June 30 2021
The frame is the heart of every bicycle. The frame connects all components of the bicycle. It is therefore not surprising that choosing the right frame is of great importance, especially the choice of materials plays a major role.
Most frames are made of titanium, steel, aluminium of carbon. For handmade road bike frames is titanium and steel. However, the vast majority of frames today are from aluminium or carbon. How do you choose between these two? Which material suits you and your driving style best? Read the main differences here.
Which is most comfortable?
Comfort is of course largely subjective. Previously, aluminum was known for being stiff and hard while carbon felt a lot more compliant and smooth. Years ago this was indeed the case because the aluminum was far from refined. Aluminum is originally quite soft, so thick tubes were used so that they can withstand cycling conditions. This made the frames relatively had for touring riders.
The riding experience of carbon has therefore long been one of the advantages of carbon frames. Carbon naturally tends to dampen vibrations better than aluminum. In addition, carbon offers a combination of stiffness and flexibility, which makes it very good in terms of efficiency and comfort.
However, over the years the difference in comfort between aluminum and carbon has become smaller and smaller. In fact, on most bicycles today it is difficult to feel a difference in comfort between these two materials. The type of bicycle, for example time trial bicycle, racing bicycle or gravel bike, has more influence on the degree of comfort than the material used.
You could roughly say that carbon is perhaps slightly more comfortable than aluminum, but that the type of frame or even the tire pressure make a bigger difference than the choice of material.
Which is the lightest?
Of course, the weight of the bicycle is of great importance to many cyclists and mountain bikers. With both aluminum and carbon it is perfectly possible to make an extremely light bicycle. But there is a reason why the entire pro peloton rides on carbon bikes. There is no other material that can compete with the weight/power ratio of carbon. Or the way it can be molded into most aerodynamic shapes. In general, carbon will always be lighter than aluminum.
Here too, other components of the bicycle play a major role in the total weight of the bicycle. For example, an aluminum bicycle with carbon wheels may weigh less than a carbon bicycle with aluminum wheels.
Which material is the stiffest?
The stiffness of the bicycle is of great importance. The stiffer the material, the more efficiently the force you exert is transferred to your rear wheel and then translated into pure speed! If you have a frame that is less stiff, it will bend more and therefore be less efficient.
Stiffness can be added to any frame. An aluminum frame can do this by using a special tube shape or by adding material. Unfortunately, the properties of aluminum mean that this is not an easy process that cannot be carried out indefinitely.
The properties of carbon, on the other hand, are easier to manipulate. For example, by adjusting the carbon structure or the direction of the carbon strands, the stiffness of the frame or parts thereof can be easily adjusted.
Carbon therefore has the property of being stiffer than aluminum.
Which is strongest?
Of course, carbon and aluminum are both very strong materials, otherwise they wouldn't make bicycles! Occasionally carbon has a reputation for not being strong but as mentioned before it has an extremely high weight to strength ratio (even higher than steel!).
The lifespan of carbon is infinite, but carbon remains sensitive to direct impact. Fortunately, a carbon frame is easy to repair and when done correctly it will not affect the life of your frame. Aluminum, on the other hand, is somewhat more resistant to direct impact but is not repairable. It is better to replace your aluminum frame.
A damaged frame, of any material, is very dangerous. It is therefore important to check your frame thoroughly for damage and have it checked by an expert if you do not trust it.
Carbon and aluminum therefore both have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of strength.
What is the price difference?
It is of course important that you include the aforementioned factors in your choice of material. But no less importantly, how do these two materials compare in terms of price?
The production of carbon frames is simply more expensive than that of aluminum frames because it requires more knowledge and it is more labor intensive. Yet you will find both frame materials in different price ranges. Fortunately, there are good bikes for every budget and a cheaper carbon frame is not necessarily better than an aluminum one.
Remember, the most important part of any bike (more important than the frame) is the rider. There is no right or wrong, go for the frame that excites you, that ensures that you enjoy every ride to the fullest.