Carbon vs Aluminium wheels: Which is faster?

Are carbon wheels or aluminium wheels faster?  

We spent a day at the Forest of Dean to do some timed runs to find out.

We picked a 2 minute track with a good mix of smooth and rough, roots and turns.  It wasn't too steep or technical and there was one main line that could be ridden consistently all day. 

The test bike of choice was the Starling Cycles 29” Murmur. We used that for all runs and only the wheels changed. The wheels were picked to be as similar as possible, except for rim material. Most crucially, the tyres, tyre pressure, gearing and brake rotors were brand new and identical on both sets of wheels.

At this point it’s probably worth thanking; Sixth Element, Paligap, Zyro Fisher for supply of parts, as well as Pedal Progression for a lend of the timing poles!  

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Admittedly, it would not stand up as a rigorous scientific test if peer reviewed, but a good test.

And if there’s real difference, it’d show up in the times?

So you’ve probably all watched the video by now and know the results.  Here they are in tabular form for those who like that kind of thing.  

Personally I love a good spreadsheet as all my ex–aerospace colleagues will attest to!

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The first run was slow as I was getting up to speed.  The last run was super fast and seems to be a bit of an anomaly; perhaps I need to work out what happened and my racing might get better!

All the other times were very consistent between 1:55 and 1:58. 

So, I’d argue there’s no quantifiable time difference between wheels.  But there was a difference in feel and it was very apparent during the back to back testing  Smoother/compliant but a little dead with ally wheels.  Stiffer, less grip but more lively with carbon wheels.  

So carbon or ally; I’d happily rider either.  As long as it’s a steel frame!

What does this mean? It means that I'll happily supply carbon or alloy wheels with my frames. I'll make both options available in the near future and you guys can decide what fits your budget and your riding style.

Remember, if you want to order a Starling Frame we're running a lottery now. You can learn more here.