Long time lurker, first time poster.
A week ago, I learned what happens when a developmentally disabled man on a bike towing a lawnmower on a trailer the wrong way down the road pulls out in front of you from behind a parked SUV. Something like this...
Amazingly, I am unhurt. The other rider was OK also and got off with just a bent front rim. Everything other than my frame seems fine. I'm doing a 400 mile supported tour in a week and a half, and while my LBS said they might be able to get me a new frame in time, they couldn't guarantee it. I bought a new bike for the tour. (This isn't relevant to my question, but I feel kind of guilty spending so much on myself and the compliments from other cyclists help offset the "You spent how much?!" I get from my non cyclist friends.)
Back to the question. Since my expenditures are already significant, I'm trying to find an inexpensive frame that will get my old bike back into service. I really enjoyed the ride quality of steel, but it's difficult to find steel frames nowadays unless you're looking at track bikes or single speed. Vintage frames are usually designed for a 1" headset, so they won't work with my existing fork, stem, etc...
This caught my eye, but it's way more than I want to spend.
I can get an aluminum frame at a much more reasonable cost, but the aluminum bikes I've ridden in the past have had more of a harsh feel to me.
I've also considered cheap Chinese carbon. I can get a frame shipped direct to me from the factory for around $320. This would probably be at the upper end of what I would want to spend, but I wonder if the perceived higher ride quality would be worth it. I've read many of the cheap carbon threads here, and the negative reviews seem to be people saying they wouldn't trust the quality of such a frame. I was able to find some reports of these frames failing, but I found plenty more reports of brand name carbon frames failing also.
You'll note that I had a rack attached to my old bike. I use this to commute to work and I have to carry a laptop and some other supplies with me. I'm not a fan of backpacks, so I would probably want to attach a rack to my new frame. None of the ones above have provisions for a rack, so I'd probably go with P-clamps on a steel or aluminum frame. If I were to go carbon, I have a friend who owns a machine shop, so I'd probably get him to machine me something that would allow me to attach the rack to the QR skewers and rear break boss.
What would you do in my situation? Are there other options I haven't found? Here's my summary of how I feel about the three choices I've outlined above:
Steel - What I had before. Hard to find a modern frame and when you do it's expensive
Aluminum - Inexpensive, durable, but harsher ride in my experience
Cheap carbon - Some concern about quality. Probably more comfortable than Al. Not completely appropriate for my intended use, but I think I could make it work. It looks cool also.