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What does an expensive frame get you?

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What does an expensive frame get you?

Old 09-13-20, 01:55 PM
  #1  
Robert A
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What does an expensive frame get you?

So I'm curious what higher-end frames offer the cyclist. I have a CAAD12 and love the bike. It weights 17.5 pounds without pedals and with stock wheels (which I changed).

Higher end frames from manufacturers such as Cervello and Specialized cost $4k and up. Controlling for the fact that those frames are carbon and mine is aluminum, what benefits do you achieve by stepping up to more expensive frames? Is it only weight savings, or do you get other improvements, such as better handling and increased stiffness? Are those characteristics noticeable enough to the experienced road cyclist?
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Old 09-13-20, 02:20 PM
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Handling is affected by geometry, not frame material.

Stiffness could be a factor, though your choice of tire size and pressure can mitigate a substantial part of that (if approaching from a comfort angle).

Typically higher end carbon frames can have specific tube shapes unattainable in other materials, and the layup of such is often much more time intensive, as is the material cost.

So that's what you're paying for; that and brand name/marketing.

You can often get a comparable frame from China for substantially less if you're willing to deal with potential (though not necessarily probable) quality/warranty issues.

I have a 770 gram Chinese fame that cost less than $600 delivered. It's built up to a 15.5 lb bike for less than $2000 total, and I've raced it in pro races to good effect.
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Old 09-13-20, 02:37 PM
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I would say the benefits are potentially real but also very modest and likely overrated by most. You are not missing much.

That said, you may want to go to the bike shop sometime in the future for a test ride, so you can see and decide for yourself.
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Old 09-13-20, 02:57 PM
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I wish I knew.
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Old 09-13-20, 03:08 PM
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Don’t know that I can answer the OP’s question. That will not stop me from typing more of my usual mindless drivel. I have too many bikes. Many of you would say, “Not possible.” I have most frequently been riding my HIA Velo Founder with Etap, Alchemy Helios with Etap, Neilpryde Nazare with Etap and Storck Scenero with a mix of Red and Force mechanical. They are all carbon fiber and, at least in my estimation, qualify as “super bikes”. This weekend, I eyed my BMC Team Machine ALR01 with Shimano 105 gathering dust in the bike room. Felt guilty that I had neglected it for so long, removed the budget Al clinchers, replaced them with 55 mm deep section FSE CF wheels from my Nazare, installed the Ergon CF3 seat post from my HIA and set out for Saturday’s ride. I bought the BMC frame new for $550.00 and built it as a rain bike with aforementioned 105 11 speed groupset and have repeatedly ridden my other lighter, snazzier bikes. On Saturday’s ride, I fell in love with the BMC all over again. It’s as stiff as any bike I have ridden, has geometry that goads me to descend faster than I probably ought to and, unlike many Al frames, does not beat me up like some other Al frames I have owned and ridden. Liked it so much that I chose it for Sunday’s ride and again smiled repeatedly on how well it rides. I guess what I am getting at is that many, many bikes, independent of frame material and cost, if set up well and fitted to the user, will prove excellent machines. I love all my current bikes and appreciate the subtle differences and handling nuances of each of my bikes. This is not a unique revelation. Just crossed my mind this weekend and reminded me how many good bikes I am fortunate to own and ride. Next up, my Colnago Extreme Power with 10 speed Red and Mavic R-SYS Red wheels has gone months without leaving the house.
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Old 09-13-20, 03:40 PM
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Probably nothing. The CAAD12 is a phenomenally good bike and a comparative bargain.

For years I rode only steel bikes. Last year I bought a 1993 Trek 5900 OCLV from a friend. It wasn't completely original -- he only wanted the Dura Ace components, I only wanted the frame, but he built it up with nice Shimano 600 Tricolor/Ultegra parts so it was rideable the day I got it. I really thought the 5 lb lighter bike would be a revolution. It wasn't. Because of the conventional diamond frame geometry it rode very much like my '89 Ironman, but felt a little lighter on climbs.

But we don't have much in the way of climbs here. It's all rollers. Lots of short, steep, punchy sprint-climbettes. On a good day when my legs and lungs felt strong the Trek might gain me 0.5 mph overall on my usual 20-40 mile routes, and maybe a couplafew seconds on shorter segments (I only pay attention to segments at least 1/2 mile long, flat or at least slight inclines). Not a huge difference.

Another friend needed to make room in his garage and gave me a nice 2011 Diamondback Podium 5 frame. He or the previous owner replaced the original FSA crank with Ultegra, so it was a pretty sweet starter. But I got so busy and had a long bout of illness (not COVID-19, just Hashimoto's, a longstanding pesky but usually non-fatal auto immune disorder), so I just didn't feel like building another bike. I was perfectly happy to ride my Ironman and Trek 5900. But the old Trek headset needed to be overhauled so I took it apart and put it away for awhile, only riding the Ironman most of this year.

Last week I finally built up the Diamondback frame. I hoisted the comparably bare Diamondback and Trek 5900 frames and was surprised how comparably light they were. No significant difference. But the Podium has a spiffy tube design and is stiffer, so it should be more efficient on those sprint climbs -- my nemesis.

With a hodgepodge of components -- some Ultegra, some Dura Ace, some 105, and very ordinary old school semi-aero Mavic/Ultegra wheels -- the Diamondback weighs around 18-19 lbs, a bit lighter than the Trek.

I've had two test rides on the Diamondback, of 20-30 miles. Zero difference in my segment times or overall averages. Yeah, the bike *feels* lighter and more responsive on those rollers. But that didn't translate to faster. I'll chalk up some of that to not having the bike fit dialed in yet. I wasn't sure whether I could handle it with the stem slammed but it turned out the spacers were too much and made me *less* aero than my old Ironman. So I replaced the 100mm stem with a 110mm and nearly slammed the stem -- just a very thin spacer above the headset.

I'm going for another test ride now. But I'm not expecting much. It's a nice bike. I'll enjoy it, although the ride goes beyond stiff into harsh. I added thicker bar wrap (Arundel Synth Gecko), fatter tires and latex tubes, and a slightly more springy old school Selle San Marco saddle to soften the ride a bit. But at 62 I don't have the engine anymore to wring out the potential from a "better" bike. Doesn't matter if it's my 24 lb Ironman, 20 lb Trek, 18-19 lb Diamondback. The only significant improvement I can make at this point is to get an aero position I can hold longer. A $32 pair of latex tubes will make more difference to me than a $4,000 frame.

But if you have the engine, and want another bike and can afford it, go for it. Life is short and if the Super Cooties Apocalypse doesn't get us, something else will.
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Old 09-13-20, 03:41 PM
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It's like name brand vs. generic drugs in many cases. The generic will work fine and often is exactly the same. In the case of bikes I think you may sometimes get better QA, especially when it comes to carbon, the amount of resin used, air pockets, etc. Ultimately though, like with practically every other product out there if buying a name brand, you're paying for Marketing, R&D, past mistakes and mis-sells, etc. I'm ok with that for some items. I've done well with my Light Bicycle Chinese wheels, I'll take Art of Shaving cream over Barbasol any day of the week. I've done less well with some other off brand bike items I've bought.

From a frame perspective you can also pay more for custom (which is what I did). The complete bike by the time I was done building it up came in a bit more than a Pinarello similarly equipped but the frame alone was budget busting. I also went for every upgrade, paint option, and such that I wanted so that I wouldn't catch mycelf later saying "If only I had..." Custom has the ability to be tailored for everything you want. Fit, material, geometry, paint, ego. Do you need it, heck no, but has it been awesome, heck yes.

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Old 09-13-20, 03:43 PM
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I own a Emonda SLR Project One and have rented a SL6 on vacation.

I certainly notice the difference, but the SLR is 4x the cost of the SL. It's like comparing a Porsche 911 to a 911GT2RS.
Is it worth it.. .that'd for you to decide.
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Old 09-13-20, 03:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Controlling for the fact that those frames are carbon and mine is aluminum, what benefits do you achieve by stepping up to more expensive frames?
Which expensive frame compared to which lower cost one? The difference may be huge or the lower cost frame might be superior. To start, all manufacturers have their idea of how they think the ideal bike should ride. If that ideal from a company doesn't match what you're looking for, it doesn't matter how cheap or expensive it is; that frame isn't right for you. Then all production frames represent a series of trade-offs and compromises by the manufacturer. In general, higher priced frames will have fewer trade-offs and less compromises; but if one manufacturer chooses a compromise in the expensive frame that you wouldn't make, and another does it on a cheaper frame in an area you don't care about, the cheaper frame might be better for you.

In other words, it all depends.

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Old 09-13-20, 04:30 PM
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Last summer I went straight from my old, handmade, custom racing frame from the 1980s, which was considered very good at the time, to a Cervélo R3. Holy smoke! Then I got some good wheels. ¡Ai, ai, ai!
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Old 09-13-20, 04:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Controlling for the fact that those frames are carbon and mine is aluminum, what benefits do you achieve by stepping up to more expensive frames? Is it only weight savings, or do you get other improvements, such as better handling and increased stiffness? Are those characteristics noticeable enough to the experienced road cyclist?
Among all frames no matter what they are made of you'll find differences. The more experienced and more cycling fit you are the more you might start discerning these sometimes minute differences when you ride them.

Carbon frames aren't high dollar any more. They are getting pushed down into the lower price tiers too as even more higher tech carbon fabric and higher tech fabrication is being brought into the picture. Your top dollar carbon framed bikes aren't always the same carbon frame in the lesser component tier of the same model bike.

You don't need them though. If you like what you ride, then ride it. You only really need it if you must be the best possible. Or you finally get to the level of experience and cycling fitness that you now realize what your current frame can't do for you.

Last edited by Iride01; 09-13-20 at 04:35 PM.
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Old 09-13-20, 04:37 PM
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If you're comfortable on your CAAD12, there's not much to gain by going to something else. A CAAD is a great handling bike and reasonably light, too. Of course, they are quite stiff, if that's what you're looking for.
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Old 09-13-20, 04:41 PM
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Indeed. Walmart now has sub $500 complete CF bikes (MTB at the moment anyway) on offer. The material itself is not inherently necessarily exotic, rare, nor better than any other.
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Old 09-13-20, 04:56 PM
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You can buy the world's greatest frameset from 5 years ago for 20 cents on the dollar. Components hold value much better.
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Old 09-13-20, 05:08 PM
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its the law of diminishing returns
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Old 09-13-20, 05:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
So I'm curious what higher-end frames offer the cyclist. I have a CAAD12 and love the bike. It weights 17.5 pounds without pedals and with stock wheels (which I changed).

Higher end frames from manufacturers such as Cervello and Specialized cost $4k and up. Controlling for the fact that those frames are carbon and mine is aluminum, what benefits do you achieve by stepping up to more expensive frames? Is it only weight savings, or do you get other improvements, such as better handling and increased stiffness? Are those characteristics noticeable enough to the experienced road cyclist?
My Trek Emonda and Colnago CLX 3.0 are about 17 lbs without flat pack and water bottle. That's about 1 1/2 lbs more. I weigh 190 lbs though I'm afraid to check that after a week hiding from the ashfall here in the bay area. I have a Lemond Zurich Reynolds 853 steel bike that weighs 21 lbs without bottle and seatpack. This means that the difference between my all up weight is only 2%. So quite astonishingly the difference in riding weight is less than 2% and the Lemond handles better under all circumstances. Not that the other two handle bad. But older steel bikes were often heavy and WAY flexible So I wouldn't say there is no difference between a top brand name steel bike of the 90's and a new carbon fiber bike, but a Waterford "Racing" will weigh pretty close to a Trek Madone or Specialized Tarmac and handle about the same and break up into little pieces pretty much the same (or rather the steel bike will be bent into the same uselessness as a carbon fiber will break under the same sorts of loads.) In short, you do get better performance from the newer more expensive bikes.
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Old 09-13-20, 05:42 PM
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Weight is only one advantage, it's definitely not the case that the weight savings are very significant unless you spend a lot more. There's a rumor that S-Works top-of-the line frames are the same as Specialized's lower tier frames but happen to weigh less when out of the factory -- kind of like how Intel would sell identical computer chips at different prices based on how overclocked they could safely get them. One can actually pay thousands less and get a lighter frame if they picked a lighter paint!

Aerodynamics and compliance are two other factors that some riders may discern. If you buy from an LBS, you can also expect better service and support (or you picked the wrong LBS). All those reasons plus cachet plus companies knowing that there are people who are willing to pay at the pointy end of the price spectrum means high-end prices are inflated.

Objectively that added price probably isn't worth it from a measurable standpoint, but a big part of cycling is enjoying your ride and that is pretty subjective.
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Old 09-13-20, 05:53 PM
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Experiences will vary. Get one and find out.
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Old 09-13-20, 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by surak View Post
There's a rumor that S-Works top-of-the line frames are the same as Specialized's lower tier frames but happen to weigh less when out of the factory
Not really true.

They use different carbon fiber, a different layup and different curing. So while the geometry is the same the frames are very different.

Most of the weight savings is that higher cost frames use a aerospace carbon fiber that's stronger so you can use less of it.There are places my bike that if you press your thumb it can see it flex. On the lower lever it's hard like a rock. If you tap on the frames the higher sound thinner.

Bottom line, if you can't tell the difference... buy the cheaper bike.
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Old 09-13-20, 06:09 PM
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Depending on the manufacturer, the more expensive frame might get you a better warranty and customer service.
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Old 09-13-20, 06:38 PM
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"They use different carbon fiber, a different layup and different curing. So while the geometry is the same the frames are very different." HA HA HA!!!
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Old 09-13-20, 07:32 PM
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Originally Posted by GlennR View Post
Not really true.

They use different carbon fiber, a different layup and different curing. So while the geometry is the same the frames are very different.

Most of the weight savings is that higher cost frames use a aerospace carbon fiber that's stronger so you can use less of it.There are places my bike that if you press your thumb it can see it flex. On the lower lever it's hard like a rock. If you tap on the frames the higher sound thinner.

Bottom line, if you can't tell the difference... buy the cheaper bike.
Originally Posted by sced View Post
"They use different carbon fiber, a different layup and different curing. So while the geometry is the same the frames are very different." HA HA HA!!!
@sced : That's quite an articulate response. I haven't heard such a witty and intelligent rebuttal since I last saw my ex-wife.

Not really sure what you are getting at. Do you think that there is no difference in the cf used in Specialized frames at different price points? If so, you are incorrect.

If you simply think the differences are not significant, well, you're entitled to your opinion. Glenn didn't really seem to be arguing that point, anyway.
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Old 09-13-20, 07:45 PM
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Old 09-13-20, 10:54 PM
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Originally Posted by GlennR View Post
Not really true.

They use different carbon fiber, a different layup and different curing. So while the geometry is the same the frames are very different.
How does "different carbon fiber, a different layup and different curing" change the riding experience?
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Old 09-13-20, 11:06 PM
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I know that the OP means well, but really, we can't answer the questions he's asking. Not really. As others here have said, if you can't tell the difference, then save your money and don't buy one. Simply adjectives ("stiffness") don't mean much to an inexperienced rider. And an experienced rider knows because she has ridden high end bikes and has experienced the difference.

I spent several years riding an alloy framed road bike, telling myself that the marginal gains of a more expensive CF bike wouldn't make much of a difference to a rider of my ability and expectations. Then I test rode some and bought a high end bike and the difference for me was vast. Again, don't ask me to specify adjectives - they'll just be misunderstood.

Shorter: Don't ask us, go test ride one and find out for yourself. Our experience means squat to you - go get your own. If you don't find much of a differrence, then the CAAD is still a very nice bike.

nuf said.
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