Which Frame Material Should I Ride?

Q:  I'm turning 50 and my wife is buying me my dream bike. I'm currently riding an old Litespeed Classic with a Campy Record triple. I'm not a racer but enjoy long rides, including Paris-Brest-Paris. So which frame material should I get? I like my titanium bike but am interested in carbon. However, I heard that it can be fragile (a "one-crash" bike).

Also, because we're talking big bucks here, would you recommend getting a fit done by Andy Pruitt at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine? -- Paul L.

COACH FRED:  Ah, the best frame material. You've asked the hardest question I ever get! It's virtually impossible to tell someone what bike they should buy, let alone what it should be made of.

But I'll take a shot anyway.

The last 30 years of cycling history have shown us that good frames can be built from a variety of materials.

Steel has won plenty of Tours de France. Even in this age of super-lightweight carbon, steel is still a great material, especially for a training or long-distance bike. The additional weight is compensated for by the quality of steel's ride and the fact that it doesn't fail catastrophically.

Aluminum can deliver a stiff and harsh ride, depending on tube diameter, but Al frames also can be very light. However, the choice nowadays for top-end frames is usually titanium or carbon -- or some combination. 

I have a Litespeed Vortex (all Ti) and a Serotta Ottrott (Ti with carbon top and down tubes). If I were betting on longevity, I'd bet on the Litespeed. It's already lasted almost 10 seasons and is going strong. It rides great, it's light and the frame is virtually maintenance free.

The Ottrott is similarly light and has wonderful ride qualities. It's a custom so it fits me perfectly. I've ridden it for two seasons without problems. But I've never crashed it and I haven't ridden it exceptionally hard. Will it last? I don't know. Ben Serotta assures me that there have been no bonding issues with the bike, and I take him at his word.

Which type should you buy? It depends on what you want in a bike. If long life is important, get titanium or perhaps steel. If you're going to ride the bike hard and replace it in a few years, then it doesn't much matter. Carbon is so well formulated these days that you'll certainly get several years of use from even a light carbon or carbon/Ti bike.

I highly recommend a professional bike fit before spending a lot of money on a pro frame. It's worth the additional expense to avoid making a mistake on frame dimensions. And the fit will also ensure that you're positioned right on the new bike.

I think Andy Pruitt is the best in the business, so if you can get to Boulder it would be time and money well spent.

Take your current bike to the appointment. Andy can check your fit on the Litespeed and make recommendations about frame size changes if they're needed. Or you can mate your Pruitt fit to the dimensions of a new frame at a shop that uses the Serotta SizeCycle.

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