How do raw aluminum frames hold up/age with time?

Like all of us addicts, I have started cooking up my next bike, a commuter on very flat terrain. I’m interested in Nicolai’s Argon GX.

Nicolai is a specialist for aluminum mountain bike frames, they are known for very, hmmm, opinionated and progressive frame geometries. The Argon GX is meant to be sturdy, still fun and can be run with drop or flatbars. (I’m strongly leaning to flatbars.)

Their frames are still relatively affordable and come in a lot of finishing options. One of them is raw aluminum, which in my mind looks kickass.

The raw “finish” accentuates the welds and boxy shapes. However, I am worried about corrosion. I know that in principle aluminum forms a protective oxide layer. On the other hand, last winter road salt destroyed my precious XTR rear derailleur. After all, there is a reason why aluminum frames are usually at least anodized.

Do any of you have experience with raw aluminum frames? How do they age? What does the patina look like?

PS Nicolai does offer anodized finishes, but that dulls the burly look a bit.

I have a 20 year old Lemond Alpe D’huez which I think is raw aluminium. Certainly looks like your pictures and isn’t painted, though think there was some sort of clearcoat on it to protect the finish. Clocked up many tens of thousands of miles on that frame, it got retired from outdoor use about 6 years ago and has been sitting on the trainer ever since. Finish is still holding up pretty well in most places, main noticeable cosmetic issue is on the top tube where years of inner knees brushing it has worn away the top surface and it’s a bit rough and slightly oxidised looking. But that’s really only shown up since it’s been indoors so guess corrosive sweat is a factor.

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I raced at aluminum bike in 1997. I still have it. I believe it is polished aluminum. It has oxidized over the years. It’s now a beater and still going strong
https://bonustomato.com/models/1997-homegrown-hardtail-xt/
Edit:
Oh ya I did have an aluminum road bike way back. Small frame and I used it for climbing races. They do not flex at all.

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@OreoCookie not sure what bikes you’ve tried, but the worst ride of my life was on an Al forked bike. Pretty sure I’m not mistaken; it was way way worse even than just an old steel frame. Like riding a paint shaker; it was torture. When I switched to an Al frame w just a carbon front fork, it was like flying on a pillowy cloud… even on 23s @ 100 - 110 PSI…

Unsure if you’d want to consider that in the plan… thought I’d mention it, just in case! :slightly_smiling_face:

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Raw aluminum can definitely corrode over time…it usually appears as dull spots, kinda white-ish and my sometimes have some pitting (depending on what it is exposed to).

For extreme examples, you could look at the corrosion and pitting that happens with alloy bars on trainers…

But if cared for, it isn’t a safety issue and the patina can add a bit of character to the frame (especially if you find the above industrial look appealing)…and it also usually takes awhile to develop (again, depending on what it is exposed to).

FWIW, I don’t think it’s raw aluminum. It’s probably polished and then clear anodized. Bare aluminum would oxidize to a dull grey over time.

Personally, for a commuter I’m not sure I’d spend 1500 euros on an aluminum frameset. Of course, the heart wants what the heart wants. :slight_smile:

An open mold carbon frame could be had for like $600.

Titanium though, might be the ultimate commuter, salty road material.

I questioned that as well, but the following info from the linked page sure points to raw with no other covering applied:

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Interesting. It seems odd. I’d want to know what one of those frames looks like after a year or three. I’d lean towards a coated frame if it’s going to be ridden on salted roads.

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Indeed. True raw would almost never be my choice, especially in conditions that involve moisture and salt. At the very least, I would choose a clear coat paint or clear ano finish for actual protection of the aluminum. The only exception I’d consider would be a carpet queen that got very limited use in perfect conditions.

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FWIW, “oxidize” is probably the better term for the type of ageing you would see on raw aluminum vs. “corrosion” (but corrosion can most certainly occur with aluminum)

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Yeah, raw means uncoated. If it were coated, I wouldn’t have posted. There is a reason why aluminum frames are typically anodized or painted. Which is why I posted here. It’ll be the opposite of a garage queen. I’ll care for the bike, but I will ride summer and winter, sunshine and rain.

Seems better to have it anodized or painted.

They don’t make forks, but I’d get a carbon fork, of course.

A generic carbon frame doesn’t tickle my fancy. One reason is that I want something out of the ordinary: a sporty bike with road bar gearing compatible with flat bars that has plenty of attachment points. Plus, I don’t know what brands to trust and what to stay away from. Nicolai is established and local.

I looked into Ti frames, of course, but after speccing them out (e. g. eyelets for extra attachments frequently cost extra, nice brushed finishes cost extra, etc.), they cost 1.5–2x. I really love the look of brushed Ti, but I need to get my finance minister on board.

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You should probably ask him directly how he finishes his frames then instead of having us all guess.

Aluminum oxide is real though, nobody would release an uncoated raw frame as a finished product. Maybe give it raw aesthetics though.

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According to the website, they do. When I researched this topic, I read somewhere that about 30 % of Nicolai’s bikes are raw aluminum. They write explicitly that raw frames lack clear coating.

Nicolai has about 20–30 employees. They are an interesting company. If you add 730 € to the price of the frame you are interested in, they’ll customize the frame’s geometry.

I have not followed them closely, but Nicolai is indeed a well known German company with a long history. Their bikes usually get very favourable reviews in the German mtb magazines.

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Yup. They are most well-known for trail, enduro and downhill bikes. A friend of mine interned there about 20 years ago. They are open to experiments. If you want a Pinion gearbox on your mountain bike, then Nicolai is one of your best choices. They also make a bike for the Lal drivetrain with its distinctive “rear derailleur”.

Their frames are not meant to be the lightest, but very sturdy. The Argon GX does not have an official weight limit, for instance.

This is my understanding exactly, and very well worded. My concern areas would be mostly about welds, nooks, and crannies in the rear triangle that get exposed to the most water/salt/mud, but for a fun quirky commuter with a bit of flair on a budget I’d be willing to take the risk.

If the build is easy enough to strip once a year or so then I might even look into how a frame like that might cope with being waxed like a car (or a floor!) That or other durable nonpermanent coatings that might be available.

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Right on, bud!! :slight_smile: Hope you enjoy the build process! Post pics and a story / review when you’re done!

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It’s made out of 7-series aluminum, which should be more durable against scratches than most aluminum bike parts. It’ll always have fine scratches on it though.

You can always polish anything that dulls. Any motorcycle enthusiast would be able to help you get it perfect.

They can also clear coat it, powder coat, or anodize it clear. If you’re going to be polishing things, I’d just leave it plain as the difference between parts with the finish on it will polish different than where its still on.m. I’d ask what they recommend.

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Could this be because who ever buys it raw, is getting a bespoke paint job?

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I can’t exclude that possibility, but I think it is unlikely: they offer a lot of paint jobs including custom colors and more expensive color options. They have an orange I really like.

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