By Max Glaskin
A new kind of steel that could topple titanium as the ultimate choice for bike frames has been invented. The team claims it is stronger and as lighter, crucially, could cost one tenth of the price.
Most steels are cheap compared to titanium but they are usually weaker and heavier. On the other hand, titanium is nowhere near as stiff as steel, is expensive to make and can break more easily.
The game-changing new metal is said to combine the best qualities of both steel and titanium without any of the downsides. So, stronger, light, high end frames could be made at a fraction of the price.
It's 13 per cent less dense compared to normal steel, and has almost the same strength-to-weight ratio compared to titanium alloys, say the scientists.
They've done this by using a brand new recipe for steel. All steels contain several ingredients – iron and carbon are essential and then there are varying quantities of chromium, molybdenum, manganese, silicon, sulphur and phosphorus.
But the new metal also contains a big helping of aluminium, which is much less dense than iron and similarly cheap. People tried making high-aluminium steel before but the end result was too brittle.
The South Korean researchers, though, have added a dose of nickel to the mix and created tiny crystals inside the steel which stop any nano-scale cracks from spreading.
So the laboratory samples are light and strong – exactly what cyclists need for a frame that allows them to go faster.
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The first 40kg of the new steel are being made industrially by one of the world's largest steel makers, POSCO, before mass production can start.
Then it will be used to make lighter aircraft so they won't need to burn so much fuel. Car makers will be next to use it to cut the weight of the heaviest car parts.
But Cycling Weekly has been in touch with the team leader, Hansoo Kim, and he says he believes it will be possible for the new steel to be manufactured as tubes – exactly what framebuilders need.
When will it be available? It'll take a couple of years for steelmakers to invest in new plant equipment and a couple more before the military and aviation sectors have consumed the first batches.
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When it does get sold on the open market, it's likely to cost more than titanium at the start. Only when mass production is well under way, within 10 years, will the price tumble.
In other words, if you're in the market for a new frame, don't wait. But you might like to invest now in a titanium frame – they could become collectors' items of historical value when the new steel is king.
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