Building a “better” bike frame is such an open topic with no conclusive answer. Different bike frames are made from different metals for different purposes due to their own characteristics. Better can mean many things. Lighter, stronger, cheaper, more durable. Every metal has different qualities that can achieve a variety of things for someone’s own preferences. I want to know how can we build a cheaper and more durable bike frame. I want this frame because you can save a lot of money on this bike as its cheap and lasts a long time. This will have both positive and negative impacts in economic and environmental ways.
There is a wide range of metals that are suitable for this bike frame, but one of the metals that will be successful for my preferences is aluminum. About 30 years ago, Aluminum was introduced to the biking industry and has now become the most common metal used for bike frames. Big Shark states that aluminum is less dense compared to other metals used for bike frames which makes it a very light and can work with other metals in various alloys. This relates to what the Bike Exchange team, “Since Aluminum isn’t very dense, it can be formed into lightweight structures, making it perfect for bike frames.” Aluminium frames are also cheap and easy to manufacture, especially compared to frames like carbon fiber and titanium which are said to take approximately 14x longer to produce. The melting point of Aluminum is 933.47 K. This is much lower compared to the melting points of other metals like titanium which is at 1941 K. This shows how the melting point of Aluminum is much lower than the one of titanium which is beneficial for manufacturing as it will manufacture much faster and easier. Another positive factor of having a bike frame made of aluminum is that it is very corrosion resistant. Aluminum has a slower reaction to oxygen than most metals which will make the process of oxidation slower than titanium and steel.
Although this seems very suitable for a cheap and durable bike, there are negative factors that need to be considered to make this specific bike frame. First of all, Aluminum is very stiff and perishable. This has a major effect on a bicyclist’s ride because when the road vibration is transferred to the rider, this causes a harsh ride and the metal then fatigues and is exhausted. Therefore, the lifetime and durability of this bike frame will be really short. To reduce this problem, The Bike Exchange Team stated that the Aluminum frames in a bike have now increased the diameter of the tubing which allows the frame to handle high-stress points at the end of the tubes without having additional weight through the middle.
Environmental: According to Recycle Nation, Aluminum is the third most abundant resource on the planet in its raw form, bauxite, and nearly 130 million tons is extracted globally every year. Aluminum is mined from all over the world but mostly taken place in China and India. Overall, the entire process of mining and transforming bauxite into Aluminum has a great environmental impact. Since pure Aluminum ore is so stable, a huge amount of energy is required to make the final product of Aluminum. This releases perfluorocarbons during the smelting process which is 9200 times more harmful to the atmosphere than Carbon Dioxide. Additionally, when extracting bauxite from the earth, the mining process removes all the vegetation in the mining region, resulting in a loss of habitat and food for the animals and wildlife as well as significant soil erosion.
Economical: Aluminum also has a great impact on the economy in the world in many ways such as in industry, trade, or modernization. According to the Aluminum Association, the aluminum industry contributes to about $186 billion to the U.S. economy, which is more than 1% of the GDP of United States. Aluminum also affects almost every person in the country, and nearly 713,000 American jobs are supported by the aluminum industry. Around 161,000 workers are directly employed in the aluminum industry, and for each aluminum industry job, many more employment positions are created in other places in the economy which helps the economy grow and improve. In total, 713,00 U.S. jobs are supported by the production, processing, and use of aluminum. This creates a huge economic impact in the U.S and can affect other countries too.
We now know that Aluminum is a reliable and cheap material but we need a metal that is strong and durable. Another metal that will be suitable for making this cheap and durable bike frame alloy is Steel. Steel was the universal choice of bike frames. According to Lou Dzierzakore, more bikes have been constructed from steel than any other material, but now Aluminum is the most common metal used for bike frames. Steel is cheap and exceptionally durable. This is because it is very strong and dense which makes it highly resistant to fatigue as it won’t break down so easily compared to aluminum. Steel is also very easily repaired and easy to work with. Unlike carbon fiber and aluminum, if you manage to damage the steel, the frame is simple to be repaired. Somewhat surprisingly despite its strength, steel offers good levels of compliance thanks to its elastic properties and it’s malleable. According to The Bike Exchange Team, there are two distinct types of steel used in the bicycle industry. The first is high tensile which is a cheaper grade steel. This type of steel is most likely found in cheaper bikes. It has an incredibility poor strength-weight ratio and the manufacturers use this material in order to get low prices on bikes. On the other hand, higher-end steel bikes are likely to use Chromoly (chrome-molybdenum) steel, which as an alloyed steel that has better strength properties compared to the high tensile steel and is relatively thinner and lighter. The downside of steel is that it is prone to oxidization and it is very heavy compared to Aluminum and Carbon.
Environmental: Steel comes from carbon and iron, but 90% of steel comes from iron which makes the mining much more needed than the extraction of carbon. Over 1607 million metric tonnes of steel is produced by China every year and this had a huge negative impact on the earth’s environment. Greenspec confirms, “Steel production has a number of impacts on the environment, including air emissions, wastewater contaminants, hazardous wastes, and solid wastes. The major environmental impacts from integrated steel mills are from coking and iron-making.” This shows how steel has a great influence on the environment in various ways. Practically all of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with steel production come from the carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from the use of energy. Greenspec claims that coke production is one of the major pollution sources from steel production. This includes air emissions such as coke oven gas, naphthalene, ammonium compounds, crude light oil, sulfur and coke dust which are all released from coke ovens.
Ethical: As the technology in our world develops and advances, the use of the steel industry and production is growing worldwide. This then results in poor ethical actions made which make a negative impact on the environment. The steel industry’s main social and ethical issues are centered around environmental impacts and carbon footprints. Steel does not have that high of an impact on global warming as many people focus on and think. Also, because of its high strength and durable capabilities, the amount of steel used for a project or production is less than that needed for lighter, alloyed materials. In the past year, over 76 million tons of steel was recycled. Esdgn illustrates a chart which shows the pollution caused by the production of steel in the United States vs. China. This chart conveys that the United States is much more focused on the ethical issues that can affect the environment compared to China. In the United States, pollution emissions are extremely low and do not pose a great environmental impact. Steel is also 100% recyclable which can greatly reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact. By recycling, you can reduce the negative impacts on the environment.
In conclusion, I think that I would use an Aluminum and Steel alloyed frame. Both of these metals contain the qualities I want to produce my cheap and durable bicycle. While Aluminum is cheap, steel is durable. I think if you mix these together you won’t only see these two qualities in the alloy you will also see a light and strong bike frame. According to Science Alert, scientists in South Korea have invented a new steel-aluminum alloy that boasts the same strength-to-weight ratio as titanium. Titanium is the metal we use to construct jet engines, missiles, spacecraft, and medical implants. But this new steel-aluminum alloy can be produced for one-tenth of the cost. I think that this alloy will lead to great economic and environmental impacts on the world.
Ahmed, Kamal. “The Economics of Steel? Pretty Bad.” BBC News, BBC, 30 Mar. 2016, www.bbc.com/news/business-35925640.
Brock, Heidi. “The Economic Impact of Aluminum.” The Aluminum Association, The Aluminum Association, 16 Feb. 2018, www.aluminum.org/aluminum-advantage/economic-impact-aluminum.
Crew, Bec. “New ‘Super-Steel’ Alloy Is as Strong as Titanium, But 10 Times Cheaper.”ScienceAlert, Dabarti CGI, 6 Feb. 2015, www.sciencealert.com/new-super-steel-alloy-is-as-strong-as-titanium-but-10-times-cheaper.
Dzierzak, Lou. “Bike Frames: Carbon, Steel, And Aluminum Explained.” GearJunkie, Explainer Series, 27 July 2016, gearjunkie.com/bike-frame-materials-difference.
Gordon, Frank. “Social and Ethic Issues in the Global Steel Industry.” Introduction to Engineering Design, Penn State University, sites.google.com/site/edsgn100013g1p2/trends-in-the-steel-industry/social-and-ethic-issues-in-the-global-steel-industry.
Mike Weiss. “Which Frame Material Is Best?” Which Frame Material Is the Best? – Big Shark Bicycle Company – St. Louis, MO, Big Shark Bicycle Company, 2018, bigshark.com/articles/which-frame-material-is-the-best-pg531.htm.
Norton, Andrew. “Steel Production & Environmental Impact.” Greenspec, Web Design Wakefield, Jan. 2018, www.greenspec.co.uk/building-design/steel-products-and-environmental-impact/.
Leigh, Elizah. “What Aluminum Extraction Really Does to the Environment.” RecycleNation, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, 21 Feb. 2012, recyclenation.com/2010/11/aluminum-extraction-recycling-environment/.
The Bike Exchange Team. “Bicycle Frame Materials Explained.” BikeExchange, Market Placer, 14 Aug. 2017, www.bikeexchange.com.au/blog/bike-frame-materials-explained.