Is a Carbon Frame Good for Bikepacking?

Bikepacking is a great way to explore the outdoors while getting some exercise with friends and family.

Because the bike is likely to be your biggest expense and the most crucial part of a good bikepacking trip, it is important to consider what bike frame material fits your needs the best.

Whereas carbon fiber frames are light and strong, they are also expensive and there are far fewer options available. They can also be hard to repair and risk suddenly collapsing after moderate fractures to the frame. All of these factors should be considered before going for a carbon bike.

Bike frames have come a long way since their invention in the early 1800s. Early bike frames were made of wood, which was eventually replaced by steel. In the mid to late 1900s, aluminum became the material of choice for bike frames due to its lightweight properties.

Today, most bike frames are made from some combination of steel and aluminum but carbon fiber is winning its way to more and more consumers.

So which is the best option for you?

Well, we are here to help you make that decision. In this article, we will go over the pros and cons of carbon fiber, steel, and aluminum frames to help you decide which is right for you and your next touring adventure.

Carbon Fiber Frames

Carbon fiber frames are an increasingly popular choice for bikepacking because they are lightweight and durable.

Bikes made predominantly from carbon composite materials are also less prone to rusting, which can be a problem with steel frames. And even aluminum frames will oxidize and fade with time (although that actually makes them stronger!).

carbon fiber and aluminum bike frame
A carbon frame may be a full mold or enforced with aluminum parts like the one shown here so you can also consider a combination of the two!

However, carbon fiber frames can be expensive and they can also be fragile, but lets get to a summary of the pros and cons of carbon bike frames for bikepacking:

Pros of carbon bike frame

  • Material is more durable and less dense, so it is much lighter.
  • Better handling due to lighter weight.
  • Much more comfortable and has better ride quality.
  • Long lifespan due to the high-quality design.
  • No corrosion and other chemical degradation..

Cons of carbon bike frame

  • Much more expensive than other options.
  • The frame can fail without warning.
  • The frame cannot easily be repaired if it cracks.
  • Harder to carry luggage as racks are harder to add to most frames.
  • The frame is not recyclable as most metal frames are.

Aluminum Bike Frames

Aluminum bike frames were first introduced in the 1970s as an alternative to steel. They were lighter and more durable than steel, making them ideal for racing.

Aluminum quickly became the material of choice for high-end road bikes and mountain bikes. Today, most bike frames are made from aluminum, with some companies offering carbon fiber or titanium mixed into the strength-critical or shock-absorbing parts of the frame.

Most standard touring bikes today are made from aluminum.

However, aluminum frames are not as comfortable as carbon or steel frames, and they can be more expensive.

Pros of an aluminum bike frame

  • Cheaper than carbon fiber frames but still fairly lightweight.
  • More durable. It can withstand harder impacts without cracking, but will bend.
  • Resistant to rusting if properly cared for.
  • Aluminum is widely recycled.
  • You can modify the frame and mount luggage and other things to the frame.

Cons of an aluminum bike frame

  • A softer frame makes more energy waste.
  • Heavier than carbon fiber.
  • They bend more easily than steel and carbon.
  • They tend to fatigue over time so they don’t last as long, even if you get a well-built one.

Despite the cons, aluminum bike frames are still the most popular choice among mountain bikers and commuters. They are strong and durable, yet lightweight.

This makes them ideal for off-road riding and long-distance cycling but they do lack some of the strength and weight features offered by carbon.

I wrote another post on aluminum vs. carbon fiber for tent poles which goes deeper into the properties of each material.

Steel Bike Frames

Steel is a durable material that can withstand a lot of wear and tear. This makes it ideal for bike frames, which are constantly subjected to stress and will not fail even on longer rides.

Steel is also easy to work with, which makes it a popular choice for frame builders.

A steel frame gravel bike.

However, steel frames are not as lightweight as carbon or aluminum frames. They also don’t handle as well as carbon or aluminum frames.

Steel bike frames have been around for a long time. They were first popularized in the late 19th century and have been a mainstay in the cycling world ever since.

Pros of steel bike frame:

  • Strong and durable and perfect for plenty of touring.
  • More affordable than carbon or aluminum frames.
  • Can be repaired if damaged.

Cons of steel bike frame:

  • Heavier than carbon and aluminum frames.
  • Not as comfortable to ride as carbon or aluminum frames.
  • Can rust if not properly cared for.

Carbon Frame Vs Aluminium Frame

When it comes to carbon fiber vs aluminum bike frames, there are a few key things to consider.

First, carbon is significantly lighter than aluminum, making it the ideal choice if you’re looking to minimize weight.

Carbon gravel bike.

Aluminum gravel bike.

The aluminum bike on the right is approximately half the price of the carbon version on the left!

Second, carbon is much stiffer than aluminum, meaning it will provide a more efficient ride. Finally, carbon is more expensive than aluminum, so if budget is a concern, aluminum may be the better option.

So, what’s the bottom line? If weight and efficiency are your top priorities, carbon is the way to go.

However, if you’re on a budget or looking for a more durable frame, aluminum may be the better choice.

Carbon Frame Vs Steel Frame

When it comes to carbon fiber versus a steel frame, carbon fiber is the clear winner. It’s much lighter weight and has a much more comfortable ride. However, carbon fiber frames are also much more expensive than steel frames.

For bikepacking, you want a frame that’s going to be able to withstand all the elements and terrain you’ll encounter and sometimes steel frames can offer that for very rough terrain, but you will have to pay the price in riding a much heavier bike.

Carbon fiber is the ideal material for this. It’s lightweight, yet strong and durable. Plus, it has a comfortable ride that will make those long days in the saddle more enjoyable.

The largest downsides are the higher price and the risk of sudden breakage and harder repairs.  

Conclusion

There are a few different ways to bikepack, but one of the most recently popular options is by using a carbon frame. However, some people believe that steel or aluminum frames are better for this activity.

While carbon fiber frames have many advantages over other materials, they also have their downsides, including the higher price tag and the risk of sudden breakage.

Steel and aluminum are both good cheaper options, but each has its pros and cons. But to be honest, steel frames are pretty much outdated these days and are only sworn upon by a few heavy duty bikepackers out there.

For most bikepackers, carbon is the ideal choice. It’s lightweight, yet durable, and it has a comfortable ride that will make the trip more enjoyable.