Video: Is carbon all that it’s cracked up to be? We test three alloy versions of popular carbon superbikes

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In Issue #115 of Singletrack Magazine, our former Tech Editor, the great Mr Barney Marsh, tested and reviewed three alloy iterations of popular carbon fibre mountain bikes.

These days, carbon fibre is the material that many of us lust over. And why wouldn’t we? It’s lighter. Smoother. Sexier. And you can make really cool shapes with it that are either impossible or just really, really hard to do with welded aluminium or steel. We’re told it’s more expensive to manufacture too, so it must be better right?

And that means for most bike companies, their range of full suspension mountain bikes will split into two ranges; the cheaper half with aluminium frames, and the more expensive models with carbon fibre frames. So if you’re going to be purchasing a bike from one of those brands, that kind of decides things for you already. If you want the higher end suspension package, or the nicer wheels, then chances are you’re going to be looking at a frame made of plastic-fantastic.

But is carbon really what it’s all cracked up to be (pun possibly intended?)? Is it really that much better and worth spending more money on? Sure, it can be made lighter, and in the right applications, it can be super-dooper strong. We’re not so sure it’s the be-all and end-all though, because when it comes down to it, it isn’t just about the raw material – it’s what you do with that material that counts first and foremost.

If you feel so inclined, you can go ahead and read Barney’s three-way group test on three alloy iterations of popular carbon fibre full suspension trail bikes. Otherwise, check out the videos below to see the great man discussing exactly what he thought about those three bikes;

The Norco Sight was launched about this time last year, but initially only in a carbon fibre version. The alloy frame was always on the agenda, but it came a little while later after all the smoke and lazers from the big media launch subsided. And when it did come, there was no media hype. There was no special landing page on the Norco website. And there were certainly no gnarly shreddits of super-fast enduro racers getting rad on it. Nope, the alloy Sight quietly slipped its way onto the Norco website, and shortly afterwards, onto showroom floors of Norco dealers around the country.

That’s a shame, because this bike is very, very good. And you can find out what makes it so good here.

In not a dissimilar fashion, the latest 3rd generation Tallboy hit the market with all the usual excitement and hoo-ha that follows the announcement of any new Santa Cruz bike. But with everyone fawning over the beautiful flowing lines of the carbon fibre VPP frame design, the question ‘Will it come in alloy?‘ wasn’t exactly echoing throughout website comment sections. After all, carbon fibre seems to be what most customers want their mountain bike frames to be made out of these days.

So when the alloy version was announced a wee bit later on, you can see why Chipps wrote a news article titled; ‘Santa Cruz (still) making metal bikes‘.

We’re damn glad that Santa Cruz is still producing alloy frames. They’re tough, great value, and realistically, they aren’t that much heavier. As for the Tallboy 3 itself? Well, as you’ll see in his review, Barney loved it.

The third and final bike in our trifecta test group comes from German direct-to-consumer brand, YT Industries. Another brand known for a bit of hype-building, YT’s Jeffsy arrived with a somewhat obscure, and (depending on your perspective…) controversial marketing campaign. The Jeffsy was first launched with 29in wheels, then with 27.5in wheels, but with both new bikes, the big marketing push was all about the carbonz.

For our Alloy Iterations group test however, it was the all-metal Jeffsy 29 that we went for, which uses exactly the same suspension design and frame geometry as the plastic-fantastic Jeffsy. Thanks to the alloy frame and a very smart build kit that included DT Swiss wheels, Onza tyres and Race Face finishing kit, the £2,199 Jeffsy AL One 29 earned itself a reputation as one of the best value trail bikes we’ve ever reviewed.

So what do you folks think? Is carbon fibre the only material you’re interested in when it comes to considering a new bike purchase? Or is it alloy all the way? Or steel? Or maybe…dare I say…bamboo?

Or do you just not care at all what your bike is made out of?

We’d love to hear your perspective, so tell us your opinion in the comments section below!

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Comments (5)

    I guess it all comes down to money, if you really do want the lightest bike money can buy it’s got to be carbon.but saying that it’s been proved that unless you really throw the cheque book at it, alloy, and in certain cases steel can compete . How important is it to you? Value goes out the window. But this hobby, passion, obsession, call it what you will,never has made much sense and long may that continue.

    Thought the Jeffsy was launched as 29er first then 27.5 . Learn something new every day .

    @reinswood – Agreed about this sport not making a whole lot of sense 🙂

    @blastit – You are bob-on sir! Article amended with the right numbers this time 🙂

    ST Wil.

    I do like carbon for damping reasons on my road bike, and bars and seat post on my hard tail and now have a carbon framed full suss for fashion and aesthetic reasons as much as the 200g saving.
    With the recent increased pressure on plastic reduction it would seem the tide may be due to back from carbon – I do feel a little guilty at owning an object pretty much destined for landfill rather than recycling.

    …tide may be due to turn back…

    Is there no preview or edit function any more?

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