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Thread: AL or CF...?

  1. #1
    BigSki
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    AL or CF...?

    Next Bike?

    I started with a '13 TREK Superfly AL Pro which was a really fast FS bike for me and I liked that about it. It was promptly stolen and I moved to a '14 TREK Fuel ex9 which still felt pretty playful but with a little more versatility. I really enjoyed that bike (for the past 4yrs.) as it really got me hooked on MTB riding. I was both emotional and happy to sell it last week and now I'm looking for my next jump. I've been happy with AL but wondering if the stiffness and weight of Carbon is worth the difference. TREK Fuel ex8, Rocky Mtn. Instinct, and YT Jeffsy 29 all have well reviewed AL/CF bikes that look generally high quality and good value.

    Frame material and/or bikes mentioned...interested in your takes

  2. #2
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    IMO: Competitive XC racing; yes. Hard tail trail; maybe. FS trail, all mountain, DH; not really. If you buy complete bikes, you often have to go carbon if you want to get it with high end components.
    Do the math.

  3. #3
    Out spokin'
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    Lone Rager's points are right on. Personally I feel individual body weight can be a factor, too. I'm around 220# including hydration pack. Bike weight as a percentage of total weight lets me accept an aluminum frame whereas someone who weighs significantly less than me might not tolerate the extra pound(s).
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  4. #4
    Elitest thrill junkie
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    For frame material, the biggest advantage is less weight, but that doesn't mean it's a big advantage, as two similar builds may end up around a pound different. The heavier the bike, the bigger difference you may see (a light XC aluminum frame may weigh 1lb more than the light carbon version, vs. an enduro aluminum may be 2lbs heavier than the carbon), but around a pound isn't a huge deal on a 25lb bike. You'll see more benefit from having lightweight wheels and the stiffness and ability to track in rough terrain or when being pushed hard does make a significant difference when the rims are carbon IME. Much moreso than the frame. It's getting harder to get a good quality aluminum bike with good suspension though. The suspension should be the primary factor on an FS bike, not the frame material, but generally the highest end builds in terms of components and suspension come on the carbon fiber bikes now.

    Although all of my bikes are CF, I'd think twice about it if I lived in AZ and was riding South Mountain every weekend. I've ridden my bikes in plenty of nasty terrain where it's not a concern, but there are still a couple spots that are rocky enough that I may not want carbon fiber as my primary ride.
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

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  5. #5
    Say Car Ramrod!!
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    I am selling a CF nomad and buying an alloy Guerilla Gravity. I am kind of excited to be back on alloy!


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  6. #6
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    Carbon fiber should be more resistant to cracking. I've had a number of aluminum frames crack on me over the years.

  7. #7
    i like rocks
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    with my last bike purchase, I initially put plastic at the top of my wants list. ultimately I ditched that idea and decided to put a variety of other factors higher on the list and decided numerous other items were far more important and that the frame would be make out of whatever the manufacturer made it out of. After falling in love my with Nukeproof, I ended up with an aluminum frame.

    I've had it for over a year now, i'm 100% happy with it, and I don't see being made of aluminum as any sort of disadvantage. Though a carbon version may be forthcoming, the jury is still out on whether or not I'll upgrade.

    as for the common arguments for carbon vs. aluminum, I think its not as cut and dry as it used to be. Obviously weight comes first to mind, though overall carbon frames appear to be on average lighter than aluminum, that's not always the case. compared to similar long travel 29ers, mine appears to be on average lighter than most of the carbon machines I've compared it to, so if this is a big concern i'd take it on a more case by case basis. I'd consider flex and feel another major factor, again I wouldn't take this as a generality but instead make sure you evaluate bikes on a case by case basis. Engineers have a lot of room to vary flex and feel with both materials.

    Now when we come to durability, its my experience that this is where I've formed some more solid opinions. I think in typical use, just ridding your bike, carbon wins hands down, especially if you plan to keep your bike for a long time period. I think carbon holds up very well to repeated flex and stress, and we know that aluminum fatigues over time and repeated flexing. In my case, with a highly hydro-formed and lightweight frame that I imagine is very thin at many locations that I plan to ride a whole lot for many years, I expect that someday it could suffer some fatigue cracks. Who knows how many years of park laps this will take, and it doesn't keep me up at night, but if i'm still beating on this 5 years from now and I find a fatigue crack, i'm not going to be overly shocked.

    On the other hand... carbon has its durability problems as well. Not really from regular ridding, but from all those other random abuses a bike is subjected to. Over the past several years of traveling and ridding with friends, carbon bikes have suffered mightily from the random abuses of the ridding life. packing a bunch of bikes into the shuttle rig has caused some nasty damage, packing for airline travel killed a brand new Transition, a random crash and encounter with a rock took out an Evil Insurgent. Carbon bikes don't seam to hold up nearly as well as aluminum when it comes to getting nicked, dinged, crashed, bounced off rocks, rubbed or handled by Southwest Airlines.

    so that's something else i'd factor into a purchase. If you plan to travel, crash or regularly pack your rig into a shuttle vehicle, you might just want to consider rocking a metal steed.
    Tim M Hovey

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  8. #8
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    I want the geo and features that fit my requirements. If that happens to be AL or carbon that's fine by me. If a bike comes in both materials I'll look at the cost vs. weight and any other differences of note before I decide.

    I've had a carbon wunder bike and it was great. That said my next bike was AL and it was even better. My new bike[on the way] is also AL. The one after that might be carbon again.

    Personally frame material is a long way from the top of my list of priorities.
    Safe riding,

    Vik
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  9. #9
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    I'm 6'4"/220 so always had XL frames. Never had carbon...a 1lb difference is not worth the considerable added cost to me. I've broken a few alu frames but carbon frames break too. For my last two bikes the focus has been on a proven and reliable design that will take a beating. My 2012 SC Heckler was super reliable...never a problem for 6 years. My new 2018 Kona is also built like a tank and should be 'clyde-worthy' as well. I have no doubt the carbon version would be good too but it's just not worth the extra $ to me.
    12 Santa Cruz Heckler
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  10. #10
    BigSki
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    Much thanks to you all for the personal perspecitves. I think I can agree with each point (spec., weight, stiffness,--it's all relevant). That said, I got a great price on an AL bike that has a JUST ABOUT an equal spec with its CF counter part for hundreds less (Stan Arch wheels v. SunDuroc). Looking forward to riding my new Rocky Mtn. Instinct in a month or so! Not ruling out carbon all together, just right now the cost difference v. the great spec. doesn't add-up for the rider I am and the riding I'm doing.

    That's why I love this forum, Hi-5's to you all!

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lone Rager View Post
    IMO: Competitive XC racing; yes. Hard tail trail; maybe. FS trail, all mountain, DH; not really. If you buy complete bikes, you often have to go carbon if you want to get it with high end components.
    I hate it when the first reply is entirely spot on.

    If I had that choice I would go aluminum and have a bunch of money for: new pack, helmet, shoes, a vacation, ect...

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    The suspension should be the primary factor on an FS bike, not the frame material, but generally the highest end builds in terms of components and suspension come on the carbon fiber bikes now.
    Quote Originally Posted by vikb View Post
    I want the geo and features that fit my requirements. If that happens to be AL or carbon that's fine by me. If a bike comes in both materials I'll look at the cost vs. weight and any other differences of note before I decide.
    This is where I ended up. My previous two builds were carbon, and my current/most recent is an aluminum frame. I usually build up from a frame, so I start with a really broad selection of bikes and narrow them down. My decision tree goes something like this:

    1. Decide intended use.
    2. Decide wheel size/format
    3. Decide preferred geometry
    4. Decide preferred suspension implementation
    5. Decide weight vs frame material vs component specs vs budget tradeoffs


    In the case of my current bike, a big list of 20 bikes got filtered to about 4 based on geometry, then of those only one had suspension characteristics I prefer, and that one was only available in aluminum. If I repeated the exercise today, I'd probably end up with about 8 bikes with the geometry I want and 3-4 with suspension designs I'd prefer, some of those only available in one material or the other. Choice is a good thing.

    Point being, I wouldn't compromise on suspension or geometry to get a carbon frame over aluminum (or vice versa).

  13. #13
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    All things equal I will take CF over all other materials.

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