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Ride quality - carbon fiber vs aluminum?

Old 10-31-19, 11:09 AM
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biketampa
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Ride quality - carbon fiber vs aluminum?

given that many gravel bikes support tires in the 40-45 which you can run at fairly low psi will carbon fiber make that much a difference over aluminum? I look at something like the cannondale topstone where the there's a $1000 different between the 105 carbon and aluminum version. same with something like the orbea terra. Both bikes I like the looks of although I wish the topstone had more tire clearance.
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Old 10-31-19, 02:18 PM
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In my opinion, yes! I came off an aluminum framed Giant TCX-SLR2 running tubeless 38's and went to a carbon framed Niner RDO9 running tubeless 38's and the vibration dampening and ride quality is significantly improved. The Niner also has a carbon seatpost, so that helps as well.
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Old 10-31-19, 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by csrpenfab View Post
In my opinion, yes! I came off an aluminum framed Giant TCX-SLR2 running tubeless 38's and went to a carbon framed Niner RDO9 running tubeless 38's and the vibration dampening and ride quality is significantly improved. The Niner also has a carbon seatpost, so that helps as well.
thanks. I see a lot of posts saying it doesnít matter since gravel tires tend to be much larger.
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Old 10-31-19, 06:14 PM
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No, it matters a lot.

You see very few higher-priced aluminum gravel bikes as evidence. Inexpensive gravel = Aluminunm. Medium-priced = steel. Higher-priced = carbon.

It is a lot more than just vibration dampening. Overall compliance is a huge factor. Carbon frames are laid up with exceptional compliance vertically but with lateral stiffness by varing the types, orientations and amounts of carbon throughout the frame. Aluminum is pretty much the same material everywhere and has similar (not exactly the same, but nowhere as varied as carbon frames) compliance properties in either direction. If you are young with flexible bones it may not matter as much but as you get older you will feel a huge difference. That is a HUGE DIFFERENCE in well made carbon frames. Ride an hour on an Open U.P. on some rough gravel then the same route on a $1,000 aluminumTrek and there will be no question in your mind of the differences.

Again, note as evidence the absence of any POPULAR gravel bikes in aluminum at price points above $1500.
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Old 10-31-19, 09:08 PM
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Originally Posted by biketampa View Post
thanks. I see a lot of posts saying it doesnít matter since gravel tires tend to be much larger.
All the springs in a bike stack together and one can have an outsize effect on all the others. The frame matters as much as the tires and the frame/fork combined much more so. Aluminum frames took a big step back once they started being hydroformed into non-round or ror shapes. The boxier hydroformed tubing did not take well to traditional butting profiles so many aluminum gravel frames are heavier and stiffer than they would otherwise need to be. Conversely, carbon fiber layup technologies are much better than even just a few years ago. IME most carbon bikes are going to ride better than the aluminum version, all things being equal. $1000 better? That's probably something the individual buyer needs to decide.
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Old 11-01-19, 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
No, it matters a lot.

You see very few higher-priced aluminum gravel bikes as evidence. Inexpensive gravel = Aluminunm. Medium-priced = steel. Higher-priced = carbon.

It is a lot more than just vibration dampening. Overall compliance is a huge factor. Carbon frames are laid up with exceptional compliance vertically but with lateral stiffness by varing the types, orientations and amounts of carbon throughout the frame. Aluminum is pretty much the same material everywhere and has similar (not exactly the same, but nowhere as varied as carbon frames) compliance properties in either direction. If you are young with flexible bones it may not matter as much but as you get older you will feel a huge difference. That is a HUGE DIFFERENCE in well made carbon frames. Ride an hour on an Open U.P. on some rough gravel then the same route on a $1,000 aluminumTrek and there will be no question in your mind of the differences.

Again, note as evidence the absence of any POPULAR gravel bikes in aluminum at price points above $1500.
i have a steel gravel bike currently but it is pretty chunky weight size so Iím considering moving to something lighter.
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Old 11-01-19, 07:46 AM
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Originally Posted by biketampa View Post
thanks. I see a lot of posts saying it doesnít matter since gravel tires tend to be much larger.

Which way do you want me to argue it?

The best thing to do is go to LBS and try two of the same bikes and see what it feels like to you.

In my experience, aluminum feels like aluminum. Its stiff and responsive and a little twangy on bumps, not dull and smooth like steel. Carbon (if done right) feels a lot smoother while still being responsive (assuming the company is skilled at carbon).

I've spent years on aluminum. With a good seat post and good soft tires, I can comfortably ride it all day. But no, its not the same as carbon (light, fast, responsive, smooth, comfortable). But again, it depends more on the manufacturer's skill than the actual frame material. I.E. don't get a cheap carbon frame just to get carbon.

Some, like Salsa, say their new hydroformed Aluminum getting close to carbon. They specifically say their newer Aluminum warbird is more compliant than the titanium warbird it replaced. That is a bold statement, but they have the measurements to back it up.

On the other hand, some (Cervelo?) did a blind taste test, and their pro riders could not tell the difference between frame materials. They sure could tell the difference when they swapped out wheels/tires. So, there is that.

So, one can argue it either way. Ya really need to ride the two bikes back to back to see if it makes a difference to you.
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Old 11-01-19, 08:07 AM
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Originally Posted by chas58 View Post
Which way do you want me to argue it?

The best thing to do is go to LBS and try two of the same bikes and see what it feels like to you.

In my experience, aluminum feels like aluminum. Its stiff and responsive and a little twangy on bumps, not dull and smooth like steel. Carbon (if done right) feels a lot smoother while still being responsive (assuming the company is skilled at carbon).

I've spent years on aluminum. With a good seat post and good soft tires, I can comfortably ride it all day. But no, its not the same as carbon (light, fast, responsive, smooth, comfortable). But again, it depends more on the manufacturer's skill than the actual frame material. I.E. don't get a cheap carbon frame just to get carbon.

Some, like Salsa, say their new hydroformed Aluminum getting close to carbon. They specifically say their newer Aluminum warbird is more compliant than the titanium warbird it replaced. That is a bold statement, but they have the measurements to back it up.

On the other hand, some (Cervelo?) did a blind taste test, and their pro riders could not tell the difference between frame materials. They sure could tell the difference when they swapped out wheels/tires. So, there is that.

So, one can argue it either way. Ya really need to ride the two bikes back to back to see if it makes a difference to you.
Unless the bike shop is right next to some good gravel riding with some rougher terrain, in my case they are not, I don't feel like riding on some pavement near the LBS no matter how rough will give me a good enough feel for the difference. Hence the need for good reviews online. I read in one review which stated "Cannondale knows how to make great Aluminum frame bikes", or something to that effect. I just never read much where it states this aluminum bike ride quality is close to good carbon bikes which obviously leads me to strongly favor a carbon fiber bike.
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Old 11-01-19, 09:14 AM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
No, it matters a lot.

You see very few higher-priced aluminum gravel bikes as evidence. Inexpensive gravel = Aluminunm. Medium-priced = steel. Higher-priced = carbon.

It is a lot more than just vibration dampening. Overall compliance is a huge factor. Carbon frames are laid up with exceptional compliance vertically but with lateral stiffness by varing the types, orientations and amounts of carbon throughout the frame. Aluminum is pretty much the same material everywhere and has similar (not exactly the same, but nowhere as varied as carbon frames) compliance properties in either direction. If you are young with flexible bones it may not matter as much but as you get older you will feel a huge difference. That is a HUGE DIFFERENCE in well made carbon frames. Ride an hour on an Open U.P. on some rough gravel then the same route on a $1,000 aluminumTrek and there will be no question in your mind of the differences.

Again, note as evidence the absence of any POPULAR gravel bikes in aluminum at price points above $1500.
Well said. I'm 52, and for years rode ultra stiff aluminum framed road bikes. The jarring didn't both me much in my 30's! I used to ride my stiff Giant AL framed gravel bike across a few miles of washboard on the trail near my house, and it would literally jar my fillings loose! On my carbon Niner, I find myself riding faster on that same stretch and the bumps almost vanish. Sometimes I'm amazing at how stable and solid this bike is over the rough stuff.
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Old 11-01-19, 09:20 AM
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Originally Posted by biketampa View Post
Unless the bike shop is right next to some good gravel riding with some rougher terrain, in my case they are not, I don't feel like riding on some pavement near the LBS no matter how rough will give me a good enough feel for the difference. Hence the need for good reviews online. I read in one review which stated "Cannondale knows how to make great Aluminum frame bikes", or something to that effect. I just never read much where it states this aluminum bike ride quality is close to good carbon bikes which obviously leads me to strongly favor a carbon fiber bike.

Good point.

Salsa stated "their aluminum bike's ride quality is better than their Titanium bike" but of course they stated how much better their carbon frame was. But if that is important to you, yes you should get a good carbon frame. It just allows the designer more freedom.

Yeah, Cannondale knows how to make a great aluminum frame bike. That used to mean to make it as stiff as heck.

I've "read" that hydroformed aluminum (Salsa, Specialized, etc) is much much better than the round tube Al stuff. But I've never experienced that, and I guess I'll believe it when I feel it. Color me skeptical.

Part of ride comfort is vibration dampening. Steel often does it best. Aluminum - typically worst. Don't know that I've ever read that Aluminum is buttery smooth like a review of a Steel or Carbon bike. If they say anything at all, they mention Al is not quite as smooth as the carbon version. Marketing? Self Fulfilling prophesy?

But, IMHO, if I can't tell the difference in ride between a bike in its carbon vs aluminum version, in 5 minutes its probably not worth $1000. Shops around here will often let you rent a loaner bike for the day - if you are on the fence that might be an option for you.
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Old 11-01-19, 09:50 AM
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yep. I'd have to check some shops to see if they do that. I just have to decide if I want to buy a bike this year. I've had my current raleigh tamland 1 steel bike almost 3 years. It's worked well enough but I just wish it felt a little less like less tank like. Hence my desire for a lighter bike. I'm only on the fence due to I get cold feet spending a bunch of money on a bike. But since I've been doing more and more gravel bike events since I started 3 years ago it's not like I'm not making use of the bike. I think I just want a lighter and more "spritely" gravel bike. And have to make sure I don't talk myself into going with cheaper just because it's cheaper
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Old 11-01-19, 10:54 AM
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Originally Posted by biketampa View Post
i have a steel gravel bike currently but it is pretty chunky weight size so Iím considering moving to something lighter.
Some steel bikes are better than others, most are better than aluminum for gravel...
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Old 11-01-19, 11:08 AM
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Cannondale spent all of their R&D since the 80's making aluminum stiffer and lighter. Great for road, not so great for gravel. Rather than going back to ground zero for gravel frame development they kept their ultra stiff frames and tried to soften things up with the expensive, heavy and high maintenance Lefty fork to try and compensate (and sell that as an advantage!). Specialized was in a similar situation to some extent and tries to compensate with funky seat posts bouncy headset springs, etc. For me, I'd rather have the compliance built with no moving parts right into the frame like most of the other manufacturers are doing with their better carbon (and steel) frames...
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Old 11-01-19, 11:16 AM
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Originally Posted by biketampa View Post
yep. I'd have to check some shops to see if they do that. I just have to decide if I want to buy a bike this year. I've had my current raleigh tamland 1 steel bike almost 3 years. It's worked well enough but I just wish it felt a little less like less tank like. Hence my desire for a lighter bike. I'm only on the fence due to I get cold feet spending a bunch of money on a bike. But since I've been doing more and more gravel bike events since I started 3 years ago it's not like I'm not making use of the bike. I think I just want a lighter and more "spritely" gravel bike. And have to make sure I don't talk myself into going with cheaper just because it's cheaper
Here in Pittsburgh all of our roads are graciously returned to their natural state of gravel every spring. Come on out in March and ride chunky gravel all day right in front of the bike shop! Plenty of hills too!

SweetWater bikes here also allows extended demo rides on gravel for a refundable fee if you buy the bike later. Very few shops do that. They offer free beer and whiskey shots there too!
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Old 11-01-19, 11:22 AM
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Originally Posted by biketampa View Post
yep. I'd have to check some shops to see if they do that. I just have to decide if I want to buy a bike this year. I've had my current raleigh tamland 1 steel bike almost 3 years. It's worked well enough but I just wish it felt a little less like less tank like. Hence my desire for a lighter bike. I'm only on the fence due to I get cold feet spending a bunch of money on a bike. But since I've been doing more and more gravel bike events since I started 3 years ago it's not like I'm not making use of the bike. I think I just want a lighter and more "spritely" gravel bike. And have to make sure I don't talk myself into going with cheaper just because it's cheaper
Ah, I see. Well, both Al and Ti are capable of feeling more spritely than your bike. I've done the Aluminim bike with suspension seatpost and cush tubless tires. That works well, and is still spritely. But I'm thinking you will be happier with a good carbon frame. I was. Having a gravel bike that accelerates like a good road bike is kinda fun in my book (although its not what everyone wants).
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Old 11-01-19, 11:57 AM
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I agree with you that tires and pressures have a huge impact on ride quality. I've tried to ride almost with my eyes closed over the same section of country road and I can't tell any difference between carbon and aluminum frames. I think maybe I can feel a little less vibration on super small imperfections like sidewalk expansion joints while riding on carbon but there are so many variables that I almost didn't mention it. I don't ride a hard race saddle and I double wrap all my bars so that probably equalizes them a bit.
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Old 11-01-19, 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
SweetWater bikes here also allows extended demo rides on gravel for a refundable fee if you buy the bike later. Very few shops do that. They offer free beer and whiskey shots there too!
'They' allow extended demo rides, 'they' offer free beer and shots?
Lets drop the 3rd person, eh?

Be up front and disclose that you are an owner of the shop. It will seem less sketch if people dont find out after the fact since, you know, it will be less sketch. Industry insiders, be it retail or manufacturing, are a huge asset around here. Clearly identifying also helps people understand when there is clear bias, like when a shop owner waxes poetically about a product their shop sells.
Really though- people in the industry are a great asset. Others identify as being in the industry for good reason.
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Old 11-01-19, 12:36 PM
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yep. I don't see my bike as one that accelerates particularly well.
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Old 11-01-19, 01:10 PM
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N=1, but my aluminum CAADX is just as compliant as my SuperX on gravel and I am constantly swapping wheels/tires back and forth depending on the ride so I have a pretty good idea of how much the frame affects the ride. If I throw on the 650x48 its way more comfortable than 700x38 on the carbon SuperX so tires make the biggest difference still
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Old 11-01-19, 02:31 PM
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Originally Posted by biketampa View Post
yep. I don't see my bike as one that accelerates particularly well.
You could go to your local LBS and try a good CX bike and see how it compares to yours - then decide how much you want to go in that direction. I compared a Specialized Carbon Crux (it was the owners bike and I think retailed for about $5000 new) to a Sequoia (steel). Huge difference in acceleration and handling. The sequoia was probably the most comfortable gravel bike I have ridden - then again it is designed for all day adventures. On the other end, the Crux is designed for acceleration and agility - and it was a blast. Those were rather two extreme ends of a gravel bike. Your bike leans a bit to the Sequoia end I'm guessing (I've only ridden the carbon version).
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Old 11-01-19, 08:07 PM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
Here in Pittsburgh all of our roads are graciously returned to their natural state of gravel every spring. Come on out in March and ride chunky gravel all day right in front of the bike shop! Plenty of hills too!

SweetWater bikes here also allows extended demo rides on gravel for a refundable fee if you buy the bike later. Very few shops do that. They offer free beer and whiskey shots there too!
excellent!
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Old 11-02-19, 08:41 AM
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I will admit up front that I have no frame of reference to a carbon frame but this was my experience. I ride a aluminum 2020 105 Topstone. I stopped in a a LBS and rode, what I believed to be, my identical bike though it was a 2019 with Sram Apex mech. On my test ride I went out of my way to find as many seams, broken road, etc as I could and when I returned to the store I asked what the difference was in the frame make-up that made the bike feel so different from mine? She told me there was nothing different in the frame. The tires were the same brand but different model and mine are 37c and the Apex was 40c. Also the 2019 I just rode were inflated 25 lbs less than the pressure I ride. Again, I realize this is not the comparison you are looking for nor is it close to the equivalent to what has been said here but I just thought the observation of the difference in tire pressure and tire width/model was so drastic that it might be of some interest. I saw a carbon Topstone a few days later and my credit card went into hiding as that was an incredible piece of workmanship and if I had seen that when I was buying my Topstone this comment would be a lot different.
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Old 11-02-19, 08:50 AM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
No, it matters a lot.

You see very few higher-priced aluminum gravel bikes as evidence. Inexpensive gravel = Aluminunm. Medium-priced = steel. Higher-priced = carbon.

It is a lot more than just vibration dampening. Overall compliance is a huge factor. Carbon frames are laid up with exceptional compliance vertically but with lateral stiffness by varing the types, orientations and amounts of carbon throughout the frame. Aluminum is pretty much the same material everywhere and has similar (not exactly the same, but nowhere as varied as carbon frames) compliance properties in either direction. If you are young with flexible bones it may not matter as much but as you get older you will feel a huge difference. That is a HUGE DIFFERENCE in well made carbon frames. Ride an hour on an Open U.P. on some rough gravel then the same route on a $1,000 aluminumTrek and there will be no question in your mind of the differences.

Again, note as evidence the absence of any POPULAR gravel bikes in aluminum at price points above $1500.
There are nice aluminum gravel bikes out there. But you tend not to hear about them, because they get drowned out by the carbon fiber marketing crowd with made up percentages about "compliance".

There had better be a difference between a $3,000USD OpenUP frameset and a cheapo $500 Trek frameset. It is like comparing a bike made from steel stove pipe and one made from Reynolds 900 stainless steel. Compare apples and apples.
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Old 11-02-19, 05:11 PM
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I compare bike frames to splitting wood

huge difference between a metal handle, wood handle, and a composite handle. You can only put so many bends and sweeps in a metal handle to reduce vibration/impact transfer.

The others flex? Not all flex is bad either, sometimes flex works to your advantage. (King pin on the carbon topstone seat stays)

On a bike Frame one advantage of aluminum over Carbon Fiber is the 'feel'. Aluminum will oxidize also and become brittle over time. An Issue that is worse for the higher end thinner aluminum frames.

for your investment, Carbon > Aluminum.

In my opinion Aluminum can make for some killer road bike frames. As for aluminum frame Gravel bikes...Not so much!
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Old 11-02-19, 05:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Helderberg View Post
I will admit up front that I have no frame of reference to a carbon frame but this was my experience. I ride a aluminum 2020 105 Topstone. I stopped in a a LBS and rode, what I believed to be, my identical bike though it was a 2019 with Sram Apex mech. On my test ride I went out of my way to find as many seams, broken road, etc as I could and when I returned to the store I asked what the difference was in the frame make-up that made the bike feel so different from mine? She told me there was nothing different in the frame. The tires were the same brand but different model and mine are 37c and the Apex was 40c. Also the 2019 I just rode were inflated 25 lbs less than the pressure I ride. Again, I realize this is not the comparison you are looking for nor is it close to the equivalent to what has been said here but I just thought the observation of the difference in tire pressure and tire width/model was so drastic that it might be of some interest. I saw a carbon Topstone a few days later and my credit card went into hiding as that was an incredible piece of workmanship and if I had seen that when I was buying my Topstone this comment would be a lot different.
Frank.
Tire pressure should be ran at the PSI that gives you the best roll resistance (roll out) for your all up weight. Sometimes for traction reasons, a rider is willing to take a hit on RR.

If you have to run a lower pressure to makes your bike comfortable.. you're just putting a bandage on a bad frame.
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