TCI Friday works when you participate, like marriage counselling or the tango, or democracy.
By this time, I have written this Friday discussion column hundreds of times. Back in the Red Kite Prayer days, it was called the Friday Group Ride, which we conceived initially as a way to engage readers on their thoughts and experiences in a more purposeful way. I mean, we spend an awful lot of time writing AT you; we figured a regular feature like this would be a good way for you to write back at us.
So as I said, I’ve written hundreds of these, maybe 700 in total, and for sure some of the topics have repeated. For kicks I went back into the archive and looked at some of the very first ones. In fact, I was amused to see that this whole project started in December of 2009. The first editions were pretty weak. I hadn’t figured out a good format yet, and back then I would write a recap of everyone’s input the following week, as if we hadn’t all been there, participating.
The first one I came to that asked a solid, always relevant question was #13. It focused on bicycle frame materials, and what I found interesting in both my set up and in the feedback was how different the bike world looked then. I would have told you that wholesale takeover of carbon fiber as the material of choice happened around 2003, but actually, there were still a lot of steel frames in circulation in 2009. This kind of memory correction is helpful to me.
Back then I wrote: “Are you a “steel is real” rider? An aluminum stalwart? A titanium beast? A carbon-fiber, um, person? Or, maybe, just possibly, a bamboo bandit?”
As I recall I had two steel road bikes I was flogging at the time, a Moser 51.151 that didn’t fit me, and a Torelli Corsa Strada. In that Group Ride I said, “I ride steel. This is a function of some vague notion I have that steel was good enough for riders of my ilk (i.e. slow) twenty years ago, and it’s good enough now.”
Most of my attitudes have shifted since then. I got a job at a custom bike builder and acquired some hand-made titanium and Ti/carbon bikes there. I own a carbon fiber dual-suspension mountain bike now. I still think steel is real, but I only have one steel bike left, a fixed gear dream my friend Mike built for me.
Really, each of the popular frame materials has a case to be made for it. Steel, in the right hands, is elegant, forgiving under the rider, and relatively affordable. Aluminum is tough and budget-friendly. Titanium has steel’s benefits but it’s lighter at the same strength. It’s also costlier. And, I’m less carbon averse than I used to be, but I worry about the long-term waste problem from broken frames that can’t be recycled and won’t biodegrade. Carbon fiber can be so light, strong and adaptable for frame building purposes. With any of these materials, there are well-made examples and garbage.
So this week, we revisit an age-old topic. What do you ride? Why? What are your decision-making criteria vis a vis materials when buying a new bike? Finally, how have your own ideas about frame materials changed over time?
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