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Carbon vs. Aluminum

Old 01-02-20, 11:19 AM
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washed up
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Carbon vs. Aluminum

Just wondering what the thoughts are on carbon vs aluminum for a gravel bike. Is it worth the added cost and what are the pros and cons? More prone to damage? Buy aluminum and spend the extra money on components?
Thanks
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Old 01-02-20, 11:36 AM
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Until very recently, there were no benefits to a carbon frame for a gravel bike. Why? Because, until the last year or so, almost every carbon gravel bike frame weighed as much as an aluminum gravel bike frame. Manufacturers were very cautious and overbuilt their carbon framesets for gravel. Even now, you have to go pretty high-end to find a bike that actually benefits from carbon fiber frame technology. Compare specs. You might be surprised how much carbon gravel bike frames actually weigh (in spite of the marketing hype).

If there has to be a choice between a carbon frameset and better components -- you have to choose one or the other -- I would go with the components. There are plenty of excellent aluminum gravel bike frames out there.
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Old 01-02-20, 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by washed up View Post
More prone to damage? Buy aluminum and spend the extra money on components?
Thanks
Bingo.

Just my $.02 here:

If you are racing, have lots of disposable $$$ and have a team of people to work on your bike, then carbon makes some sense. A main issue (for me) is always going to be Bottom Brackets. They gonna get loose and get creaky on carbon. Period. The industry have shoved this down our throats and people with money coming out of their pores might not care but the entire press fit BB issue is just compromised engineering for racing and because it is cheaper for manufacturing than using a real threaded BB (which is problematic on carbon frames).

If you doing long bikepacking/touring then a steel frame can be a strong consideration as well.

Titanium is still one of the best material for bike frames and still cost prohibitive for most of us mere mortals.
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Old 01-02-20, 09:55 PM
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Cheap carbon is not worth it under any circumstances. If you have the cash for a good carbon frame you will find it far superior in ride quality and weight to the best aluminum frames. If your budget is $1500, go for steel. If your budget is $1100 go aluminum. A good titanium frame is quite pricey, will impress a lot of people and will last forever, but honestly will not perform as well as a very good (and less expensive) carbon frame. I have owned two titanium gravel bikes but do not own either of them anymore. I currently ride an Open carbon gravel bike. I have a lot of miles on a Giant and a Jamis Aluminum gravel bike but do not ride either much anymore. I have ridden and almost bought a Merckx aluminum gravel bike and thought it was fantastic but very pricey, but they discontinued the aluminum frame and now only offer it in carbon for aboutr the same price. If your budget is >$3k you will get the best value and ride with carbon. Note that there are not many good aluminum gravel bikes available above $2.5k because the cost of making a very good aluminum frame gets close to the cost of a lighter carbon frame as Merckx found out. A good carbon frame with current generation Tiagara components is a good combination if you want good ride quality but are on a budget. The new Tiagra is a really good group thoug it will not impress anyone with the bling factor... Spend more on frame and wheels and get good performance and value with Tiagra components. Tiagra is near 105 performance levels of 8 years ago, which is really very good. The older you are the more you will appreciate a carbon ride over an aluminum one. If you are under 30 your bones are flexible enough that the harsher ride of aluminum may not be a big deal but if you are 50 or older you easily feel the difference.
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Old 01-02-20, 11:01 PM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
Cheap carbon is not worth it under any circumstances. If you have the cash for a good carbon frame you will find it far superior in ride quality and weight to the best aluminum frames. If your budget is $1500, go for steel. If your budget is $1100 go aluminum. A good titanium frame is quite pricey, will impress a lot of people and will last forever, but honestly will not perform as well as a very good (and less expensive) carbon frame. I have owned two titanium gravel bikes but do not own either of them anymore. I currently ride an Open carbon gravel bike. I have a lot of miles on a Giant and a Jamis Aluminum gravel bike but do not ride either much anymore. I have ridden and almost bought a Merckx aluminum gravel bike and thought it was fantastic but very pricey, but they discontinued the aluminum frame and now only offer it in carbon for aboutr the same price. If your budget is >$3k you will get the best value and ride with carbon. Note that there are not many good aluminum gravel bikes available above $2.5k because the cost of making a very good aluminum frame gets close to the cost of a lighter carbon frame as Merckx found out. A good carbon frame with current generation Tiagara components is a good combination if you want good ride quality but are on a budget. The new Tiagra is a really good group thoug it will not impress anyone with the bling factor... Spend more on frame and wheels and get good performance and value with Tiagra components. Tiagra is near 105 performance levels of 8 years ago, which is really very good. The older you are the more you will appreciate a carbon ride over an aluminum one. If you are under 30 your bones are flexible enough that the harsher ride of aluminum may not be a big deal but if you are 50 or older you easily feel the difference.
I could not agree with you more. I’ve owned a few high end AL bikes and now I ride two carbon, a Trek FXS6 and Niner RDO 9. At 52 I fully appreciate the ride quality of carbon vs AL!
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Old 01-03-20, 05:25 AM
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I think it really depends on how you will ride your bike and the tire choice. If you are doing double centuries on rough courses like DK200, and have the disposable income, the Carbon Frame is the way to go because it will be lighter and more compliant (Niner Gravel framesets are about 1 pound lighter for Carbon vs Aluminum as an example). On car gravel and shorter distances like 50 miles, an Aluminum frame is very sufficient as a good set of tires will absorb lots of the bumps and you can opt for some nice carbon bars to make knock down the road buzz if you like for much less than the cost difference of Carbon vs Aluminum frames.
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Old 01-03-20, 07:47 AM
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Thanks for the input. I completely overlooked the difference in ride quality and I currently ride carbon on the road. At 56 that may be a big consideration. I was looking at the Bianchi line of aluminum vs a few more bucks for the cervelo aspero.
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Old 01-03-20, 09:57 AM
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I've always thought components were more important to me but looking back I realize now the bikes I put the most miles on year after year after year have always been my steel or titanium bikes. So maybe components aren't my #1 priority?
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Old 01-03-20, 10:34 AM
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I rode high-end English, French, and Italian steel bikes from the mid-'60s to the mid-2000s and then got my first aluminum bike. The aluminum bike rode as well as my steel bikes with a similar wheelbase (since wheelbase and tire width are the most significant factors determining how a bike rides), weighed less, and handled more predictably on fast descents, so the steel bikes have been collecting dust for over a decade.

Finally bought a carbon bike five years ago to see whether it would live up to the hype. Verdict: it's a bit lighter than my equivalent aluminum bike but otherwise rides the same. Unfortunately, I cracked one of its dropouts last weekend, having absent-mindedly neglected to completely close the rear wheel quick-release lever on my new smart trainer. Darn.

The carbon bike was fine, but I'm going to stick to aluminum bikes for my few remaining years of riding.
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Old 01-03-20, 11:09 AM
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I've ridden carbon on the road for 15 years, had some very good aluminum bikes (Klein) as well as titanium (sucked) and steel. Now an aluminum Cannondale Topstone. When I do road rides on my gravel it's with 32mm tires on stiff rims, at a lower PSI than how I use my carbon road, but even off road on dirt, I can't tell much difference in the ride quality of less expensive carbon from mid-level aluminum. Maybe if I had a $7,000 Colnago carbon road bike I'd think different, but to me aluminum has always been as comfortable. Part of that is I'm a clyde so my body weight soaks up any harshness in a frame, but 90% of the feel of a ride is going to be tire size, air pressure and wheel design (smallest factor). Frame design is way down the list in terms of how you perceive the ride quality. I do know that you can discern the differences in how a different frame type transmits the riding surface but to me it's always been different, not better or worse. Others have differing opinions, but I'm happy with aluminum.

As to durability, one thing to remember is a carbon frame may not take a hit from an object as well as steel or aluminum. I've known carbon frames to get a stick right thru the downtube. Aluminum might have been dented where steel you would never know. OTOH these kinds of hits are far and few in terms of damage and there are a LOT of folks riding carbon off-road with never any damage.
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Old 01-03-20, 11:43 AM
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fwiw: 60 years old and riding aluminum frame on long (150km+) gravel grinds. Have ridden carbon bikes and found very little appreciable difference in comfort (a little easier to lift it back onto the bike rack after a long ride...hehehe).

For myself, tire pressure and riding position on a properly fitted frame do more for comfort than any other single factor on longer rides. Have ridden steel and find it a bit more compliant and would go that route if I were looking at riding with 50lbs of gear on 1200 km adventure rides but tend to be a minimalist these days even on long trips.

Personally, I do not see the appeal of carbon for gravel, whatsoever. Gotta tape it up all over to prevent damage just from bags.....too sensitive for me. Yikes. Road bike? Yes.
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Old 01-03-20, 01:26 PM
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Have ridden all three materials (of various bikes of each) and find comfort noticeable in this very order, best to worst: Steel, carbon, aluminum.

I hear Titanium is the best of all of those three materials but since it's too rich for my blood I've never ridden one.
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Old 01-03-20, 07:24 PM
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Originally Posted by .mockingbird. View Post
I guess I'll have to keep waiting.

Almost three years and I haven't touched the BB on my carbon gravel bike. No creaking. Period.
Press fit or threaded ?
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Old 01-03-20, 09:29 PM
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Quality carbon or aluminum road or gravel bikes are both excellent. Each as certain advantages over the other. However, on the dollar for value scale carbon is absolutely positively the biggest rip-off in cycling history.
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Old 01-03-20, 09:52 PM
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Just wondering what the thoughts are on carbon vs aluminum for a gravel bike. Is it worth the added cost and what are the pros and cons? More prone to damage? Buy aluminum and spend the extra money on components?
Thanks
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I think you can get away with carbon gravel and MTB these days if you're careful. Personally, I went aluminum cause I don't want to be that careful when I'm in the woods. I figure I'm going to bang it on stuff and not want to have to worry about xrays for hairline cracks. Personal choice. I coulda dropped the coin, but of the five off road bikes I've bought recently all but one were aluminum. I went carbon on the fat bike to save weight, and because I use it more as a relaxed cruiser. Otherwise, I feel every now and then you're going to whack into a rock or log and wonder if you did something. Road I'm all carbon.
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Old 01-03-20, 10:57 PM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
Cheap carbon is not worth it under any circumstances. If you have the cash for a good carbon frame you will find it far superior in ride quality and weight to the best aluminum frames. If your budget is $1500, go for steel. If your budget is $1100 go aluminum. A good titanium frame is quite pricey, will impress a lot of people and will last forever, but honestly will not perform as well as a very good (and less expensive) carbon frame. I have owned two titanium gravel bikes but do not own either of them anymore. I currently ride an Open carbon gravel bike. I have a lot of miles on a Giant and a Jamis Aluminum gravel bike but do not ride either much anymore. I have ridden and almost bought a Merckx aluminum gravel bike and thought it was fantastic but very pricey, but they discontinued the aluminum frame and now only offer it in carbon for aboutr the same price. If your budget is >$3k you will get the best value and ride with carbon. Note that there are not many good aluminum gravel bikes available above $2.5k because the cost of making a very good aluminum frame gets close to the cost of a lighter carbon frame as Merckx found out. A good carbon frame with current generation Tiagara components is a good combination if you want good ride quality but are on a budget. The new Tiagra is a really good group thoug it will not impress anyone with the bling factor... Spend more on frame and wheels and get good performance and value with Tiagra components. Tiagra is near 105 performance levels of 8 years ago, which is really very good. The older you are the more you will appreciate a carbon ride over an aluminum one. If you are under 30 your bones are flexible enough that the harsher ride of aluminum may not be a big deal but if you are 50 or older you easily feel the difference.
Hard to argue with this one. I bought my Blue since at clearance I could get my wife and I matching bikes for 1100 shipped. Came with a full Tiagra build group except FSA crank and company branded thru axle wheelset. First thing I did was toss the wheels for XT hubs with Velocity Rims and 32spokes. Didn't change a bit of the tiagra 4700 and it works beautifully. Even after 8 hours in the saddle my hands and butt feel fine so in my experiece aluminum and tiagra is a great affordable option.
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Old 01-04-20, 09:50 PM
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.
Good points raised here.

There are a number of factors that play into a 'ride', of course: tire/wheel width, PSI (or lack thereof), carbon handlebars and seatposts, etc. -- all of these components will affect how 'comfortable' a bike may be as the miles add up, regardless of frame material. How much of a difference would one feel on a quality, modern aluminum frame with lower PSI, wider-width tires and carbon handlebars with padded bar tape vs carbon frame? Rhetorical question.

As some have mentioned, age of rider will probably be a factor as well, but I wonder if the difference would really be distinctly noteworthy if riding an AL frame with the above arrangement.

A hi-quality carbon frame would be ideal, of course, but it may not be as noticeable vs. a hi-grade AL frame if the components compensate..

I could be wrong, of course.

Last edited by ciclista tifoso; 01-04-20 at 09:54 PM.
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Old 01-04-20, 11:16 PM
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Originally Posted by BengalCat View Post
Quality carbon or aluminum road or gravel bikes are both excellent. Each as certain advantages over the other. However, on the dollar for value scale carbon is absolutely positively the biggest rip-off in cycling history.
What are you basing this on?
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Old 01-04-20, 11:20 PM
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Originally Posted by ciclista tifoso View Post
.
Good points raised here.

There are a number of factors that play into a 'ride', of course: tire/wheel width, PSI (or lack thereof), carbon handlebars and seatposts, etc. -- all of these components will affect how 'comfortable' a bike may be as the miles add up, regardless of frame material. How much of a difference would one feel on a quality, modern aluminum frame with lower PSI, wider-width tires and carbon handlebars with padded bar tape vs carbon frame? Rhetorical question.

As some have mentioned, age of rider will probably be a factor as well, but I wonder if the difference would really be distinctly noteworthy if riding an AL frame with the above arrangement.

A hi-quality carbon frame would be ideal, of course, but it may not be as noticeable vs. a hi-grade AL frame if the components compensate..

I could be wrong, of course.
There are no doubt high end aluminum frames that have great ride quality, but tehy are few and far between because they are still heavier tahn carbon and get up to around the same pricing as good carbon. See the Merkcx example and several other manufacturers too... Carbon becomes lighter and more economical. For a budget thougt if aroubd a grand, alyminum is the best deal.
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Old 01-04-20, 11:22 PM
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Originally Posted by ciclista tifoso View Post
.
Good points raised here.

There are a number of factors that play into a 'ride', of course: tire/wheel width, PSI (or lack thereof), carbon handlebars and seatposts, etc. -- all of these components will affect how 'comfortable' a bike may be as the miles add up, regardless of frame material. How much of a difference would one feel on a quality, modern aluminum frame with lower PSI, wider-width tires and carbon handlebars with padded bar tape vs carbon frame? Rhetorical question.

As some have mentioned, age of rider will probably be a factor as well, but I wonder if the difference would really be distinctly noteworthy if riding an AL frame with the above arrangement.

A hi-quality carbon frame would be ideal, of course, but it may not be as noticeable vs. a hi-grade AL frame if the components compensate..

I could be wrong, of course.
The OP did limit the question to frame material however. Cerainly wheels, tires, etc make a difference too and if ouy have good wheels, tires, carbon bars AND a carbon frame ... WOW...
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Old 01-04-20, 11:40 PM
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Originally Posted by mdcoram View Post
I've always thought components were more important to me but looking back I realize now the bikes I put the most miles on year after year after year have always been my steel or titanium bikes. So maybe components aren't my #1 priority?
ABSOLUTELY!!! Ride a $1200 Ultegra Bikes Direct bike (cheap frame, top components) then ride a Felt carbon with Tiagra (good frame, inexpensive components) and you will enjoy the Felt much much more. We had a new Bikes Direct bike in our shop with Ultegra components in for a tune-up and you just could not tune it precisely. We spent hours on it then put our frame gauges on it. The front axle, rear axle and bottom bracket were all out of parallel. And when you put stress on it the frame could flex enough to iimpact shifting quality. It was un tuneable... There is WAY too much focus on high end components and not enough focus on the things that are harder to see like frames and somewhat wheels. Companies like BD take advantage of this big time with "Ultegra bike for $1200" specials... People think save money on the frame, but that is the last place to go cheap...You do not have to spend a fortune on a frame, but you should not go cheap, regardless of material chosen...
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Old 01-04-20, 11:50 PM
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Gravel bikes are the place where carbon really excels the most over other frame materials. Carbon in a gravel frame can be laid up to create the holy grail - laterally stiff, vertically compliant by varying the carbon types, weaves and thicknesses in different poarts of the frame to give it very different characteristics laterally vs. vertically. All that can be done while keeping the frame very light too...Because road bikes are generally ridden on smooth surfaces the difference in vertical vs. lateral is not such a big deal (stiff both ways is okay). On MTB bikes you have shocks to take up the flexibility needs. But on a gravel bike you want to keep it light, have verttical give, but lateral stiffness for performance and handling. With metal frames you have the same material on all sides of the frame members and can just vary shape so you simply cannot mimic the ride if a carbon gravel frame.
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Old 01-05-20, 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
Gravel bikes are the place where carbon really excels the most over other frame materials. Carbon in a gravel frame can be laid up to create the holy grail - laterally stiff, vertically compliant by varying the carbon types, weaves and thicknesses in different poarts of the frame to give it very different characteristics laterally vs. vertically. All that can be done while keeping the frame very light too...Because road bikes are generally ridden on smooth surfaces the difference in vertical vs. lateral is not such a big deal (stiff both ways is okay). On MTB bikes you have shocks to take up the flexibility needs. But on a gravel bike you want to keep it light, have verttical give, but lateral stiffness for performance and handling. With metal frames you have the same material on all sides of the frame members and can just vary shape so you simply cannot mimic the ride if a carbon gravel frame.
One could argue that the need for vertical compliance being built into a frame is due to the lateral stiffness being too far past reasonable/necessary

A well designed steel frame with traditional OS tube dimensions is plenty stiff for most cyclists, but they have been sold on needing more stiffness for power transfer even though reality doesnt line up with what they were told.

Very few among us need or even benefit from a bottom bracket junction that is gigantic for stiffness.
There is a reason why so much engineering has gone into suspension and compliance for frames(road and gravel)- the frames are absurdly stiff so now seatposts pivot, stems bounce, and seat stays bend.
it can be argued that the suspension engineered into frames is the vertical compliance so often claimed, but it's been created due to making frames overly stiff to begin with.

​​​​​​The beauty of cycling right now is how much choice there is. Its overwhelming at times, but also allows each of us to get what we know is best for us, or at least what we think is best based on marketing.
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Old 01-05-20, 12:07 PM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
Gravel bikes are the place where carbon really excels the most over other frame materials. Carbon in a gravel frame can be laid up to create the holy grail - laterally stiff, vertically compliant by varying the carbon types, weaves and thicknesses in different poarts of the frame to give it very different characteristics laterally vs. vertically. .
My thought is by the time you end up on cross tubeless tires at 40 psi, you’ll never notice any difference in vertical compliance of carbon vs. aluminum, or steel, or titanium.

You’d likely feel some difference in lateral stiffness in the b-bracket, especially if you are a heavier rider. I was able to flex a titanium road bike in the bottom bracket, the chain rub on the F derailer was significant. It would take some convincing to get me back on titanium.
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Old 01-05-20, 01:21 PM
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dwmckee
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post
One could argue that the need for vertical compliance being built into a frame is due to the lateral stiffness being too far past reasonable/necessary

A well designed steel frame with traditional OS tube dimensions is plenty stiff for most cyclists, but they have been sold on needing more stiffness for power transfer even though reality doesnt line up with what they were told.

Very few among us need or even benefit from a bottom bracket junction that is gigantic for stiffness.
There is a reason why so much engineering has gone into suspension and compliance for frames(road and gravel)- the frames are absurdly stiff so now seatposts pivot, stems bounce, and seat stays bend.
it can be argued that the suspension engineered into frames is the vertical compliance so often claimed, but it's been created due to making frames overly stiff to begin with.

​​​​​​The beauty of cycling right now is how much choice there is. Its overwhelming at times, but also allows each of us to get what we know is best for us, or at least what we think is best based on marketing.
The lateral stiffness is a major contributor to precise handing which results in decending confidence and even safety. It is not just about power transfer. I agree that the market went crazy buildiong stiffer and stiffer bikes for decades, Cannondaue was the poster child for that, then as the bulk of serious cyclists started to age and care about comfort the market started to shift to want compliance, especially vertical. Cannondale, stuck with all of their technology to just make things stiffer had to come out wiith suspension sysytems added to their super stiff frames to make them comfortable again (something they try to market as an advantage).

The reason recent tehnology for frame design has been the push creale vertical compliance is because gravel riders ride roulh roads needing the compliance/comfort, but still wanted low weight bikes with great performance on the paved parts that stitch together many if not most longer gravel rides... Those paved portions are what make front or full suspension anb MTB size tires unappealing on grabel bikes.
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