As sellers of aluminium supplies we’re interested in every use of the metal. This time we’re looking at bicycles, where there’s a quiet revolution taking place.
Introducing the brand new aluminium Ridley Helium SLA racing bicycle, a stunning piece of engineering. It marks a come-back for the metal, replaced in recent times with fashionable yet expensive and damage-prone carbon fibre. So what’s the story?
Aluminium frame racing cycles – An affordable alternative to carbon
The Ridley Helium SLA features the same remarkable race-winning geometry and fit as the Helium Carbon bike, but at a much lower cost. It’s great news since the new bike is built for racing and comfort, ideal for entry level race-oriented cyclists without the massive price tag.
Alloy frames are much less expensive than carbon fibre, which means you can create a higher spec bike for roughly the same cost. An aluminium frame is also great if you’re worried about carbon frames’ disturbing habit of cracking under the strain of racing. And it’s remarkably light, weighing in at just 1200g.
Series 6000 aluminium leads the pack
The new frame is made from 6000 series aluminium, heat treated after completion and dipped in cold water afterwards. It’s better than the 7000 series metal, which is heated and then air-cooled to create rigidity. The 6000 series metallurgical structure stays more constant than 7000 series tubing, which keeps hardening throughout its life and can become brittle as a result. And the new bike’s frame is triple-butted, combining 6066 and 6061 aluminium tubing, the slimmest tube having a wall just 8mm thick.
The news hints at a wider change in the cycling world, with aluminium tipped to fire a road bike renaissance after a long absence. And the Ridley Helium isn’t the only bike to adopt aluminium. The expensive, suave and sleek S-Works Allez from Specialized doesn’t have a carbon fibre frame either. It’s crafted from aluminium alloy. And Canyon and Cannondale, both top class manufacturers, also make high-spec alloy bikes.
Shaping and welding innovations feed the new trend
The renewed popularity of aluminium framed cycles comes thanks to leaps forward in the way the metal can be shaped and welded. An alloy frame-set weighs just 1kg or so and looks just as good as carbon fibre, and there’s no need to stick to the old-school, restrictive straight pipes and clumsy welds. These days smooth curves and joints are easy to achieve. And there’s absolutely no difference in ride quality.
Will aluminium push carbon fibre out of the race?
Is carbon fibre on the way out? Cycling experts say not yet, at least in mid to top end bikes. On the other hand the sub-£1500 market is ripe for change and lower manufacturing costs mean you can buy an excellent quality alloy bike that’s better equipped than a carbon fibre alternative as well as equally light.
The last word goes to Joel Natale, the Product and Buying Director at Evans Cycles. As he said to Cycling Weekly magazine (http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/):
“One could argue aluminium never really went away. The difference today is the pressure to produce the cheapest carbon bikes appears to have gone for the most part. There’s a middle ground occupied by ‘high-end aluminium’ and ‘low-end carbon’ where consumers are able to make wise choices based on weight, upgrade potential and ride characteristics.”
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