Cycling … Carbon Fibre versus Steel

Back in 1984 - Pete wearing his old Oxonian cycling jersey near Brill, Buckinghamshire

Twenty-five years after I gave up competitive cycling I went and bought a new road bike! What was I thinking? Have I some how forgotten the endless hours of pain and loneliness out on the road? Or the misery of riding in the rain? Or maybe I’ve simply gotten caught up in the UK’s post-Olympic cycling success fever? I’ve no certain idea. But it’s an awesome machine! So different to bikes from the 80’s… Perhaps, embarrassingly, that in itself is part of the motivation – the engineering brilliance of modern carbon fibre bikes! Although the true endeavour is to find an activity that can be easily squeezed in to just a few hours when climbing isn’t possible.

So what’s my verdict on a new plastic carbon fibre composite bike frame versus double butted (differing tube thicknesses for variable strength and weight) Reynolds 531C steel frame? Well it seems that everyone knows the weight and rigidity benefits of carbon fibre frames – it is almost unbelievable when one picks up a modern bike, they are impossibly light! One wonders if they are filled with helium. But in my humble opinion they are not as forgiving, a little less comfortable, and slightly skittish too. That is, their incredible light weight and reduced shock absorbency makes them skip about a bit on rough roads. It could be easy to loose control. Of course in some cases the carbon is laid more thinly to give greater and more specific shock absorbency by allowing the plastic to flex. But that isn’t the point of a road going racing bike. The point is to be fast and responsive. So all that said – once your bum gets used to riding again – the weight benefit easily outclasses the old steel frames. Incredibly responsive to extra power, easier to pedal up-hill, beautifully crafted continuous lines, and fast! Basically, the plastic bike kills the steel bike in every aspect of performance!

Pete poised above Sedbergh on an awesome plastic carbon fibre composite bike (photo by Rachel)

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