"Which material is better, titanium or steel?"
It's a question we hear all the time. And it's a good question. Here's our overview of which material is best for bikes.
Before we get to the answers, it's worth noting that either material is better than carbon fiber or aluminum in almost every case. If you're looking for a durable lifelong bike that wont hold back your performance, look to steel or titanium. Email us find out more.
It's also important to explain that material quality, builder experience and care, and thoughtful design intent are all really important for all materials. Although we've found that titanium is the most susceptible material to bad choices, poor design, or corner cutting with materials. Fortunately, the Honeybees have been involved in designing and fabricating more than 70,000 titanium bikes over the past 30+ years. We've learned all the mistakes to make; we don't offer internal brake routing; we don't offer 3D printed parts, and we don't anodize any structural titanium parts, to name a few examples of engineering that reduces service life significantly.
Benefits of Steel
- Honey's steel tubesets are unique in the industry in three ways:
- Size-specific for all 12 sizes of each model
- Model-specific where no two tubesets are the same for the various models we offer
- Customized in-house using our 30+ years of framebuilding experience
- Generally stiffer drivetrain than titanium.
- Lots of paint options.
- The ride feel of a high-end steel is difficult to beat. It offers a smoother ride than carbon or aluminum. Titanium is the only frame material that provides a smoother ride -- depending on the frame design and intent.
- Less expensive than titanium. Depending on the model, generally about $700 - $900 less for the frame.
Considerations of Steel
- Rust. Contemporary high-end steel is both very thin and highly corrosive. This is a challenging combination. Anyone that tells you not to worry about rust on a steel bike is thinking of chromoly from the seventies through the nineties. By about the early two-thousands, alloying changed a lot for higher strength steels and micro-alloys. This lead to steel that rusts much easier and faster. Read our page on caring for steel to learn more. This is serious.
- Heavier than an equivalent titanium frame be about one to one-point-five pounds, depending on model and size.
- Doesn't enjoy traveling in a bike case very much; the paint is likely to get chipped, or you have to spend a lot of time packing the bike carefully.
Benefits of Titanium
- No concern about rust or corrosion. Steel rusts. Aluminum oxidizes. Carbon accelerates galvanic corrosion of aluminum parts.
- Longest fatigue life -- service life. There is no material that will last longer than a well built titanium frame -- not steel, carbon, or aluminum. Contrary to what some sources claim, aluminum and carbon fiber have fatigue limits that are nowhere near titanium's.
- Smoothest ride. Takes the edge of rough roads and trails better than any other material -- including steel. Steel is a close second to titanium but cannot match titanium. Aluminum is harsh. Carbon has to be stiff/harsh in order to not come apart.
- Lighter than steel. Frames built by each material will differ by about one to one-point-five pounds, depending on model and size.
- Perfect if you travel by plane because you don't have to worry about baggage throwers damaging the frame.
- Perfect for bikepacking because it's so tough.
Considerations of Titanium
- Price is higher than steel. Typically about $700 - $900 more for the frame.
- No paint available from Honey. Paint doesn't stick particularly well to titanium anyway and one of the beautiful aspects of titanium is that is doesn't rust or corrode -- so it doesn't require paint like steel, aluminum, and even carbon requires.
These are just a few of the reasons to explore both materials for your next bike. There are many other benefits and considerations of materials that are model specific. Email us with questions.