Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thoughts on hydroformed aluminum tubes

No, I'm not planning to build any aluminum bikes. Sorry. For some context on how I came to write this, check out this MTBR thread.

First, a bit of context: the variety of good quality mountain bikes (both mass produced and custom) available now is astounding. There are an awful lot of good bikes out there both with and without hydroformed tubes.

But putting this in the context of global trade and mass manufacturing in general over the last decade or so, my BS detector goes off quickly when I hear crazy engineering claims about every new technology, *especially* when that technology happens to make it easier or cheaper to mass produce whatever product. Does that mean the technology is bad? Of course not! Cheaper/easier are good things, as long as you're not sacrificing quality (let's not get into whether or not buying everything we own from China is a good idea for now, since that kind of thread just devolves into name-calling in a hurry).

WRT hydroformed tubes specifically, I tend to see them on bikes where I *don't* see much effort made to really tune/engineer the different stock sizes for different riders (ie, same diameter tubes on every size from XS to XL, identical chainstay lengths and BB heights on every size, etc, etc). This generally leads me to believe that manufacturing costs are the driving force behind most of this kind of innovation, not improvements in riding characteristics.

I could of course be wrong. But Occam's Razor says that the best explanation here is just keeping costs down. Of course, that makes pretty crappy marketing copy ("just as good as last year, but 20% cheaper for us to make!"), so if you can make some tweaks to make the frame do a tiny bit better on a test rig, you're a lot better off using that as a selling point, even if the end consumer will never be able to tell.

So I'm not saying hydroformed tubes are bad. I'm just saying they're probably more beneficial to the manufacturer's bottom line than the rider's enjoyment. Just IMO, as always.

8 comments:

js said...

So, does Occur have an accent? If so, is it Swedish or Danish?

Anonymous said...

You mentioned you see many companies using hydroforming but not necessarily tuning geometry/ frame spec for different frame sizes. Are there actually any companies you're aware of (custom builders aside) that do vary tubing spec and bb height within their size range?

-ipc

Manicmtbr said...

In another post, could you explain how steel tubing is "drawn", just so we can better understand the process?

Carl Strong said...

Well put Rody!

Anonymous said...

If you're really into bikes and care about details it's not that much more to have a custom builder make you something sweet. Walt, in particular, makes this possible as his frames are pretty much the most affordable customs out there. IMO, hydro-formed frames are butt-ugly. My Waltworks is stunning to look at and rides even better. Best of all, it cost less than what I have spent on many of my Cannondales. (Cannondale is now hydro-forming, too). Mass production is a good thing, but having a dude like Walt custom build you something is way better.

--Jon

Carl Strong said...

Sorry for calling you Rody Walt. It was early and I hadn't had enough coffee. I really do know better. I scope both your blogs and got confused. BTW I really like how frequently you post.

Walt said...

That's ok, Carl. I'll take it as a compliment!

Anonymous said...

http://voices.yahoo.com/bicycle-frames-hydroforming-advantages-6821420.html