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I am an occasional rider who bought my last bike 15 years ago (all ALU Sarecen with shocks). Did about 4-500 miles this year and thinking of taking up one of the Cycle to Work schemes to get a new bike.

So I remember when I went from my steel fully rigid Diamondback to my Saracen. Wow! is the only way I remember getting the luxury of shocks. So I plan to do 20 miles a day 90/10% road/offroad for commuting and been advised to get a Cyclo X built of Carbon Fiber. But no CycX seems to have shocks and despite what I'm told I just cannot believe that a CF frame & forks can have the same amount of shock absorbing capability that shocks have. So much BS floating around about the wonders of CF and to be quite honest whilst I would like a lightish bike, by the time I've put lights/trip comp/mudguards for road use then saving a few ounces here & there seems a bit silly.

The gearing of the bike I am thinking of - Planet X XLS Shimano 105 Cyclocross Bike seems perfect with a top at 11/46 on 700c wheels as my biggest complaint is the undergearing of my Saracen on roads but the lack of shocks really does worry me. As an aside I am most definitely not Mr Superfit being 5 1/2 decades young with the weight problems (85-90Kg) that goes with being such a spring chicken.

So does anybody have some real empiric evidence that CF forks are as good as Shocks for the use I have in mind or is there just too much marketing BS out there to form a firm opinion ?

Any sound advice would be appreciated !

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i had some hard time figuring out what your abbreviations meant. For the next time, could you please write them down in full length (or at least explain once, what your abbreviations should mean at their first occurrence), this will make reading your text much easier. Always remember: the internet has no room limitations so there's no need to keep things overly compact. –  Benedikt Bauer Dec 5 '13 at 10:29
    
And try to find your ENTER key more often. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 5 '13 at 13:17
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(And you probably shouldn't spell out what "BS" means.) –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 5 '13 at 13:18
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Oh, and Welcome to bicylces.SX.com of course. ;-) –  Benedikt Bauer Dec 5 '13 at 13:21
    
When you say off road - is that benched smooth trails suitable for kids and novices, or serious technical trails needing 180mm travel forks? –  mattnz Dec 5 '13 at 20:31

4 Answers 4

I think it is a matter of personal preference.

I had an aluminium race bike with carbon forks (CELL - Australian) which I used as a commuter, and for the occasional race or climb at home in Colorado.

I was curious about the carbon forks and was told that they are not as stiff as normal forks and on long IronMan rides, this makes a massive difference to how tired your body gets (again this is dependent on the quality of the riding surface). However for this to be a factor you need to be riding 160km+

My other bike was given to me about 10+ years ago, it is a stiff GIANT Boulder. The original front suspension fork was replaced by a stiff fork by the guy who gave it to me. I used the bike for commuting with slick tyres, while I was in Sydney and changed to off-road tyres when I did a mountain bike ride, however without a fork my hands invariably were bleeding after any offroad ride.

When we moved to Colorado, the bleeding hands became more prevalent and people were laughing at me during long mountain descents - saying I was crazy. I bought a cheap $100 suspension fork, fitted it, and I love it.

Because the tyres are off road tyres and it has a fork on it I almost never use the GIANT as a commuter while the CELL gets a good work out.

I think for commuting a stiff or CF fork will always be superior.

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There's no frame material in the world that will absorb bumps like a bike with a suspension fork/frame.

However, the original "suspension" invention that made bicycles practical was the pneumatic tire. If you have a rigid frame and fork, that's all the real suspension you have.

Skinny road tires at high psi have about 2-3mm of "travel", a fat commuter tire at 60 psi will have close to 25mm of travel. A suspension fork generally has about 100mm of travel.

A CX bike is a good choice to build a commuter around since they generally take fatter tires ( usually up to 32mm ), but there's absolutely no reason to get a carbon CX bike for commuting. Especially one that does not take a rack or have fender mounts.

With fat tires at the correct PSI, I think you would have a very hard time distinguishing between different frame materials in a blind test. Geometry and tire size make so much more of a difference than what the frame is made of.

To enjoy your commute, I'd recommend finding a balance in the middle. A bike with suspension is going to be heavy and slow and overkill 99% of the time. A "racy" carbon CX bike is going to be fast, but rough and the handling will be a bit twitchy. A good commuter should take fat tires(32mm at least), have a relatively long wheelbase and slacker angles.

But you can commute on anything. You might just try putting slicks on the bike you already have and see how that works for you. If you are going to get a new bike, I'd really suggest looking at CX/commuter bikes with disk brakes.

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Have to disagree with the disc brakes in most cases. They're more complex to set up, unnecessarily heavier and often overkill compared to a properly setup rim brake with good pads. You also usually lose out on some fork nice-ness when you buy the disc version. If you're commuting in rain or snow, maybe. –  Batman Dec 6 '13 at 21:42
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I don't get the "complex to set up" part. BB7's are about as dead simple as it gets, especially compared to cantilevers. However, the big advantage of disk IMHO, is that you can go to 650B wheels and get even fatter low pressure tires if you want. –  Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Dec 7 '13 at 18:35
    
I'm not sure where 650B comes into this picture - I mean yes, people have done it, but it has no use for a commuter (and the swap would be a lot harder with rim brakes). As for the cantilever versus disc question, I'll leave that as a matter of differing opinion, but I don't think the difficulty difference either way you percieve it will be important in this case. –  Batman Dec 8 '13 at 15:51
    
Well, I really like my 650B road bike conversion. Ideal commuter IMHO. –  Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Dec 9 '13 at 15:36
    
I guess it works with you, but there is the added expense of owning a 650B wheel set (and they aren't exactly common in most bike shops) even if you sell the 700c set, possible bottom bracket height issues associated with the swap and the clearances depending on the tires you want to run (and I'm not sure how fat of 650B tires you can start with there). A fatter than usual tire taking 700c bike might be a better option (like Surly LHT or crosscheck). –  Batman Dec 9 '13 at 18:47

You generally don't see bikes sold with drops and suspension (but people do build them). Cross bikes are rigid (though in amateur cross, some people will bring in mountain bikes). Suspension forks are only useful on the road for people who have back problems or are old or something which necessitates the need for a light use front suspension fork to iron out some more bumps. Most people are best served by putting on bigger tires and a less aggressive setup on a rigid bike. Depending on the quality of your rigid diamondback and if you still have it, you may want to try fitting it with some fat, smooth tires or tires like the Geax Evolution (marketed as slight dirt use but primarily road use) and try taking it out again. 400-500 miles isn't a lot either (20-25 days of commuting), so I'm guessing theres also the getting used to riding around thing - a bike isn't like lying in bed. You can also play with saddles and grips and get a bike fit for comfort - that will probably matter more than your fork type.

According to their website, Planet X markets the XLS as a "Stiff, responsive race-ready cyclocross machine" and its listed as non-mudflap and non pannier rack compatible. Those aren't characteristics of a good commuter. A carbon fiber fork helps on some bikes in killing buzzing sensations, but its not going to change the purpose of a bike. Some cyclocross bikes do make good commuters, but they aren't typically cyclocross bikes marketed as race machines -- moreso things like the Trek Crossrip (some race-ish bikes do work as commuters though, like Kona's Jake the Snake). Its usually clear from the component spec, geometry and what not if its intended to race or to commute on. I was looking at the Planet X Kaffenback 2 for a while personally which looked to be a better commuter (but they weren't responsive to my questions and it would have been an international order).

Unless you have back problems or something which necessitates the use of shocks, I think a bike which takes non-skinny tires and has a more relaxed geometry is a good place to go with or without a carbon fork (this should only serve as relatively minor differentiation). If you want drops, look at something like the old Kona Dew Drop, but for 10 miles each way, a flat bar hybrid would work for most people as well, like the Trek 7.3 FX. Take them out for a spin on similar terrain to the commute and see what you like. People can, should and still do commute on rigid bikes. If you really feel like you need front suspension after trying out some hybrids (like the Trek 7.3fx, which does fine on light offroad stuff like fire roads) or drop bar commuters (Kona Dew Drop or Trek Crossrip (even though its marketed as a cross bike, its really not a race machine)) or even some touring bikes like the Trek 520 (which has a very nice geometry), go for a hybrid with front suspension, like the Trek 8.3 ds, though I'm not sure how much bounce there will be for someone whose 90kg. Good old rigid mountain bikes are also fine for 10 miles with good tires (like an old Specialized Rockhopper/Hardrock), and they're cheap and discrete (so they make ideal commuters) which can do a bit of fun.

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Carbon fibre frames and forks don't have the same amount of travel (shock absorbing capability) as shocks. I had to dig up to get some evidence and from an old Trek Madone brochure I found some vertical compliance numbers, which were based on 2007 models:

  • Scott Addict, ~0.3 inch
  • Orbea Orca, ~0.4 inch
  • Specialized Roubaix SL, ~0.5 inch
  • Specialized Tarmac SL and Trek Madone ~0.6 inch

Furthermore, on Trek website, they say their Trek Domane has at least twice the compliance of other bikes, on the generous side that would be 1.3 inch using their own data. That's only 33 mm of travel.

That said, maybe watching Paris-Roubaix video can convince you either way, either you think they're crazy or that road bikes are not too bad in that kind of awful condition.

Btw, carbon bikes are not only lighter, they also look good ;)

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Those are all somewhat different bikes from what needs to be discussed here. A Trek Madone is a quite expensive race bike, for example. The geometry, price and lack of fender mounts and what not are wrong for commuting. The Roubaix is a good way to see that shocks aren't necessary for some not so nice surfaces though. As for vertical compliance (it isn't equivalent to travel, and even in the case of travel, there are other factors which have to be considered), I'm not really convinced its a good metric - you really have to try the bike to see how much shock absorbing ability it has. –  Batman Dec 16 '13 at 14:11
    
I don't think you can find data for frames other than road bike frames because big companies sell road bikes. The point is those are all carbon fibre frames and the closest numbers if you want to compare against shocks. I also don't see price mentioned as being a factor; lot of people commute on road bikes too. I just remember, Trek also sold carbon road bike (Trek Pilot s.p.a) with rear "suspension" and normal chain stays. S.P.A = suspension performance advantage. I think the travel was also about 0.5 inch. It's got a mention on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_suspension. –  imel96 Dec 16 '13 at 16:39

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