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Is A Carbon Bike Overkill For Commuting?

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Carbon bikes are not cheap in comparison to aluminum or steel bikes. They’re lightweight machines designed with performance and efficiency in mind.

Although carbon bikes are an attractive proposition to racing cyclists, endurance riders and cycling enthusiasts, they’re not essential for the average commute.

This article asks whether you should use a carbon bike for commuting. Is it complete overkill? We’ll weigh up the pros and cons and help you decide if it’s right for you.

Is A Carbon Bike Overkill For Commuting? - Pinterest Pin Small ImagePin

Riding A Carbon Bike For Commuting: The Good

We’ll start with some of the positive aspects of riding a carbon bike into work.

Compliance

Carbon bikes and parts often have a shock-absorbing quality that makes for a smoother ride. That is true of frames, forks, wheels, seat posts and handlebars. One reason many aluminum bikes have carbon forks is for their ability to reduce “road buzz”.

The comfort level of a carbon bike can be manipulated by the manufacturer by adopting a particular layup pattern. A carbon frame can be stiff and unyielding in one direction (usually laterally) and compliant in another (normally vertically).

Metal frames do not have this level of manipulability, even if they have butted tubes to achieve varying thicknesses at crucial points. This is mainly to keep the weight down.

Video: Carbon Layup Explained

Lightweight & Responsive

A carbon bike is invariably lighter than its aluminum, titanium or steel equivalent. Does this matter? It won’t make a huge difference on a short commute, and it’ll make virtually no difference on a pan-flat ride into work.

Yet, lightweight bikes often feel more responsive, and with light wheels (perhaps also carbon) they are quicker to accelerate. You’ll probably feel more agile on a lightweight carbon bike than you would on a metal frame.

Of course, a lightweight carbon bike will help you to climb faster than you would on a cheaper bike, which might easily weigh twice as much. That fact never alters, even if the rider has the potential to lose more weight bodily than can be shed from a bike.

Speed

A carbon frame, especially on a road bike, is likely to be efficient in terms of power transfer, and as such may be quicker than metal-framed bikes.

The speed comes from lateral and torsional stiffness in a carbon frame. Carbon frames are also more easily created with an aerodynamic shape, making them faster still.

A fast bike on a commute is not only useful for sprinting between traffic lights. It may also encourage the commuter to ride longer distances to work. Speed and comfort are two useful attributes that work well together.

Fun & Fitness

A bike that you enjoy riding to and from work may inspire you to ride more regularly. It could save you money on fuel costs and make you fitter, happier and healthier.

If you’re a cycling enthusiast, just buy the bike that makes you happy if you can afford it. While it’s not strictly necessary to ride to work on a high-end carbon bicycle, you shouldn’t lose any sleep over the extravagance.

Riding A Carbon Bike For Commuting: The Bad

Riding a carbon bike into work also has its downsides.

Security

Because carbon bikes are, on average, more expensive than metal bikes, they are eminently more attractive to thieves. Naturally, the more high-end the bike, the more this is the case. So, you need somewhere secure to store such a bike at your workplace.

If you can wheel a bike straight into your office, obviously the security issue vanishes. But, if you’re locking it in a bike shed on a premises that is accessible by the public (or unknown staff), you’ll have to invest heavily in locks or use a cheaper bike.

One option is to buy a carbon bike secondhand. It’ll still cost more than a secondhand steel or aluminum bike, but at least your loss is diminished if the bike is stolen.

Read more: Bike serial numbers for security

Strength

Carbon bikes can generally take a lot of weight. Many are tested to carry a load of up to 250 pounds.

However, if you’re a heavy rider carrying a lot of stuff into work on a cargo rack, consider a steel bike and wheels with 32 or 36 spokes and double-wall rims.

Read more: Wheels for bike commuters

Impractical?

Riding racing carbon bikes for a commute? Pin

Now that we’ve mentioned a cargo rack, we ought to discuss the practicality of a carbon bike. Most workhorse bikes designed to carry a lot of stuff are not carbon bikes.

If you’re looking for a utilitarian machine that will get you from A to B at whatever speed, you probably don’t want a carbon bike. A steel touring bike might suit you better if you want a comfortable bike that will carry hefty panniers.

Carbon bikes tend to be sportier. Certainly, that’s the case with road bikes. They are likely to be endowed with an elaborate set of gears to cope with all terrains and have a geometry that promotes fast riding or long endurance rides.

All of the above could be described as over the top for a flat, 5-mile ride into work. Most bike commutes aren’t long. Some might be hilly, but you could get over a hill almost as quickly on an aluminum bike.

A lot of carbon bikes won’t have mounts for racks or fenders. Yes, you can fix extras onto a carbon frame, but carbon frames and components easily get damaged if you clamp anything to them with excessive torque (you ideally need a torque wrench).

A carbon bike makes sense if you’re traveling light generally. There’s no point paying for all that lightness if you intend loading the bike up with copious amounts of work gear. A small backpack is allowable!

Read more: Bike commuting 101 guide

Video: Bike Frame Materials Discussed

Should You Ride A Carbon Bike To Work?

Nobody would argue that you shouldn’t ride a cheap bike into work, so the opposite should also hold true. Ride the bike you want to ride.

Is a carbon bike necessary for a commute? Definitely not. But it might enhance your riding enjoyment and encourage you to leave the car at home.

Don’t buy an expensive carbon bike for commuting unless you’re sure you can keep it safe.

Once you have the security problem sorted, enjoy your carbon commute!

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Mark Whitley
Mark Whitley
I’m a cycling enthusiast, and the founder and chief editor of Bike Push. If I’m not working on this website, then I’m out on the bike clocking up the miles. I want to help others get the most out of cycling.

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