Low end Carbon vs High end Aluminum



mafnorthcarolin

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Apr 11, 2006
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Hello,
First off, thanks for all the info you guys post, its been incredibly helpful. I have searched this forum for quite sometime looking for an answer to this and couldn't find anything on lower end carbon.

I was curious if anyone has an opinion on the differences between an OLCV carbon frame versus a regular carbon frame that you would find on a lower end Madone. My reason for asking is I'm looking to upgrade from my current bike which is a aluminum carbon mix to a little higher end. I didn't want to spend more than $2500 and liked what I saw in the Madone 4.7 but wasn't sure about the frame material.

My other thought was an aluminum Cervelo S1. So I guess what I'm asking is high end aluminum versus low end carbon. I have ridden both and could go either way.

Thanks again
Marco
 

alienator

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Jun 10, 2004
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mafnorthcarolin said:
Hello,
First off, thanks for all the info you guys post, its been incredibly helpful. I have searched this forum for quite sometime looking for an answer to this and couldn't find anything on lower end carbon.

I was curious if anyone has an opinion on the differences between an OLCV carbon frame versus a regular carbon frame that you would find on a lower end Madone. My reason for asking is I'm looking to upgrade from my current bike which is a aluminum carbon mix to a little higher end. I didn't want to spend more than $2500 and liked what I saw in the Madone 4.7 but wasn't sure about the frame material.

My other thought was an aluminum Cervelo S1. So I guess what I'm asking is high end aluminum versus low end carbon. I have ridden both and could go either way.

Thanks again
Marco

There's no way to answer that question in general. You should ask about specific frames. Even then, which one is "better" depends greatly on rider perceptions.
 

alienator

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Jun 10, 2004
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mafnorthcarolin said:
Fair enough, what about a cervelo s1 versus a trek madone 4.7? Which is a better bike in your opinion. I realize that this is really an opinion question at this point because they are two completely different bikes except the Ultegra Group. Opinions?

http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/road/madone/madone47/

or...

http://www.cervelo.com/bikes.aspx?bike=S12009

Thanks again...

Well, you wouldn't have to worry about a lack of performance with the Trek CF frame. The only thing working against Trek is its name. As for the Cervelo, the only knock I've heard against Al Soloist frames is that their ride is rough. Honestly though, that is something you can fix with tire pressure. I don't think either pike is better than the other. At this point, if I were you, I'd compare the geometries of the two bikes. Trek and Cervelo have two different approaches to what sort of geometry works.

Do you have a current bike that fits well, whose geometry you can use to compare the Trek and the Cervelo? You ought to be able to get a test ride, locally, on a Trek and a Cervelo, too. That would be the best metric for making your decision.

Out of the two, though, I'd likely lean toward the Trek.
 

kdelong

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Dec 14, 2006
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alienator said:
There's no way to answer that question in general. You should ask about specific frames. Even then, which one is "better" depends greatly on rider perceptions.
+1. See if you can't get a test ride on these, or at least similar bikes, and make a better than informed judgement for yourself! Even though you have given us specific frames, you will find a large number of riders that love their aluminum and a large number of riders that love thier CF. I personally like the ride of aluminum, even though a large number of people say it is harsh. I like the lighter weight of CF but it feels too springy for me. I really like the ride of steel but the weight increase is discouraging to me. I am saving for a custom made titanium bike right now because I was able to get some test rides on Ti bikes and dicovered that they are exactly what I want as far as ride and weight are concerned. However, if I am going to spend the money for a Ti bike, I may as well add a coule G's and get one that is made to fit me exact rather than one that is just close to my size. There, now you know what I like, go out and do your test rides and find out which you like best.
 

mafnorthcarolin

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Apr 11, 2006
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kdelong said:
+1. See if you can't get a test ride on these, or at least similar bikes, and make a better than informed judgement for yourself! Even though you have given us specific frames, you will find a large number of riders that love their aluminum and a large number of riders that love thier CF. I personally like the ride of aluminum, even though a large number of people say it is harsh. I like the lighter weight of CF but it feels too springy for me. I really like the ride of steel but the weight increase is discouraging to me. I am saving for a custom made titanium bike right now because I was able to get some test rides on Ti bikes and dicovered that they are exactly what I want as far as ride and weight are concerned. However, if I am going to spend the money for a Ti bike, I may as well add a coule G's and get one that is made to fit me exact rather than one that is just close to my size. There, now you know what I like, go out and do your test rides and find out which you like best.

Well thats the thing, I have ridden both and both are great bikes in my opinion. My problem is just that, both are good, but which is better in your opinion. My riding style isn't really a style. I put in about 100 miles a week on a Lemond Tourmalet (carbon aluminum mix). I'm really just interested in what you think of the two, because I know this is solely an opinion based decision. I'm sure both would serve anyone well but if it was you, which would you buy?
 

alienator

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Jun 10, 2004
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Given your budget for a bike, you should also consider Giant, Specialized, and Cannondale (CAAD 9 is a very nice bike) as those are bikes that are more likely to be found for test rides.
 

Ainsie

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Nov 13, 2007
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Alienator makes a great point talking about the difference in frame geo between these frames.

I ride a soloist team (S1) in 51 cm. This has a TT length of 53 cm, seat tube angle of 73 degrees and a frame reach of 37 cm. I run a 10 cm stem and do not want to go any shorter on a bike (it at all possible).

I was looking to relegate this to a wet weather bike and get myself a nice carbon frame to build up for longer more comfortable rides and was looking at a Madone 5.2.

The smallest 50 cm Madone (Performance fit) has a TT length of 51.6 cm, seat tube angle 75.1 degrees and a frame reach of 37.4 cm, so even though the Trek appears to be significantly smaller, when comparing reach it is actually bigger and therefore not the right type of frame for me. Something like the Cervelo RS/R3 is more suited to my short ass stature of 5’ 6 with its slacker seat tube angle.

I was a little stretched on the S1 with EA70 wing bars but reduced the reach a little with FSA Wing Pro compact bars for the best fit I have achieved on this bike and is now something I will run with for a while before building up a carbon frame.

The frame that fits you best is the bike for you. Try to test ride the bike you intend to buy.
 

STXR814

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Jun 28, 2007
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Since we are on the topic I was going to ask about upgrading from an Allez Elite to a Tarmac. I don't compete with riding but ride 3-4 times a week up to 25miles at a time during summer time and on a trainer during harsh winters. I love my Elite but was wondering if I'd gain anything by upgrading from an 07 Elite to a Tarmac? I am 6ft 200lbs now, 190 usually and would like to get to 185. Would there be a noticable benefit for an all carbon bike for me with that mileage or not? I just ride to stay in shape but would like to and am going to enter some partnered triathalons in the future with my son. Is there a noticable difference between these bikes for someone like me who rides just to "stay in shape" or not? Is there a difference in the carbon frames and if so what is the major differences? Thanks
 

Phill P

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STXR814: How old is your current ride? My advice is ride what you have til it gets seriously old. If you are just riding to stay fit, doing modest milage each ride, what more do you think I higher end bike will give you?

Save your money and buy some nice bits to freshen up your current bike. Things like good quality tires, or a nice set of wheels will make it feel like new, and you then have less reason to worry about your house repayments.
 

STXR814

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Jun 28, 2007
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Phill P said:
STXR814: How old is your current ride? My advice is ride what you have til it gets seriously old. If you are just riding to stay fit, doing modest milage each ride, what more do you think I higher end bike will give you?

Save your money and buy some nice bits to freshen up your current bike. Things like good quality tires, or a nice set of wheels will make it feel like new, and you then have less reason to worry about your house repayments.
My current ride is an 07 Allez Elite. I've put a Koobi seat on it to help out with enlarged prostate issues and helps alot. I love the bike really but like to push the limits and don't know if it is holding me back at all. Like I previously said, next year I'll probably do a triathalon with my son so I'll have to get on the horn a bit more with this bike anyways but would another help me anymore like a Tarmac but mostly still riding for fun/staying in shape? Thanks again.
 

alienator

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Jun 10, 2004
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STXR814 said:
My current ride is an 07 Allez Elite. I've put a Koobi seat on it to help out with enlarged prostate issues and helps alot. I love the bike really but like to push the limits and don't know if it is holding me back at all. Like I previously said, next year I'll probably do a triathalon with my son so I'll have to get on the horn a bit more with this bike anyways but would another help me anymore like a Tarmac but mostly still riding for fun/staying in shape? Thanks again.

The only way a bike would hold you back, right now, would be if it was either sized all wrong or was in wretched nick.
 

STXR814

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I've been looking at some wheels. What kind of wheels would you recommend for an Allez Elite being its not a race bike but I'd like to spend money on something I'll notice a difference on? Mavics, Custom made, Roval's?
 

Vanquish

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alienator said:
Given your budget for a bike, you should also consider Giant, Specialized, and Cannondale (CAAD 9 is a very nice bike) as those are bikes that are more likely to be found for test rides.
Hello Alienator,
I would also like to cash in on your knowledge of understanding geometries of different bikes, I am currently looking at 2 bikes the Trek Madone 4.7 and a BMC SL01 roadracer, what do i look for when comparing the frame length/angles?
I want a bike thats responsive and more inclined for climbing, I am 63kgs and 27 so I dont think either would lose much with power transfer loss but bmc seem to brag about being very responsive and no power loss thru flex (Integral Skeleton Concept)
Both these bikes have Ultegra, altho the trek has ultegra sl and are both in the same price bracket. The shop I went to had the bmc but not in my size so i havent ridden it. Any help would be most appreicated cheers
 

tonyzackery

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Dec 23, 2006
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WRT to the OPs question, I have limited experience riding both types of frames; albeit not from the manufacturers listed. IME (keep in mind I'm around 200lbs) a high end aluminum frame will perform better (metric is stiffness in the BB/chainstay area) than a low end carbon frame. Heck, for my tastes even the cheaper aluminum frames work for me - I don't mind a harsh ride as it very true tire pressure can mitigate perceived harshness very well. My $0.02CAN worth...
 

swampy1970

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Feb 3, 2008
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mafnorthcarolin said:
Well thats the thing, I have ridden both and both are great bikes in my opinion. My problem is just that, both are good, but which is better in your opinion. My riding style isn't really a style. I put in about 100 miles a week on a Lemond Tourmalet (carbon aluminum mix). I'm really just interested in what you think of the two, because I know this is solely an opinion based decision. I'm sure both would serve anyone well but if it was you, which would you buy?
The LeMond Tourmalet came with mostly Shimano 105 components, right? Those should serve you well even it you start racing. If you want to upgrade a little - maybe a better set of wheels. If you do start racing then you might be glad that you're not on an expensive bike.

If there's anything specifically that you need to change for comfort, like saddle or handlebars then that's a pretty easy thing to do but that Tourmalet seems like a pretty good bike as is. The only thing I find offputting about the LeMonds is the seat angles in my size. I can't get comfy on a 72.5 degree seat angled frame...
 

ianhargreaves

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Nov 3, 2004
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It depends just how low the Carbon frame is and how high the alloy frame is.

Generally Carbon would win, it also depends on the gruppo that comes on the bike too (and wheelset of course).

The 4.7 uses Trek's new TCT Carbon which, although is not hand made like it's higher end OCLV and Red carbon, it still rides amazing.

Carbon is stiffer that alloy, more malliable and has a natural ability to dampen road shock. The directional nature of carbon also means they can build in compliance and stiffness into the same bike. Alloy does not allow a frame builder to make a bike laterally stiff while vertically compliant as well as carbon does. You'll see that there is a big trend in carbon bikes now where top tubes are flattened off and are often wider than high. This builds in that vertical compliance along with lateral stiffness. You just can't get that so easily on alloy framesets. Oversized bottom bracket clusters are another thing. How many alloy bikes have over sized b clusters? None that I know off! This is so important for power transfer, along with oversized chain stays.

You can make the thickness and diameter of alloy tubes thicker and bigger to allow them to be as stiff as carbon but that would make the ride too harsh, so they don't.

Alloy will always be a rougher ride than carbon. Carbon absorbs vibration. With the right engineering you could make a bell out of plastic that is as strong as an alloy counterpart. The plastic bell would not resonate so well. That's plastic's vibration absorbing quality. Carbon is similar in that way. Go to your local bike shop and flick the alloy frames and the carbon frames. What one resonates less and absorbs the most vibrations, and also sounds somewhat plasticy?

If it's a choice between an alloy frame with a certain gruppo and a carbon frame with a slightly downgraded gruppo I'd generally choose the slightly downgraded gruppo with carbon frame. If it's a massively downgraded gruppo then that's a different issue.

Also worth remembering is that trek offer a limited life time warrenty and crash replacement programme on all their carbon frames.

I'd say carbon for the win, even TCT carbon.

mafnorthcarolin said:
Hello,
First off, thanks for all the info you guys post, its been incredibly helpful. I have searched this forum for quite sometime looking for an answer to this and couldn't find anything on lower end carbon.

I was curious if anyone has an opinion on the differences between an OLCV carbon frame versus a regular carbon frame that you would find on a lower end Madone. My reason for asking is I'm looking to upgrade from my current bike which is a aluminum carbon mix to a little higher end. I didn't want to spend more than $2500 and liked what I saw in the Madone 4.7 but wasn't sure about the frame material.

My other thought was an aluminum Cervelo S1. So I guess what I'm asking is high end aluminum versus low end carbon. I have ridden both and could go either way.

Thanks again
Marco
 

tonyzackery

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Dec 23, 2006
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ianhargreaves said:
Carbon is stiffer that alloy, more malliable and has a natural ability to dampen road shock.The directional nature of carbon also means they can build in compliance and stiffness into the same bike. Alloy does not allow a frame builder to make a bike laterally stiff while vertically compliant as well as carbon does. You'll see that there is a big trend in carbon bikes now where top tubes are flattened off and are often wider than high. This builds in that vertical compliance along with lateral stiffness. You just can't get that so easily on alloy framesets. Oversized bottom bracket clusters are another thing. How many alloy bikes have over sized b clusters? None that I know off! This is so important for power transfer, along with oversized chain stays.

You can make the thickness and diameter of alloy tubes thicker and bigger to allow them to be as stiff as carbon but that would make the ride too harsh, so they don't.

Alloy will always be a rougher ride than carbon. Carbon absorbs vibration. With the right engineering you could make a bell out of plastic that is as strong as an alloy counterpart. The plastic bell would not resonate so well. That's plastic's vibration absorbing quality. Carbon is similar in that way. Go to your local bike shop and flick the alloy frames and the carbon frames. What one resonates less and absorbs the most vibrations, and also sounds somewhat plasticy?

I'd say carbon for the win, even TCT carbon.
First off, let me state I am speaking from my own personal knowledge and use of a relatively low grade carbon frame (Pedal Force QS2), low grade aluminum frame (Airborne thunderbolt), mid-high grade aluminum frame (Giant TCR Aero), and high-end composite frame (Cannondale System6).

Ian, you make some broad-sweeping generalities that, in my experience, are not correct in all situations - and I have bolded those above. There are some grades of carbon that are stiffer than the available alloys most frequently used from bicycle frames, but not all. The Pedal Force frame I had was the 2nd most flimsy in the BB area frame I've ever ridden (won't disclose the most flimsy, but it wasn't a household brand).

Are you aware of hydro-forming? There are some pretty amazing things that are being done WRT aluminum shaping. I think it's a bunch of marketing hocus-pocus, but there are many out there that believe in the 'vertically compliant-laterally stiff' phenomenon. Because I'm ~200lbs, I want stiff, with an extra helping of stiffer. The flatter and wider tubing has long been done with aluminum tubing - my Airborne frame has it as does my Quintana Roo Kilo (2001 vintage) TT frame. Further, the Kilo frame is Quntana Roo's low rung frame, so shaped aluminum can be had quite readily.

Oversized BB clusters? Ever take a look at Cannondales????? They started (I could be wrong, but not by much) this business of the oversize BB cluster - and with aluminum to boot! Their downtubes are narrower at the head tube and expand considerably at the BB. Lastly, my Cannondale does not ride "too harsh". How can you generalize for everyone and every body in that manner? You're aware that "too harsh" is a relative statement, right?

"Aluminum will always be a ride rougher than carbon". Ever ride a carbon Kestrel Talon??? Neither have I, but from what I've read about those teeth-rattlers I want one right away!:D Apparently they have my kind of stiffness!! I would venture to guarantee that they ride rougher than the Giant Aero that I have and its aluminum - go figure...

I'm no expert in metallurgy, or on carbon's physical properties. I speak soley from experience. I felt it apropro to challenge the broad-brushed statements you made about the frame material I prefer - aluminum baby!
 

ianhargreaves

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Nov 3, 2004
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yes, you're right. Not ALL carbon is better than alloy. I'm speaking on the most part. But generally bicycle grade carbon is stiffer that alloy. The lay up sched plays a part too, of course!

Yes, I am aware of hydroforming. Scott do this pretty well. I don't doubt that hydro forming is a successfull way of shaping alloy tubing but I still maintain that carbon is much more maliable than alloy. This is why you find all sorts of weird and wonderfull tubing shapes on carbon bikes vs. alloy (on the whole). Bianchi (c2c alloy range) of course use hydroforming too to shape their tubes along with scott but this is only at the front end. The rest is not a monocoq construction, it's welded (this is for both bianchi and scott). To hydroform a full bike would be too costly and un-appealing to the bike market.

I was not aware that cannondale did any BB clusters that were oversized untill their full carbon bikes hit the market (the super six, system six and six range). What model was this on?

I know the range all the way upto their six13 range back in 2005 and only in 2007 did they do oversized BB clusters. That's because they moved into full carbon. They never did this (to my knowlage) on bikes that had an alloy centre tube. Nor have any other brands. You told me that cannondale have down tubes that are wider at the BB end vs. the head tube. That's referring to an oversized down tube (or at least in part) not an oversized BB cluster. And still, to the best of my knowlage this never did this on bikes that had, at least partly, alloy down tubes (six13).

The reason you don't find (and still don't - TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLAGE) oversize BB clusters on bikes that are full alloy or at least either side of (and including) the centre tube (six13 for example). Is that the overall surface area of the BB is directly affected by the diametre of the alloy tubing that connects to it. It's mighty hard to make a BB cluster that is proportionally bigger that the tubing that feeds it. This would involve some seriouse hydroforming and again is too expensive to be appealing to the market. You simply can't make an oversized BB (without oversize down tube, centre tube and chain stay) with traditional welding. Well you can, but you'd have to weld on extra alloy - pointless?! You'd have to mold it into shape really, that's why you find oversized BB clusters (MORE OFTEN) on full carbon bikes than alloy bikes.

The flattened top tube is engineering basics, vertical compliance vs laterral stiffness is true. It is not a falacy of any nature. It is factual based engineering that is, in turn, governed by physics.

I have been working in the bicycle business for many years, and riding for many years more. I've even had SBCU take me to their head office for a few days to show me their tricks. While I admit this was partly propoganda to tell me how good spesh are vs. other brands I agree with their views on carbon vs. alloy and the shaping of the tubing that is used.

When we're talking alloy vs. carbon. even TCT vs. FGlite alloy then carbon is still better ino.

When I apeak of anything above, I obviously speak in relative terms and on a weight of weight comparison. I assumed that was needless to say. Sorry, maybe I should have made that clearer.



tonyzackery said:
First off, let me state I am speaking from my own personal knowledge and use of a relatively low grade carbon frame (Pedal Force QS2), low grade aluminum frame (Airborne thunderbolt), mid-high grade aluminum frame (Giant TCR Aero), and high-end composite frame (Cannondale System6).

Ian, you make some broad-sweeping generalities that, in my experience, are not correct in all situations - and I have bolded those above. There are some grades of carbon that are stiffer than the available alloys most frequently used from bicycle frames, but not all. The Pedal Force frame I had was the 2nd most flimsy in the BB area frame I've ever ridden (won't disclose the most flimsy, but it wasn't a household brand).

Are you aware of hydro-forming? There are some pretty amazing things that are being done WRT aluminum shaping. I think it's a bunch of marketing hocus-pocus, but there are many out there that believe in the 'vertically compliant-laterally stiff' phenomenon. Because I'm ~200lbs, I want stiff, with an extra helping of stiffer. The flatter and wider tubing has long been done with aluminum tubing - my Airborne frame has it as does my Quintana Roo Kilo (2001 vintage) TT frame. Further, the Kilo frame is Quntana Roo's low rung frame, so shaped aluminum can be had quite readily.

Oversized BB clusters? Ever take a look at Cannondales????? They started (I could be wrong, but not by much) this business of the oversize BB cluster - and with aluminum to boot! Their downtubes are narrower at the head tube and expand considerably at the BB. Lastly, my Cannondale does not ride "too harsh". How can you generalize for everyone and every body in that manner? You're aware that "too harsh" is a relative statement, right?

"Aluminum will always be a ride rougher than carbon". Ever ride a carbon Kestrel Talon??? Neither have I, but from what I've read about those teeth-rattlers I want one right away!:D Apparently they have my kind of stiffness!! I would venture to guarantee that they ride rougher than the Giant Aero that I have and its aluminum - go figure...

I'm no expert in metallurgy, or on carbon's physical properties. I speak soley from experience. I felt it apropro to challenge the broad-brushed statements you made about the frame material I prefer - aluminum baby!
 

tonyzackery

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Dec 23, 2006
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ianhargreaves said:
yes, you're right. Not ALL carbon is better than alloy. I'm speaking on the most part. But generally bicycle grade carbon is stiffer that alloy. The lay up sched plays a part too, of course!

You make some valid points, of course. My desire was that the other side of the coin also gets to see the light of day.

Yes, I am aware of hydroforming. Scott do this pretty well. I don't doubt that hydro forming is a successfull way of shaping alloy tubing but I still maintain that carbon is much more maliable than alloy. This is why you find all sorts of weird and wonderfull tubing shapes on carbon bikes vs. alloy (on the whole). Bianchi (c2c alloy range) of course use hydroforming too to shape their tubes along with scott but this is only at the front end. The rest is not a monocoq construction, it's welded (this is for both bianchi and scott). To hydroform a full bike would be too costly and un-appealing to the bike market.

Can't say that you speak for "the bike market". Nonetheless, aluminum is not "in style" as of the moment, irrespective of hydro-forming or cost considerations.

I was not aware that cannondale did any BB clusters that were oversized untill their full carbon bikes hit the market (the super six, system six and six range). What model was this on?

Oversize BB cluster is just marketing-speak describing that the area has been reinforced for increased stiffness in the area. Cannondale has long been enlarging the downtube where it meets the bottom bracket in addition to using "oversize" tubing for the chainstays as they meet the BB shell.

I know the range all the way upto their six13 range back in 2005 and only in 2007 did they do oversized BB clusters. That's because they moved into full carbon. They never did this (to my knowlage) on bikes that had an alloy centre tube. Nor have any other brands. You told me that cannondale have down tubes that are wider at the BB end vs. the head tube. That's referring to an oversized down tube (or at least in part) not an oversized BB cluster. And still, to the best of my knowlage this never did this on bikes that had, at least partly, alloy down tubes (six13).

The reason you don't find (and still don't - TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLAGE) oversize BB clusters on bikes that are full alloy or at least either side of (and including) the centre tube (six13 for example). Is that the overall surface area of the BB is directly affected by the diametre of the alloy tubing that connects to it. It's mighty hard to make a BB cluster that is proportionally bigger that the tubing that feeds it. This would involve some seriouse hydroforming and again is too expensive to be appealing to the market. You simply can't make an oversized BB (without oversize down tube, centre tube and chain stay) with traditional welding. Well you can, but you'd have to weld on extra alloy - pointless?! You'd have to mold it into shape really, that's why you find oversized BB clusters (MORE OFTEN) on full carbon bikes than alloy bikes.

The flattened top tube is engineering basics, vertical compliance vs laterral stiffness is true. It is not a falacy of any nature. It is factual based engineering that is, in turn, governed by physics.

Is this perceptible, or are you believing what you've been told? Have you ridden a bike and felt this increase in stiffness laterally while feeling this compliance vertically. I'm not saying it's not reality. I'm saying the term is more useful for marketing purposes than actual performance - IMO.

I have been working in the bicycle business for many years, and riding for many years more. I've even had SBCU take me to their head office for a few days to show me their tricks. While I admit this was partly propoganda to tell me how good spesh are vs. other brands I agree with their views on carbon vs. alloy and the shaping of the tubing that is used.

When we're talking alloy vs. carbon. even TCT vs. FGlite alloy then carbon is still better ino.

When I apeak of anything above, I obviously speak in relative terms and on a weight of weight comparison. I assumed that was needless to say. Sorry, maybe I should have made that clearer.

My understanding was this thread was a discussion of low end carbon frames versus high end aluminum frames and that is how I responded other than to address your generalities.
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