Wonder materials have always come and gone through cycling’s collective consciousness, similar to reality television shows exploding in popularity before quickly disappearing forever. For most of modern cycling’s history, steel held an iron-fisted grip on frames and components, although wood was just as prominent in the very early days of the Dandy Horse. Aluminum captured much of the market with the advent of large-diameter tubing in the 1980’s, while titanium and carbon fiber began to make inroads at about the same time. Even though titanium enjoyed a short-lived spell in the Hot Seat as the ultimate material, once higher grades of carbon fiber became available to the bike industry, the Black Gold took over and has yet to relinquish it’s hold as the most desirable material in cycling for frames, components, and accessories. Offering the seemingly impossible combination of stiffness, lightweight, strength, and comfort, carbon is now molded into everything from downhill mountain bike frames to water bottle cages. What carbon is not, is cheap. Thus we present a semi-scientific and partially meaningful guide to the Carbon Cockpit, and leave it up to you where you spend your money.
- Ritchey Handlebar WCS Evo Curve-260 grams (42) $110
- Ritchey Superlogic Carbon Evo Curve Handlebar-197 grams (42) $320
- 63 grams difference for $210, at $3.50/gram
- FSA K-Force Compact Road Handlebar-220 grams (42) $330
- FSA Energy Compact Road Handlebar-287 grams (42) $99
- 67 grams difference for $231. $3.45/gram
- Fizik Cyrano 00 Carbon Chameleon Road Drop Handlebar-186 grams (42) $400
- Fizik Cyrano R1 Carbon Chameleon Road Drop Handlebar-203 grams (42) $300 17 grams difference for $100. $5.88/gram
- Fizik Cyrano R3 Alloy Chameleon Road Drop Handlebar-253 grams (42) $100 67 grams difference for $300. $4.47/gram
- Ritchey Superlogic WCS Carbon C260 Stem-124 grams (100) $270
- Ritchey WCS C260 Stem Matte Black-105 grams (100) $110
- 29 grams difference for $160. $5.51/gram
- 3T Arx LTD Carbon Fiber Stem-119 grams (100) $325
- 3T Arx II Team Road Stem-137 grams (100) $105
- 18 grams difference for $220. $12.22/gram
- Ritchey WCS UD Carbon One-Bolt Setback Seatpost 27.2-157 grams $220
- Ritchey WCS One-Bolt Setback Seatpost 27.2 Matte Black-224 grams $90
- 67 grams difference for $130. $1.95/gram
Simply looking at the numbers, it’s evident—and no secret—that carbon components are lighter and a lot more expensive than their aluminum counterparts. Many cyclists will simply tally up grams compared to costs and base their purchase on that, which is completely valid. For others, the weight savings is worth the hit to their savings account; all those grams will eventually add up and make a kilogram. Additionally, the “black magic” factor of carbon is priceless, worthless, or somewhere in between depending on your riding style, usual riding surface, and sense of aesthetics. There is no doubt that carbon’s inherent damping abilities provide a “smoother” ride, as anyone who has ridden carbon and aluminum bikes back-to-back can attest, but how much is enough and where is it the most effective?
After years of thorough, in-depth, unscientific and non-peer reviewed research (well, that’s not true, we constantly heckle, taunt, and otherwise critique each other’s findings), we have reached a conclusion that your money is most effectively spent on… It depends!
Frame material is the biggest determinant, so if you are riding an aluminum frame, get a carbon seatpost. Conversely, a carbon frame is insulating you from a fair bit of road chatter already, so carbon handlebars will be less effective at providing relief to your hands and wrists than on an aluminum frame.
As for stems? While they undoubtedly add comfort—and stems like the Ritchey Superlogic WCS Carbon C260 bestow pro-level stiffness without a big weight penalty—the cost-to-benefit ratio is just not worth it for many cyclists. But, if comfort is your number-one concern, then a carbon stem is absolutely worth the investment.