Looking for a new bike, carbon or aluminum??- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Looking for a new bike, carbon or aluminum??

    I do mostly XC riding. Current bike is a Cannondale Scalpel 2 29 carbon. Anyone find themselves moving from carbon back to aluminum and why? I have both but not sure which one I want. my rear triangle is getting worn bushings which they said I may need a new frame so was thinking maybe go back to aluminum. Thoughts?

  2. #2
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    I've always avoided carbon. I'd probably crack or break carbon based on the abuse I've put on my aluminum and steel frames from regular, hard riding. If you never scratch or dent aluminum, then carbon may be a better option.

  3. #3
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    Yeah. I like aluminum for mtbs. Only reason for carbon, IMO, is if you really feel the weight makes a diff, or value the cachet. Of course weight depends on which specific frame and other factors. Of my two current trail bikes, my aluminum bike is 2 lb lighter than the CF bike.
    Do the math.

  4. #4
    Rides all the bikes!
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    I've tossed my carbon bikes down the trail so hard that the idea that carbon is somehow weaker, just because it is carbon, makes me laugh. Hell, I watched my bike fall down an iced over waterfall section in Sedona a couple months ago, I was only concerned with breaking a lever. The frame damage never even crossed my mind.

    That said, I don't care about frame material at all. I would care more about component spec. My bikes are all carbon:

    Carbon road RACE bike.
    Carbon XC RACE bike (recently stolen, but will be replaced with carbon).
    Carbon long travel bike.

    The race bikes are carbon for somewhat obvious reasons. My long travel bike is carbon because only the carbon bikes have the SWAT box (Specialized). And I can't begin to tell you how much I love frame storage! My last long travel bike was the identical model in aluminum. Frame material made no difference for me, except cost (first was the budget model, second was the no budget model).

  5. #5
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    I currently have a CF mid travel trail bike, and have had aluminum bikes in the past. Carbon supposedly dampens vibrations, which is debatable. I think it makes a slight difference on choppy trails. One other things to wager is the bottom bracket type. My carbon bike has a pressfit, and had to warranty my frame due to warpage in the shell. Because of that, it's going to be really hard for me to spend a chunk of change on another carbon bike.

    Side question: Do pressfit bottom brackets have an advantage or is it a lack of tech to have the latter?

  6. #6
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    I have a couple of each. I like them both. Doesn't really matter to me.

  7. #7
    Trail Ninja
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    It's not the general material, it's how it's used. You generally get what you pay for. There's low grades of carbon, and crappy layups that inefficiently use the material. There's high quality aluminum too.

    Can have two different 6 lb frames from the same mold, but have one that's stiffer where you want it, more compliant where you want it, and tougher where you want it. It's mostly due to how well the layup engineer knows how the frame sees forces and specifically lays up the carbon to better address them all. No name engineers would likely just lay stuff up like they wanted it to act like metal, criss-crossing it uniformly and just layering at joints that see loads. Someone experienced in the cycling industry who has reiterated on dozens of layups to find improvement will make a nicer bike.

    You don't want to use arrogant thinking that brands are charging just due to brand name prestige. They have people with years of experience working on stepping up the level over the competition or their past creations. They're working on stuff that doesn't reach consumer hands for 2-3 years. By the time you're on the latest and greatest, they're already done applying some of the same feedback for improvement you may have thought up to another model due a revision in their line-up.

    Both carbon and aluminum has inconsistency issues due to being handmade. Someone's 2020 Enduro 29 S-Works frame could work much better than another seemingly identical frame. Carbon stuff coming out of high quality molds tend to have less variance. The process of heating and the different material thermal expansion rates can be a point of inconsistency in tolerances, leading to issues like PF BB creaking or pivot bearings prematurely failing. Tooling wears out and should be replaced regularly. Skilled workers can get complacent, or there could be turn over, lay-offs and other labor consistency issues. Quality can drop... overseers can be too unempathetic and crack a whip trying to force factories to do things their way, when the factory has their own specializations. That and morals can be compromised in an industry out to make a buck...

    I'm a fan of quality anything, be it aluminum, carbon, or even plastic. Specialized aluminum is seriously impressive when inspected close up for a mass produced product, but there are brands like Privateer and RAAW pushing out aluminum stuff that are super nice too. Last bikes goes to extremes with their aluminum frame's quality standards. When you see every frame machined and tolerance checked with ruby tips, while loaded as if weighted by a wheel in a complete build, you know the brand is serious about quality for long term reliability. Who goes that far with carbon? Making molds out of higher temp carbon fiber that has more similar thermal expansion rate?

    This stuff is out of my expertise, but learning about it is fascinating. Rather cure my ignorance with knowledge, than with arrogance (faith, belief, certainty, authority, trust, etc.). Such arrogance is thought to be confidence, but it's something else. It's repulsive... I appreciate detail-oriented folks, and when I get told of concepts like design-for-manufacturing optimizations, my eyes light up like a kid.

    Again, you generally get what you pay for. If you don't appreciate the fine details, then you might be paying for unnecessary things. Things like good alignment and tolerances become a value to someone who's seen it done poorly (done poorly it make bikes feel older, much sooner).
    "Never use absolutes" - a wise man, probably.

  8. #8
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    I really don't have a preference and have both, but tend to like my fs bikes to be carbon but my hardtail could be either.

  9. #9
    Your bike sucks
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    I'd never argue that carbon isn't the better performance material - cause it is. Well executed carbon can make a very precise performing bike. All in all, carbon has been good to me - but I've reverted back to metal bikes over the last few years. Why? Well, to have metal back in the conversation at all - I've sort of lost interest in pushing the edges of absolute performance...but the main reason is is more of a mental one: I felt like I spent a lot of time checking my carbon bikes - looking for hidden cracks and inspecting rock hits or strange noises.... Being careful about putting it on the rack, storing in the garage,leaning on things. I know not everyone does this so its my hang up. But now I barely waste any time fussing my metal bikes. Grab n Go.
    Working to stomp out redundancy, I repeat, working to stomp out redundancy.

  10. #10
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    I seem to be one of the rare people that purchases a carbon bike because I DONT want my bike to break. I have broken every aluminum frame I have owned since 2010 (3 frames, 3 different manufacturers). That means I didnt go with a weight weenie carbon bike though, but a stout frame from a quality manufacturer (Knolly Warden C). I've been shredding that bike for 3 years now and have no reason to believe it will fail anytime soon...and if it does, I likely will be able to repair it.

    Ive treated the frame just like every other bike (that is, I beat the crap out of it) and probably have put it through more demands that any other previous bike. Just my anecdotal experience, but its a perspective to consider.

  11. #11
    RAKC
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    My issue with carbon is it designed around a pretty specific class of rider. I'm a clyde so I avoid it in many things. Though for handlebars I love it but for more xc/trail I use bars designed towards dh, enduro, and similar more abusive riding styles.

    Sent from my SM-N975U using Tapatalk

  12. #12
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    I was on the fence with carbon and AL. I've only ever owned AL and steel bikes but now I want to give carbon a go. Pinkbike recently stress tested a Santa Cruz carbon frame against an AL. The numbers are pretty impressive for carbon. Not saying that all brand name carbon frames are built with the same strength.


  13. #13
    EAT MORE GRIME
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    carbon if hardtail

    aluminum if fully

    that's how I roll, and it's based on pulling data out of my butt. [literally, my sit bones]
    "Put your seatbelt back on or get out and sit in the middle of that circle of death." - Johnny Scoot

  14. #14
    Busser
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    I had this same question. thanks for the asking it. The feed back has been helpful

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by LaXCarp View Post
    I seem to be one of the rare people that purchases a carbon bike because I DONT want my bike to break. I have broken every aluminum frame I have owned since 2010 (3 frames, 3 different manufacturers). That means I didnt go with a weight weenie carbon bike though, but a stout frame from a quality manufacturer (Knolly Warden C). I've been shredding that bike for 3 years now and have no reason to believe it will fail anytime soon...and if it does, I likely will be able to repair it.

    Ive treated the frame just like every other bike (that is, I beat the crap out of it) and probably have put it through more demands that any other previous bike. Just my anecdotal experience, but its a perspective to consider.
    Resonates with me. I've broken every FS bike i've owned; they reliably last ~1000 miles, then i find a crack, or i do something that's easily within my fitness/strength capabilities, but totally inappropriate for the frame. I've never owned a carbon bike. I'm fairly confident that a sturdy carbon bike (like your warden) might last indefinitely under me, but it's such a large buy-in that i haven't done it.

    Instead i've been riding custom steel hardtails. My older one was overwhelmed on DH trails, and i'd drag out the FS for those days. My new(ish) one is totally modern with a new TOTL fork. It's barely a handicap, and i can shuttle all day without being fatigued. I don't wanna ride my FS because i haven't inspected it in months and i'd have to adapt to it again.


    I'll prolly buy a knolly/santacruz/etc in the next couple years, but man modern forks and geo make hardtails fun!
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  16. #16
    Trail Ninja
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    It's a stretch to draw generalized conclusions from that Santa Cruz video.

    The snapping sounds as that carbon frame is being stressed is not a good sign. I imagine those are the individual carbon strands inside snapping under tension, but there are many plies to go through, as other strands pick up the slack/load, like a rope fraying before snapping. I had that experience with a Trek Superfly 100, where its carbon CS became flexy over time since I was riding it well beyond what it was designed for (e.g. drops to flat and bike park visits). It felt flexy in a certain way, also creaking but that may have been something else, and I lost confidence in it, but was still rideable, not having an obvious external sign of a crack. Trek dealers were quick to dismiss it, saying it was rider abuse. May be a case of confirmation bias, but I read up on other owners having similar issue. Reminds me of incident reports where witnesses hear of sounds of snapping before structures buckle under their own weight, like that recent one of the Russian sports stadium demolition in St Petersberg where they were cutting cables suspending the roof, and heard a bunch of snapping sounds on cutting the cable second to last before it went down.

    Take that video for what it is (direct observations, rather that fuel for speculation). I admit that there are details I picked up on that could serve as pattern-finding, like the impact test at 4:35 and how the carbon fails by absorbing all the force, in contrast to when it survived prior ones by springing the force back. There were times when I broke carbon catastrophically, where it sounded violent with a loud snap, but the crash itself wasn't too serious, which I credit the carbon part as taking one for the team.

    Exhibit A: carbon nomad frame, one that weighs 6.6 lbs that they specifically say they overbuilt to address consumer fear vs aluminum nomad that's about 1 lb heavier and made to hit a low price point, with tubing chosen to mimic the aesthetics of carbon.

    Exhibit B: V10 DH frame with reinforced downtube. There were visible signs of cracking at impact point, but they marked it as pass. It also didn't seem to bounce back as much in that 2nd to last swing.

    Don't see it as carbon in general is tough, Santa Cruz carbon can be trusted, nor Santa Cruz in newer gens of that model are tough. Things are way more complex... these were just ultimate strength tests in absurd scenarios where you are plowing into something immovable, driving a crap load of inertia through the bike (not letting go). More likely to see a 50/50 gap jump landing case, like the one that rips apart an Intense head tube. https://www.pinkbike.com/video/463858/

    Carbon needs to be designed to hold up to such forces. Bike brands have been trying to make lightweight, trimming away reinforcement from unlikely scenarios. I recall reading that Santa Cruz has since gone with a lighter lay-up. I know brands like to pull their "pre-production" excuse when something breaks in the wild when ridden by media goons.

    So if a brand like GG says 300% more impact resistant and other carbon engineers are skeptical, saying that's a huge number, and GG says stuff like thermoplastic resin and shows a sledge hammer test rig where they're merely smashing stuff against the downtube, I think nothing more of it than it being tougher against downtube impacts. The way marketing works, is that they let human minds fill in the rest through imagination, which I often find is nothing more than unproven opinionated beliefs (that leads to fanaticism, AKA fanboyism). It's manipulative information to make their product look good and whet appetites (generate demand), by appealing to peoples' aesthetic side; try to think of things in terms of function vs form, and it seems most people's idea of function is trumped by form when they say things are too ugly to ride, even though they may argue that they shortlist their choice through function (which tend to be based on form too, through trendiness).
    "Never use absolutes" - a wise man, probably.

  17. #17
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    I'm also on the fence to what I want for my next bike, material-wise. Currently on a '16 Trek Fuel EX-8 29er in aluminum. Still enjoying it, but starting to daydream about the next one. My road bike is carbon and I love it. I think the ride quality is significantly more comfortable with the dampening effect of carbon over my older aluminum framed one. I suspect that doesn't translate exactly the same for a mountain bike riding off-road. I have a demo on an Ibis Ripmo coming up in a couple days and am anxious to see how the carbon mountain bike compares to my aluminum one (never ridden a carbon MTB).Hopefully, that will give me a little better idea of what I want to go with on my next bike. Probably my biggest concern about going carbon is potential damage from impacts. I'm in AZ and we have no shortage of rocks. Probably worrying too much about it as many people ride carbon bikes out here and in general without issue. I'd just hate to be the guy that spends $5,000+on a carbon bike and have it ruined by a rock strike.

  18. #18
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    Depends on your budget as well. Your money goes a lot farther with an Aluminum frame. You can typically get a high end build on an AL bike for what a basic build costs on a CF one. That's mostly what kept me on an AL frame last time. I didn't have an unlimited budget and I got way better components on the same bike with an AL frame than I would have at even close to the same price on the CF version.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by fuzzymusketeer View Post
    I currently have a CF mid travel trail bike, and have had aluminum bikes in the past. Carbon supposedly dampens vibrations, which is debatable. I think it makes a slight difference on choppy trails. One other things to wager is the bottom bracket type. My carbon bike has a pressfit, and had to warranty my frame due to warpage in the shell. Because of that, it's going to be really hard for me to spend a chunk of change on another carbon bike.

    Side question: Do pressfit bottom brackets have an advantage or is it a lack of tech to have the latter?
    There are carbon frames with threaded BB as well.
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  20. #20
    The perfessor
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    - so I've owned everything but carbon (steel, aluminum, titanium, & magnesium; that said, my training partner owns a 2013 CF Tallboy and I own a 2012 AL Tallboy.......he's had far more issues with his bike that I have with mine and we've both ridden virtually the same mileage on our bikes - mine seems to need minimal tweaking but his requires adjustments a good bit more.......he's replaced all the bearings on his bike and I haven't touched mine - makes me wonder if they can get the tolerances on metal better than carbon, I don't know........
    Rigid 29er Ti SS
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  21. #21
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    Just got in to biking couple summers ago with an Orbea H40. Excellent starter bike with Aluminum Frame and Carbon Forks. Took me on some nice 50km+ road rides this past summer. Picked up another Orbea, this time an H31-D so i could go off road and do some gravel. Another Aluminum frame with Carbon Forks. Had the urge to go full Carbon Fibre this winter, so I sold of my H40 and picked up a Cervello C3 with Ultegra 8000 groupset. Can't wait for Spring to come, dying to give her a long ride.

  22. #22
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    I'm just an average rider and all my MTBs have been aluminum, basically because I couldn't get myself to spend the money on something that I'm riding like I'm trying to break it. If I were a racer, sure, I'd prolly go ball$ deep and go carbon. But aluminum seems to suit me fine.

    I have a carbon road bike. I got the carbon road bike b/c weight makes a big difference on such bikes and the jarring of the road is more muted. With a MTB, you have the suspension to mute the jarring and as well as (if you choose) carbon bars, stem, and wheels. (I can definitely feel the difference between aluminum and carbon bars. Carbon feels better.)

    In the future, I don't think I'll be able to get myself to spend the money on a high-end carbon bike unless prices come way down. Besides, it seems like modern MTB geo has had a bigger effect on positive riding experiences than lighter (i.e., carbon) bikes. I think I'd rather get the less expensive aluminum version of a bike and upgrade/personalize it as I see fit along the way.

  23. #23
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    Having personally gone from a low end aluminum frame to high end carbon frame, I'd base my decision on how much money you want to spend. If you want the best then go carbon, but for many people an aluminum bike with better components might be a better option.

    The old aluminum frame was built like a tank and really didn't need any servicing while I do have some concerns about the pivots on my more-precisely built carbon frame needing more servicing and possible squeaking issues may arise. Also, based on experience, I feel like the paint on carbon frames seems to scratch and come off easier than on an aluminum frame. But I still like my fancy carbon frame better.

    So, if building on a budget and you are concerned about servicing and longevity, aluminum may be better. But for fun and cool factor go carbon if you got the $!

    edit: if you are buying a bike with a carbon frame it may come with the added bonus of a lifetime warranty (see santa cruz) so longevity factory may be better then for carbon.

  24. #24
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    $$$ calculation:
    ALU + high end equipment = Carbon + basic equipment

    Weight is aprox. the same in above cases, fun factor is the same, geometry is the same (within the same model of course). Lifetime warranty can be the same, depends on manufacturer (i.e. Giant has it on ALU frames also).
    Cool factor - depends on your riding buddies, if dentists, "need to show off" or simmilar, ALU is not an option. Real riding buddies don't give a f*** what you ride
    Personaly - better equipment all day for me, there is no frame that will compensate for shitty brakes, heavy wheels, spongy suspension. If budget is no problem, go dentist way

  25. #25
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    My Cervello comes with life time warranty on the frame for original owner. If price is a concern, wait till of season and buy. My carbon bike was regular $5k on sale for$3k and it came with an excellent group set.

  26. #26
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    Lateral rigidity and nearly zero flex is what sold on carbon for a full suspension bike. But I'll continue to use steel or titanium for my hardtail, fat bike and gravel bike.

    The durability is a non issue for me as most carbon bike companies are starting to offer excellent warranties.
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  27. #27
    TeamSloan
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    I've gone back and forth with my bikes. I had an AL Rockhopper that I rode until the dropouts wore out and wouldn't keep the rear wheel straight. Replaced it with a used Scott Scale 30 Carbon that I picked up for less than a grand because the previous owner got a gouge in the downtube. I rode the crap out of that bike for years and years and it held up strong to multiple crashes and me riding that XC whip like it was an all-mountain/trail bike. Finally both seat stays cracked, but I still ride it occasionally around the neighborhood with my kids. I moved from that carbon bike back to an AL Santa Cruz Blur LT and had to replace the lower link due to some hair line cracks around the bearings. Now it's back to carbon as I was able to build up a sweet custom Ibis Ripmo this past month. Carbon frame, carbon bars, carbon cranks, and maybe next year some carbon hoops.

    My next bike will likely be an AL gravel bike.

    I know just as many people who have broken AL bikes as I know people with broken carbon bikes. The take away from this whole debate is that it's a great time to be a mountain biker.

  28. #28
    Sir Shreds-A-Lot
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    id worry less about the material and more about what bike fits your riding style and requirements
    first you get good, than you get fast

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