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RE: [rootsradicals] Re: Al and suspension

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  • Tone
    Enough people have spoken about the reason why front suspension is not ideal on an Xtracycle, so I will not address it. However, I will speak about aluminum
    Message 1 of 14 , Nov 21, 2011
      Enough people have spoken about the reason why front suspension is not
      ideal on an Xtracycle, so I will not address it. However, I will speak
      about aluminum frames.

      At the moment I have a steel single-framed Surly Big Dummy, which I have
      had for a couple of years. However, for several years before I “upgraded”
      to a Big Dummy, I had a few Xtracycle FreeRadical extensions on my
      Univega 750 FS aluminum frame. I really felt that my old Univega with the
      long tail extension was a stiffer ride than my Big Dummy. There have been
      some old discussions about steel versus aluminum on RootsRadicals, so you
      can search the archives from a couple of years ago to possibly find them.
      Basically though, steel has some flex in it, but aluminum does not, which
      is why I think I believe my old Univega had less flexx while loaded.
      Understand though, while aluminum is lighter than steel and not as prone
      to rust, it is not as easy to fix a break by welding. Once the aluminum
      hits beyond its maximum weight/pressure/etc. limit it will break
      catastrophically, but a steel frame is more likely just to bend slightly
      and can also likely be bent back without too much concern.

      In one of the responses someone stated they had cracked two aluminum
      frames when fitted with a FreeRadical. They also said they carried lots
      of weight and even jumped off curbs. I have no idea how thick that
      person’s aluminum frames were, but in my case the Univega 750 FS frame I
      had was extremely thick. Here is a link to a photo where you can see the
      thickness of the frame:
      Only the seat post had what would be considered normally sized tubing.
      Even the chain-stays seemed extra thick compared to other steel and
      aluminum bikes. In fact when I got the Univega I was already working as a
      bike messenger in NYC and I had broken a chrome-moly frame while on the
      job. It was the bike mechanic at my local shop, who actually picked out
      the Univega for me because he knew exactly what kind of treatment I put
      my bike through... and that was even a few years before I got an
      Xtracycle. Even later after I became an Xtracycle rider, I ended up
      breaking three FreeRadical extensions on the Univega before “upgrading”
      to a Big Dummy.
      I would not recommend ever hauling a load like the one in the photo, but
      obviously it shows just how strong the aluminum frame was. Also in the
      photo you can see that I lock up my bike with a 3’ long 15 pound
      Kryptonite chain. Working as a full time messenger meant I was locking
      and unlocking my bike at least 20 times a day, which is why the paint job
      got scratched and chipped off so much. That chain must have undoubtedly
      worn into the frame as well. I will say I tried never to jump off curbs
      that much, especially when loaded... after all I avoided riding on
      sidewalks as much as possible. In any case, not performing hops or drops
      on my bike certainly gave the aluminum frame a longer life, but I
      definitely had my share of collisions. When you are riding a bicycle on
      NYC streets several hours a day for several years it is statistically
      Still my Univega-Xtracycle survived all the way until at least a year
      into living in York, PA, where I commuted by bike about ten miles round
      trip each day to and from my non-cycling job in almost all weather
      conditions. Eventually though it did break down after numerous bulky and
      heavy loads with over 30,000 miles on it. I am not sure that many bike
      frames, even steel ones, can say the same. So when I “upgraded” to a
      single-framed steel big dummy I was surprised by how it flexed more when
      loaded, not to mention it weighed 10-15 more pounds compared to my

      In case you are wondering, when my aluminum Univega did break down it
      seemed to literally tear apart at the lower weld right behind the head
      tube. It tore almost completely through the down tube from the under-side
      up. When it finally happened I was commuting to work up a slight hill
      without any real load and my ride quickly built up a severe wobble. I
      thought I had a flat in the front wheel or something, but before I could
      even get both feet on the ground the front wheel rolled out ahead as the
      bottom bracket and chain rings contacted pavement. I just snapped the
      rest apart with a little brute bending force from my hands.
      The winter before there had been a day with snow where I was riding to
      work and I rear-ended a car. There was low visibility through my slightly
      fogged up ski-goggles because of the snow, but the driver’s rear lights
      did not come on to indicate he had stopped, only his running lights had
      remained lit. When I finally did realize the car in front of me had
      stopped, I broke as hard as I could on my disc brakes, but the momentum
      slid me in over the wet asphalt. It did not feel like a hard impact, but
      it was enough to bend my front fork back so my wheel touched the down
      tube. The car in front had snow on the back window and if the driver did
      feel the bump he most likely did not see anyone behind him in his side
      view mirrors. Considering the awful weather the driver did not even step
      out of the vehicle and instead just drove off a few seconds after the
      collision. The car had not sustained any damage because only my front
      tire had contacted their rear bumper. My 1.5” higher-pressure semi-slick
      tires were still fully inflated. I had to call my wife to drive me to
      work in our minivan. Regardless, in retrospect I am pretty sure that bump
      must have contributed significantly to the eventual frame breakage
      several months later.

      I guess in conclusion, you can certainly use an aluminum frame as your
      Xtracycle donor bike… but just make sure the frame has really thick
      tubing, avoid curb hopping & dropping, and do not rear-end massive static
      objects with your front wheel. Ride safe,
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