Road bike carbon frame, aluminium frame, and steel frames. Which is the best, and why I have chosen to buy the Aurious from Onix bikes
|June 3, 2011||Posted by Andrew Gray under Road Bike|
It’s been a while since I posted, but that’s because I have had to dig around to get some details on which is the best new bike to buy. During the process I had to make the decision to increase my budget, swap between aluminium, carbon, steel, and finally back to carbon before finally making my choice. And I discovered that there are potential pitfalls beyond the weight issue in each of the materials.
But finally, I chose…well you’ll just have to read the article to find out which one I am going to buy, and why!
It’s worthwhile saying that I was looking for a sportive/road bike, for under £1000. However, I fast discovered that I had to raise the bar…and I just about managed to scrape together the funds for £1300. I have been saving for a long time, but actually there is something that happened that has made this goal attainable.
My Grandad died.
My Grandad was kept alive after his first heart scare by joining the British Heart Foundation and following the BHF diet plan. So, what more appropriate way of remembering him than by getting the road bike that I needed to keep me alive (heart problem, and personal issues of weight gain not withstanding) with the money that I had been left. But I didn’t want something that would last only a short time, I was after a bike that would last at least 10 years because I didn’t want my Grandad bike being lost in two or three because of the remembrance point, and I couldn’t afford it. Then I was told that no bike now made would last that long. It was at this point I started researching properly…
What are the benefits and pitfalls of carbon, aluminium and steel frames?
This material was initially seen as the take over from steel frames once the mountain bike revolution really got underway. Somewhat lighter than steel, and with some of the strength. Being lighter is the main advantage, and for road bikes this is a plus. However, once bent it won’t go back into shape. Big advantage is it won’t rust. Aluminium is found mainly on entry level road and sportive bikes, but not on tourers because they carry too much weight. Most people say that they give a ‘dead’ ride…though what that means is unknown to me, I don’t have enough money to buy many bikes and test them. I have felt on my mountain bike that when I get really tired it feels that all my energy is being sucked away, and I have a sensation of travelling backwards, but I think that more me than the frame. A good winter bike would be made from heavier aluminium perhaps.
Aluminium can be over flexible on cheaper models.
I have been quoted the life span of an aluminium road bike as about 5 years, though Orbea (see below) offer a lifetime guarantee on all their bikes, including their aluminium range.
Goes back a long long way. Yes, usually the heaviest material of the 3, but many people consider it superior. Don’t worry about a couple of extra pounds, it’s insignificant on the flat, and barely counts for climbing hills (1 pound, it is said, will add an extra second for every 100 vertical feet climbed, or there abouts). Best solution, lose weight, and put on some lighter wheels. Main problem is getting your bike under professional cycling limits. But if you aren’t a pro, don’t fuss with it, enjoy the bike. If it gets dinged, then it will bend back, and rust can be sorted up to a point, though make sure that the frame is rust protected on the inside as well as outside, otherwise your bike will rust from the inside out. Will last years if cared for well. Often tourers and audax bikes are made from steel because they have to carry extra weight. I couldn’t find a good sportive bike that was steel though.
Steel is becoming less common as a material, but is having a brief resurgence of interest as people look for something as a longer term solution. Absorbs road noise far better than aluminium.
However, although it is strong, expensive steel will bend as badly as aluminium, and not go back. And because it is not as common as it once was, it is more suited for one off’s than off the peg, and so is more expensive than even carbon frames. Still, as my criteria was longevity, I was very tempted to get a good frame and put up with the more relaxed Audax I found from Hewett cycles. But pressing on…
Now, most people go lurching to the carbon before considering the others. As did I. Then I discovered how expensive they (carbon) were which is why I explored the other materials. Once though I realised that I would be spending at least another couple of hundred over my £1000 budget, I decided to at least look at the carbon dream machines.
As I did my research though I started to come across some interesting forum posts by people. Some frames, even from the likes of Trek, flexed until they broke. Admittedly this took some time, the paint cracked first and it was usually the joints of the frame, but under 5 years was again quoted as the life expectancy. And I read other horror posts that suggested exploding bottom brackets, and welds coming apart – I thought they were one piece? So I started trying to find out why, since carbon was touted as the uber-super material of the cycling world, they were getting this odd bad-press.
More stories came in: if you cut your tube then the whole frame was affected. If you crashed then your bike could have experienced a critical failure. Was this really going to be the best solution? Expensive and short lasting persuaded me to look elsewhere and I flipped back to the other materials.
But as I discovered, the steel and aluminium at the £1000+ level could also be compromised. It was at this point that I wondered whether or not any of the manufacturers provided bikes with a long term frame guarantee, at least that would suggest some longevity. Sure enough, two did. Trek and Orbea. Did this mean then that the carbon bikes were a lot tougher than some forum posters, bloggers and reviewers were making out?
The guarantee from trek I dismissed again from reading forum posts from disgruntled customers who had tried to claim on frames that had been damaged from riding. I should point out that both Trek and Orbea say that if your bike is involved in a crash, then they won’t replace the bike. Basically these customers had been told by Trek that their damage had not been from riding, but a crash (forum postees claimed they had not crashed, their word I guess) and as such invalidated the warranty.
Orbea were different, and they were really helpful providing me with an explanation of their guarantee structure which really is for life, and what would invalidate – a crash. A crash was understandable, because the other frames would be equally subject to breaking down if incurring a massive impact.
It was then I hit on the idea of bike insurance. That would mean if I broke the bike through riding, I got one from the manufacturer, and if a crash, then through the insurer. Now there was depreciation problems to account for with the insurer, but that worked out at 10% a year. So so long as I saved the replacement value as well as the insurance (£10 a month insurance, £10 a month into a bank account) then I was completely covered. I was swinging heavily to Orbea.
Carbon frames are stiffer, absorb road noise and are super light. But unless I travelled for 3 hours to the main supplier (Orbea cycles at Epic) I wouldn’t be able to get the decent discount down to £1299 from £1699…and stocks were low. Rats…because the cost of petrol would actually make it go really high. And I was aware of somewhere closer…
First though I wanted to get this nagging fear out of my head about the weakness of carbon frames, so I emailed the guys who are the main suppliers of Orbea cycles at Epic. They came back to me and explained that there was a problem with early carbon frames, and they did flex too much and crack. However, more recent materials were being made that so long as you didn’t crash or stick a knife in it, it would last confidently for 15 years or more, and that really sold it to me.
Carbon really is the best thing to make bikes out of.
Back to the closer place, Onix bikes. This made it confusing because the Orbea bike I wanted was called an Onix…they are different! it’s the difference between a brand and a model.
I contacted Onix bikes about what they were offering, and I was immediately impressed. They use the hardest carbon technology available and a super resin formula method thing which made the frame 25% stronger but lighter than any other resin. But because there were no middle men – shops and so forth – costs were about half what they should be. And these bikes with Campagnolo fittings came in at £1250, so cheaper than Orbea. Only a 12 mth warranty since they are a new company. But would that matter?
I also have to say how helpful Craig (owner/designer) has been. He has helped me by email, particularly with the following two answers…
“All our frames pass a 1100N, 100,000 times fatigue test which simulates 100.000 impacts. So unless your thinking of having
100.001 crashes in the next 10 years I’m confident it will last.”
“… if you look after your Onix frameset it will last you for many many years.
As far as bike fit is concerned we will make sure your bike fits you perfectly.”
And that just about sold it to me! The Onix was cheaper, and stronger, and I get a fit. And if it did have a catastrophic failure, insurance would cover it. I checked out the reviews of the Aurious model, and realised that some big names and mechanics love the bike. Moreover, it is a local!
The bike I am choosing:
I am going to call the shop hopefully within the next week, and discuss the best timing since I am moving in the next 10 days…but all being well, a new Onix (nicknamed Grandad) will be touring the hills above Clitheroe.