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Carbon vs. Steel Fork?

Old 06-19-17, 10:57 AM
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Carbon vs. Steel Fork?

I looking to purchase a Trek Hybrid, aluminum frame. One model has a carbon fork, the other has a steel fork. Obviously the bike with the steel fork is less expensive.


I primarily ride on city streets about 20-30 miles. When riding, what difference would I notice? Is there a difference in long term durability?


(Trek FX2 vs. FX3)
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Old 06-19-17, 11:15 AM
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Assuming that Trek did an OK job matching the forks to the frames and, of course that the geometry of both forks is the same, you probably wouldn't notice anything.

These are purely assumptions, but we need a starting place. In reality, they may be unfounded, because quality steel forks aren't cheap, so odds are that the steel fork is a lower end welded unicrown fork.

The problem with cheap steel forks is that they're too stiff and do a terrible job absorbing road shock. So the ride may feel a bit harsher to you. More importantly, the added stresses will eventually take a toll on the frame, and shorten the fatigue life. I suspect that Trek understands the fatigue issue, but is betting that those buying the cheaper bike aren't going to ride it enough to matter.
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Old 06-19-17, 11:21 AM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
odds are that the steel fork is a lower end unicorn welded fork.
That would be a surprise. I've never seen a unicorn welded fork anywhere.
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Old 06-19-17, 11:28 AM
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"Unicorn"
Velouria reference spotted.

Personally I prefer the feel of traditional curved steel forks. I've tried straight aluminum and carbon fiber forks in test rides and disliked the harsher ride. But I have a busted up back and neck. Healthier cyclists might prefer the straight forks.
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Old 06-19-17, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
That would be a surprise. I've never seen a unicorn welded fork anywhere.
They exist in tablet virtual keyboards that insist on changing words not programmed to whatever they think I might have said.

I really wish I could turn off this feature, but such is life where programmers insist on "helping" users.

Anyway, I've gone back and unhelped myself.
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Old 06-19-17, 12:20 PM
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
That would be a surprise. I've never seen a unicorn welded fork anywhere.
They exist in tablet virtual keyboards that insist on changing words not programmed, to whatever they think I might have meant.

I really wish I could turn off this feature, but such is life where programmers insist on "helping" users.

Anyway, I've gone back and unhelped myself.
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Old 06-19-17, 09:37 PM
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Originally Posted by bikehoco View Post
I looking to purchase a Trek Hybrid, aluminum frame. One model has a carbon fork, the other has a steel fork. Obviously the bike with the steel fork is less expensive.


I primarily ride on city streets about 20-30 miles. When riding, what difference would I notice? Is there a difference in long term durability?


(Trek FX2 vs. FX3)
You won't notice much of a difference until the carbon fork snaps. You'll definitely notice that!
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Old 06-19-17, 09:55 PM
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I'm a bit of a steel-is-real guy myself, but I can't recall hearing about forks asploding other than on the internet. Unless it's happening on the secondary market, but you'd still hear about it, I'd think. I have an OCR3 which my son now rides and I can't say I worry about sudden fork disintegration.

Harv
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Old 06-19-17, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by MNHarv View Post
I'm a bit of a steel-is-real guy myself, but I can't recall hearing about forks asploding other than on the internet. Unless it's happening on the secondary market, but you'd still hear about it, I'd think. I have an OCR3 which my son now rides and I can't say I worry about sudden fork disintegration.

Harv
In all my 45+ years of cycling the only fork that broke was a unicrown steel fork. Haven't yet broken a carbon fork
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Old 06-19-17, 10:18 PM
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Less of the bling factor with a steel fork. May help with bike security.
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Old 06-20-17, 04:21 AM
  #11  
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I can tell the weight difference on a Trek with and without the carbon front fork. I went with the carbon one. I love it!
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Old 06-20-17, 04:48 AM
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This spring I cracked the carbon steerer on my old Pinarello (steel frame + carbon fork and seat stays) by over tightening the stem. I replaced it with a steel fork but I perceived a much harsher ride. The steel fork fork was a cheap straight blade fork so this was most likely the reason for the poor ride quality. My LBS managed to find me a new 1" carbon fork that has roughly the same rake and fork legs with an aluminum steer tube. I still don't think it rides as well as the original aria fork but the quality IS better than the steel one.

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Old 06-20-17, 05:30 AM
  #13  
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Don't Listen To Nonsense

Neither fork will ever fail, nor will the frame for all practical uses.


There are only minor differences between those two bikes (FX-2 and FX-3). Would you notice the slightly higher level components (8-speed versus 9-speed)? Unlikely. Would you notice the slightly lower gearing on the FX-3 (48/36/26 11-34T versus 48/38/28 11-32T)? Maybe. Would the tubeless ready rims be a bonus for you (FX-3)? Only if you intend to go with tubeless tires and the goo and the burping and the learning curve... How about the mid-fork attachments for front panniers on the FX-2, would you use them? Likely not.


Push/Equal
- tires
- brakes
- geometry/frame
- pedals
- tires
- saddles
- hubs


Bonus with FX-3
- tubeless ready rims
- better drivetrain, lower gears
- slightly lighter


Bonus with FX-2
- mid-fork mounts
- less expensive


For me, I'd go with the FX-3 and not look back...
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Old 06-20-17, 06:16 AM
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The FX3 is certainly a better bike than the FX2. My concern is whether the better bike is really worth the extra money.


FX2 = $400
FX3 = $660
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Old 06-20-17, 07:19 AM
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Originally Posted by bikehoco View Post
I looking to purchase a Trek Hybrid, aluminum frame. One model has a carbon fork, the other has a steel fork. Obviously the bike with the steel fork is less expensive.


I primarily ride on city streets about 20-30 miles. When riding, what difference would I notice? Is there a difference in long term durability?


(Trek FX2 vs. FX3)
I own the prior generation of this bike, the Trek 7.2fx with the steel fork. It probably adds a little heft to the overall bike weight, but performs fine. I've got a lot of miles on it, handles gravel roads etc quite well. That said, I've also got a Cannondale Quick 4 with carbon forks that I also use on gravel....I can notice the weight difference between the two bikes that are similarly equipped aside from forks (though guessing cannondale's wheelset might not be quite as porky as Trek's either), but it is not a huge difference, probably 4 pounds difference between the two bikes.

I know it is popular to point out the failure of carbon. I've had 2 slow speed "wrecks" with carbon fiber forked bikes. Neither resulted in any damage to the frame or fork, though one did get the cable to the STI brifter kinked. I also own a nearly 20yr old carbon road bike...still going strong.

I'd go with the one that you think you'd be the most excited to ride...if that's based on color, or whatever. There will be little performance difference between the two that is appreciable to most riders.
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Old 06-20-17, 07:30 AM
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there are very nice hand made steel forks too, but you are not asking about those, just factory builds.


I, here, have No clue as to where you may fall on the sensitivity ~ oblivious scale of perception..








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Old 06-20-17, 08:18 AM
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[QUOTE=Phil_gretz;19664705]Neither fork will ever fail, nor will the frame for all practical uses./QUOTE]

That's what I think too:

Carbon fork usage has been quite common for a couple of decades. While I'm sure that somebody will be able to post personal knowledge of a carbon fork failing, if carbon forks were as dangerous as some posters are hinting, we'd have heard myriads of such stories by this time.
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Old 06-20-17, 08:36 AM
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Originally Posted by bikehoco View Post
The FX3 is certainly a better bike than the FX2. My concern is whether the better bike is really worth the extra money.


FX2 = $400
FX3 = $660
According to the Trek website, the FX2 retails for $489. And, IMO, the FX3 is worth an extra $170 for better frame, better drivetrain, and lighter fork. But it is a tough call. The FX2 is a quality bike, but they are meeting a price point. If you think you will be doing a lot of riding for a period of years, it is worth spending a few bucks more upfront for better components, as you will surely spend a lot more later trying to upgrade. On the other hand, if you plan to do mostly road riding, $700 gets you into entry level territory for road bikes. (that said, not everyone wants a road bike)
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Old 06-21-17, 12:33 PM
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The FX2 price will drop to $399 in a couple weeks because the 2018 models are coming out.
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Old 12-08-17, 07:46 PM
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Not so sure now

I built up a bike using a soma steel fork and I just bent it in a collision - enough so that the front tire is within a half inch of the down tube at its closest. While maybe I could bend it back, I’m gonna lose a strength.

Mind you, I’m a steel-is-real fellow as well but I’m seriously considering going carbon as a replacement. Much higher price though so the question is would I break the carbon forks a fraction of the times I would a steel fork?

I basically hit a stationary object (total brain fart) at about 10-15 mph. Soma uses thin steel. Would that same impact have broken a carbon fork?
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Old 12-08-17, 08:14 PM
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It isn't as much about if the for is steel or CF as it is about design and the quality of materials and workmanship. There are cheap hi-ten straight gauge forks out there and there are high quality butted chrome-moly forks. There are also no-name cheap CF forks or you can go higher end. You can get excellent forks in either steel or CF. CF will be somewhat lighter but for city riding on a hybrid, I doubt the practical difference would be substantial. Steel, even butted cro-mo is less expensive, has some excellent ride qualities, and will take more of a hit than CF. I've had mid-range steel and CF forks and for the riding I do (mostly mid and long distance, non-competitive riding for fitness and pleasure, as well as B group rides and charity events) the difference is negligible as long as you are comparing roughly equal grades of forks.

I'm not a fan of aluminum forks or frames. Just MHO.
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Old 12-08-17, 09:10 PM
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You could also consider a vintage bike...if cost is a concern. Lot's vintage garage queen bikes exist quite cheaply. The vintage Cannondales are sweet.

Also Specialized...a 200$ like new vintage bike is close to a 600$ new bike...in some regards.
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Old 12-08-17, 09:18 PM
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It is a Trek so either one isn't going to be that special but I would always go with a carbon fork over a hi-ten steel fork because that usually means the bike is of better quality. Hi-ten steel is a good sign of low quality and something to avoid. Most modern carbon is plenty durable. I would avoid knock-off stuff made in separate factories (not by some mysterious third shift) but hopefully Trek is a notch or two up from that even if their bikes have declined in quality.
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Old 12-08-17, 09:22 PM
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About the only carbon fork damage I ever hear of is people overtightening the stem and cracking the steerer tube. While I'm sure plenty of carbon forks have been damaged or broken in bad crashes or collisions, I've never heard of one just asploding. Of all the things to worry about on my bikes, I think the carbon forks are pretty low on the list.

As far as the OP's bike choice, I'd go with the FX-3. It's got enough upgrades for less than $200 difference to be worth it, to me anyway.
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Old 12-09-17, 01:09 PM
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The fact remains that CF forks and frames age due to sunlight, and the fact that the CF material slowly gasses off and becomes more brittle. Then there is the fact that the CF fails pretty much instantaneously while a steel fork will slowly bend and give warning.
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