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I used to ride when I was younger (10 to 16) and have later dropped it as my interests shifted.

I now cycle to work again, and altogether just became more active which ignited that interest to get back on the MTB again.

I've been doing some research as to what kind of bike I am looking to get, what size, brand, alu or carbon, etc.

From 14 to 16 I rode a carbon frame which felt amazing, was really light and it felt super responsive, however looking around now. I don't see many options within my budget that meet my requirements (€2000~).

I am 6'4 so quite tall. I'd like to get 29-inch wheels, and a frame suitable for my size (hardtail). In 2022, how are alu frames compared to carbon now? Is it still that "insane" of a difference, or are there plenty, not carbon bikes that have gotten really light. If there are, I would love to take some suggestions within my budget, and if you have any carbon bikes that are worth looking into around my budget id love to take a look.

4 Answers 4

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No brainer, in the price bracket Aluminum.

At the same price, an Aluminum frame, with the money saved compared to carbon put towards higher spec components, with be a better bike when riding. If you wanting something to show off, the Carbon might be a better buy.

Carbon frames come in different qualities- a cheap carbon frame is not a lot different in weight to a quality aluminum frame yet costs a lot more to make. Those who extoll the virtues of carbon are not promoting bikes assembled from the cheap carbon frames.

Suggest when buying you ignore the frame material entirely and look at the component differences. If it comes to a coin toss between Carbon and Aluminum, put the complete bikes on scales (And be prepared for the carbon to be heavier).

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  • This is just the answer I was looking for, cheers. This makes a lot of sense, I went with the alu vs carbon question only because I was introduced to a quality carbon frame when I was younger.
    – Tomm
    Mar 21, 2022 at 8:48
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Product recommendations are considered off-topic here, but there are a few general points that can be interesting.

For the alu vs carbon question:

  • for the budget you give, you'll have an alu bike with almost top components (Shimano XT, SRAM GX) while the carbon one will be more basic. Carbon is more compliant than aluminium (aluminium has made progress, but carbon is still better), so in term of comfort carbon will be better. That being said, you can mitigate the (relative) rigidity of aluminimum by changing some components (a good carbon seatpost makes a perceptible difference, for example).
  • Weight is over-rated, and especially the weight of the frame: there can be significant weight differences between basic and good components, that can lower the total weight difference. For example, the weight difference between a coil-based suspension and a air-spring suspension is more than 800g. Which is more than the difference between the carbon frame and alu frame.
  • All weight is not equal: weight differences in the rotating masses (wheels, transmission) are more perceptible than "static" weight differences: when you accelerate, you need energy to put these masses in rotation. Bikes with lower rotating masses are then more reactive. From that point of view, the carbon bike will actually feel less responsive than the alu one, because of the more basic/heavier wheels and drivetrain.

So for me, the answer is simple: if you want to have the best possible bike for your budget, aluminium. Carbon would only be a better choice if you want to limit the expenses now and upgrade components as they wear (and in that case, better to take the base version of a series that has different versions, as the frame tend to be the same).

EDIT: Following-up on a discussion in the chat, another point to look at is the use of 'in-house' components. Some manufacturers like to use their own components, which creates a lock-in when you need to service them. So better to look at the specs, and take bikes with components from widely distributed brands (especially hubs and bottom brackets, that are wear items and often overlooked when reading spec sheets).

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  • Appreciate the answer, gave me a good idea of what to pay attention to. I'll definitely take your points into thought during my search.
    – Tomm
    Mar 21, 2022 at 9:05
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    Carbon seatpost to increase comfort seems quite irrelevant on a MTB which will likely have a dropper post.
    – MaplePanda
    Mar 21, 2022 at 17:55
  • @MaplePanda Good point, depends on the MTBs as well. From what I've seen, dropper posts are not systematic on cross-country hard tails.
    – Renaud
    Mar 21, 2022 at 19:53
  • I would not expect to find a dropper post on a €2000 XC hardtail. Personally i wouldnt want one either. On an agro hardtail or a XC FS then a dropper would be higher on the priority list
    – Andy P
    Mar 22, 2022 at 8:25
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I too am a former MTB bike rider and racer looking to into a modern bike. Not sure this will answer your question directly, but I can share some insights from my own recent research. For background, my current bike is a 24-year-old Jamis steel hardtail with a very aggressive geometry that I selected specifically (at the time) for XC racing. It has a Shimano XT drive train and a mid-level Manitou fork with seals that are long dead.

When I was still racing back in my late teens/early 20s there were basically two types of MTN bikes: XC and downhill (there were cyclocross bikes as well, but they were never single-track capable IMHO)

Now it seems like there are more sub-divisions of mountain bikes, in order from most aggressive geometry to most slack:

  • XC
  • Trail
  • Enduro
  • Downhill

I'm no longer interested in the ultra-lightweight and super nimble aspects of an XC bike because I no longer race, so I've been looking primarily at Trail bikes because they are available in hardtail (to date I have not seen any hardtail classified as an Enduro, but that doesn't mean they don't exist) and have a more slack riding position.

When I bought my Jamis I went with steel because it was slightly more compliant ride, and it was overall cheaper. Carbon at the time was way out of budget (and frankly, still is). That seems to be reversed now - steel frames are still available, but seem to be more expensive and AL seems to be the go-to for most hardtails in the 1500€ - 2700€ ($1700 - $3000 USD) range. From reviews I've seen online (written and video) the geometries and construction techniques for AL seem to have dialed out the harshness common to AL frames in the late 90s. Of course, I suppose I'll find out if that's the case once I get out on the trail.

The one thing I've read consistently in the reviews (and was true when I was shopping for a bike 24 years ago) was to swing a leg over a bike you're interested in and make sure the riding geometry will work for you. No combination of frame material or group set will make up for picking a geometry that sucks for your riding style.

So, all that said, I've narrowed my selection down to the following. They're primarily mass produced but only because the boutique hand-built frames are out of my price range. Also, in my part of the world (central U.S.) it's almost impossible to find a hardtail Trail bike to buy much less rent or try out, so I haven't bought anything yet - I'm waiting until I can get a chance to try these out before a make a decision, and the supply chain issues seem to be double for the boutique small batch builders. Anyway:

  • Trek Roscoe
  • Cannondale Trail
  • Specialized Fuse
  • Salsa Timberjack

You're obviously in Europe so I can't speak to the availability of these bikes, although I know the Roscoe is available at least in the U.K. because they get a color option I want that is not available in the U.S.

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    Other equivalent available bikes for the European markets are the Orbea Laufey, Canyon Stoic or Nukeproof Scout.
    – Renaud
    Mar 22, 2022 at 8:37
  • Cheers for the answer, in about a week I will be attending a Trek try-out event near me which should help my search a bit. As Trek is one of the main brands I've noticed that have a good amount of bikes my size available to me. I've looked into both the Roscoe as well as the X-Caliber, what made you consider the Roscoe over the X-Caliber?
    – Tomm
    Mar 24, 2022 at 7:22
  • @Tomm To my opinion, Trek in Europe is a bit overpriced, but they have some advantages: lifetime warranty for the frame and they sometimes have more mounting points for fenders/racks. The presented selection is about trail bikes, the X-caliber is a cross country. Trail bikes are sturdier, but heavier.
    – Renaud
    Mar 24, 2022 at 18:09
  • @Renaud, FWIW Trek seems a bit overpriced in the U.S. as well...big price jumps between 2020, 2021, and 2022 models - I think they're taking advantage of supply chain woes. I am leaning towards the Roscoe over the X-Caliber because of the more slack geometry and riding position of a trail bike vs. an XC bike. I'm simply too old to ride an aggressive XC frame anymore...my back hurts after a few miles and I want a more comfortable bike.
    – mrmcderm
    Mar 24, 2022 at 20:34
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I'd suggest that one major feature you should be looking for at that price point is tubeless compatible wheels and tyres.

Tubeless vs tubes will make a much bigger difference to the way the bike rides than frame material or groupset choice. Make sure to include tubeless fluid (and possibly valves and tape) in your budget.

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    That really depends on the riding style. For those who run relatively high pressure anyway, and don't live somewhere where there's lots of thorns, tubes are just fine. Sure tubeless has advantages, but they whether they justify the big mess with every tyre change is up for debate. For the purposes of the question it's anyway rather moot, since pretty much all MTBs (for ≥1000 €) come with with tubeless-ready rims. Mar 22, 2022 at 16:46

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