The introduction of carbon in the bicycle industry was a massive leap forward in weight reduction and stiffness of frames and for many it became the only material they would turn to as a means of shedding weight and increasing speed. For some however, carbon is the enemy and there is much controversy over its durability and advantages in the world of Gravity Enduro racing, with many EWS racers preferring to stay with alloy frames and equipment……
There is absolutely no doubt that carbon frames are lighter, stiffer and some say more responsive. The advantages of a lighter frame can be debated when the trail points downhill and speed is often gained quicker and the rubber is tested to its limits. Many Downhill racers are using carbon frames and wheels in some cases in world cup races and their results cannot be disputed. But would these racers still achieve similar times on alloys frames? Or are they just compelled to use carbon because their sponsors want them touting the top of the range products so more carbon hits the streets and cash lands in the back pockets of the brands?
Feather weight at a costly price?
For many of us the decision about what type of bike we buy comes down to what we use it for, where we ride and our budget. Carbon offers a serious weight reduction and for anyone racing cross-country races this needs to be a serious consideration. Dropping weight will offer the ability to climb better, the ease of being able to throw the bike around underneath them and some increased acceleration ability. These are serious advantages for the lycra wearing XCO racers out there, but are they considerations for the Gravity enduro rider?
When it comes to Enduro, carbon may not affect your stage times as much as you might hope, after all it is called ‘gravity’ enduro, but when it comes to climbing to the next start gate the benefits will be yielded. For many of us racing in gravity enduro races, we only seem to care what the bike does when it is pointed firmly downhill, but if you races more pedally stages then you may reap some benefits. For those of us that are all about DH racing then the benefits of weight saving with carbon have less effect, after all you still need a certain amount of weight to your bike to gain speed quickly, in fact some racers on the world cup scene are actually trialing placing lead weights on the bike.
Ultra-responsive carbon versus ultra-durable Alloy
If you want a stiff, ultra-responsive gravity weapon then carbon may be the best option for you. Carbon frames provide a level of stiffness to the frame that alloy frames just cannot match, for some riders this is a benefit but for others we may like the mild flex you get from an alloy frame. The same can be said for wheels, although the benefits of weight saving when it comes to wheels cannot be disputed, decreased rotational weight allows the ride to have a much more responsive bike.
If you are looking at durability, well there is controversy there as well. Whilst carbon has come a long way in improving its durability, when it does fail…. it cracks or breaks, making the bike un-ridable. If you are a gravity enduro rider that has to finish the race on the same bike with the same parts, this may cause an issue. Alloy tends to bend or dent and this may mean you can ride the race out. For the downhill rider this doesn’t impact them as much because one crash will put them out of contention and off the podium.
Cost versus Benefit
As with any purchase it comes down to what your intended purpose of the bike is, what benefits you look to reap from having a carbon bike or an alloy bike, how much you are willing to spend and how much you are attracted to shiny objects (Carbon is shiny!). Carbon bikes certainly do come in at a much higher price point and the thought of buying second-hand carbon is scary at best, if I am going to spend that much money on a bike….I want the warranty that comes with buying new. For some of you the decision will be easy and for others it may mean a few sleepless nights dreaming of bikes…… wait, that’s good right?
So now that you have read this article you should still be analyzing what your needs and requirements are and what material will suit those needs best. For me, it was an easy choice, alloy all the way with the exception of my wheel set. That being said there are many riders out there that are all about the carbon, this is a decision for you and you alone. Good luck and go and shred some dirt!