Carbon Vs Aluminum Wheelset — Which Is Better?

Carbon fiber building techniques have made a lot of progress in the bicycle business over the past few years. The material has a very good stiffness-to-weight ratio, which means that makers can make bikes and parts that are both very light and very strong and can stand up to the demands of riding on the road and off-road. Also, manufacturers can change the way the end part works by using different carbon layups. This means that they can change the way each layer of carbon fibers is placed in relation to the layer below it.

Even though carbon building methods still have a long way to go in terms of improvement and refinement, carbon fiber road and mountain bike wheels are more reliable than they have ever been. Many high-end bike makers are putting carbon wheels on their bikes as standard. Also, many companies that make carbon wheels have put in place long guarantees and crash replacement programs for their carbon hoops. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this type is now popular at the trailhead and on the road.

Carbon parts have clear benefits and a certain appeal, but metal alloys have been around much longer than composites. Because of this, the methods for making metal alloy wheels are better established and easier to automate than the labor-intensive process of making ones made of carbon. It doesn’t take long to shape and weld alloy wheels. One carbon fiber rim, on the other hand, is made in several steps. Because of this, and even though the cost of making carbon fiber ones has gone down, aluminum alloys are still a lot cheaper.

When it comes to comparing the materials used to make bike parts, things can get tricky and often divide people. Here, there are no clear decisions or suggestions. Cycling is a wide-ranging sport, and different materials can be used for different types of rides. In this piece, we’re going to look at the general differences between carbon and aluminum, as well as the reasons why a rider might choose one over the other.

Aluminum rims:

What’s so great about wheels made of aluminum?

Cost: For the same reasons listed above, even the best aluminum alloy wheels are almost always less expensive than carbon.

How easy it is to build wheels and find replacement parts: If your rides take you to places where it’s hard to find a well-stocked bike shop, you’re much more likely to find a replacement aluminum rim than a carbon one. This is especially important if you want to go off-road or bikepack for a long journey.

Better ride quality: Aluminum rims are more flexible and easy to ride on than carbon rims, which are often very stiff. This is because metal alloys can bend.

Damage is easier to spot: Alloy shows signs of damage before it breaks. Most of the time, you will be able to see a dent in an alloy rim and be able to repair it before it fails in a more serious way. Carbon makes it harder to do this.

Why are metal wheels not so great?

Weight: When everything else is the same (wheel diameter, type of hub, number of spokes, type of ride, etc.), aluminum ones are heavier than carbon ones.

Flex: Alloy wheels tend to have more flex, and when they hit something, they bend. Alloys tend to go out of turn more quickly than carbon-made.

Corrosion is rare with current alloy type, but it can happen with wheels that get a lot of use and aren’t cleaned or maintained very often. Carbon does not corrode.

Carbon wheels:

Why are carbon wheels good?

Ratio of strength to weight: On a bike, spinning weight is more important than other kinds of weight. Also, weight near the rim has a bigger effect than weight near the hub, which is in the middle of the wheel. So, if you switch from an aluminum wheel to a carbon wheel of the same size, you’ll notice the difference more than with any other change. With lighter carbon fiber wheels, the bike feels more responsive and accelerates and transfers power more quickly.

Stiffness: At the same weight, those made of carbon are much stiffer than metal ones. Depending on how you ride, this can be good or bad. However, riders who care about speed, like racers, always like and look for ones that are stiffer. A stiffer wheelset makes for sharper steering, a bike that responds better to acceleration and pedaling forces, better tracking when pushing the bike harder in turns, and helps the rider keep up speed while using less energy because less of it is lost to material flex.

Stays true longer: Carbon doesn’t bend as much as alloy, so (well-built) carbon wheels are less likely to go out of shape quickly when used often on rough ground.

Looks: This is a matter of taste, but the different ways carbon fiber can be finished on the outside can make some really cool wheels.

Why are carbon wheels not so great?

Cost: Carbon wheels still cost a lot more than similar aluminum ones.

Carbon fiber is more likely to fail in a big way because it doesn’t show signs of material wear like alloy does. This makes it harder to tell when it’s about to break.

Less comfy: Carbon wheels are less comfortable than aluminum because they are stiffer and don’t bend like aluminum wheels do.

Should you go with wheels made of carbon or aluminum?

As is the case with most similarities, there is no one right answer here. There are many things to consider, such as the type of riding (casual riding vs. performance cycling and racing), price, durability, etc. Carbon wheels are lighter and stiffer, which is great for racers. Aluminum alloy wheel, on the other hand, might be a better choice for casual users, those on a budget, and those who want more comfort. One thing to remember about bike wheels is that the material of the rim is just one of many parts. Most of the time, a wheel made well with cheaper materials is better than one made poorly with fancier ones. Carbon construction methods keep getting better, and composite wheels are getting easier to get, but alloy wheels aren’t going anywhere.