Carbon vs Steel vs Ti, custom vs off the shelf

Following on from the discussion about carbon in the Dura Ace cranks thread, I’m genuinely interested in hearing what have to share in regards to their experiences.

Last week I totalled my steel Hillbrick. I dearly loved this bike. It was the first decent bike I bought and it has seen me through a lot of blood sweat and tears since march last year. The frame was second hand and had already done a lot of kms before me. Principally I ride with Audax. These means anywhere up to 90 hour rides. Obviously for this a bike needs to be as perfect for you as possible as it’s not just a morning cruise down beach rd.

My initial reaction was for a custom steel frame. Good steel (like 853) has many great properties such as high strength to weight ratio, reasonable damping, suitable flex etc. All of which are necessary to carry you across the finish line. I sent out an email to the Audax list and there was overwhelming support for carbon (and a fair bit for Ti as well). I had previously dismissed carbon as not being suitable in a few ways (durability, lack of longer wheelbase frames etc) and that a custom steel jobbie would always be better than an off the shelf carbon frame. apparently not.

The consensus seems to be that for Audax rides, carbon and Ti are perfect (not that steel isn’t) but for any sort of touring, steel is best (rock solid, repairable, ability to mount racks etc). My experience of carbon frames is extremely limited. The entirety of it is really based on taking a friend’s Giant OCR Comp frame for a few laps of a car park. But from that limited experience I could instantly feel that the bike was lighter and more responsive (to pedaling) and a lot smoother over the rough asphalt. I could certainly see the merit in it.

I’d never really considered Ti and don’t really know all that much about it’s properties to be honest.

I’m now torn between carbon, steel and titanium. I really have no idea which road to take.

My more recent concern was with the geometry of carbon frames. I’ve been looking at the roubaix and the OCR comp because of their longer wheel base and more relaxed geometry. The problem for me now is that I had a look at the results of my bike fit with John Beasley and he is saying 54cm ST, 52cm TT. The OCR and Roubaix have about a 57cm TT which seems huge. From what I can tell, the Hillbrick has a 55cm TT so an extra 2cm on top of that doesn’t seem outrageous. I really have very little idea about the effect of these things but am aware that 5mm to the height of a saddle can make a HUGE difference. Columbus also make carbon tubesets so there is also the possibility of custom carbon. I really have no idea which route to take and would greatly value some input.

To sum it all up:
I need a new frame that needs to be comfortable over very long distances.
I’m prepared to spend decent money on it because it’s something I use a lot and I love doing it. Ultimately I want the most suitable frame I can get (without taking out a mortgage for it).


short short answer is “custom steel”, with a but.
longer answer is “custom carbon”, with an if.

short steel.
custom steel is my prefered frame for most things for all the usual reasons that people love steel, and adding because a custom steel frame will cost about a 1/5 of a custom carbon.
you can get a reputable frame builder to work in concert with your bike fitter and get the exact geo you want/need.
you can have any and all the fittings you like added.
tube sets are readily available and the technology for them is totally proven.
you can ask here or any cycling forum for a list of good, solid builders, and find one you like.
it will still be a steel frame.

longer answer for carbon.
actually, fuck it, i’m not doing a longer answer.
custom carbon is expensive, chancy, you have a limited selection of tube sets, and a VERY limited choice of builders.
and i’m not as big a fan of carbon for touring/distance as i could be simply because of the durability issues i see every day.
don’t ever lean a carbon frame against a post.
you can overcome all these then carbon becomes a possibility.

as for ti, only used it once, wasn’t as impressed as i could have been. for the money, you’d want to be more than just reasonably serious.

depending on the cash, custom steel frames are pretty exy in oz… cheap in the UK. If I could afford anything for fast long rides, I’d go for a custom Calfee, mainly cos theyre lugs are so nice and they seem to have thought of everything… But I wonder if the people saying carbon frames are great for audax (and I saw quite a few OCR carbons at Seymour) havent had a custom steel frame before? I guess you can get the same position fiddling with bars stem and post on an off the rack carbon bike but then bikes are more to most of us than a “position” in which we generate power… we like to look at em, talk about em tinker with em. Then you can talk about Ti too, and I think the main reason I’d pay extra for Ti would be the idea of it never corroding, but how many of our bikes, that we love and care for, actually corrode anyway? arent the unloved bikes the ones that get left beside the house to rot?

Get a Jackson or Mercian! If you can wait a few months, I reckon it’ll be worth it.

Custom Carbon will soon be possible through another Australian builder. He use to work for Teschner, so he knows his stuff. At the moment they’re looking like they’ll be just shy of $4000!!

Despite that, I’d steer clear of carbon for things like audax/touring. The possibility of damage is too high. With the extra stresses that panniers etc put on the frame, and chance of scratching the carbon loading and removing them would rule them out in my book. I know a guy who’s bike slipped out of his hand as he was heading off for a ride, hit a gutter the wrong way and cracked the top through. Not exactly and ideal situation midway through a PBP. Steel or Ti would have dented at worst.

My ideal choice would be custom Ti, if built right it would be as stiff as any carbon frame. But from my understanding of Audax riding, comfort and practicallity are more important. If you have a look at Seven at the moment, they’re cheap as chips with the current exchange rate. Send an email to for a quote on one. From what I know we are the cheapest importer of them in Australia (we’ve sold 6 inthe last couple of months, and boy are they a pleasure to build up). Baum is prolly your other option for custom Ti if you wanted to go Australian, but for the same specced frame they are more expensive than the Sevens at the moment.

My realistic choice (cause I’m still a broke uni student) would be custom steel. They’re cheap, durable, and should you ever manage to break it, it could be repaired without the massive pain in the arse of Ti or Carbon. You’d pay a small weight penalty for Steel vs Ti, but when you’re carrying 5-10kg’s of gear what’s another 200-300g in frame weight? The ride of Ti and Steel can be made to feel pretty much the same if built well.

So there’s my 2c!


If the last Hillbrick was good, why not another?

just what I was thinking
It sounds like your second hand hillbrick gave you years of happy service. A new, properly fitted stell frame should be even better.

Ti will give you a slightly softer ride, put 28mm tires on instead of 25mm and you have overcome that one at no extra cost.
Ti and carbon will be slightly lighter, put half the $ you save into better but lighter components. You’ll achieve the same total weight with a bike that runs better and has the maintainability and longevity that TI and carbon don’t have.

Custom is good but don’t underestimate what you can get off the rack, Seven has been mentioned, IF have a good rep and there are lots more.

However…I am totally biased, I only ride steel, but, i only want to ride steel.

I was like that.

Then I did the silly thing of taking a BT for a pedal round the track the other day. I wouldn’t have gone faster than 15kms an hour, but I could feel why this bike was better than my Steel OZ! A pure racing machine!

i think that all too often we as a group (cyclists) look to closely at how much a frame weighs, and not enough at what we actually need it to do.
super light weight is great if you have a chase car with a spare bike on the roof.
carbon is a fantastic material, and builds the best racing frames, but you better hope you never bin in just the wrong way.
i watched a guy have his shiny new cervelo slip out of his hand in the shop last week. it fell sideways all of 2 feet and hit the metal rack we have the bikes on. i heard the top tube crack across the shop and the look on his face was that of an unhappy camper. sure enough, split top tube. no warranty, no ones fault, but no frame to ride home that night either.
and he’s a hack fat weekend rider. not a racer or cross trainer.
and all of this is one of the reasons that giant is moving away from full carbon frames in the mid range roadies. it’s not worth it for them, or for the people buying them.
the weight you gain (and be honest, will you ever actually notice it? really?) improves the frames usefulness and durability 100%.

as for BT, and other companies like them, they make specialized racing frames for a very specialized market. want to get the best out of your track racing? get a BT. but are you actually good enough to get the best out of it? or would you be better spending 1/3 as much on a good frame, and getting good components that you will get the best out of.
same argument i have with dura ace vs ultegra. very few pepole will EVER get the best out of dura ace or XTR groupsets.
this is problem i have with selling TCR advanced roadies to commuters… sometimes i hate people.

Do have an arse and thighs that can flex a BT? Or would you be better off with a great set of wheels?

I wished when I was rowing there was more competition between boat manufacturers. The single scull equivalent of the BT set me back 10K in 1998 and there really weren’t any other options worth thinking of then - there still isn’t in Australia. However, if you were racing at the elite level, you needed the same equipment as everyone else. That brings me back to BT flexing thighs. If you have them you probably need one!!

But now, track racing there are plenty of great frames for under half the cost and the rest can go into some super slick wheels! Does anyone know if there is an australian importer for Planet X frames and wheels (UK manufacturer)


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Have a roll on mine next time you see me, Lupine - I’ll be interested what you think. I’ve picked up four secondhand Ti frames over the years for fair/cheap prices (US eBay is a good source) and they are lovely. Because it lasts forever, 2nd hand is fine.

So I’m not sure that I’m any closer to deciding what I want. After the horror stories about carbon here, I think steel is the way to go. Or bamboo. Custom Calfee bamboo babies are about USD$3000. TOO MANY DECISIONS. I never thought that bikes could cause me so much anxiety.

I haven’t done any decent riding since I got back from France due to my achilles. Now I’m too scared to jump on my fixie for fear of antagonising it further. Not sure what a suitable gear ratio would be but also if my spider is salvageable or whether I should get proper track cranks so I can run a 1/8th ring. My shoulder is still pretty sore and my roadie is stuffed. Sore shoulder prohibits me from MTBing atm. This lack of riding is really having a detrimental effect on every aspect of my life. Who knew that withdrawal could be so painful. I’m surprised I’m not having cold sweats.