The high-end aluminium option

Does aluminium still have a place in a market dominated by carbon?

It has been nearly 20 years since Marco Pantani became the last man to win the Tour de France on an aluminium bike (a Bianchi Mega Pro XL) and since then the peloton, along with the consumer market, has come to be dominated by carbon fibre.

There are four main frame materials of choice but it's aluminium that has unfairly been relegated to the cheaper end of the road bike market because it's easy to mass produce cheaply. Titanium and steel remain expensive materials to work and don't lend themselves to mass production, while carbon fibre, once extremely expensive when it was new and exciting, has become a lot more affordable over the years.

But there are many good reasons for making a high-end frame from aluminium and in the two decades since Pantani's victory, a number of bicycle manufacturers have been keeping the aluminium flame alive. Despite investing millions in carbon fibre development and manufacturing, they've continued to develop aluminium, pushing it ever closer to its limit.

That means you can buy an aluminium frame that's nearly as light (in some cases lighter) as many carbon frames, provides an excellent strength to weight ratio, has more compliance than you'd expect and it's a heck of a lot cheaper. It's notable that carbon has become a lot more affordable but the frame still commands a large part of the price tag in an off-the-shelf build, and that's where aluminium provides a good alternative.

Aluminium frames are also tough, making them ideal for racing. Carbon may be strong but it is brittle and can fail under the right circumstances. Aluminium will dent or bend long before it fails. And don't believe the line about aluminium frames being harsh and uncomfortable to ride. The latest aluminium developments have made big progress in the comfort department.

Cannondale CAAD12

We're proud to offer the Cannondale CAAD12, the American company's latest in a long line of aluminium race bikes. Cannondale made its mark in the cycling world with aluminium, with massive oversized tubes standing out against a backdrop of skinny steel frames when it was first launched in the early 1980s.

Cannondale has continued to be an aluminium pioneer, and the result of its constant drive for performance improvements has resulted in the latest generation CAAD12 weighing just 1,098g for a size 56cm. Computer simulation has helped to shape the tube profiles and resulted in increased stiffness over the older CAAD10, and it shares features with the SuperSix Evo from the BB30a bottom bracket to the skinny 25.4mm seatpost, the latter to help narrow the comfort gap, as well as the proven geometry from the Evo. And if disc brakes interest you, the CAAD12 Disc is an option.

Trek Emonda ALR

Try took the cycling world by storm with its crazy light Emonda carbon race bike a few years ago, but perhaps slipping under the radar was an aluminium version of the Emonda. And boy did Trek put some engineering know-how into the Emonda ALR, with the result a 1,050g frame - that's lighter than many top-end carbon frames that cost substantially more. That makes it one of the lightest aluminium frames in the world, and a good starting point for a lightweight build without the usual associated high price tag.

Specialized Allez SmartWeld

Not to be outdone by its rivals, Specialized has invested substantial R&D clout in developing state-of-the-art aluminium frames over the last few years, and the result is one of the most distinctive bikes in this category. Specialized developed an all-new manufacturing technique called SmartWeld with a hydroformed head tube and top and down tube that creates a better interface between the different tubes. It's a patented process so you won't see it being used by any other frame manufacturers.

There's a revealing video with the team behind the SmartWeld technology here that is worth watching.

Aluminium might not match the weight and stiffness of the best carbon fibre, but the gap is closer than it has ever been before, and if the price is a factor, aluminium is definitely a material worthy of consideration.