I’m buying a new MTB and weighing whether to buy a carbon bike with lower grade components vs. an aluminum one with higher grade components. Considering the same price point, which one should I buy? My magnificent 28″ inseam and the trails I ride focus on 27.5 options.
I’m looking at entry to mid level major manufacturers who have both options. Specifically, I’m considering Santa Cruz 2010s or Giant Trance and Bronson models, or similar levels of bikes from other manufacturers. I’m 47 years old, and a weekend warrior, so this may be the last MTB bike I buy. I’m focusing on trail bikes, and enjoy tackling uphills as much as the decent (almost). I’m in SC so there are plenty of rocks and roots along the trails.
I’m worried I’ll regret not buying a carbon bike. However, as I look at the components (specifically the fork and shock) I’m seeing entry level components for the carbon vs higher spec ones on the equivalently priced aluminum bikes. Full disclosure, I’ve laid my bike, and forearms, down more than once in the last couple of years. These have not been huge impacts to the frame, but worth disclosing based on the research I’ve done.
Unless you buy the highest end bike you are making tradeoffs on the perceived value of a spec vs it’s cost. Your question really comes down to how much value you place on a carbon vs aluminum frame (as the carbon version of the bikes you’re considering have higher end builds) and where that falls on your priority list of specs (i.e. geometry, suspension, drive train, wheels, etc). The biggest (promoted) benefit of carbon is the weight but the differences can often be quite small (<1 lb) and I suspect most weekend warriors will not even feel the difference in weight (or otherwise). I would argue that, at least in my experience, modern geometry trumps (excuse the use of a highly controversial term lol) frame material for climbing. The flip side of your decision should also consider how much you value the higher end components of the AL build vis a vis the carbon frame. While other MTB’ers can provide you with our biases everyone’s ride style, terrain they ride, cost/benefit assessment is individualistic and may differ from your own. If you can demo both versions that would be the best way to make a final determination!
Mostly what you gain by buying a carbon bike is less weight about 1-2 pounds. In all other respects like strength and stiffness, I don’t think you will be able to notice any difference when it comes to full-sus bikes. Well designed carbon can reduce low-frequency buzz better than aluminum in a full-rigid or Hardtail bikes but that doesn’t really matter with full-sus bikes. Aluminum can be recycled – carbon can’t. When failing, aluminum bends or dents – carbon breaks. If you crash a lot, aluminum might be better.
For myself, I would pick the better-specced aluminum bike over the carbon bike any day. I have aluminum bikes that are still going strong after 20+ years.