Beating a dead horse
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  1. #1
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    Thumbs up Beating a dead horse

    Here's the scenario. If I could find four frames, one carbon fiber, one aluminum, one steel, and one titanium; and disguise them, I'll bet that a statistically relevant sample of cyclists could not tell the difference between the frames. I'm assuming that all frames have identical components, wheels, tire pressure, and that they fit the prospective riders correctly. All frames in my little experiment would have the same geometry. No scales would be allowed in my experiment, but riders would be allowed to ride the four bikes as much as they desired over a variety of road surfaces. No weights or other devices would be added to make the bikes weigh the same, just some sort of cover over the frames.

    I don't have the resources to do this, but it would be interesting.

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    Unfortunately the visual differences between all of the frames would be able to tip off most riders as to what the material of the frame is. This could cause some sort of "placebo effect" on a given frame due to pre conceived notions.

    Nice thought though.

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    I'll tell you personally right off the bat, if I was blindfolded and could maintain a line I could very well tell a difference if you took the titanium out of the equation. Only because I haven't owned one and probably never will. All forks must be made of corresponding frame material however. Aluminum from CF by fork buzz. CF from steel by chainstay flex out of saddle (assuming stiff CF). If the forks are carbon I have no idea how you would make a fair shot without cheating honestly.

    My latest habit is checking out all the Tange Steel frames from the 80's. Those things ride sweet man. My 99' Raleigh R-Racer is aluminum frame and fork, and let me tell you something, my hands and ass can feel that fact.

    Also, on a trainer I could identify all four frames by the sound they make when I try to break/bend/destroy them intentionally in said trainer. : P
    Last edited by JasonLopez; 09-10-2012 at 02:56 PM.

  4. #4
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    I'd bet dollars-to-donuts that I could at least tell aluminum from all the others unless aluminum frames have come a loooong way from the ones I tried years ago. To be fair, the forks would have to be of the same material. I.e. no CF forks on the Al or Ti frames. I would be interested to try the blind taste test on the other three materials though. Hard to control for all factors however as most material choices are a trade-off. I.e. I'm pretty sure I could tell one frame was stiffer, but that wouldn't really be a clue to the material since this is also hugely dependent on design, not just materials.
    Well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion man. - The Dude

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by JasonLopez View Post
    I'll tell you personally right off the bat, if I was blindfolded and could maintain a line I could very well tell a difference if you took the titanium out of the equation. Only because I haven't owned one and probably never will. All forks must be made of corresponding frame material however. Aluminum from CF by fork buzz. CF from steel by chainstay flex out of saddle (assuming stiff CF). If the forks are carbon I have no idea how you would make a fair shot without cheating honestly.

    My latest habit is checking out all the Tange Steel frames from the 80's. Those things ride sweet man. My 99' Raleigh R-Racer is aluminum frame and fork, and let me tell you something, my hands and ass can feel that fact.

    Also, on a trainer I could identify all four frames by the sound they make when I try to break/bend/destroy them intentionally in said trainer. : P
    First, you are cheating. The test was stated for frames, not forks.

    Second, you are cheating with the 'assuming stiff CF' nonsense. That's exactly the point - any material can make pretty much any ride quality. I rode and raced the old-school beer-can Cannondales of legend, and cheap and good steel, and ti, but the stiffest, and the whippiest, and the buzziest, and the deadest bikes I've ridden were all carbon.

    I'll give you sound. Tell in an instant by rapping my wedding band on the top tube, even through a layer of burlap camoflage. Other than that, not only am I sure I couldn't tell, I'm sure that if you got a set of crafty builders in on it, you could pretty much assure that a general group of enthusiasts would be largely wrong.
    A good habit is as hard to break as a bad one..

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by danl1 View Post
    First, you are cheating. The test was stated for frames, not forks.

    Second, you are cheating with the 'assuming stiff CF' nonsense. That's exactly the point - any material can make pretty much any ride quality. I rode and raced the old-school beer-can Cannondales of legend, and cheap and good steel, and ti, but the stiffest, and the whippiest, and the buzziest, and the deadest bikes I've ridden were all carbon.

    I'll give you sound. Tell in an instant by rapping my wedding band on the top tube, even through a layer of burlap camoflage. Other than that, not only am I sure I couldn't tell, I'm sure that if you got a set of crafty builders in on it, you could pretty much assure that a general group of enthusiasts would be largely wrong.
    I'm only cheating if I've been caught, and I doubt you can catch me. :P

    Ok so your arguments are not without merit. How about this. Between my all steel frame, all aluminum frame, and all CF frame, I could tell the difference. It 'just-so-happens' the forks of all of my bikes are the same material as the frame as well.

    Again, I don't even know if titanium is a metal or a gas or a solid or a liquid and I really don't understand how it can be a bicycle and the accent trim in my car. I hear it burns like wood in oxygen. Strange alien stuff.

  7. #7
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    OK, bikes all have foam-covered frames, and forks are identical on all bikes. Same seat post, saddle; everything but the frame material is identical.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by My Own Private Idaho View Post
    OK, bikes all have foam-covered frames, and forks are identical on all bikes. Same seat post, saddle; everything but the frame material is identical.
    I got no ****ing clue in that scenario. Can I still break them, crash them into things, catapult myself off of 10 ft ledges?

  9. #9
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    "statistically relevant sample of cyclists", oh man that was funny to me.

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    It depends how good of that foam layer serves as insulation. CF bikes will resonate a bit differently, especially if there's cables rattling in them.

    It would be an effective test, although I'm one to believe in the first place there's hardly a difference between an aluminum, CF, and mixed frame from experience. Won't comment on steel because my last frame was from Toys R Us, but it was an awesome MTB for a 10 year old.

  11. #11
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    If they are all built to ride the same, then the only difference will be in vibration absorption and weight. If each is built to take advantage of the inherent advantages to each material, then there will be noticeable differences between them.

    It's all in the construction, tube selection, etc.

    Once upon a time I used to think as you do. Then I got a chance to test out some outstanding frames. The myth, the one I bought into, collapsed in a heap.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JasonLopez View Post
    My latest habit is checking out all the Tange Steel frames from the 80's.: P
    I have a 1993 Serotta Colorado tg made from Tange Prestige tubing and it is a fantastic riding bike. I recently decided it was finally time for something new and could not find a single CF bike that I liked the RIDE of better than the Serotta (and it was a decent crop of CF bikes - Cervelo, Spec, Pinarello, Guru). The Tange tubing is fantastic. That being said, I wasn't even out of my driveway on a Moots demo when I knew what my new bike would finally be. The Tange Serotta is great, but the Moots is better in every way. Just my opinion, of course.

  13. #13
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    There's AL and there's AL just like anything else.

    My E5 S-Works rode as nice or nicer than some SL steel bikes I've owned. The CAAD8 that I borrowed from a buddy rode like a brick comparatively. Sale material to make the bike, completely different ride characteristics.

    IME big hits feel like big hits. Its how the frame/fork/wheels/tires react to the small stuff that makes the difference in 'ride quality.'

    For example: I was riding at TET cross bike with a steel fork at the same time I was riding the E5 S-Works referenced above. The steel fork on the TET felt a little buzzier JRA than the Ouzo Pro I had on the E5 but big hits (expansion joints, potholes, etc) felt about the same on both bikes. The Ouzo Pro damped out a little of the 'zing' from the steel fork. Neither are necessarily bad, just different.

    YMMV and all that

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    I've moved back to NoVA. PLEASE change the weather!

  14. #14
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    I think it would be cooler and more feasible to set up identically built but indistinguishable frames made of the same material.

    For carbon- do a few of the unbranded frames (HongFu, etc.) and some real high end ones (Pinarello, Colnago, Crumpton, Parlee).
    For Ti- Build up a Moots, a Seven, and one of the cheaper ones from China/Taiwan.

    I remember Hyundai doing something like this when they came out with the Genesis. They made some cars completely unbranded and let people drive them to get feedback without knowing the brand.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by My Own Private Idaho View Post
    Here's the scenario. If I could find four frames, one carbon fiber, one aluminum, one steel, and one titanium; and disguise them, I'll bet that a statistically relevant sample of cyclists could not tell the difference between the frames. I'm assuming that all frames have identical components, wheels, tire pressure, and that they fit the prospective riders correctly. All frames in my little experiment would have the same geometry. No scales would be allowed in my experiment, but riders would be allowed to ride the four bikes as much as they desired over a variety of road surfaces. No weights or other devices would be added to make the bikes weigh the same, just some sort of cover over the frames.

    I don't have the resources to do this, but it would be interesting.
    I did. In 1992 i was somewhat rich and had this exact idea. At that point it was't clear which material was best, or which would dominate going forward. Aluminum was generally the high end. I bought/made one of each material. Each was the best available (IMO at the time) of that material. All were made to fit as closely as possible. They all used the same tires/tubes/air pressure, though not the same wheels. I did swap the wheels around to see what difference that would make at times jsut for kicks of course.
    If you search my user name back far enough you'll see pics of each of these if you care.

    CF - Trek Madone SSL 15.8lbs
    Ti - Litespeed Tuscany 18.0lbs
    Al - Schwinn Fastback Limited 17.0lbs
    Steel - Ibis Spanky 18.5lbs

    IMO -

    Your butt would have to be shot full of novacaine to not know which bike you were riding. Each had obvious ride and handling characteristics that are generic of the material as well as the particular model.

    Schwinn - A superb climbing and sprinting bike. Very sharp, direct handling. Unfortunately it was stiff to the point of harshness and skittish over poor surfaces at high speeds. It's fatigueing and not very fun to ride for more than 50 miles or so. It got by far the least ride time.

    Litespeed - Competent at everything, amazing at nothing. Handles and flexes like a light steel frame but with less feedback and greater composure. IMO the best Ti reduces road vibration almost as well as CF. It shares feel and handling characteristics with both steel and CF, and if you didn't know what you were riding or hadn't ridden a quality Ti frame before, you may have difficulty picking it out as Ti.

    Ibis - The Moron tubing and tig construction give a purity of feel that is a real joy. It gives the level of feedback as Al without the fatigue. While most people think that CF is superior purely in terms of weight, almost every steel frame in existence has a limitation that can be designed out of CF, which is their lack of tortional rigidity. It's easy to feel, just stand on the pedals and push the bars back and forth. Note how the frame flexes and doesn't move as a unit. If you're riding to the Starbucks at 15mph this is meaningless. If you're riding down Neardeath Pass at 50mph and hit a bunch of potholes you're more likely to loose control and die. At the edge of control, steel takes greater finess and perhaps makes one a better rider, but to me there's a very significant advantage to a correctly engineered CF frame when the stuff hits the fan.

    Trek - The last of the great Lance bikes. Anyone who disbelieves CF's claim of laterally stiff / vertical compliance hasn't encountered this bike. It's BB is stiffer than the Schwinn but it filters out poor road conditions pretty much absolutely. It has the true magic carpet ride. Riding this and the Schwinn back to back over chip-seal is a true revelation. There is no way that even someone who had never ridden a quality bike wouldn't immediately feel this.

  16. #16
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    Yes but materials only

    I would argue that I could tell the difference between materials only. In other words all things being equal (components, wheels, geometry, etc) I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a China direct/eBay frame and say a Trek or Pinarello. Same goes for steel and aluminum too.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by icsloppl View Post
    I did. In 1992

    CF - Trek Madone SSL 15.8lbs
    Ti - Litespeed Tuscany 18.0lbs
    Al - Schwinn Fastback Limited 17.0lbs
    Steel - Ibis Spanky 18.5lbs

    Trek - The last of the great Lance bikes. Anyone who disbelieves CF's claim of laterally stiff / vertical compliance hasn't encountered this bike.
    Something isn't right - "the last of the great Lance bikes" were not built in 1992.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by SantaCruz View Post
    Something isn't right - "the last of the great Lance bikes" were not built in 1992.
    It obviously wasn't the last Trek Lance rode, it was just the SSL's nickname.I think it got it because later models were not laid up by hand and it was seen as somewhat of a quality watershed.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by My Own Private Idaho View Post
    Here's the scenario. If I could find four frames, one carbon fiber, one aluminum, one steel, and one titanium; and disguise them, I'll bet that a statistically relevant sample of cyclists could not tell the difference between the frames. I'm assuming that all frames have identical components, wheels, tire pressure, and that they fit the prospective riders correctly. All frames in my little experiment would have the same geometry. No scales would be allowed in my experiment, but riders would be allowed to ride the four bikes as much as they desired over a variety of road surfaces. No weights or other devices would be added to make the bikes weigh the same, just some sort of cover over the frames.

    I don't have the resources to do this, but it would be interesting.
    Grab your blindfold and head over to your local Felt shop. Their F-series is available in carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel. Same geometry. Same sizing. No titanium, but 3 out of 4 ain't bad.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by icsloppl View Post
    CF - Trek Madone SSL 15.8lbs
    Ti - Litespeed Tuscany 18.0lbs
    Al - Schwinn Fastback Limited 17.0lbs
    Steel - Ibis Spanky 18.5lbs
    Interesting mix. My experience is more limited, but newer.

    I first got into biking 2 years ago and my bike was a 2010 Cannondale Synapse Alloy. Being my first bike since being a kid riding a BMX frame, I thought the ride was great. It was light and fast. I was (still am) a bit of a Clydesdale and the frame flexed under power. The carbon fork flexed when I stood on the pedals and the BB would move from side to side under intense effort. Once I started riding longer distances, I could really feel the fatigue start to set in, usually around 40 miles.

    July of this season, I was hit by another rider and the frame was bent beyond saving. Enter my 2011 Blue AC1. Any components I could migrate over from the Cannondale where swapped. So I basically had the same groupset, crank, wheels, pedals, bars and stem, seat, etc... only the frame was different.

    The AC1 is a dream to ride, especially as the miles add up. Much stiffer in the BB, no flex in the fork area under intense effort and it really dampens the road chatter. I don't feel that fatigue nearly as quickly as I did on the alloy Synapse.

    Now, to be fair, things about my body have changed and so has my fitness level, but I am fully convinced that I'd rather have the CF frame at this point in the game.

    That is just my very limited view based on my personal experience. Unfortunately, I've never owned a Ti or Steel frame, so my perspective is quite narrow in reference to the OP.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by AtomicMoose View Post
    Interesting mix. My experience is more limited, but newer.

    I first got into biking 2 years ago and my bike was a 2010 Cannondale Synapse Alloy. Being my first bike since being a kid riding a BMX frame, I thought the ride was great. It was light and fast. I was (still am) a bit of a Clydesdale and the frame flexed under power. The carbon fork flexed when I stood on the pedals and the BB would move from side to side under intense effort. Once I started riding longer distances, I could really feel the fatigue start to set in, usually around 40 miles.

    July of this season, I was hit by another rider and the frame was bent beyond saving. Enter my 2011 Blue AC1. Any components I could migrate over from the Cannondale where swapped. So I basically had the same groupset, crank, wheels, pedals, bars and stem, seat, etc... only the frame was different.

    The AC1 is a dream to ride, especially as the miles add up. Much stiffer in the BB, no flex in the fork area under intense effort and it really dampens the road chatter. I don't feel that fatigue nearly as quickly as I did on the alloy Synapse.

    Now, to be fair, things about my body have changed and so has my fitness level, but I am fully convinced that I'd rather have the CF frame at this point in the game.

    That is just my very limited view based on my personal experience. Unfortunately, I've never owned a Ti or Steel frame, so my perspective is quite narrow in reference to the OP.

    I've had similar experiences between a low end CF frameset and a high end CF frameset. And between a lot end steel frameset and a high end steel frameset. At the moment, I'm down to 1 bike. It's very high end CF frameset. I have an equally high end steel frameset on order. That will be an interesting comparison as well.

  22. #22
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    [QUOTE=Don4;4095362]Grab your blindfold and head over to your local Felt shop. Their F-series is available in carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel. Same geometry. Same sizing. No titanium, but 3 out of 4 ain't bad.[/QUOTE

    Be careful on the road with that blindfold on. ;]
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  23. #23
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    Old, but interesting, in 1994 GT road bikes were made in Colorado. The Edge model was available in Ti, Aluminum, and steel. They all had the exact same build kit (DA).

    http://www.mtb-kataloge.de/Bikekataloge/PDF/GT/1994.pdf

    GT took several of each to Monarch Pass (big hill in central Co) and timed them multiple times both up and down with different riders. Uphill, the Al frame was usually the fastest for the same rider. Downhill, the Ti frame was the fastest every time. Whether or not this info exists on the internet i don't know. I tried to find it but failed...

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