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Carbon Fiber vs. other materials for commuter?

Old 05-20-16, 08:30 AM
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Frankenbike77
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Carbon Fiber vs. other materials for commuter?

Hi All,

There are a lot of opinions on using carbon fibre for a commuter bike, but I was interested I was hoping to get a little more insight from the community here.

For next summer (2017) I want to build a new bike from scratch, and am pondering materials.
I know this will probably be more expensive than just buying new, but I would like to build up from the ground-up, just cuz.
I hear a nice light chromoly makes for a better commuting frame, as it can take limitess abuse
However, (chinese) carbon frames are getting so affordable now, they are a tempting option.

My current steel bike would become my winter bike

Any and all input is appreciated!
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Old 05-20-16, 08:37 AM
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Have you owned a carbon framed bike? Do you like the feel of that ride? Personally, I'd pick steel (cr-mo or hi-ten) every time, unless I was racing or hill climbing.
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Old 05-20-16, 09:08 AM
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Depending on where you live, you might want to get one of those cheap titanium frames. Just as durable as steel, no need to worry about injuring the poor carbon bike by knocking it over while it sits at a bike rack all day, and no corrosion worries.
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Old 05-20-16, 09:18 AM
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I've considered using Chinese carbon for my next build, but the price is still a bit steep, at least for me, at $500+shipping USD. If I'm spending in excess of $1000 for an everyday commuter I'm not sure if I want to expose it to all that salt in the winter.

My everyday winter commuter is steel. I hose off the salt and slush on mornings when there's snow/ice. It's held up pretty good.

My other commuter is aluminum, which doesn't see much salt, so it has also held up well.
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Old 05-20-16, 09:19 AM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
Depending on where you live, you might want to get one of those cheap titanium frames. Just as durable as steel, no need to worry about injuring the poor carbon bike by knocking it over while it sits at a bike rack all day, and no corrosion worries.
Funny you use those two words in the same sentence. I've never seen a Ti frame for less than $1K, at least around these parts.
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Old 05-20-16, 10:02 AM
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The main problem with CF is that the frames don't typically have the mounting points for panniers, fenders, etc. If you don't want those, then there's no reason not to.

Personally, I think my dream commuter would be a 29er carbon frame, drop bars, hydraulic discs and decent air fork, and maybe mid-drive.... But realistically that's a $2-3k build sheet
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Old 05-20-16, 10:17 AM
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If you're going to lock the bike up to bike racks or parking meters with a heavy duty lock, then a metal frame will be more durable. Metal bikes are also less attractive to thieves.
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Old 05-20-16, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by FrenchFit View Post
Have you owned a carbon framed bike? Do you like the feel of that ride? Personally, I'd pick steel (cr-mo or hi-ten) every time, unless I was racing or hill climbing.
I race against for time, but nothing organized. I am one of those people with the unfortunate habit of needing to keep up with a kitted-out cyclists speeding down the road. Not too many hills in my city though.
I have not owned a carbon bike before. No idea what it'd feel like. I hear its quite a bit stiffer, but not the most stiff.
I hear a lot of the chromoly and hi-ten frames these days are nothing to sneeze at as well.

Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
Depending on where you live, you might want to get one of those cheap titanium frames. Just as durable as steel, no need to worry about injuring the poor carbon bike by knocking it over while it sits at a bike rack all day, and no corrosion worries.
Titanium sounds like a good option, although seems just as, if not more, expensive than Chinese carbon

Originally Posted by mcours2006 View Post
I've considered using Chinese carbon for my next build, but the price is still a bit steep, at least for me, at $500+shipping USD. If I'm spending in excess of $1000 for an everyday commuter I'm not sure if I want to expose it to all that salt in the winter.

My everyday winter commuter is steel.
Originally Posted by johnny99 View Post
If you're going to lock the bike up to bike racks or parking meters with a heavy duty lock, then a metal frame will be more durable. Metal bikes are also less attractive to thieves.
In this case, my winter commuter would also be steel.
It would also double as my anti-theft bike, for when I travel to higher-risk areas (pretty much anywhere downtown). 99% of my riding sees my bike locked at work, or locked at home.

Originally Posted by gsa103 View Post
The main problem with CF is that the frames don't typically have the mounting points for panniers, fenders, etc. If you don't want those, then there's no reason not to.
Personally, I think my dream commuter would be a 29er carbon frame, drop bars, hydraulic discs and decent air fork, and maybe mid-drive.... But realistically that's a $2-3k build sheet
Yea, no panniers - I just use a backpack. I could live without fenders, but would rather not.
What is mid-drive? That like an electric motor or something?
I am thinking the frameset, maybe Tiagra groupset, plus everything else could come in at under $1000, with some scrupulous deal hunting
If I don't assemble at the local bike co-op, I'd budget an extra maybe $200 for the specialized tools I don't already own.
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Old 05-20-16, 11:04 AM
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You can commute on anything. Go for it.
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Old 05-20-16, 11:24 AM
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
You can commute on anything. Go for it.
And i think so. Unless it is 60 km or more one way.
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Old 05-20-16, 11:38 AM
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Some people think carbon delivers a harsher ride. Others, like me, don't.

My Renegade (carbon) smooths out the bumpier surfaces (street potholes, sections of MUPs with tree roots growing underneath, etc.) of my commute much more nicely than my Uptown 8 (aluminum). Both bikes have tires that are 35mm or wider, which helps a lot. Frame geometry may come into play as well.

However, I didn't buy the Renegade because the frame, fork, etc. are carbon. I bought it because I liked the ride on it the best, after testing it and other gravel/adventure road bikes (steel, aluminum, aluminum frame + carbon fork, etc.) over the kind of surfaces I encounter on my commute.
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Old 05-20-16, 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by mcours2006 View Post
Funny you use those two words in the same sentence. I've never seen a Ti frame for less than $1K, at least around these parts.
Check out habcycles.com. Under $1k by a whole $5! (US)

I haven't got one, but I keep thinking about just not having to worry about rain, rust, or the fragility of some other frame materials.
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Old 05-20-16, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
Check out habcycles.com. Under $1k by a whole $5! (US)

I haven't got one, but I keep thinking about just not having to worry about rain, rust, or the fragility of some other frame materials.
By the time taxes, exchange, and S&H is done it's at least $1500. That's a whole lot of money for a just a frame to be used for commuting. So still pretty steep.
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Old 05-20-16, 12:34 PM
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The only thing I have against carbon is the lack of ways to do fenders and racks. Carbon itself I think is pretty great. I wouldn't worry about durability - it takes more than just falling over to make it asplode. Plenty of mountain bikes are made of carbon and the only ones I have seen break have been due to something like....someone backing their truck into a tree with a hitch mounted rack carrying the bike. Personally, I really enjoy the days I pull out my carbon bike for a commute.
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Old 05-20-16, 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Frankenbike77 View Post
I hear a nice light chromoly makes for a better commuting frame, as it can take limitess abuse
This is absolutely not true. Lightweight steel frames are, in general, more prone to failures than frames of the same weight built from other materials. Heavyweight steel frames like Surlys can take a beating, but not lightweight ones.
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Old 05-20-16, 12:39 PM
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Originally Posted by mcours2006 View Post
By the time taxes, exchange, and S&H is done it's at least $1500. That's a whole lot of money for a just a frame to be used for commuting. So still pretty steep.
If one were to spend 1500 on a fork and frame, you could get a helluva lot better deal than "cheap" ti.
For instance:
Ciocc San Cristobal Frameset
Or, an entire Brompton. Or a customized Milwaukee (which are really just Waterfords with another name). Heck, you could get a whole brand name carbon bike for 1500...or at least you used to be able to with 105. With hydro discs and 11 sp, price has gone up. One of my coworkers was actually able to find a brand new Lynskey with 11 sp Ultegra (I think it was a '14 model) a few months ago online from a shop in Cali for about 1800. So I guess there is hope to find "cheap" titanium. You just really gotta look for it and get lucky
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Old 05-20-16, 12:40 PM
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
You can commute on anything. Go for it.
+1

It's Bike Month, after all...just get out there and ride!
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Old 05-20-16, 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by bmthom.gis View Post
The only thing I have against carbon is the lack of ways to do fenders and racks. Carbon itself I think is pretty great. I wouldn't worry about durability - it takes more than just falling over to make it asplode. Plenty of mountain bikes are made of carbon and the only ones I have seen break have been due to something like....someone backing their truck into a tree with a hitch mounted rack carrying the bike. Personally, I really enjoy the days I pull out my carbon bike for a commute.
I unfortunately can also report that I've already taken a spill on my own carbon bike...

and it too did not assplode. Hehehe.

The worst that happened to it was the chain got knocked off and entangled, scratching the frame in the process, but no real damage to the frame.

I've got fenders on mine, btw. I could have also put a rack on it, but my other bike already has a rack.

Last edited by GovernorSilver; 05-20-16 at 02:14 PM.
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Old 05-20-16, 01:08 PM
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Old 05-20-16, 01:11 PM
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Like everyone else said, try out all the materials you want, and see what feels best to you. Personally, I've always commuted on steel frames. I like steel because you an pick up an older steel frame for pretty cheap, and if it's like a 6 or 7 speed in the rear, you can cold-set the rear triangle with no worries to upgrade to a newer drive train (not an option with aluminum or carbon), and steel's much easier to have repaired than either carbon and aluminum--not sure about titanium though.
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Old 05-20-16, 01:12 PM
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I don't know if my bike (see siggy) is a "light" CroMo frame or not, but it sure rides nice.

I wouldn't want anything stiffer (Aluminum) and certainly nothing less impact/abrasion resistant (Carbon).
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Old 05-20-16, 01:24 PM
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i have commuted on my Carbon Cervelo and my aluminum Motobecane.. they each have benefits. Cervelo is fast and there is less vibration. the aluminium has fenders and a rack so it really depends on what I have to carry.
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Old 05-20-16, 01:31 PM
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I have a coworker who commutes on a CF gravel grinder. That thing has plenty of room for fenders. Her husband builds custom CF bikes for a living. He built hers too of course and could definitely repair it if anything were to happen to it.

Wish my wife made custom CF bikes.
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Old 05-20-16, 01:52 PM
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Frame material alone doesn't really tell you enough to say whether a bike will be good for your intended purpose or not. For instance, I own a 1984 Pinarello with a Columbus SL steel frame and a 2008 Surly Long Haul Trucker with a 4130 Chromoly frame. As I understand it the Cyclex steel use in the Columbus SL tubes is very, very close to a standard 4130 alloy in terms of chemical composition. How tubes are constructed and how these two frames are built, on the other hand, is by no means similar. These two bikes don't have a similar ride and neither one would be particularly well suited to the job done by the other.

Something similar could be said about carbon frames except that carbon frame construction has even more degrees of freedom than steel frame construction. High end carbon frames are precisely designed to provide the particular ride characteristics that the designer is after -- light weight, vibration absorption, stiffness, aerodynamics...all of these are possible but none of them are automatic. So when you consider a cheap Chinese carbon frame, what are you getting? Who knows? People seem to like them. Most of them don't seem to be junk. Most likely they are copies of design traits found in other bikes. You just don't know which traits until you ride the bike.

My suspicion is that buying a cheap Chinese carbon frame, as compared to something like a Specialized or Trek frame, is like buying a generic 4130 steel frame compared to a frame made with Reynolds 853 tubing. It's probably not going to suck, but you shouldn't expect to get the ethereal qualities you hear other people raving about.

Aluminum, in spite of all rhetoric to the contrary, can also be a good choice. My favorite commuter is aluminum. A lot of really high quality bikes are being built with aluminum these days. Aluminum is cheap, it's light, and it doesn't rust. With proper care, it can be built into a frame that is strong, responsive and comfortable. I think the reason aluminum gets a bad rap is that it's really easy to build a very crappy frame with aluminum and a lot of them have been made.

What I'm saying is that you need to think a lot about what you want out of your commuter (and I'm sure you have) and then pick a frame that provides the qualities you want.

It sounds like durability is one of your priorities. As other have said, carbon frames aren't particularly fragile. They're amazingly tough. The idea that they're fragile should have gone away when reputable companies started selling carbon mountain bikes. Carbon frames can even be repaired these days. The knock against them is the expense. Cheap Chinese carbon negates that to some extent, but if you manage to damage your cheap Chinese frame you probably aren't going to spend $300 to have it repaired and carbon, when you do manage to damage it, really does need to be repaired. If you get a huge dent in a steel frame, most of the time you can just keep riding it and see what happens. If you get a crack in a carbon frame, that's a really bad idea because the failure mode is much less forgiving.

I've got a carbon Ridley road bike. I never ride it to work because I don't want to expose it to the abuse of commuting. It's not that I think it is likely to be destroyed. I just don't want it to get beat up. I built my 2001 LeMond (Reynolds 853 steel) specifically to ride to work on the days when I feel like riding a spirited road bike. It's every bit as fun to ride as the Ridley, but I can beat the crap out of it and not worry about it. It helps a lot that it was already scratched and dinged when I started. The first scratch is always the most painful.
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Old 05-20-16, 01:53 PM
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Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
Wish my wife made custom CF bikes.
I like the way you think!
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