Robot’s Useless Reviews – Aluminum

Once upon a time in my early teen years, I needed money. I forget what for, but it must have been critically important, because my father suggested I collect aluminum cans and take them to the recyclery for $0.05 a pop. And I DID IT. In my defense, he browbeat me into it, and as he often would if he thought I was being lazy, which I quite often was. To underline the obviousness of this money-making strategy, and to prevent me from returning home 10 minutes later, he went with me. This experience was painful on many levels.

First, this is Alabama in the summertime. It’s hot and humid, and going outside is a poor idea. Second, the spot he identified as likely the most rich in carelessly discarded aluminum was a long, straight, double-yellow lined with pine scrub near our house. Third, my dad’s work ethic made Sisyphus look like a wuss. We weren’t going to spend 10 minutes casing the bushes for cans. We were gonna make an afternoon of it.

As I think back, it was pretty astonishing how many cans were there in the scrub and how many of them were beer cans. In a few hours, we brought back a couple hundred cans, and I made $10 bucks. My dad felt he’d taught me something important about the value of hard work, and I thought, “I will never do that again if I can help it.”

That’s probably when I started hating aluminum.

Meanwhile, in the world of bicycles, everyone was riding steel bikes until one day when someone said, “Hey, you know what’s lighter and stiffer than this?” whereupon the industry began welding up aluminum triangles and riders everywhere began wondering why their teeth were rattling out of their heads. It’s amazing how much discomfort we’ll abide if someone promises we’ll gain an iota or two of speed.

I mostly avoided this problem, sticking to steel, with the notable exception of a Stumpjumper M2 Comp I bought in the middle ’90s, which served me well for a number of seasons.

Have you heard the sound of a baseball off an aluminum bat? Awful.

The first aluminum bikes actually came into being in the early ’70s via a project at MIT (I actually got to see Harriet Fell’s aluminum bike, because she lives in Boston and still rides it, or an iteration of it anyway), but didn’t come into popular use until those same middle ’80s that saw me rooting around in the pine straw for Budweiser cans.

For a time, aluminum was the IT material, the stuff of high end bikes, but then carbon fiber came along and killed that, and now mostly bike companies build their “budget friendly” bikes out of aluminum. Ironically, these bikes are mostly overbuilt and no longer considered light. Still fun though. Probably. I don’t know.

As much as I harbor a grudge toward aluminum, any material you can root out of shrubbery, recycle and produce a bike with is pretty alright in my book. I’m not in a rush to fill the basement with aluminum bikes, but Mario Cippolini made these ones look good, if you’re into stuff that looks good. Anything looks better than an afternoon in the Alabama sun pouring out half-drunk Stroh’s Lights and being harangued by your father for your unwillingness to “just pick up the money that’s lying on the ground.”

Join the conversation
  1. alanm9 says

    I’ve owned many aluminum bikes, and still ride one as a daily commuter, and never had a problem. Maybe because I ride extra large frames. I also have a steel and a titanium frame and they all feel great.

Leave A Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More