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Published on October 20th, 2016 | by Greg O'Keeffe

Ask a Mechanic | Carbon vs. Aluminum Handlebars

Dillon wants to know: “I’m looking to upgrade to a wider handlebar, but I’m not sure if I should go with carbon or aluminum. What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of each?”

Carbon vs aluminum: when choosing new frames and components, it’s one of the most common questions customers ask. When you’re looking for road handlebars or mountain bike handlebars, there are a few important points to consider which will help guide your decision.

Comfort

Most comparisons of carbon to aluminum center around this feature. Generally, carbon does a better job of damping, or “absorbing” vibrations from trail irregularities, while aluminum transmits more of those vibrations into your hands. On trails with lots of big hits, carbon bars can save you a lot of energy, as your hands don’t get rattled as much as they would on an aluminum bar.

Stiffness

Comfort and stiffness are closely linked, but carbon bars are generally as stiff or stiffer than their aluminum counterparts. Many people think that aluminum bars are stiffer since they feel harsher than carbon, but that is because of the aforementioned differences in vibration damping of the two materials. Light weight aluminum bars often flex noticeably when pushing down on the grips.

Weight

Here’s another category where carbon wins again. Carbon bars are almost always quite a bit lighter than aluminum bars. Aluminum bars that approach the low weights of carbon are usually quite flexy.

Cost

Finally, aluminum bars come out on top when it comes to price. Carbon often costs twice as much as aluminum.

Durability

When it comes to impact resistance, carbon and aluminum are evenly matched. Both can take a lot of abuse without breaking. However, quality aluminum bars will dent, bend or otherwise deform if the impact is great enough, giving you some indication of how much abuse they have endured and how much fatigue life they have left. Carbon bars, on the other hand, will not dent or bend. When they have reached the end of their fatigue life, they break. This is only an issue if you crash a lot, or use extremely light weight carbon bars meant for XC in aggressive enduro or DH conditions.

To sum up, carbon bars are generally more comfortable, stiffer, and lighter than aluminum bars. However, carbon bars are much more expensive than aluminum, and give no indication if they have sustained an impact large enough to make them unsafe to ride.

If you are looking for a new handlebar, check out our selection at artscyclery.com. We’ve got what you need.

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About the Author

After a couple of years as a team mechanic for Highroad Sports, Greg joined the Art's Cyclery crew as our lead mechanic. The only thing Greg loves more than cycling is watching the San Francisco Giants play baseball.



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