When you look at an aluminum frame for your bicycle you are looking for the advantage of less weight and higher strength. In order to get the best attributes of aluminum in a bicycle frame you may want to consider a frame that features the hydro-forming process. There are several reasons why. First we will look at other methods used to form a frame and then we will cover some of the advantages of hydro-forming.
Usually when a manufacturer creates a new frame for a bicycle they will press or stamp the components for the frame out of the selected material. The problem with pressing and stamping is that these methods may create weak points in the structure that probably will not be discernible by the eye at first glance. The corners and rounded surfaces can contain stressed areas when a frame component is pressed because the pressure used in processing the material, in this case aluminum, will be distributed unevenly at the beginning of the process. Large machines are used to form the material and may fall out of calibration in some cases.
A lot of bicycle frame manufacturers are now using a relatively new process to form the main tubes in a bicycle frame. The process is called hydro-forming. Hydro-forming uses hydraulic fluid and a mold to form the tubes in a bicycle frame. The hydraulic fluid is pumped into the frame tube at high pressure and it pushes the aluminum into the mold evenly. This process creates unique shapes and retains an even thickness in the material when the process is finished, thus, creating an even lighter and stronger frame tube to be used in the frame system. This process may also be combined with heat treating to further insure that the material is light, strong and rigid.
Not only does this create a stronger and lighter frame but this process of hydro-forming also saves the manufacturer a considerable amount of funds that would otherwise be used for conventional tools. There is also a savings on energy as the malleable material used in the process can be produced at room temperature. This can also reduce hazards for employees. The die that is used to cast the material can also be used over and over again further increasing the amount of financial savings a manufacturer may be faced with otherwise.
Very unique and exotic shapes that otherwise would not be practical can be created using the hydro-forming process. The material used in the process flows around or into the die rather than being stretched. This produces a less stressed final product that retains more strength than other processes would produce. Creating such shapes in any other type of process would actually weaken the material and create a “grainy” surface that is difficult to polish or finish out. Hydro-forming can produce an excellent surface for paint and special coatings as well creating a beautifully finished product to be sold on the market.
The process of hydro-forming was created in the early 1950’s by Fred Leuthesser, Jr. and John Fox. Once the process was refined more companies started to use it including the automotive industry and musical instrument industries. Some brass instruments such as saxophones are currently manufactured by using the hydro-forming process. The automotive industry uses the hydro-forming process to produce uni-body frames and other components for the production of cars.
At the end of the day hydro-forming has become a reliable and well trusted process for producing strong, light and rigid components for many industries while consuming less energy, requiring less tooling and reducing the amount of pollution created by manufacturing several different lines of products for the general market. If you are looking at buying a new bicycle for road or trail use you may want to consider the advantages of hydro-forming when considering different types of frames and components. The advantages are clear and the finished product can be a lot more useful and aesthetically pleasing than a standard round tube frame.