This post compares carbon and aluminum forks.
The Main Differences Between Carbon and Aluminum Forks
Aluminum loses its integrity upon deformation. To avoid failures, aluminum parts are built stiffer. Consequently, aluminum forks don’t flex sufficiently to mitigate road vibrations and offer a harsh ride.
In different, carbon forks are a lot more compliant and reduce the road buzz noticeably. Hence why many road bikes have an aluminum frame coupled with a carbon fork.
The newer aluminum forks are softer, but they are expensive and still can’t match the flex offered by steel and carbon models.
The harshness of aluminum forks is the main reason why they aren’t popular.
The table below compares the weight of aluminum and carbon forks.
|Ritchey Comp Carbon Road Fork 1″||467g||XLC BF-A02 – 28″ Rigid Fork – 1 1/8″||943g|
|Ritchey Comp Carbon Road Fork 1 1/8″||540g||Kinesis CrossWind 470 Disc 28″||1016g|
|Ritchey WCS Carbon Cross Fork – 1 1/8 Inch||478g||BUCKLOS Rigid Fork||780g|
|Salsa Waxwing 700C/650B Gravel Carbon Fork||520g||Kinesis CrossWind 455 Disc 28″||880g|
|Columbus Minimal Carbon Fork – 1||340g||Kinesis Airbow Race Fork||661g|
|Columbus Pista Leggera UD Carbon||560g||MOSSO FK-M6||800g|
|Simplon F-1010 Monocoque Carbon 28″/700C||540g||ROSE 28″/700C||600g|
|Simplon F-10.2 Monocoque||490g||ACCENT 1.5 to 1-1/8 Taper||764g|
As you can see, carbon forks are substantially lighter than rigid aluminum forks. That said, the difference isn’t nearly as large if you compare only the road models. The average carbon road fork is about 450g whereas the average aluminum road fork is about 600g.
Conclusion: If you’re looking for the lightest rigid fork, carbon wins.
Aluminum is tougher than carbon and can handle more external abuse. A scratched aluminum fork is not the end of the world. But when carbon gets even slightly damaged, it could eventually crack and fail spectacularly. Hence why many professionals stay away from carbon handlebars.
Of course, the production quality matters too. If the fork isn’t well-made, it can break regardless of the used material.
Carbon components necessitate frequent inspections because the material is more prone to failure and a small dent could quickly decide its faith.
The ideal fork is stiff laterally but compliant vertically. The lateral stiffness makes the fork more responsive whereas the vertical flex smoothens the ride. Out of the two, aluminum forks are stiffer. As already explained, the stiffness comes at a price – a harsher rider.
Additional Advantages of Aluminum Forks
- Disc Brake Mounts
A great number of aluminum forks come with a mount for a disc brake. This makes them a good choice for people who want to add a front disc brake to their bike.
- Less Anxiety
Aluminum is not as “needy” as carbon and requires fewer inspections. Thus, aluminum forks are better for people who tend to obsess over the strength of their components.
That said, steel trumps aluminum and carbon when it comes to overall toughness.
Aluminum frames and forks are much cheaper than their carbon counterparts. If you’re on a budget, aluminum will allow you to have a fairly light bike at an affordable price.
Additional Advantages of Carbon Forks
- Futuristic Look
Currently, carbon dominates the high-end cycling sector. If you want your bike to look modern, carbon will help you with that goal.
- Aerodynamic Shape
The tubing of both carbon and aluminum forks can be made in a teardrop shape to increase the aerodynamics of the component.
- Greater Supply
Truth be told, aluminum forks are not desirable. They’re lighter than steel forks, but not by a lot, and offer a harsh ride.
Meanwhile, carbon forks are both lighter than steel and more compliant than aluminum models. When you add the carbon hype, you get an incentive to produce more carbon models.
Tire Softness > Fork Flex
Regardless of how compliant a rigid fork is, it cannot offer the same cushioning as a set of wide tires operating at low air pressure.
A bike with an ultra-rigid aluminum fork and wide tires can provide a softer ride than a super compliant carbon fork equipped with a narrow and firm tire running at high air pressure.
If comfort is your ultimate goal, it’s wiser to look for a fork that has clearance for big tires.
For the smoothest possible ride with a rigid fork, it’s recommended to get a fork running V-brakes or cantilever brakes. V-brakes and cantis are preferred because caliper brakes greatly limit tire clearance whereas disc brake forks require stiffer fork legs due to the extra torque. The stiffer fork blades naturally result in a harsher ride.
FAQ: I like aluminum forks, but the extra weight bothers me. What should I do?
The extra weight of an aluminum fork is not noticeable when the bike is used for recreational activities and even amateur racing. 200-300 grams will not make or break a bicycle.
Moreover, the additional grams can be noticed only during acceleration. Once the bike is up to speed, the weight savings that one gets from using the lightest possible components become negligible.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- Carbon forks are more compliant and offer a smoother rider than aluminum models.
2. Carbon forks are lighter and come in a greater variety of models.
3. Aluminum forks are cheaper and tougher than their carbon rivals.
4. Even the most compliant fork cannot offer the same cushioning as a set of wide tires running at low air pressure.
5. The weight savings that carbon offers are important only when competing on the highest level.
6. Aluminum forks require fewer inspections.