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Aluminum VS Carbon

Aluminum or carbon? To help you decide when buying your next bike, we have compared the two frame materials for you.

Aluminum VS Carbon
Photo by Jan Kopřiva / Unsplash

The buycycle frame comparison

Aluminum or carbon? An old favorite or the latest craze? Which should really be the ideal frame material is hotly debated in the bicycle world and no, as so often, there is no golden formula.

So to bring a little light into the thicket of carbon VS aluminum myths and thus facilitate the decision-making process for the next bike purchase, Nic has conjured you a YouTube video and I matching this blog article.

1. the materials 1x1

Before we dive into the comparison, let's first do a little material science and tick off the basic properties of the two raw materials.

Carbon is a plastic reinforced with extremely resilient carbon fibers and was originally developed for the aerospace industry. Because the individual fiber strands can be finely manipulated and machined, carbon is a very flexible and adaptable material. It has a relatively low density and, although it weighs very little, is quite resistant and strong.

However, depending on the budget and purpose of production, the manufacturing process varies greatly. The fibers are heated to different degrees, bonded with other resins, layered and straightened differently, and all these variations of the final carbon product have a significant impact on its characteristics - this also applies to carbon bike frames and their riding characteristics.

Aluminum is not quite as foreign to us as a material as carbon. As a very light and extremely cheap metal, it has long been a popular raw material for the bicycle industry. However, since it is very soft, earlier bicycle frames made of aluminum were extremely thick, which was the only way to guarantee sufficient robustness of the finished bicycle with the material used. Until today, aluminum is mixed with other metals such as magnesium, zinc or silicone for sufficient stability and durability.

2. weight

Because carbon is less dense than aluminum, a carbon frame also weighs an average of 200 to 500 grams less than an aluminum frame. A lighter bike is easier to climb, faster to accelerate, and easier to control and turn. But before we declare 1:0 for carbon at this point: Very few will be able to notice a real difference when riding.

In addition, the individual fibers and layers of cheaper carbon frames are bonded with more resin. So it may well happen that a high-end aluminum bike is lighter than a lower-end carbon bike. Last but not least, the choice of components always plays a role in the weight of the bikes.

3. comfort, stiffness and handling characteristics

Even if comfort is strongly subjective: Carbon usually scores better here. Since the material absorbs shocks and vibrations better, carbon bikes offer a smoother riding experience. The fact that the layering and direction of the fibers can also be so finely tuned makes it easy for manufacturers to make carbon bikes laterally stiff and vertically compliant - perfect for bumpier terrain without having to sacrifice speed and light handling, especially in tight corners.

Aluminum bikes are still considered quite stiff and unyielding even today. This is because actually 30 years ago the frames still had to be built extremely thick, stiff and dense to be sufficiently stable. Nowadays, the engineer:inside can vary the thickness of the frame at individual points and thus achieve similar properties as carbon frames have. Thus, hydroforming or butting influence the frame thickness and shape, and aluminum is catching up again somewhat in the comfort competition.

Again, it ultimately boils down to the choice of components - the type of suspension, the shape of the saddle, the width of the tires and geometry of the frame - because these largely determine the riding experience.

4. durability and repair possibilities

Carbon, despite being so light and having a low density, is quite durable and can withstand a lot of stress. Also, in the manufacturing process, layering the fibers can make some areas of the frame even more shock resistant, so carbon bikes can be ridden virtually forever under good conditions and won't wear out either. Nevertheless, they are far from indestructible and aluminum is largely considered the more durable and break-resistant material. Many off-road riders and tricksters therefore prefer to use aluminum bikes to avoid worrying about the frame after an accident and to be able to concentrate fully on the maneuvers.

After all, if you take a spectacular fall, you can continue to ride your aluminum bike for years to come. The bike may suffer scratches and dents, and the bike's handling characteristics may also be affected by such deformations, but the frame itself rarely breaks. The same fall survives a carbon bike less well. Once it suffers a small crack, it can completely break apart unexpectedly, which can become a serious danger for the rider(s):in. These cracks after a fall are sometimes not immediately apparent, so it is important as an owner:in of a carbon bike to take a close look at the frame after every collision or accident. Carbon frames can also tear when components are attached, for example if something is screwed on too tightly. Once cracked, a carbon bike is no longer rideable.

Fortunately, after all, it can be repaired relatively easily and after a good repair service will not differ in its properties from a new bike. In the case of broken aluminum frames, it is wiser to replace them completely right away, as repair is quite expensive and time-consuming - a new frame is cheaper. Plus point: unlike carbon, aluminum is recyclable.

5. price

Finally, let's take a look at the price tags: Carbon bikes are generally more expensive. The materials used cost more, the manufacturing process is more complex, more time-consuming and requires special equipment and expertise. Of course, all of this is reflected in the price.

Aluminum frames often cost half as much, so the material itself is one of the cheapest on the market. Even more, they can be mass produced in highly automated manufacturing processes.

These differences in manufacturing costs and prices lead to the fact that the price-performance ratio of aluminum beats that of carbon: If you compare an aluminum and a carbon bike from the same price range, then the aluminum bike will have better components installed.

So you need to find a balance between the quality of the frame and that of the components - exactly how this should be designed is ultimately up to you. But perhaps keep one thing in mind: Refinishing components is always easier than retrofitting a new frame.

6. which is better now? Carbon or aluminum?

You have already guessed: There is no universal answer to this question. What's more important is: What's your budget? Are you off-road tricksters or asphalt racers? How much do you value weight, how much do you want to worry about the consequences of potential crashes? Are you beginners or have you been hardcore cyclists for years?

But this much is certain: aluminum is cheaper, less complicated and causes fewer worries: Ride it, crash it, it is going to be fine. Carbon offers more options when it comes to special demands on handling characteristics, and is lighter and more maneuverable.

But if you have to choose between two high-quality frames made of aluminum and carbon these days, you absolutely can't go wrong with the decision. The last noticeable differences when riding have been so minimized by technological advances in manufacturing that they would only be noticed by absolute professionals and veteran cyclists.

The important thing is to find a bike that you feel comfortable on, that gives you full riding pleasure and makes you happy. And we at buycycle might just have that perfect new bike for you. So take a look at our website! If you are unsure about your new bike, our team is always there for you. Until then, we wish you as always: Happy browsing, happy cycling!