Carbon versus aluminum handlebars

Breaking down the benefits and drawbacks of each

Components Tech
Carbon generally does a better job of damping or absorbing vibrations from trail irregularities, while aluminum transmits more of those vibrations into your hands.

Carbon generally does a better job of damping or absorbing vibrations from trail irregularities, while aluminum transmits more of those vibrations into your hands.

Editor’s Note: This article is courtesy of the team at Art’s Cyclery. The original post can be found here.

So you are looking to upgrade to a wider handlebar, but are not sure if you should go with carbon or aluminum, and are wondering what are the benefits and drawbacks of each?

Whether you’re looking for road handlebars or mountain bike handlebars, there are a few important points to consider which will help guide your decision making process. Check out this video to learn more.

Comfort

Most comparisons of carbon to aluminum center around this feature. Generally, carbon does a better job of damping or absorbing vibrations from trail irregularities, while aluminum transmits more of those vibrations into your hands. On trails with lots of big hits, carbon bars can save you a lot of energy, as your hands don’t get rattled as much as they would with an aluminum bar.

Stiffness

Comfort and stiffness are closely linked, but carbon bars are generally as stiff or stiffer than their aluminum counterparts. Many people think that aluminum bars are stiffer since they feel harsher than carbon, but that is because of the aforementioned differences in vibration damping of the two materials. Light weight aluminum bars often flex noticeably when pushing down on the grips.

Carbon bars are typically lighter than their alloy counterparts.

Carbon bars are typically lighter than their alloy counterparts.

Weight

Here’s another category where carbon wins. Carbon bars are almost lighter than aluminum bars. Aluminum bars that approach the low weights of carbon are often quite flexy.

Cost

Aluminum bars come out on top when it comes to price. Carbon often costs twice as much as aluminum.

The one place aluminum almost always wins is price.

The one place aluminum almost always wins is price.

Durability

When it comes to impact resistance, carbon and aluminum are evenly matched. Both can take a lot of abuse without breaking. However, quality aluminum bars will dent, bend, or otherwise deform if the impact is great enough, giving you some indication of how much abuse they have endured and how much fatigue life they have left.

Carbon bars, on the other hand, will not dent or bend. When they have reached the end of their fatigue life, they simply break. This is only an issue if you crash a lot, or use extremely light weight carbon bars meant for XC in aggressive enduro or DH conditions.

Besides materials choice, you'll need to settle on the bar that best meets your look and style preferences.

Besides materials choice, you’ll need to settle on the bar that best meets your look and style preferences.

Bottom Line

To sum up, carbon bars are generally more comfortable, stiffer, and lighter than aluminum bars. However, carbon bars are typically more expensive than aluminum, and give no indication if they have sustained an impact large enough to make them unsafe to ride.

Head over to www.artscyclery.com to see their full array of mountain bike handlebars.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
About the author: Arts Cyclery

This article was originally published on the Art's Cyclery Blog. Art's Cyclery is dedicated to offering free expert advice, how-to videos, and in-depth product reviews on ArtsCyclery.com to help riders make an educated decision when selecting cycling gear.


(Visited 5,795 times, 1 visits today)

Related Articles


NOTE: There are two ways to comment on our articles: Facebook or Wordpress. Facebook uses your real name and can be posted on your wall while Wordpress uses our login system. Feel free to use either one.

Facebook Comments:



Wordpress Comments:

  • Farmer Ted says:

    When any material reaches the end of its fatigue life, it breaks. That’s why it’s called fatigue life.

    Properly designed carbon parts should have a nearly infinite fatigue life..at least as far as their use on a mountain bike. I have seen numbers that give certain carbon fiber constructions hundreds of millions of cycles to failure. Realistically, the only thing that’s going to kill them is impact or other external damage.

    Among metals used in cycling, aluminum has the shortest fatigue life, then steel, and titanium has the longest.

    Theoretically, steel and titanium can have infinite fatigue (stress cycle) life if the cyclic stress is below a certain threshold.

    • james says:

      I think the article may have used a misnomer when describing the way carbon typically fails versus the way aluminum typically fails. You’re correct in that a properly designed carbon has a near infinite fatigue life, but I think the article was actually referring to fatigue limit, the point at which the material will fail – versus fatigue life – the amount of time (cycles) a material can be stressed to its limit before failing.

  • tyrebyter says:

    From a previous article:
    “Speaking only for Renthal handlebars, if the product is used as intended there is no reason why it should be periodically changed unless it has been damaged in a crash or some other abuse. This is the same for aluminum or carbon fiber handlebars.”

  • JPaul says:

    Says above: “quality aluminum bars will dent, bend, or otherwise deform if the impact is great enough”

    How do I know when an aluminum bar is “quality”? Same question for CF, for that matter.

    I need new bars, but can’t find a metric for “quality” to help make a decision. I know it isn’t brand and/or cost.

    • Farmer Ted says:

      a ‘quality’ bar is one backed by a name brand that’s been around for a while with a proven track record. Even if they’re not making the bar in-house (and 99.9% don’t), they will have engineering and test data that proves the bar is safe, can stand up to real world conditions, and they will back their product up with customer service and a warranty.

      In this regard, most name brands are ‘quality’. If you want an example of what’s not ‘quality’, look no further than the generic stuff on ebay. It might be fine, it might not…kind of like playing Russian Roulette.

  • Cracker69 says:

    I wonder when the planet will stop acting like carbon fiber is exotic. Its an excellent material with fabulous properties but hardly justifies its cost from a manufacturing standpoint. As for chatter, surely our 25-35 psi tires take care of ostensibly all the chatter.

    • Farmer Ted says:

      Why are carbon parts so expensive? All carbon fiber parts are hand made. The layups have to be placed into the mold by hand and the molds can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, the engineering that goes into the layup design is pretty extensive. Metal parts can be formed and welded by robots or automated processes, not so for CF.

      As far as the ‘vibration qualities’ or ‘absorbing chatter’ I agree with you on that one.

  • Butters says:

    Here’s one alum major benefit not discussed – alum can be easily recycled, numerous times. Try finding a carbon recycler in your town, usually just straight to landfill.

  • justwan naride says:

    I bought a complete bike from a reputable manufacturer last May. An own-brand alu bar came stock with it and the bike’s manual recommended retiring the bar after two years of regular use. So even the manufacturer admits the short fatique life of alu.

    Apart from that, I really wonder whether going the carbon way will reduce some of the trail chatter. Opinions seem to be split on this.

    I’ve never had an alu bar (or frame) fail on me and I ride 3x a week on average. Not much of a jumper though and no drops to flat.

    I’ve had one alu windsurfing boom snap, but the same happened to one of my carbon masts. Neither failure was due to impact.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*