Aluminum Is Making Bikes Affordable Again
Two new models from Specialized and Cannondale prove that you don’t have to spend a fortune on carbon fiber to get a top-performing road bike
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Yes, bikes these days are expensive. But advances in aluminum technology are thankfully bringing high-end bikes back down to a more affordable realm. And more importantly, there’s very little performance compromise.
A month ago at its annual media camp, Specialized unveiled the Allez Sprint X2, a race-worthy bike that’s stiff, efficient, and blazingly fast, thanks to wind-tunnel optimization. This bike is quicker in the wind than the company’s first-gen Venge, and stiffer in the head tube and bottom bracket than the previous iteration of the Tarmac—and it will sell for as little as $2,500. Even weight isn’t really a trade-off, with the Allez Sprint tipping the scales at 1,150 grams versus the Venge at 1,100.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but those stats make this bike a Pro Tour-caliber machine at around a quarter of the cost. “When I started riding in the ‘70s, I could afford to buy a top level race bike. But that’s not the case anymore,” says Chuck Teixeira, the senior advanced engineer in charge of developing the X2. “So it’s pretty big that we are building a race-ready machine that people can actually afford.” He says that for riders on a budget, the Allez Sprint is a better option than a comparably priced Tarmac because the carbon layup in that bike will be heavy and slower in the wind.
And none of the gains come at the expense of comfort, which has always been the primary criticism of aluminum. Fifteen years ago, aluminum bikes were so rigid they were harsh. But the Allez Sprint is said to be as vertically compliant as the previous iteration of the Allez. At the launch, we logged 100 miles in a single day on the new bike, and not one of the eight riders in our group complained that the bike was too stiff or jarring. “In a blind test, there’s no way I could tell that this isn’t carbon,” said one of the editors at the event.
We’ve continued to test the bike in the month since the launch, and it has quickly become our go-to daily ride, both for its’ quick handling and sprightly ride, as well as for the durability. Alloy, unlike carbon fiber, can’t be easily chipped, scratched, or broken, which is part of why the Allez Sprint will be popular with crit racers. We like the way it puts up with the inevitable dings and jostling that life throws at it. Even with the stock Axis 2.0 wheels, it’s surprisingly snappy. And since it’s so much less expensive than comparably performing carbon bikes, you could potentially upgrade to lighter wheels sooner.
In addition to what Specialized is doing, Cannondale is also making strides in alloy construction. That company unveiled the CAAD12 this year that also puts its aluminum bikes right alongside the carbon models in performance. This bike doesn’t have the aero benefits of the Allez Sprint, but it gets the advantage of disc brake-enabled models.
We’ve been riding and loving the previous generation CAAD10 since it released, and the CAAD12 is noticeably crisper, lighter, and stiffer for pedaling and steering efficiency. Rim brake versions are available, but now that hydraulic discs have come to the road (and are moving toward UCI approval) we feel the only real option is one of the three disc models. Testers have been fighting over our test bike and vowing to never own a road machine with rim brakes again.
At the moment, the Specialized Allez Sprint X2 is only available in one build, a blinged-out special edition model for $4,000, but the X1 (with 1×11 drivetrains) can be had for cheaper, and the less expensive X2 models will hit the market later this summer. The Cannondale CAAD12 comes in three disc specs, Dura Ace for $4,260, Ultegra for $2,660, and 105 for $1,950. The latter might just be the best deal going in a race-ready machine.