My Detailed Comparison Of Carbon And Aluminum Forks

This post compares carbon and aluminum forks.

The Main Differences Between Carbon and Aluminum Forks 

  • Compliance

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.

  • Weight

The table below compares the weight of aluminum and carbon forks.

Ritchey Comp Carbon Road Fork 1″467gXLC BF-A02 – 28″ Rigid Fork – 1 1/8″943g
Ritchey Comp Carbon Road Fork 1 1/8″540gKinesis CrossWind 470 Disc 28″1016g
Ritchey WCS Carbon Cross Fork – 1 1/8 Inch478gBUCKLOS Rigid Fork 780g
Salsa Waxwing 700C/650B Gravel Carbon Fork520gKinesis CrossWind 455 Disc 28″880g
Columbus Minimal Carbon Fork – 1340gKinesis Airbow Race Fork661g
Columbus Pista Leggera UD Carbon560gMOSSO FK-M6 800g
Simplon F-1010 Monocoque Carbon 28″/700C540gROSE 28″/700C 600g
Simplon F-10.2 Monocoque490gACCENT 1.5 to 1-1/8 Taper 764g
Average:491.8g Average:  805.5g
Weight Comparison

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.

  • Resilience

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.

  • Maintenance

Carbon components necessitate frequent inspections because the material is more prone to failure and a small dent could quickly decide its faith.

  • Stiffness

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.

  • Cheaper

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

  1. 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.

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