. I have never experience any durability or comfort issues with aluminum frames. Aluminum frames are also lightweight and much more affordable than comparable carbon fiber frames. With good tires and a comfortable seat and grips, an aluminum bike can be just as comfortable as a steel bike.

Final Thoughts: Steel Vs Aluminum Bike Frame

The choice between a steel and aluminum bike frame comes down to weight, price, durability, efficiency, and comfort. There are compromises that you’ll have to make. There is no perfect frame material.

If you need a lightweight or inexpensive bike, aluminum is probably the better frame material. If you value durability and comfort, steel a steel frame may be better for you. Having the ability to repair a steel frame if it breaks is a nice bonus.

If you’re trying to ride faster, you’ll probably prefer aluminum. Aluminum is more efficient.Most cyclists, including myself, don’t really care about performance. We ride for fun or transportation. Not for the fastest time. Whichever frame material you choose, I hope this guide helps you in making your decision.

Where do you stand on the steel vs aluminum bike frame debate? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!

More from Where The Road Forks

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, including links from the Amazon Serivices LLC Associates Program. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. I only recommend products and services that I use and know. Thank you for reading!

6 comments

Chuck Martin January 17, 2020 - 7:20 am

Interesting article with lots of good information. One oversight is it doesn’t mention technological advances that have made it possible to make steel frames as light as carbon fiber frames. They lose the cost advantage, but for about the same price, you can get steel frame bikes under 15#. E.g. Rodriguez: https://www.rodbikes.com/catalog/outlaw/outlaw-main.html.
Keep up the good work.

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wheretheroadforks January 17, 2020 - 5:16 pm

Thanks for reading. I had no idea that ultralight steel frames existed. I wonder how they achieve that weight? Maybe a new alloy or some really sophisticated butting? That technology kind of makes carbon fiber frames obsolete.

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bikeandmore October 28, 2020 - 7:11 am

Thanks for your information! I thought that aluminum frame would be better for me bc it’s lighter but after reading this article I think about buying a steel-framed bike.

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Stef November 14, 2020 - 12:28 am

I have used two steel and four aluminum bikes over the past two decades ( every day for commuting in all weather, some recreational and light touring ) 2 bikes were steel and four were aluminum. Different brands.The Aluminum frames without exception all ‘wore out’ with hard use, on average got four or five years use out of them before problems appeared, (example, cables rubbing against frame gouged grooves in the metal at the headtube, frames dented easily or they just deteriorated in terms of structural integrity – frame metal fatigue ). The other two steel bikes are still fine and look like they’ll be good for years to come. Also, the steel ones do feel more comfortable even on short 30minute commutes, and definitely on long rides.! I’d suggest a Cro-Moly steel frame if you can afford it and if you want to use the bike for more than a few years. And ( sorry – off topic but just sharing my experience ) don’t believe the hype about disc brakes being better, you really don’t need them unless you are doing mountain biking in rain and mud. Discs can be infuriatingly noisy ( squealing ) and are a pain to straighten or replace when they get bent out of alignment.

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Mike March 19, 2021 - 7:11 am

If aluminum frames only last 5-10 years, why does Trek have a lifetime warranty on their aluminum frames?

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wheretheroadforks March 21, 2021 - 11:23 pm

I think that warranty is only for the original buyer. It’s not transferable. Many people don’t keep their bikes for 10 years. Also, you would have to ride quite a lot to wear out an aluminum frame in 5-10 years. Most recreational riders could get a lifetime out of an aluminum frame if they take care of it. If you’re buying a quality aluminum frame, I don’t think longevity is really even worth considering.

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