Carbon Forks Vs Aluminum Forks – Which Is Better (For Different Bikes)


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There are four main types of materials used to make bicycle forks. Some have been around for a very long time, whereas, others are quite new technology. Today, I will compare carbon fiber and aluminum forks to provide some concrete facts about which is better for each of the main types of bikes.

Carbon forks are best for road bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes, track bikes, and electric bikes. Aluminum forks are best for utility/city bikes, and cruisers. For professionals, carbon forks are the best for the above bikes. But, for a hobbyist, it’s perfectly fine to get aluminum.

There are various situations where although carbon forks are the best, getting aluminum forks is actually a better decision. Below, I will explain the ins and outs of when it’s better to get carbon forks for each of the different types of bikes. 

As well as, why carbon or aluminum is the best option for each of the different types of bikes.

Carbon Forks Versus Aluminum Forks

Which Is Better Overall Carbon Forks or Aluminum Forks

Carbon forks are the best overall. They offer superior:

  • Performance
  • Comfort
  • Strength (safety)

Carbon forks outperform aluminum in all categories but carbon forks are significantly more expensive than aluminum forks. Because of the increased price here’s generally what kinds of forks are best for each type of bike in an easy to read table format:

Type of BikeBest fork material (carbon or aluminum)
Road bikeCarbon
Mountain bikeCarbon
BMXCarbon
Utility/CityAluminum
Track bikeCarbon
CruiserAluminum
Electric bikeCarbon

Before getting into the reasons why carbon fiber forks and aluminum forks are best for each type of bike, I’ll first explain some tests and metrics to show how much carbon fiber forks outperform aluminum forks.

Carbon fiber forks outperform only slightly in performance (speed and handling), and comfort. Whereas, they are much much stronger than aluminum forks. 

An independent test was done on the strength of a carbon frame compared to the strength of an aluminum frame and the results are as follows:

Strength of carbon forks compared to aluminum forks

Squash test – squashing the frame from the front of the frame to the back. 

The amount of force before each frame broke:

  • Aluminum frame – 1464 lb
  • Carbon frame – 2050 lb

Carbon is 25% stronger

The amount of force to bend the frame on an impact test:

  • Aluminum frame – failed at 85 lbs of force from a distance of 45 cm (1.5 ft)
  • Carbon frame – failed at 110 lbs of force from a distance of 90 cm (3 ft)

The carbon frame was around twice as strong at withstanding an impact before bending as the aluminum frame (source)

This means that a carbon frame is safer than an aluminum frame because it won’t fail under stress as quickly as an aluminum frame.

Strength: Carbon forks are much stronger than aluminum

Bike Forks covered with mud

Handling/responsiveness of a carbon frame vs aluminum frame

To measure handling of both frames two semi-professional cyclists compared them one after the other to see if they could feel a difference. 

The consensus from both of them was that the handling of the carbon frame is better than the aluminum frame. This is due to the stiffness of the carbon frame compared to the aluminum frame.

Because the carbon frame is more rigid any movement you make is picked up quicker – there is no slight lag due to the extra give in the frame that aluminum frames have. 

Although the tests were done for an entire carbon frame compared to an entire aluminum frame, the same applies to the forks.

Handling: Carbon forks are superior but not by much

Performance of a carbon frame vs an aluminum frame

Performance is how fast you can go downhill, and how efficient it is to pedal. Independent tests showed that a carbon frame is faster overall when compared head to head with an aluminum frame. But, the difference was only very slight. 

These performance issues are a factor for competitive racing where every second, and every split second counts. But, is also good to know in case you want the fastest frame possible on the market.

Performance: Carbon forks are faster but not by much

Comfort of a carbon frame compared to an aluminum frame

Comfort is how good a bike feels to ride. Generally, how stiff a frame is and the size and pressure of the tires influence how comfortable a bike is to ride. 

But if you keep everything the same such as the tire pressure, and size a carbon frame is slightly more comfortable to ride. 

This is more of a qualitative metric as it can differ from person to person so take it with a grain of salt. Unless you compare them side by side you likely won’t notice the difference. But, if you want THE most comfortable ride then a carbon frame is the way to go.

Comfort: Carbon forks are more comfortable but ever so slightly

Price comparison between a carbon frame and an aluminum frame

Many people claim that carbon frames are in fact more expensive than aluminum frames. 

However, when looking at the parts sold by the top bike manufacturer it very much differs by brand and the exact type of fork it is. 

For example, some mountain bike forks are more expensive than road bike forks. And many brands only sell one or two bike forks. According to Bike Radar full carbon bike forks are about twice the price of aluminum forks.

Price: The more carbon in the forks the more expensive it is, full carbon are 2x the price of aluminum

Type of bike and what features of carbon are needed

I’m not comfortable spending more than I need to for things even though I’m not strapped for cash. I like most people want to get the best bang for my buck. 

Therefore, because carbon forks are more expensive than aluminum forks deciding if carbon forks are absolutely necessary and how much of an improvement they provide is very important.

Because of that, I’ve summarized when each feature of carbon is very much needed and when it’s simply a ‘nice to have’ in the table below:

Type of bikeStrengthHandlingPerformanceComfort
Road bikeYesYesYes and NoYes
Mountain bikeYesYesYes and NoNo
BMXYesYesYes and NoNo
Utility/CityNoNoNoYes
Track bikeNoYesYesYes
CruiserNoNoNoYes
Electric bikeNoNoNoNo

Various benefits of carbon fiber forks are not a simple hard yes or hard no. So, I’ll provide a brief summary for each type of bike there is based on whether the benefits of carbon fiber forks are not needed, very much needed, or somewhat needed.

Road bike – reasons to get carbon forks or not

  • Strength – Yes
  • Handling – Yes
  • Performance – Yes and no
  • Comfort – Yes

Road bikes go at extremely high speeds for example when they go downhill. For this reason, if a part fails it can cause a serious injury or even death. Therefore, the strength of the parts is very important so that they don’t bend or break as easily. 

Handling is also very important especially for racing such as triathlons, or amateur or professional competitions as the ability to maneuver well will give a competitor an edge. 

Being able to go very fast is very important but more so for competition rather than for fun. Since the improvements that carbon forks offer are only slight. Comfort is also very important because road bikes are ridden for very long periods of time.

Carbon or aluminum forks better for road bikes: carbon.

Mountain bike – reasons to get carbon forks or not

  • Strength – Yes
  • Handling – Yes
  • Performance – Yes and no
  • Comfort – No

Mountain bikes experience a lot of impacts. They routinely get air and land. Although the force of the landings isn’t always a lot, having stronger forks is very reassuring. 

Mountain bikes are often ridden in a way that there is very little margin for error and rely on steering with a lot of precision. As well as that, the bike needs to be very responsive. For that reason, carbon fiber forks are preferred for mountain bikes. 

Performance can be an issue in mountain bike competitions. The advantages are only slight, however, and the better ride will win at the end of the day unless two riders are very evenly matched.

Comfort is generally not a consideration for mountain bikes. Although it’s nice to have, it’s assumed you won’t be super comfortable when riding a mountain bike, and is only a slight difference where all things considered it won’t make much of a difference.

Carbon or aluminum forks better for mountain bikes: carbon.

BMX – reasons to get carbon forks or not

  • Strength – Yes
  • Handling – Yes
  • Performance – Yes and no
  • Comfort – No

A BMX bike is ridden over jumps and some BMX riders get extreme amounts of air in bowls and on half pipes. Also, they are often ridden like a skateboard where people do tricks downstairs and rails. 

Therefore, the extra strength that carbon fiber forks offer is much needed. BMX bikes can be ridden in a competition where handling is very important, also doing tricks is a lot easier if the bike handles better. 

For BMX competitions the performance improvement of carbon over aluminum is needed to get the best possible time. But, for doing tricks and just generally riding them around the extra performance isn’t really necessary and is more of a nice to have.

The extra comfort also isn’t generally needed as most of the time you won’t be sitting on the seat, and only when taking a break or cruising. Also, when cruising down a hill or on a flat you often need to stand up to pedal.

Carbon or aluminum forks better for BMX bikes: carbon.

Repairing some bike forks

Utility/City – reasons to get carbon forks or not

  • Strength – No
  • Handling – No
  • Performance – No
  • Comfort – Yes

Utility/city bikes are ridden at fairly moderate speeds, and on easy to cycle terrain. Therefore, the strength of the forks isn’t a major factor. Often, they are ridden very casually so handling is not a big factor. They also don’t need to have good performance. 

Comfort can be a factor and having carbon forks on a utility/city bike is nice to have. But, generally, they’re only ridden fairly short distances so you won’t notice much of a difference.

Carbon or aluminum forks better for Utility bikes: aluminum.

Track bike – reasons to get carbon forks or not

  • Strength – No
  • Handling – Yes
  • Performance – Yes
  • Comfort – Yes

A track bike is ridden on very smooth and even ground, therefore it doesn’t need extra strength. If you crash you crash with track bikes, and if you have extra-strong forks it generally won’t increase the chances of your bike not breaking because if you crash you’ll be on smooth flat ground rather than running into a wall, tree, or rock face like with other styles of cycling. 

The performance and handling are extremely big factors with track bikes because the objective is to get the lowest time possible. And huge efforts are undertaken to get the lower time such as wearing full lycra and the sometimes funny-looking water drop shape helmets.

Carbon or aluminum forks better for track bikes: carbon.

Cruiser – reasons to get carbon forks or not

  • Strength – No
  • Handling – No
  • Performance – No
  • Comfort – Yes

Cruisers are ridden at slow speeds therefore if you do accidentally crash it the impact won’t be very big. You also won’t ride it fast over bumpy terrain or do big jumps on it, so the frame doesn’t take a lot of the impact. 

Therefore, the strength that carbon forks offer over aluminum forks isn’t a factor at all. Due to the relatively slow speeds, a cruiser is ridden handling and performance aren’t big factors. 

Comfort can be a big factor, however, because carbon forks only make sense for one of the four reasons it’s generally not worth the bang for buck to get them. But, if you find a good deal where they are a similar price to aluminum forks, definitely pick them up.

Carbon or aluminum forks better for BMX bikes: aluminum.

Electric bike – reasons to get carbon forks or not

  • Strength – No
  • Handling – No
  • Performance – No
  • Comfort – Yes

An electric bike is typically used to commute. Because it’s electric you hardly need to pedal if you don’t want to. They’re ridden at a moderate to slow pace, typically not extremely fast downhill like a road bike. And they aren’t used in competition so handling, strength, and performance are not issues. 

With electric bikes, you can spend a considerable amount of time sitting on the seat, and you may use it every day to commute to work. For these reasons, comfort is a big factor is one reason to get carbon forks. 

But, because it’s the only one it generally doesn’t make sense to get carbon forks unless you don’t mind spending extra.

Carbon or aluminum forks better for BMX bikes: aluminum.

Sources

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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