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Pros/Cons of Carbon Fiber vs. Titanium frames?(20 posts)

Pros/Cons of Carbon Fiber vs. Titanium frames?jbonny
Apr 6, 2003 1:05 AM
I am 34 and ride many miles of rough country rodes, mainly to train for mountain bike racing, although occasionally I do race my road bike. I am getting ready to replace my old 7005 series aluminum frame. Obviously, I would like a frame that will perform better and be more comfortable. I am considering spending roughly $1000 on either a carbon fiber or titanium frame. From what I have heard, these seem to be the two premium frame materials, both being stiff, smooth, and light.

I would greatly appreciate any practical information on the pros/cons of riding on either of these two materials to help me decide which would be better for me. What are their strengths/weaknesses? How do they compare?

Thanks - James
From what I've read and felt...(Long Post)ArvinC
Apr 6, 2003 6:15 AM
Hello. I recently tried the Litespeed Tuscany (Which I thought was great!), and several aluminum frames from Giant, Fuji, and LeMond before finally deciding to go with the Kestrel Talon. For me, it had the smoothest ride and fit the best.

I have been researching a lot about frame materials. Titanium and carbon fiber have a similar advantages in terms of stiffness-to-weight ratio and "value", meaning that both are viewed as "ultimate" materials.

Titanium's main advantage is its feel. It's been described that titanium frames have an energetic, resilient ride. It feels like it's stiff when you need it to be, but springy over bumps and such. It does not rust and is very durable. Because of its stregnth, it makes a very light frame without resorting to "oversized" tubing, or rider weight-restrictions. For the most part, it has no disadvantages as a material itself, save for it's cost and that it needs to be worked carefully.

Carbon fiber's main advantages is that it's the stiffest material for its weight and that it's anisotropic, which means that it can be "tuned" to its application. Carbon frames are usually very stiff lateraly, which means they are super-efficient when pedaling, sprinting and climbing. But they are also designed to be verticaly compliant. For all of carbon's stiffness, it's the best of all materials at absorbing road vibrations and shock. For proof, look at the popularity of carbon forks and to the carbon rear-triangles on high end "metal" frames. Carbon's ride is described as incredibly responsive, smooth and quiet, a ride that doesn't "beat you up." It's very strong, light and won't corrode. And since the material is "formed", it can be made into very aerodynamic tubes and shapes that help cut the wind. It's main disadvantage is it's fragile. Instead of bending in a crash, carbon will fracture and/or break. It's structure will be severly compromised should it crack or delaminate. Also, an all-carbon frame can feel "wooden" to those who enjoy a lot of road-feel.

So, the main differences are really in feel and durability. If you are looking for a resilient, springy ride, go for the Ti. Choose carbon if you value smoothness combined with absolute stiffness, as wells as that "look" only a carbon frame can have.

For lots of frame material info check out http://www.sjsu.edu/orgs/asmtms/artcle/articl.htm. This guy has the best, most complete frame material write-up I've read to date.

Good luck!
feel: 80% design, 20% materialcyclopathic
Apr 6, 2003 7:04 AM
or it might be 90% vs 10%? try before buy (or at least read reviews)

Anyways post above pretty much covers it. Though cracked carbon frame may be repaired, Ti and steel are more likely to survive crash. Straight gage Ti isn't as smooth as butted and later more likely to be over 1K. Also don't discount steel it's easy to repair, light (853 steel frame weights as much as straight gage Ti LS), cheap (you can get good frameset for 500-800$) and will last forever if taken care of.
it's in the design...C-40
Apr 6, 2003 7:56 AM
About the only thing tht's certain about carbon fiber is it's ability to absorb high frequency vibration. It will transmit less buzz when riding on gravel-sealed asphalt.

As for stiffness or compliance, either material can be designed to produce a frame that's as stiff or compliant as you want. You can't accurately generalize about the characteristics of eighter material.

You don't mention your size or weight. The most suitable frame will vary considerably depending on your size.

As a light rider (135-140) I stay away from frames that have greatly oversized or bladed tubes. This type of frame is just about guaranteed to produce an abusive ride. Expensive tube shaping is a waste for riders of my size. A standard steel bike or low end Ti frame will have all the necessary stiffness. Steel will be a lot cheaper.

As a second bike, I'm considering a cheap Ti bike like a Macalu Pro Ti from Excel Sports or Zion Ti from Jenson USA. Both are house brand versions of the Litespeed Arenberg at much lower prices. But then there are much better looking steel frames with nice paint jobs for even less. Tough to decide.
re:Premium?Rusty Coggs
Apr 6, 2003 8:50 AM
It's not the material,but how it's designed and built.If Ti and CF were considered premium,and that's arguable,you won't get a 'premium' frame in either for $1000.Don't dismiss good steel,and for that you can get custom in a tubeset designed and optimised for your size,weight and riding type.
Carbon-Titanium analogy- Do thisLazywriter
Apr 6, 2003 10:30 AM
An engineer who rides told me to take a metal spoon and slam it against a table as hard as I can and then take a plastic spoon and do the same. Metal=ti, plastic=spoon. Which one do you like better? Rough analogy, but accurate in that the alloy will give you more reaction and the plastic will be muted and less lively (wooden). It is a matter of what you prefer.
Personally, I like titanium as it is lively with all the comfort of carbon. Plus it is more durable in a crash. Scrape a CF frame in a sliding crash and break the surface, your bike is in need of repair or at the beginning stages of failure. Other than that, CF is great, but scuffs and scrapes worry me more on a high end cf.
Not a great analogy, even if it was from an "engineer"Fez
Apr 6, 2003 3:06 PM
Most metal spoons are some sort of steel alloy. Don't know how similar that is to titanium. And bike riding is a far cry from banging spoons onto tables.

And the material in carbon fiber is a whole different animal than the plastics used in spoons.

Besides, it has been discussed that the inherent characteristics of the material (Ti or carbon fiber) is secondary to the engineering of the material to produce a ride quality.

Personally, I could ride either one. If or when I crash, I'll deal with the consequences. Look for a good warranty or crash replacement plan. Carbon may be more likely to be structurally damaged than Ti, but Ti is far from damageproof.

The only thing I will say about Ti is that it is very hard to scratch up. I used to struggle with damage to the clearcoat from chains, cables, tools, sweat, mishaps, and dirt and grit.

Unpainted Ti is not very pretty, but it is so practical and functional. 5,000+ miles and hardly a scratch.
Didn't I say it was a "rough analogy"?Lazywriter
Apr 6, 2003 5:55 PM
but it is generally true. CF has a muted feel to it which can be equated to slamming a plastic spoon which is the "wooden" feel that almost EVERYONE uses to describe CF (professional mags/reviews etc). Ti had HISTORICALLY been described as SPRINGY which is equated with the reaction a metal spoon would be to slamming it on a table. How is that not generally true?
Unpainted Ti is "pretty" in my eyes and much more durable in a crash. When CF fails it is usually catastrophic and without any warning. Not likely to happen I agree if used under normal conditions and no crashes, but when it does go it isn't pretty and the rider will only know at the last second. Not that many CF moutain bikes out there for a reason.
There is an OCLV mountain bikeFez
Apr 6, 2003 6:18 PM
But mtn bikes are a totally different animal.

I think one reason for the use of carbon and ti for road bikes is because road riders want a light AND comfortable bike. Aluminum is usually light, but without a lot of engineering, it can produce a harsh ride, especially for a lightweight rider. True, you can tune and design an aluminum frame to be comfortable, but at considerable added expense. And the durability will still be less than good steel or Ti. If we didn't care about the ride or durability, everyone would be riding super lightweight Cannondales or some oversize aluminum or scandium frame.

Also, road bikes have smaller, higher pressure tires that trasmit much of the road to the rider. Mtn bikes have larger, lower pressure tires that can take out lots of road harshness. The front (and rear) shocks take out some more. All of a sudden, frame material doesn't matter in the same way as it does for road bikes. Aluminum mtn bikes are plenty comfortable. I guess that's one reason why you don't see as many carbon and ti mtn bikes.

I guess another reason is that with the huge weights of disk brake equipped dual suspension and downhill bikes, who cares if you can save a few hundred grams on frame material. Lightweight hardtails still weigh over 22lbs.
Oh C'monLazywriter
Apr 6, 2003 6:36 PM
I know there are a couple of CF MTB out theremost notably the Trek, but are you gonna tell me that you would want to spend that kind of cash on a CF frame and have it slamming against protruding rocks and stumps? Having to check for breaks and scrapes in the laminate/clearcoating would be nerve racking.
After a spill on a road bike, the first thing I check is my CF fork condition. Why? Because damage is not readily viewable and that is why when in doubt, most people will replace the fork rather if there is any question rather than risk riding on a potential nightmare. My LBS had a catastrphic Colnago CF fork failure. Guy crashed a month earlier and then the thing fails on a downhill. Bad.
CF is a great material, but not without its faults. Ti is more durable when you spread the risks. I would ride CF, but I wouildn't race on it unless I was given the frame. Save it for nice weekend fair weather rides personally.
Oh C'monFez
Apr 6, 2003 7:33 PM
I agree with much of what was said. But I think people are a little 2 faced when it comes to CF failures. Nearly 100% of all new high-end road bikes (excluding steel bikes w/ steel forks) are outfitted with CF forks. If CF was that dangerous, I would never trust it, especially on the front end.

I think people are OK with replacing a damaged carbon fork. But they are a little more fickle when it comes to replacing a damaged frame (which can cost multiple times more than the fork and involve more labor).

I trust carbon as a frame material, whether I am riding a century or racing. But as far as choosing it as my frame material, it depends.

For me, I'm a Ti rider. I probably won't switch any time soon, but mainly because I like the finish of Ti and don't like to deal with paint and clearcoat of carbon fiber.

But I think the industry is continuing to develop CF. Carbon rear seatstays or rear triangles are more common. More exotic designs combine metal with carbon top and downtubes.

Carbon has some pros and cons, but I think people fearing a failure should take a look at their carbon fork and reconsider.
Oh C'monLazywriter
Apr 6, 2003 7:41 PM
Yes, I agree that I have full confidence in my CF forks, but I recently noticed a small gouge in one of my forks (in the clearcoat) and it concerned me a little. Under normal conditions, there is no issue with CF, but it is an issue if its surface is broken. Spending $3000 + on a frame, I want it to be bulletproof (for the most part) and Ti gets one there closer than any other material.
I will eventually get a CF bike though. Ride quality is not the issue. I am tempted to pick up one of those Scattante frames at supergo as a way to try the material rather than go for big $$$ on the first attempt into ti. I just got my Vortex last year so it will be a while.
trekFez
Apr 6, 2003 8:02 PM
I don't know how strapped for cash you are, or just how cheap those Scattante frames are, but how can you go wrong with Trek OCLV if you want a light as balls, proven carbon fiber frame?

Just buy it frameset only and build it up yourself so you don't have to have all of that Bontrager garbage on it. Who knows, you might like it better than the Vortex or the Classic.

The fact that the first four letters of Scattante is "scat" may be an indicator of its relative performance.

I might just take my own advice one of these days so I won't have to ride my Litespeed anymore. I don't think the geometry is not perfect for me, but maybe a few more test rides may help me get to the bottom of this.
one more thingFez
Apr 6, 2003 8:06 PM
Typo - I meant to say the geometry may NOT be perfect for me.

And re: Trek - if you buy it new you get a pretty good warranty. Most people are not left high and dry where OCLV is concerned. A surprising number of folks get it replaced even after a crash that was clearly NOT a manufacturer defect.
trekLazywriter
Apr 6, 2003 8:09 PM
The OCLV is a great bike but I am telling you that you need to check out the Scattante at supergo.com. Full bike with Ultegra and Shimano wheelset $1495. I am not strapped for cash, but how much can I spend on bikes????? How much is an OLCV with Ultegra anyways? Everyone that took the chance to buy these Scattante seem to be pleasantly surprised.

http://www.supergo.com/itemdisplay.asp?parentid=19083&secid=7559&subid=7&compflag=1&company=Scattante
trekFez
Apr 6, 2003 8:25 PM
I looked at the "scat."

Looks like an OK value. 5 year warranty. Ultegra group looks pretty complete, except for the pretty average Shimano wheelset. I guess the only cheap parts are the stem, bars, headset, and seatpost. I have no idea how it would ride or how good the workmanship is, but I would guess the OCLV is nicer.

No doubt its a good value. The whole bike costs less than an OCLV frameset. But do you want entry level carbon, or do you want good? Only you can decide which is better for the money.
I think a wooden spoon has a wooden feel to it.djg
Apr 7, 2003 5:34 PM
Plastic spoons, to me, feel plastic. Sporks are another matter.
I think it is in the designfiltersweep
Apr 7, 2003 5:30 AM
I won't argue that some CF feels "wooden"- but some frames (like a Look) offer the perfect amount of road feedback (I know what the tires are doing). Anyway, I think it is a biased over-generalization to suggest all CF is wooden.

If you slide "properly" in a crash, your frame will never touch the ground. I was taken out by a car last year and only sraped up the pedal, the skewer, and a tiny bit of the brake hood (and lost a bunch of skin on my hip)... not a single scratch on the frame because there is no contact point with the ground....
Can of Wormsupandcomer
Apr 6, 2003 4:59 PM
This topic can be debated all day long. It's been brought up so many times before: Which material is better, Ti or.....?
Anyway, here's my are some facts comparing materials alone: CF has a much higher specific stiffness and strength than Ti
Ti has a much better elongation than CF

This comes down to durability vs. performance. CF will perform a lot better because it wastes lesss energy than Ti but CF will probably not last quite as long because of material sensitivity to flaws.
The whole "feel" thing is a obviously subjective. CF has a better loss coefficient (less vibration) than Ti, but is that something you want?
I think that if you're racing then choose carbon, if not choose Ti
I'm actually working on such a comparison of different materials in a materials engineering project.

The previous posts do note that you need to take into account the design of the frame, but all things being equal the above is true.
There is no "right" answer..davet
Apr 6, 2003 5:13 PM
I have both CF (Calfee)and Ti (Serotta)framed bikes. They are both very good and they are both very different. That is what I like about each one. Either frame material, made into a well-built bike, will far last longer than you care to keep it.

If you have the opportunity, ride a correctly-sized bike of each kind. You are the only one that can make the subjective distinction of which one will be the "best".

Opinions are like elbows, everyone has two, about the same thing. I am not an expert, so take what I have to say for what it's worth.