When buying a new bike, perhaps the first question for buyers is whether to go with a carbon frame or an aluminium one. There’s a great deal of debate over which is “best” and everybody has different needs and preferences in a bike. Buyers should firstly know what they’re looking for in a bike, what their needs are for their bike frame. Secondly, they must understand the differences and benefits of the different frame materials.
If you’re wondering which way to go – Carbon or Aluminium – here are a few basics on the differences between the two and how they meet different requirement.
In their basic form, carbon fibre is lighter than aluminium, but don’t get tricked into buying for weight alone. A well engineered aluminium frame might end up being lighter than a cheaper carbon frame – everything depends upon how the frame has been engineered.
To make lightweight frames, tubes vary in thickness with the tubes being thickest in areas that require reinforcement and carry weight and strain, and thinner in areas where this reinforcement is needed. If you want a lighter bike, don’t simply opt for carbon because it is the lighter material, pay attention to design and weigh up your own needs.
Your choice of frame materials should be dependent upon your individual needs and the way in which you use your bike.
Aluminium is a stiffer material, its lack of “give” making it perfect for sprinting and racing, allowing a maximum of power to be used for forward motion. However, if you’re a long distance rider, you don’t need this optimised transference and your long ride will be uncomfortable, as road vibrations travel straight through the bike to the rider with minimal cushioning.
Carbon can be added to the frame to help dampen these vibrations and increase rider comfort, a carbon seat post, fork or handlebars will do the job. However, a fully carbon frame can be engineered for comfort with carbon weaves that maximise comfort and minimise road vibrations. Carbon is a versatile material – it can provide just as much stiffness as aluminium but still be engineered in a way that makes it ideal for longer rides without sacrificing on performance.
Durability is an area in which these two materials vary greatly. Aluminium frames have a life expectancy of about 10 years, which carbon frame manufacturers usually offer a lifetime warranty. Of all the materials used to make bike frames, aluminium has the shortest fatigue life, while carbon has the longest.
Aluminium is less expensive than carbon when it comes to bike frames, but carbon frames are becoming more widely affordable. Don’t choose solely for price – it’s best to weigh up the cost difference with the pros and cons of each.
Don’t buy a bike that doesn’t fit your needs just because it fits your budget, keep shopping around until you find the right specifications at the right price.
With so many cutting-edge professional bike brands on the market, from Cube to Merida, Pivot to Fuji, cyclists are spoiled for choice. Frame material is just the first hurdle you’ll encounter when it comes to choosing your new bike, but once you’ve determined your needs and requirements the choice will be easier to make, leaving you to move on to the next element.