In the MTB world we come across both materials a lot. A carbon and aluminum MTB are both immensely popular. That while these 2 materials are completely different and resemble each other in few respects. That is why in this blog post I am going to tell you what the pros and cons are of these two materials. Why you should choose aluminum or carbon in which situation. But in order to make a good choice, you must first know what the difference is between these two materials.
What are these materials?
You have probably heard of both materials, but what is carbon and what exactly is aluminum?
Aluminum is a very well-known material that has many applications. It is a metal alloy where the main component is aluminum. Magnesium is added to this aluminum. This composition ensures that it can be welded well. Important when making an MTB frame.
Carbon, on the other hand, is a completely different material and is also produced very differently. Carbon is carbon fiber. MTB frames made of carbon are built in a completely different way. Carbon is made from nets that are stacked on top of each other. They are neatly glued together by means of epoxy resin. One continues to stack with these neatly until the desired shape of the frame is achieved.
Carbon or aluminum MTB
Now that you understand how these 2 completely different materials are created, it is important that you know which material is best suited for which situation. Why one material is relatively cheap while the other material is quite expensive. The frame is also not the only part of the MTB that can be made from these materials…
Aluminum or carbon MTB frame?
Aluminum has the first major advantage that it is much cheaper than carbon. New MTBs made of aluminum have very nice entry-level prices. Especially when compared to carbon MTBs, which start at around €1,500 to €2,000 or more.
Compared to steel, for example, aluminum has the good property that it is stainless. This does not mean that it is corrosion free. Aluminum also forms a chemical bond with oxygen and eventually corrodes. So do you have damage in the paint? Make sure it is repaired so that the aluminum cannot corrode.
In addition, aluminum is a metal. All metals we use eventually have to deal with metal fatigue. Due to the constant bending and pulling of the material, it will become “tired” over time. This results in an aluminum MTB frame becoming less stiff over time and able to move more.
The high price of carbon is caused by the production process. Producing carbon is much more labor intensive than aluminum. This production process also has advantages. For example, you won’t see any welds on an MTB frame made of carbon, but you do with aluminum. The frame is 1 smooth whole with very smooth lines. Something that looks very slick.
The stiffness of carbon is also a big advantage. A material such as carbon can never have to deal with metal fatigue. After all, it’s not metal. The frame will therefore retain its rigidity for many years. In the unlikely event that the carbon MTB gets damaged, it is much more difficult to repair than aluminum. Carbon is especially vulnerable in falls and repair is often very expensive and in some cases even impossible.
Features and differences carbon and aluminum MTB wheels
With the wheels of an MTB you also have the choice between aluminum and carbon. In the wheels, these two materials have their special properties. Especially MTB wheels made of carbon have very good properties.
The stiffness of carbon also returns to the wheels. Due to the stiffness of the carbon, the rim will not or hardly bend. This ensures that much more force is applied to the ground. So you cycle faster with carbon wheels than with aluminum rims with the same force that you exert on the pedals. The transmission of the power is thus much more effective.
Carbon rims also have the good property that they are much lighter. As a result, you cycle with less weight and therefore suffer less from gravity. If you cycle with aluminum wheels, gravity pulls harder on your bike, so you have to put more power for the same speed.
Should I buy a carbon or aluminum MTB?
Now that you know the differences between these materials, it’s time for you to decide what it should be. I am therefore now going to explain to you which situations you can think of why you should choose carbon or aluminum.
Before we do this, you must set a budget for yourself that you want to spend on an MTB. The price difference between a carbon MTB and an aluminum MTB is just huge. If you’re just starting out and you don’t have a very big budget, I recommend going for aluminum. These are simply much cheaper to purchase. If you become really fanatical, you can always upgrade or switch to a carbon mtb later on.
When to choose aluminum MTB?
Choosing aluminum can have several reasons. The purchase price in particular can be decisive. There are also other factors to consider why you could choose an MTB with an aluminum frame.
The fact that aluminum is less stiff than carbon can also be an advantage. For example, if you cycle on a cobblestone path. An aluminum frame can absorb the vibrations better than a carbon frame. However, cycling on paths like these will eventually cause metal fatigue. Of course, this takes a long time with aluminum.
Quality differences aluminum
With an aluminum MTB, there are many different qualities. This has everything to do with what quality aluminum is used and how the frame is welded together. Aluminum is available in several alloys.
In addition to the standard aluminum/magnesium alloy, there is also an alloy that makes the aluminum stronger. Silicon is then also added to the alloy. This makes the aluminum harder and less likely to bend. There are also different ways of assembling the frame. Below you will find an overview:
Single Butted: When welding aluminum frames, we often see the term “Butt-Welded”. This has everything to do with the end of the tube, where several tubes are welded together. With a single butted tube, the wall thickness of the tube is made thicker at one end. This makes the tube much stronger at that point.
Double Butted: With an aluminum frame with tubes that are double-butted, there is a thickening at both ends of the tube. This ensures that the tube can withstand much more forces at both ends where they are welded together.
Triple Butted: The last option that can be used is triple-butted. The tube has 1 thickening on one side and 2 thickening on the other side. This makes this aluminum tube the strongest.
Of course, a triple-butted tube is considerably more expensive than a single butted tube. With an MTB frame made of aluminum a lot of force is exerted at the pedals, among other things. This is often where double or triple butted tubes are used. Due to the thick wall thickness, a good, wide weld can be laid, which makes it a sturdy and rigid whole. So take a good look in advance at how the aluminum frame is composed.
When to choose carbon?
In addition to aluminum, an MTB made of carbon is also becoming increasingly popular. Despite the high(er) purchase value, you see these bicycles appearing more and more. The weight of a carbon MTB is the biggest advantage. Because the lighter the bike, the faster you can go. After all, you carry less weight with you.
The stiffness of this material also ensures that no fatigue can occur in the material. Even after years of use of the bike, the frame is still just as stiff as it was in the beginning. The stiffness does ensure that the whole bounces a bit harder over, for example, cobblestones compared to aluminum.
Quality differences carbon
You also have to deal with different qualities with carbon. When building a carbon frame, different thicknesses of carbon fiber can be used. Thicker carbon fibers are stronger than thinner carbon fibers.
If thick carbon fibers are used, much less epoxy resin needs to be used. Epoxy resin makes the frame of a carbon bicycle heavier. The less epoxy resin, the lighter the bike. In fact, an entry-level carbon bike can be heavier than a higher-end aluminum bike.
Conclusion; carbon or aluminum MTB?
After reading this blog post you will know the differences between these 2 materials. You can now choose which material is most suitable for you; carbon or aluminum. To summarize the whole thing, here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of an aluminum or carbon mountain bike.
Benefits of carbon
Much lighter and stronger than aluminum;
Smooth and sleek finish because there are no welds;
No corrosion and metal fatigue;
A stiff and rigid material that retains its rigidity
Expensive production process, which makes the bicycle considerably more expensive;
Different types of carbon quality so that it is not necessarily always lighter than aluminum;
The stiff frame can feel less pleasant in the bends.
Benefits of aluminium
Stiff and strong material;
Production process is more sustainable than that of carbon;
Almost always cheaper than carbon;
Frame feels nice in the corners.
Metal fatigue eventually occurs with aluminum;
With a bent frame it is not possible to bend it back;
Aluminum is heavier than carbon;
Many different grades of aluminum available.
Are you a novice cyclist who is not going to make that many kilometers yet? Then it is best to choose an aluminum MTB instead of carbon. They are simply much cheaper in terms of purchase and more than fine for a beginner. Later, and if you still like the hobby, you can always choose to buy another bike or upgrade your current mountain bike with new, better components. In the latter case, of course, you cannot change the frame.
Are you an experienced cyclist who makes a lot of kilometers? Then you are definitely ready to make the switch to carbon. These light bikes, which are not prone to metal fatigue, will last for many years. With these bicycles too, you can always replace components with new, better components.
Good luck choosing the best aluminum or carbon MTB for you.