Working with thin titanium tubing is more difficult than crafting a bike frame with steel, adding to the cost of a titanium frame.
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Among the most popular bicycle frame materials as of 2013 is 4130 chrome-moly steel, but its dominance in the marketplace has not stifled innovation in other alloys. Titanium, an extremely dense and solid metal, is a step up from steel in terms of stiffness, weight, damping and long-term durability in bike frame construction. A titanium bike frame has exceptional rigidity, making your pedal stroke more efficient. It's also more comfortable for long-distance rides than steel since the frame absorbs more vibration. Steel and titanium bike frames have inherent advantages and disadvantages that should be considered when buying a new bike.
Steel for bike frames is primarily produced in two levels of quality. Lower-cost bikes are commonly made from 1020 carbon steel, since it's inexpensive to produce. It's not as strong as other types of steel, so the tubing in the frame needs to be thicker and much heavier. The most common material used in mid- to high-end steel frame bikes is 4130 chrome-moly steel, as it provides exceptional strength, weldability and ductility. This type of steel is easy to repair in the event of a crash, since it can be re-welded or bent back into alignment by an expert.
By the 1990s, titanium had reached legendary status in cycling for its exceptionally low weight and rigidity. Titanium rivals carbon fiber in weight, but has far greater durability. The ride quality of a titanium bike frame is exceptional, since the high-quality metal dampens vibration while remaining stiff and responsive. The stiffness and strength of the metal allows titanium tubing to have thin walls, which results in a high-quality bike frame that is much lighter than steel. Titanium also is highly resistant to corrosion. A titanium frame doesn't need to be painted to resist the corrosion associated with riding in wet conditions; most titanium frames come from the manufacturer as polished metal.
Cost of Titanium
Since titanium is less widely available than steel, it is significantly more expensive. The cost of a good titanium bike frame typically ranges from $2,000 to $4,000 as of 2013, compared with the $300 to $500 range for high-quality chrome-moly steel. However, many riders believe titanium is worth the premium price because of its corrosion resistance and exceptional strength. A titanium bike frame can be expected to last several decades with proper care.
Advantages and Disadvantages
For riders who are more likely to damage their bike frame, such as mountain bikers, the relatively low cost of a high-grade steel frame is a significant selling point. Replacing a titanium frame is costly, although most road cyclists and casual riders should rarely need to replace a good titanium frame. Titanium also features better damping properties than steel, making it slightly more comfortable for longer rides. Steel and titanium bike frame materials are repaired using the same general techniques. Because of titanium's relative rarity in the bicycle market, however, it's more difficult to find a welder who specializes in titanium, which is exceptionally resilient and therefore harder to work with.