Bike Frame Materials: Getting the Best Value for Your Money


The cost of a bike frame can vary greatly depending on the material used. The most expensive bike frames are not always the best bike frames, however, the more expensive frames do offer features that cheaper frames do not have. In contrast to the more expensive options, the cheapest bike frame materials usually come from mass-produced bikes and are made from tubing such as steel. These bikes are inexpensive but lack some of the performance benefits that a better-quality bike frame material can offer.

Titanium is the most expensive bike frame material for most cyclists. However, in some niche cases, such as for professional road cyclists, carbon fibre can be more expensive. Steel and aluminium are commonly available and have the cheapest cost per kilogram and so make the cheapest frames.

We’ll take a further look into the most expensive and cheapest bike frames to understand what makes them pricey or not.

Why do some bike frame materials cost more than others?

A picture of metal materials used to make bikes

The cost of raw materials is one of the main factors in the cost of a bike frame. For example, carbon fibre can cost up to 100 times more than steel per kilogram. We’ll look more closely into comparing the cost of the individual materials later. 

The supply chain can also be a factor in the cost of different materials. For example, certain frames made by small manufacturers who sell directly to consumers can cut out the middleman and thus can save on production costs. Other frames such as carbon fibre frames are generally manufactured by larger companies with more complex supply chains that drive up prices. On the other hand, these larger supply chains can lead to economies of scale that can reduce the price of materials through mass production techniques.

High demand for a material can also drive prices up. For example, carbon fibre is used in multiple industries from aerospace to sporting goods, so it tends to be high in demand and therefore expensive. 

Finally, fewer companies produce bikes made with higher-end materials such as carbon fibre and titanium, which results in higher production costs for the companies producing the bikes but also allows them to charge a higher markup on these types of bike frames. 

What is the most expensive bike frame material per kilogram

A picture of the cost of the common materials used to make bikes per kilogram
A chart showing the cost of different costs of materials per kilogram in dollars from “Carbon Composite are becoming competitive and cost-effective” – Shama Rao N.

As you can see from the chart, the most expensive materials for bike frames are titanium alloys as well as carbon fibre, coming in at $45 and $28 per kilogram each.

If we consider that the lightest carbon fibre bike frame available at the moment is 700g and the lowest weight titanium bike frame is 1150g, we can work out that the lightest carbon fibre bike will set you back £20 in raw carbon fibre materials whereas the lightest bike will cost us £50 in raw materials.

What is the most expensive bike frame to produce? 

A picture of a bike factory making a bike

While we can see from the chart that the raw cost of titanium is the most expensive, this does not take into account the cost of the manufacturing process. While the cost of raw materials for a carbon fibre frame may only be $20, the actual cost of building a carbon fibre bike frame is closer to $300 once you take into account other costs such as labour, overheads, packaging, painting, etc – The actual cost of the raw materials is much less than the final cost of producing a bike frame.

As we cannot be sure that the manufacturing costs associated with titanium and carbon fibre will be the same, the best way to find the most expensive bike frame material is to find the cheapest bikes of each type being sold by bike manufacturers. By looking at the cheapest bike of each type available, especially from the same manufacturer, we can get a better idea of the total production cost for both titanium and aluminium frames (presuming companies have similar markups on both bike frames). 

We looked at the Ribble website, one of the largest bike companies in the UK, and one that sells bikes directly to customers,  this allows for a better approximation of price, as there is no extra markup cost that needs to be paid to bike shops. 

When looking at the Ribble website the cheapest carbon fibre bike is the Ribble R872 which comes in at £1299 whereas the cheapest titanium bike was the Ribble Gravel Ti Apex which cost £2299.

As you can see, the titanium bike was much more expensive than the cheapest carbon fibre bike available, and this result was replicated when we compared prices across all the major bike manufacturers in the UK and USA. Titanium costs the most per kilogram, and frames made of titanium cost the most to buy from bike manufacturers. We can confidently say that for the average person, a titanium bike will be the most expensive bike frame material.

Why are titanium bikes the most expensive?

A picture of a titanium bike

Apart from the general reasons we covered above, there are a few key reasons why titanium is the most expensive of all bike frame materials.

Firstly, we’ve already established that titanium costs more per kilogram than any of the other options for bike frames (unless you are looking at the most expensive form forms of carbon fibre). The cost of the raw materials has a big impact on the final cost of the frame. Not only does titanium cost more, but it also weighs more, so a higher mass of titanium is required for each bike frame when compared to other bike materials such as carbon fibre. 

Not only does the titanium itself cost a lot, but due to its hardness, it also requires specific sharp tools to cut the titanium into the correct shape, and these tools have a short lifespan. The higher upfront cost of these tools paired with the increased rate at which they need to be replaced adds to the overall frame price.

Welding also takes longer on titanium bikes, this is because special methods (such as pumping certain gases around the titanium frame while it is being welded) have to be used to ensure the metal does not become brittle during this part of the manufacturing process.

What material are the most expensive bikes made from?

A picture of bike racers riding expensive racing roads bikes.

We’ve now established that for the average cyclist, titanium frames are likely to cost more. However, when it comes to the most expensive bike frames possible, carbon fibre options make up almost all of the most expensive bikes out there. This is because the most lucrative and expensive areas of cycling are road or endurance cycling. In both of these cycling disciplines, carbon fibre is seen as the best option available, and so while titanium costs more for the average person, in these subsections of cycling, the bikes cost much more.

This increased price is due to a combination of factors, including increased research and development costs and the use of the highest quality carbon fibre materials to make the frame  (like those used in the aerospace industry). It is not uncommon for carbon fibre racing bikes to cost over $10,000, with some ranging up to $40,000 in extreme cases.

What are the cheapest bike frame materials?

A picture of a girl riding a cheap bike.

The cheapest bike frames are steel and aluminium. Steel bike frames used to be the most popular bike frames available however in the last 10-20 years aluminium has overtaken steel.

Steel and aluminium bikes are the cheapest bike frame materials as they are readily available and have the lowest price per kilogram of any of the materials used to make bike frames.

Not only this, but as these bikes are so commonly available, many different bike manufacturers make bikes of steel or aluminium, and the higher supply of these bikes helps to drive the price down.

Finally, these bike materials are often used to make beginner or introductory bikes, and as such, the cost of these items is purposely low.

Overall

We’ve looked at the common types of bike frame material and found that titanium is the most expensive for the average cyclist, however, in extreme cases such as for professional road cyclists, carbon fibre options are the most expensive. When it comes to the cheapest options, Aluminium, and Steel are by far the cheapest frames, given how readily available the materials are, and how cheap both steel and aluminium are per kilogram.

Joe Dalloz

Hi! I'm Joe a 30-year-old doctor, cyclist, and bikepacker who's spent thousands of hours in the saddle and written hundreds of articles about riding bikes!

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