The frame is the most important part of the bicycle, connecting each part to create a whole and providing the basic structure for the bicycle. For this reason, bicycle frame manufacturers have put in a significant amount of time and effort into considering the materials and mastering processes used to produce the bicycle frame.

There are three main materials used for bicycle frames: carbon fiber, steel and aluminum. In this blog post, you will learn about the materials, the benefits and drawbacks of each and which material provides the best overall quality and cost.


Three Main Materials Used in Bicycle Frame Manufacturing

In 2019, Grand View Research valued the global bicycle frames market size at USD 20.6 billion with an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1% from 2020 to 2027. This rising trend is correlated with the rising number of people choosing to cycle as a form of leisure, as well as the increased consumer adoption of sports and recreational activities. The bicycle is a convenient form of exercise that contributes to a healthy lifestyle. 

The majority of bicycle frames are made of carbon fiber, steel or aluminum. Each material is usually used for a specific type of bicycle:

  • Modern mountain bicycle and road bicycle frames are often made from aluminum

  • Custom made or “do-it-all” frames are made from steel for durability 

  • High-end racing bicycle frames are made almost exclusively of carbon fiber

Let’s dive into the benefits of each material.

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Carbon Fiber Bicycle Frames 

With an expected CAGR of 15% between 2021-2028, carbon fiber provides a bicycle frame that is strong yet less dense compared to steel and aluminum. Originally developed for the aerospace industry, which requires material to be as strong and light as possible, carbon fiber is essentially a plastic that is reinforced with incredibly strong fibers. 

This material offers several advantages:

  • A stronger, less dense material provides a lighter weight

  • Stiffer, more responsive material that improves handling 

  • More comfortable and high ride quality

  • Less fatigue, longer lasting and no corrosion 

  • Lightweight and aerodynamic frame creates a more efficient bicycle

  • Overall higher-end and more technologically advanced

However, with these benefits also come some drawbacks: 

  • More expensive compared to steel and aluminum

  • Prone to cracking by light impact and over-tightening components 

  • Difficult to carry luggage because racks are difficult to mount

  • Non-recyclable material has a damaging impact on the environment 

  • Compromised frames can become a safety issue 

The bottom line: Although carbon fiber frames are lightweight and aerodynamic, they are expensive, prone to damage and limited in use. 


Steel Bicycle Frames

The popularity of steel is attributed to its “all-use” approach. In other words, where carbon fiber is used for racing bicycles, steel is used for everyday commuter bicycles, mountain bikes and even some racing bicycles. 

To that end, here are the benefits of producing steel bicycle frames:

  • Easy to repair because steel welding is widely practiced by welders

  • Flexible material dampens vibrations and absorbs shocks for a more comfortable ride 

  • Long-lasting and high fatigue limit

  • Durability allows material to be scratched, dented and bent without losing structural integrity

  • Wide range of hub spacing without compromising the frame

  • Safer with plenty of warning before the frame fails

  • Longest used material for its reliability 

On the other hand, steel frames also have a handful of disadvantages:

  • Heaviest material used today

  • Less efficient due to high rigidity and low flexibility 

  • Prone to rusting 

  • Expensive due to the amount of time it takes to produce handmade frames

  • Less technologically advanced 

The bottom line: Although steel is a highly durable, long-lasting material, it is less efficient, heavier and more expensive compared to aluminum. 


Aluminum Bicycle Frames 

Aluminum combines the benefits of carbon fiber and steel by providing an affordable, lightweight and easy-to-work-with material. 

In the past, aluminum frames earned a bad reputation due to outdated “glued and screwed” frames, then TIG-welded replacements created a harsh ride. However, with updated tech (bending, butting, sawing), aluminum frames now have similar ride quality to carbon fiber.

Here are several other benefits provided by aluminum bicycle frames:

  • Comparing the three materials, aluminum is the least expensive

  • Durability allows aluminum frames to withstand hard impacts without cracking or failing 

  • Highly recyclable materials are better for the environment

  • Excellent for commuters who need to mount luggage 

  • Less likely to fail unexpectedly compared to carbon fiber 

Aluminum frames may also lack in a few areas, including:

  • Material is more rigid compared to carbon fiber and steel, making for a harsher ride

  • Slightly heavier than carbon fiber but lighter than steel

  • Fewer welders can repair aluminum if the frame cracks

  • Higher fatigue rate compared to steel 

The bottom line: Although aluminum has on average a shorter lifespan compared to steel, this is the perfect choice for the everyday bicycle consumer. Aluminum bicycle frames are highly durable, easy to mass produce and far less expensive compared to both carbon fiber and steel. 


Choose a Leader Among Aluminum Bicycle Frame Manufacturers

With nearly 30 years of experience, we started our company by producing bicycle frames, and we continue to perfect our practice of manufacturing aluminum bicycle frames. By partnering with VPIC group, you will work with the best custom bicycle builder that can keep up with the market and create a quality frame on time and within budget.

Want to learn more about why you should outsource your component manufacturing? Check out our checklist, “Should I Outsource This Component?

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