With the widespread use of carbon, some dismiss aluminium as only good enough for entry-level road bikes. However, just like you can make a doughy carbon fibre frame, with the right tubing and hydroforming techniques, you can make a sharp riding yet comfortable alloy frame. In fact, we're even seeing a resurgence in custom aluminium bike brands like those from Bond.
Every frame material does have distinct ride characteristics, and while aluminium frames can be light and stiff, they don't dampen vibrations quite as well as carbon fibre. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because some feedback gives you a better idea of what's happening beneath your tyres, but it's a fine line.
Aluminium is also considerably cheaper to manufacture than carbon, and you can pick up a high-end alloy bike with top-notch components for nearly half the price of a carbon equivalent.
What to look for in an aluminium road bike
The subcategories of drop-bar road bikes are ever-expanding and aluminium is the go-to material for the entry-level price point, so, to avoid an endless list of aluminium bikes covering race, sportive, gravel, cyclocross, all-rounders and more, we've limited this best aluminium bikes guide to alloy bikes to cover race and endurance bikes. With any road bike, geometry will be a significant role not only in the way a bike rides but also how comfortable you may be when riding it.
Race bikes will generally have a lower stack with a longer reach to facilitate sharp handling and an aerodynamic position. Endurance bikes, on the other hand, are more upright with slacker angles, a shorter reach and more stack. Quite often the handling will be a bit more relaxed, by virtue of a longer wheelbase which also increases stability.
As we mentioned, alloy isn't all that efficient at dampening road buzz, so to combat this, most aluminium bikes will come with a carbon fork. The fork on cheaper alloy bikes will have a metal steerer and carbon legs while higher-end models get a full carbon fork.
Aluminium bikes are available with both rim and disc brakes. Road racing has been slow on the uptake of disc brakes, in part because of tradition, but also technical challenges like various axle, hub and rotor size standards.
There is nothing inherently wrong with rim brakes, but disc brakes have been utilised in every other area of cycling for years because they offer superior braking performance, plain and simple. Not only does a disc provide better power and modulation in dry, wet and dusty conditions, but the lack of a caliper also allows for fatter tyres. Disc brakes are a few grams heavier than rim calipers but they allow for lighter rims because there is no need for a brake track.
The majority of road bikes on the market come in disc and rim versions. However, unless your basement looks like that of a pro mechanic from Team Ineos, with Lightweights hanging from the rafters, you'll likely be better served by discs.
There are a few different alloys used in Aluminium bikes, with 6061 and 7005 being the most common. Pure aluminium isn't strong enough to be used in bike frames and is mixed with other materials like magnesium, silicon and zinc. Of the two, 6061 is considered to be slightly superior because it's a touch lighter and easier to work with. For the consumer, it's unlikely you will be able to tell the difference in a finished product.
The tubes throughout a frame will be butted, meaning the wall thickness will vary - more material will be used at the joints to increase stiffness, while thinner areas at the less-stressed tube centres help to save weight. In aluminium frames, we often see double and triple-butted tubing. As techniques have improved, manufacturers can now manipulate tube shapes to tune stiffness and aerodynamics through hydroforming.
Best Aluminium bikes you can buy today
Cannondale CAAD13 Force Etap
The gold standard in aluminium bikes
Price: £4,800 / $5,750 / AU$7,499 | Brakes: Rim, disc | Frame sizes: 44-62
Cannondale's CAAD frames have long been considered the gold standard in aluminium race bikes, and the latest iteration the CAAD13 builds on that legacy.
The geometry matches the new SuperSix Evo, and the CAAD13 retains the light steering and crisp response to pedal input. Dropped chainstays and a D-shaped seat-post greatly improve comfort, and Cannondale has used hydroforming to incorporated truncated aerofoils to help the frame slice through the wind.
The American outfit is offering the new CAAD13 in both rim and disc versions, with the latter featuring Mavic's Speed Release thru-axle dropouts. Shod with a Force eTap AXS drivetrain the bike also comes with a full carbon fork, KNOT HollowGram45 carbon and wheels fender mounts galore.
Trek Emonda ALR 5
Aluminium bikes don't have to be uncomfortable
Price: £1,750 / $2,000 / AU$2,500 | Brakes: Disc | Frame sizes: 47-62
When you think Emonda, the first thing that comes to mind is the feathery light carbon frame that even gets lightweight paint in the name of shaving grams. While the ALR version is pudgier than its carbon companion, the bike is no slouch when it comes to performance.
With its lustrous purple paint job, Trek hydroforms its tubing into complex shapes which fit together like puzzle pieces so less material is needed to weld them together. The welds are so clean in fact that you could easily mistake this Emonda for the carbon version.
The Emonda ALR is one of those bikes that show alloy bikes don't have to be uncomfortable, and for the price, the performance is hard to beat. We just wish Trek would offer it in its H1 race geometry.
Giant Contend SL 1
Simple, yet effective mile muncher
Price: £999 / $960 / AU$1,099 | Brakes: Rim, disc | Frame sizes: S-XL
Giant has scaled back its alloy offerings, yet the Contend is one of the few survivors. Categorised as an 'all-rounder' the Contend occupies the entry-level of Giant's drop bar range.
With an upright geometry, Giant has used some of its manufacturing wizardry, and the D-Fuse seat post to produce a surprisingly compliant frame. It's not a race bike, but the compact rear end gives it a snappy engaging feel, while the handling is manageable, even for inexperienced riders. With plenty of rack and fender mounts, the Content could serve as both a commuter and weekend rider.
All 2020 Contend models come with a full carbon fork and tapered steerer tube. The Contend SL1 is decidedly the on-road focussed model, specced with a Shimano 105 chainset comprised of a semi-compact chainset and 11-30 cassette. For 2020, if you're looking to head off the beaten path, the Contend AR has joined Giant's aluminium range complete with 32c tyres and a wider ratio of gears.
Canyon Endurance AL
High performance to price ratio
Price: £1,349 / $1,699 / AU$2,199 | Brakes: Rim, disc | Frame sizes: 2XS-2XL
By selling direct to the consumer, Canyon can offer prices that other brands struggle to match without sacrificing an ounce of quality. With a full Shimano 105 drivetrain and hydraulic brakes if you opt for discs, the Endurace rolls on Mavic Aksium Elite UST, with Canyon providing the rest of the finishing kit.
The Endurace features steep head and seat angles, however, the stack and reach plant the rider in a neutral riding position; making for a roadie that's agile and responsive, but won't leave your lower back and neck requiring attention from a physio.
The disc version has ample room for fat tyres, and the lack of a brake bridge also allows the chainstays to flex more freely. Both versions are noticeably devoid of fender mounts, so it might not slot in well if you live in a wet climate.
Specialized Allez Sprint
The budget friendly race bike with criteriums at its heart
Price: £1,900 / $2,200 / AU$3,000 | Brakes: Rim, disc | Frame sizes: 49-61
The Specialized Allez Sprint is a high-speed cornering, criterium racing weapon. With aerodynamic D'Alusio Smartweld tubing, the sprint is supremely stiff in every way, and no watt or steering input is sacrificed to flex. This also means you can articulate granular details about the road surface based solely on the vibrations coming up through the saddle.
The frame stack is 10mm lower than the Tarmac, putting plenty of weight on the front wheel and creating steering characteristics akin to a laser-guided missile. Using D'Aluisio Smartweld tech throughout the frame, weld points are moved away from high-stress areas like the bottom bracket, requiring less material for the same amount of rigidity and strength.
Specialized only offer the Allez Sprint at the Comp level in a complete bike in rim and disc versions, both sporting Shimano 105 drivetrains and Praxis Zayante cranks and get a FACT full carbon fork.
Rose Pro SL Disc
Exciting ride and quality kit on the cheap
Price: £1630 / $TBC / AU$TBC | Brakes: Rim, disc | Frame sizes: 45-64
Another consumer-direct brand, Rose, offers serious value for money with the Pro SL Disc. The frame itself is made from 7005 T6 alloy, and features triple-butted, hydroformed tubing throughout. The brake-bridge-free lowered seat stays afford the tubing oodles of vertical flex, while the carbon fork at the front does well to eat up vibration coming through the bars.
Labelled as a marathon bike, the Rose Pro SL disc offers steep angles and a relatively compact rear end for precise steering, while a few mm of stack are added in the front to relieve the pressure on your lower back and neck.
For the money, you get a full Shimano Ultegra drivetrain, DT Swiss P1800 Spline wheels and Ritchey finishing kit.
Mason Definition 2
High-quality frame from a small UK builder
Price: £3000 / $TBC / AU$TBC | Brakes: Disc | Frame sizes: 50-62
Small UK frame builder Mason has been making waves for a few years now, offering high-quality frames with all-round geometries that don't require you to remortgage your home.
For the second generation of the Definition, Mason updated the frame to take 12mm thru-axles and flat mount disc brake calipers. This involved a complete redesign of the rear end for a new dropout that didn't add weight or change the ride quality. The frame itself is made from Dedacciai alloy tubing and is finished with the brand's Aperture 2 carbon fork.
Available in a range of 1x and 2x drivetrains, each Definition comes with Hunt 4Season V2 Disc wheels a Deda cockpit and Fabric saddle.