CARBON VS ALUMINIUM MOUNTAIN BIKES
Carbon mountain bikes have now become commonplace on the professional circuit due to their tough, lightweight construction. But where does that leave casual, recreational riders? Are carbon mountain bikes worth the additional expense? Are they even better than aluminium bikes?
Firstly, depending on your application, a carbon bike may not even make much of a difference to your performance. Carbon bikes will only deliver an improved performance if weight makes a significant difference to the application. For example, a competitive enduro rider or cross country rider will likely benefit from a lighter bike and save energy over the course of a competition. However, a downhill racer does not need to conserve energy at every opportunity. A downhill rider might even find a super-lightweight carbon fibre design too light to effectively control at high speeds.
It also depends on the terrain you are riding on. If you regularly tackle steep inclines on your rides, a lighter bike will mean a faster bike on the uphills. But this could mean sacrificing speed on any downhill segments as the heavier bikes can cut through the air resistance better. As you can see, a lighter bike does not necessarily mean you will go faster.
You may also want to consider your riding style before you part with your cash. Carbon-fibre structures are more rigid and therefore more responsive. This is ideal for riders who like to race in tight, controlled lines; however, if you are a risk-taker, you might prefer an aluminium bike. It offers more forgiveness and flexibility and will not be so uncompromising should you make a mistake.
There is a common misconception that carbon bikes offer more durability and strength than their aluminium counterparts. However, this is not always the case. Like anything, you get what you pay for. If you opt for a cheap carbon bike which is not made to industry standards and is poorly constructed, it won’t last. The same applies to aluminium bikes.
The reality is that both bikes can break, the difference is how they break. When an aluminium bike suffers damage, it usually bends and dents. This could result in cosmetic damage that doesn’t destroy the integrity or performance of the bike. But when carbon bikes take damage, they don’t bend, they crack. The whole bike, therefore, becomes unrideable. Rather than worry about which will last longer, look at how long the manufacturer’s warranty lasts and ensure that whichever frame you buy, you go for a trusted and reliable brand.
When it comes to comparing price for carbon and aluminium bikes, it is all a game of give and take. Carbon is often the more expensive frame; however, if you are buying the full bike, it usually comes with an average or below-average spec. On the other hand, an aluminium bike of the same price will often feature much better quality components. If you don’t mind investing some money in your bike after the initial purchase, then a carbon frame shouldn’t be a problem. But if you don’t like the idea of spending some more money after the initial purchase to upgrade your components, then it might be better to go for an aluminium bike with a higher spec.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to go carbon or aluminium comes down to your personal preference and the depth of your pocket. Each frame type has its own advantages and disadvantages. There are also other ways to maximise your speed, without changing the bike’s frame. If you have the pocket for it, a carbon bike might be a nice treat for the weekend rider but it is by no means necessary and is unlikely to revolutionise your mountain biking experience.
Do you have any advice to add on purchasing aluminium or carbon mountain bikes? Let us know in the comments section below.