If we carried out a survey to see what type of material your mountain bike frames have been built with, what would be most abundant would be aluminum and carbon. Although manufacturers make bicycle frames from different materials such as titanium, steel, or even bamboo, the most common are aluminum and carbon. Sometimes even combining both in different parts of the structure.
So, you ask yourself: “Can I buy an aluminum or carbon fiber mountain bike?” The truth is, in most cases, there is no clear answer. There are many controversies, and it is best to assess them yourself based on the points that we will tell you below.
Carbon Mtb frames
Carbon fiber originally starts from polyacrylonitrile, from which fibrous filaments are obtained that are braided, processed. And joined in several layers together with the use of resins to form sheets.
These carbon fiber sheets are what are used to shape bicycle frames. Simply because it is a process largely done manually, the price of one of these frames will be higher than that of an aluminum one.
Due to this union of several pieces and layers of carbon, the frames gain rigidity, resistance, and great flexibility. Thus, the sensitive points are reduced, creating a more uniform frame that avoids the possible cracks that we can find, such as welding an aluminum frame.
In addition, the carbon achieves a finer and more delicate aesthetic. By not using welds that could “spoil” the harmony, better finishes are achieved. However, it is important to mention that currently, companies match that cleaning finish using CNC machining to manufacture their aluminum frames.
Carbon frame qualities
The flexibility and elasticity that frames enjoy are fantastic when adapting the bike to the terrain, as it helps to better absorb bumps. However, it will largely depend on the pressures you take the wheels or the shock absorber. However, sometimes that results in annoying crunches on the road that not everyone can handle.
Its rigidity prevents the material from deforming under impacts and the torsion to which the most tired parts are subjected (such as the chainstays of the swingarm or the part of the bottom bracket due to the action of forces). However, if an impact occurs in a delicate area, with great force or at an angle, it can weaken the carbon structure.
Before a breakage, it is possible that it can be fixed, although you should look for someone specialized who works the carbon correctly. As for the price can be a good hole in your pocket depending on the quality of the service, the material, the area where the crack is or its size. In addition, you should assess if it is worth fixing it or if it will be better to buy a new frame.
The “dark side” of carbon bicycles is in their production due to the use of highly polluting chemicals and resins that end up in the atmosphere, rivers, and seas. In addition, once the frame has finished its useful life, it is very difficult to recycle. The reality is that currently, very few factories end up recycling this material due to its high cost and its difficulty in separating the different materials.
Fortunately, more and more brands are aware of the environment and value the manufacture of frames in aluminum or other materials. And well, if you think about it, at least pedaling, you will not continue to pollute.
The myth of the weight of Carbon frames
In a proportional way, depending on the number of layers that are joined in the construction of a carbon frame, it will have more or less weight. However, a carbon frame of the highest quality can indeed be a few grams lighter than an aluminum one. However, there is a great advance in the manufacture of aluminum frames so the weight of the final assembly will be what really has to be taken into account.
Here you will enter your purchasing power and how much you want to invest in lighter components. For example, the weight of tires, tires of greater or lesser width, clipless pedals or platform, fork, and air shock absorber or spring, etc., are decisive when riding a lighter bike. You can try the mongoose red mountain bike.
Carbon frame lifespan
This is not like yogurt that has been dated for 3 months and you wouldn’t want to touch it with a stick. The truth is that like all materials, carbon also deteriorates over time and will depend a lot on how it is used.
For example, if you race or have a very aggressive ride, you will be putting a greater strain on the frame. In the same way, if you enjoy going down very steep areas, going up technical sections of stones and roots, jumping, etc., you will be subjecting the frame to different forces and impacts that will gradually degrade it.
The good news is that manufacturers put their carbon frames through extensive testing to determine their durability and strength, increasing thanks to advances in design and manufacturing.
The carbon frame in action
As we discussed earlier, a carbon frame does a very good job absorbing vibrations from the road, making it quite comfortable. Another of the qualities of carbon fiber is its stiffness and resistance to traction, which can translate into a high reactivity when cornering as well as an agile, direct and precise feel.
But we think it depends more on the outfit you add to it and your ability on the bike. When you complement a frame with rims and a handlebar also made of the same material, the sensations we are talking about could be increased. However, it is likely that you will notice it especially if you are a professional, compete, or have a long journey in this sport.
Faced with heavy falls or impacts, this material is very delicate. You will have to review the frame very well and although in principle you do not see the damage. It does not mean that internally it has not been weakened, be especially careful with this.
On the other hand, carbon needs certain care after the route, such as washing it with specific products. Do not store your bike near a heat source, and when doing maintenance, tighten the bolts with a torque wrench with the torque specified by the manufacturer.
Advantages of carbon fiber frames
Small tears can be repaired.
Excellent vibration absorption.
Great stiffness and tensile strength (depending on the quality of the carbon).
Disadvantages of carbon frames
Carbon is not recycled and its production process is highly polluting.
You will hear creaks of the material during the route.
You must apply specific cleaning products.
You have to tighten the bolts with a torque wrench and with the tightening torque specified in the manual.
You should not leave the bike near sources of heat.
If you have had a bad fall or the frame has been hit hard, not seeing the damage is not a sign that it is okay.
Who is a carbon frame ideal for?
You have a great experience mountain biking.
You are skilled with the Mtb.
You are especially careful dealing with things.
Your budget is adequate for the investment.
Aluminum mountain frames
A traditional aluminum frame simply consists of pipes joined by welding. In principle, and if you take care of it, it has greater durability than a carbon one since it is more resistant to impacts.
It is more affordable and more ecological to produce and therefore has a lower cost in the market. However, depending on the brands, its price can vary a lot. This makes it a very interesting option since it gives you the possibility to invest in better components for your bike.
Finding a top-of-the-range bicycle with an aluminum frame on the market is arduous. Since most brands mount the best components almost exclusively on a carbon frame. Although in recent times, more and more bicycle brands are offering aluminum frames with high-end components.
Some brands have a very good command of the technique to shape hydroformed aluminum frames (using high-pressure jets), providing more attractive looks to the tubes and creating a clean and modern design, and reinforcing weak points, and lightening weight where it does not lack. Even in some models, you would not know if it is carbon or aluminum at first glance. And as we have mentioned before, some companies build their tables using numerical control, achieving even better results.
Aluminum frames have good resistance, although less than carbon. However, designs have come a long way in recent years, creating very resistant bikes. It will always depend on the quality of the aluminum alloy with other materials and a good weld. This is a good detail to look at if you buy a handmade aluminum bike. Since a bad weld can cause a break.
Repairing aluminum frames is possible, although very complicated. Many times the cracks reopen and depending on where it occurred, they cannot be fixed.
The aluminum frame in action
These frames are more resistant to impacts and impacts with stones. So they are very interesting for those who roll on rough, stony, and highly technical terrain. One drawback could be that aluminum doesn’t do as good a job of absorbing vibrations as carbon.
Performing Enduro routes with an aluminum frame is also a fantastic option. For those less experienced people since any spectacular fall or strong impact will not damage the material.
Advantages of aluminum Mtb frames
It can be recycled and is more environmentally friendly.
Great durability and resistance.
New techniques are used with which it is possible to make a more solid and light piece.
Disadvantages of aluminum frames
It can crack and is more difficult to repair.
It can be difficult to find an aluminum bike with a high-end mount.
“More weight” than a carbon frame, but always keep the final assembly in mind.
It does not absorb vibrations as well as carbon.
Who is an aluminum frame ideal for?
You are used to moving through rough terrain.
Your budget is lower.
You lack more skill with the Mtb and you tend to kiss the ground a lot.
You don’t want to spend much more time maintaining your Mtb.
Carbon or aluminum, which is better?
At the moment, no material has been proven to be the best. The choice depends on several factors and your personal tastes. Choose the frame or bike you want, because as they say, colors suit your taste. The market is wide and each brand offers a wide variety of frames and mounts.
But, keep in mind that there is a balance of qualities between the frame and its components. It doesn’t make much sense to build a high-end frame with low-end components.
It is important that you consider the issue of guarantees, both in carbon and aluminum. Each manufacturer has its conditions so you will have to read the fine print to decide what you should buy. Any product, legally, must have a minimum two-year warranty.
And of course, if you want to be original. You can consider the option of choosing a steel or titanium mountain bike. The bamboo we see more to have the bike exposed in a showcase.