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Got a question about materials used in bikes?

materials, bikes, bicycles, science, frame, steel, aluminium, aluminum, carbon, boron, fibre, fiber, magnesium, titanium, beryllium, questions, manufacturing, components, ask, answerHello fellow cyclists,

For a long time I’ve been meaning to start my own column dedicated to answering questions about the multitude of materials used in bicycle frame and components. I’ve decided to write this article after reading several questions directly related to materials posted on online bike forums.

Materials and bikes go hand in hand so it’s great to see many riders already have a basic understanding of the general properties of materials. The thing is, most people are simply not qualified to answer detailed questions about the nature of materials. And it seems that some people would rather promptly give an answer -any answer- sooner than get the real facts. They give the wrong information. Mis-information.

You see the same old stuff which has been regurgitated by bicycle magazines and cyclists for the last decade. Eventually the bicycle industry catches onto something new and a buzz word is formed. There are equally as many myths floating about. I suspect that the majority of bicycle companies and component manufacturers only talk about materials to increase their sales. Yes I believe a lot of it is marketing hype. Some of it is not. I’m here to introduce you to some important but little-known concepts about Materials.

What so great about Materials Science?
It’s basically study of the physical & mechanical properties of all Materials including metals, ceramics, polymers, composites, semiconductors and superconductors. We research and test materials’ strength, stiffness, density, corrosion and a whole host of other important properties. More than any other field, Materials Science tries to seek out what is actually happening at the atomic, molecular and microstructural level.

Chemists tend to stick to atoms and molecules. Physicists tend to look more at the subatomic. Engineers lean towards the macroscopic. This leaves Materials Science to fill a truly gaping void. It is an underappreciated scale – one which you can’t see but gives rise to almost all physical properties of materials.

So if you have a question about Materials that’s been niggling you for some time, here’s your opportunity to ask me, Doc Brown, something and get an informative reply on the subject. Please e-mail your questions to Alternatively you can comment below. If this becomes popular, it will of course receive its own category.

Here’s a little background information about me:

When I was about 10, I questioned the state of the world. I’d ask my parents questions like: “how many molecules of water were there in a teacup?”. Luckily for me, they helped me to find out the real answers…

As a teenager, I had developed a passion for learning about materials and bikes. I was somewhat disappointed to learn that chromoly tubing only had ~0.5% molybdenum in it for example. I think that’s what initially sparked my interest in this field. Before leaving highschool, I applied for a Materials Science degree at the University of Technology, Sydney. I was accepted and relished the entire four years of full time study. I graduated with first class honours in 1998. It was a fantastic course which unfortunately is no longer offered. I then continued to learn more about materials at the microscopic level during a further six years of post-graduate study in the same Science faculty. I got my doctorate in 2005.

One Response to “Got a question about materials used in bikes?”

  1. Doc Brown ~

    I ran across your column in my quest to find out more about bicycle frame materials (aluminum, steel, titanium, carbon fiber) on a molecular level. I am a 7th grade teacher and i am putting together a unit about the Science of Cycling. I want my students to understand why these different materials have the properties they do on a molecular level. Why is titanium so strong? Is it that all of the particles are so clumped together? I dont know if that makes complete sense but i am trying to grasp why these materials have these certain characteristics and if we looked at a particle level, what would it look like? Can you help me?? Thanks!

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