I am going to buy my first proper road bike, and I have been comparing entry-level carbon frames with top-level aluminum frames in the same series (Giant Defy). What are the benefits of carbon vs. aluminum frames? Is it better to get an aluminum bike with higher-end components or a similarly priced carbon bike with lower-end components?
Essentially this is about low end carbon versus high end alloy. Carbon is typically lighter and less harsh (more vibration absorption) than alloy, but is not as robust. I doubt that the alloy is much heavier. I think it will come down to the difference in component quality and your budget.
Personally for a training bike I would probably go for the alloy, but that is driven by my financial situation. If the bikes are of similar price and the components are of the same quality, I would consider the carbon. However I would not trade component quality for a carbon frame.
Edit : Seven years after the answer was give. Many of the tecniques learn laying up carboon, and with advances in hydroforming alloy, have lead to allow alloy frames that are significantly cheaper to fabricate yet nearly as light (if not lighter) than low ebd carbon frames, while having teh characteristics of stiffness and complance where wanted. You can no longer discuss 'Carbon' and 'Non-Carbon' frames as most major manufacturers have 2, 3 or more variations of carbon from 'cheap and cheerful' to 'insanely light and expensive'. The cost saving in Alloy frames put into better compenets leads to a better bike for the same build cost. As carbon is consdidered more desireable by many, it fetches a higher price for the bike.
TD;DNR when buying a bike, look at the whole bike, not just the frame.
You are making the classical mistake of thinking that you can get the "perfect" bike on the first go round. Without the experience of where and when you'll ride, it is 100% likely that your first bike will be the wrong bike in some way.
I'd say take your current budget, cut it in half and buy a bike that fits you well, regardless of what it's made of. Used would definitely be best if you can judge whether a bike is used or abused ( or have a friend that can). Most of the time used bikes are lightly used and are a great deal. Having the design of the frame match the style of riding you do is far more important than what it's made of and you can't really make that judgement until you've got some miles under your belt.
Ride that bike for 4 or 5 months and then you'll know a lot more about what compromises to make in your next bike. And in another season or two after that if you're still riding, you'll might get it exactly right on your 3rd bike.
If I were you I would satisfy myself as to the quality of the carbon frame of the bike you're considering, and provided it looks decent, to go down the carbon route.
The reason for this is just upgradeability. It is conceivable that as you become better and stronger on your first road bike, sooner or later you may find yourself asking the question "how can I make my bike faster?".
Now, for most of us the answer to this is to lose 10% in weight and 10% in body fat, but that's a different story ;-)
But when you start to think about upgrading parts, you've got your groupset, wheels etc. These things you can generally upgrade at your own pace, and as your budget allows. And they would apply to any bike, carbon or not.
I think if you have a non-carbon-framed bike, however, one of the big things to think about as regards an upgrade is the frame itself, i.e. basically buying yourself a new bike. And, of course, this will be pretty expensive and not really something you can do piecemeal.
In summary I would probably go for as good a frame as I could afford, and initially sacrifice things like groupset, just on the grounds that I can upgrade this kind of thing later as and when funds allow.
Incidentally I have a Giant TCR Advanced and think it is superb. I have no experience of the Defy but if the workmanship is like the TCR I doubt you'd be disappointed.
One last thing, since you say you're based in London and especially if cost is an issue....you could do a lot worse than looking at the Chris Boardman range out of Halfords. Just look at the awards these bikes win, you really do get a lot of bang for your buck.
One thing that I have found is you can usually get a lighter weight bike if you go with top-level aluminum over a low-level carbon. The low-level carbon frames tend to have a lot of fiberglass mixed in to keep the cost down and the components are much cheaper too which will weigh a lot more. I think it's kind of funny that everyone looks down on my aluminum bike and yet it weighs less than their carbon bikes that cost twice as much! I have owned carbon, steel and aluminum bikes
From http://www.livestrong.com/article/86919-aluminum-vs.-carbon-bikes/ (I can't testify to the accuracy of this)
Aluminum frames possess the shortest fatigue life of any material used to manufacture bicycle frames. The typical aluminum frame possesses a life expectancy of five to 10 years. Conversely, carbon possesses the longest fatigue life. Most manufacturers provide a lifetime warranty on carbon frames. Some manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty on their aluminum frames, but most offer five to 10 years.
I was faced with a similar situation about two years ago. I decided to go 2nd hand aluminum. The reason was that I didn't want to spend too much before I really knew what I wanted. There are several different types of road bicycle set-ups. This is what I didn't know: Will I want to ride long distances (100+ miles) or sprint races (30-40 miles) or just regular rides with friends (a couple of hours here and there). Each of these bikes would have a different set-up, material and geometry. Will I ride a lot of hills? Would a compact crank or regular crank be better to my riding style? Buy a used, but decent condition al bike. After 2000km, you'll have a good idea of what type of bicycle you want to spend real money on, and you'll be able to sell the current one for very little loss. If you don't sell it, then you have a winter trainer for use inside. And in the all too familiar case that you buy the bike and rarely use it, you didn't spend 1500 to 2000 on something that just takes up room in your garage.
Personally id rather have top quality aluminium than cheap entry level carbon.
Whatever you choose, don't go daft with the upgrades-save your money and get a really nice carbon number in a year or two.
Entry level bikes are great when starting out. You can strip them, fit new parts by yourself, which obviously is a great thing to learn, but if you dive right in and buy an expensive bike you would be very hesitant to start working on it yourself.
Also, if you join a club and keep getting dropped then its only to be expected. Turn up with an s-works with di2 dura ace however, then not only would you feel a bit of a plonker getting beat by old guys on old raleighs, but I'm sure they'd also take great pleasure from it!
Whatever you choose/chose, good luck and happy cycling!
I've been looking at the exact same bikes because I think I want to ride longer rides than just commuting to work. I've test ridden the 2014 Defy Advanced carbon 1 with Ultegra, 2013 Defy carbon 2 with SRAM Apex, and 2014 Defy 1 aluminum with 105.
I did not ride enough to tell if the Advanced carbon is that much better than the regular carbon but both are much nicer and smoother to ride than the aluminum. I think this will be good for longer rides. The carbon frames were definitely lighter than the aluminum but the aluminum was still very light.
The mechanical Ultegra group set was very precise but so was the 105 group set. I didn't like the Apex set mostly for the shift levers. The Shimano sets had much lighter shifting and shifts felt very solid. Adjustments may make the Apex just as good.
For my budget I can afford the Defy 1 aluminum but will wait till I can afford the 2014 Defy carbon 2 with 105. Shimano has a new 11 speed 105 group so that could be available next year on the Defy but this may also push the price up.
You need to test ride the bikes.
Or, as I have done numerous times, buy a good used bike from a Local Bike Shop that has a good frame that you think you will enjoy long term, and reasonable components. Then you can ride, at a good price, with good stuff, and you can decide what to upgrade and when. Last time I bought a complete bike was 1999. I am riding 3 different bikes right now, a 1998 Merlin Ti, a 2004 Merlin Ti/Carbon and a 2008 Merlin Ti, none of which I paid more than $2300 for, and each are now worth a lot more due to upgrades over the years, on my schedule and budget.
All personal choice, but I've been pretty happy...
This is a very interesting question. Aluminum vs Carbon. Will it be long before the two are in the same price range - on it's way in the very near future. I have an Aluminum and a Carbon frame road bike. The aluminum bike has a longer wheelbase, more relaxed seat angle (72.5 vs 74 degrees) and square formed stays, and deflects most of the bumps and vibration almost as well as the CF frame.
I'd say geometry, and even more, exact fit, within 1cm or less, are slightly more important than material for comfort, efficiency and handling.
Calculate your frame sized based on Steve Potts bike fit theory. If you are 5'5 or shorter, divide your height in cm by 3.3, 5'6 to 5'10 divide by 3.2, and taller, divide by 3.1 to get your correct frame size. It works.
Quality-wise bikes are a lot like chains. The total quality of a bike (where with quality I mean stuff like durability, smoothness, ease of use, ease of maintenance, etc.) is very dependent on the weakest link.
An expensive frame with cheap components makes for a worse bike than a mid-range frame with mid-range components. So given the choice I'd go for the (relatively) cheaper frame with the (relatively) more expensive components, all dependend on what I actually wanted to spend on the bike.
There are "ride quality" differences between carbon and aluminium and steel. Carbon is usually less stiff, so the ride is a bit more comfortable. Steel has the same properties as carbon and is more durable, aliminium is usually a lot stiffer and hence the ride is harsher. For that reason you get aluminium frames with carbon fork and stays. The main disadvantage of steel is of course weight, but you have to look at this critically. The 0.5-1 kg weight reduction you get by going from a really good and durable steel to a carbon frame disappears in the 15-20 kg of fat you are lugging around anyway, and unless you plan to go ride a lot of serious races you will never notcie the small gain of the lighter frame.
Where I'm going with this: In the standard bikes you buy the frame is often of higher quality (and price) compared to the other components. You can get a better bike for less money if you pay attention to this when buying your bike. Spending some time talking this over with you friendly LBS owner will help here.