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Apologize for the long ramble. Any feedback would be welcome.

What makes a road bike feel smooth? Is it the frame material? I'm looking for a smooth ride over a racy feel. My bike has a carbon/carbon fork/frame, my friend's a steel/steel fork/frame. I no longer like my bike. Should I be looking for a steel/steel fork/frame only? Would a nicer carbon fork paired with a steel frame be smooth enough? Carbon disk fork is likely, but I worry it might not feel as supple as I would like...

I'm using disk brakes. Does that make everything less comfortable? I'm not worried about weight so much, though I do long descents sometimes.

Tires:
I intend to continue using Compass tires in the 35 to 42mm range at 50/60 psi, so that is the only thing I will not change. Don't even try to dissuade me you old skoolers.

Background:
I have a carbon Giant Fastroad. It is way too small and has odd geo for me mainly due to getting the wrong size. It's been mad to fit, though I'm planning on getting a different bike. I have Compass 35mm tires on the stock wheels. The bike rides pretty good for the most part, and I'm using about 50/60 psi in the tires (all my friends think that's too low, but I think they are stuck in their ways).

I borrowed a friends bike which is a steel Waterford with a steel Salsa fork. He has I think 32mm Gatorskin tires and I have 60psi in them. This bike is SOOO smooth over the little bumps compared to my carbon Fastroad. What makes it feel so much different? My Fastroad hits little bumps and feels and sounds harsh and plasticy. The Waterford feel great. The Waterford is at least a few pounds heavier.
 

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It's not necessarily what i's made from, it's how it's designed and then made. The Big One Inch and Accutrax forks, both steel, renowned for being stiff, same with frames. The how, not the what...
 

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My Fastroad hits little bumps and feels and sounds harsh and plasticy.
The Giant feels harsh and plasticy because it IS built of plastic. Well, not exactly but you get the idea.

The rage word is carbon and it's touted as being better (re:faster) because it's easy to build it stiff, and everybody equates stiff with better/faster.

A frame is supposed to be like a spring and that spring can absorb some of that road buzz. But carbon fiber doesn't resonate like a spring (think: guitar string). It's essentially dead. Designed properly it can mute out the road buzz but in my experience it just feels dead and plasticy.

You already discovered the Waterford feels wonderful. And Waterford can build a bike just like you want. Buy a Waterford.
 

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Not sure but I think, yes, disk brakes do make a difference. Disk brakes put more stress on the fork so it needs to be beefed up and stiffened accordingly which I'd think could compromise how it deals with road shock and vibration.

I think steel or Ti would be your best bet if made by a competent builder who takes your weight ect into consideration (Waterford would definitely be an example). We could debate what 'could' be done with carbon but the fact is mostly that making a smooth bike as compared to what custom steel or ti can achieve isn't being done off the rack with carbon. And custom carbon gets really pricey and someone who does't care about weight gets nothing in return for the extra price.

your current tire choice is great considering what you want. Don't know your body weight but 50/60 PSI might actually be a little high for 35-42 mm tires. It's certainly not too low unless you get too many pinch flats. Try a little lower. I'm 145 pounds and use 33mm tires for cross, trails and that sort of stuff. 60 is a little to much IMO for me with 33mm tires. With you using bigger I think you could definitely go lower unless your body weight and roads would mean too many pinch flats.
 

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Like Jay says about disk brakes.

Disk brake forks are made stiffer to handle the stress produced by an axle mounted brake. Also, I think that finding a carbon fork designed for comfort is a tough call because of the "stiffness is better" rhetoric driving the market.

And as far as tire pressure, I pump my Compass Baby Shoe Pass tires to 45psi and that is on the high side. But then they're good for maybe two months before needing topping off.
 

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I agree with velodog. I think you may be using too much pressure. Unless you have very narrow rims and/or weigh over 200 , I would suggest dropping the pressure 10psi to start with.
Like Jay says about disk brakes.

Disk brake forks are made stiffer to handle the stress produced by an axle mounted brake. Also, I think that finding a carbon fork designed for comfort is a tough call because of the "stiffness is better" rhetoric driving the market.

And as far as tire pressure, I pump my Compass Baby Shoe Pass tires to 45psi and that is on the high side. But then they're good for maybe two months before needing topping off.
 

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Disk brake forks are made stiffer to handle the stress produced by an axle mounted brake. Also, I think that finding a carbon fork designed for comfort is a tough call because of the "stiffness is better" rhetoric driving the market.
What is interesting is that many of today's CroMo bikes have a carbon fork. This seems counter intuitive to me. If there were only one place I could have compliance, I would choose the front end.

Though at the end of the day, it's tires that make the most difference when it comes to compliance.
 

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What is interesting is that many of today's CroMo bikes have a carbon fork. This seems counter intuitive to me. If there were only one place I could have compliance, I would choose the front end.

Though at the end of the day, it's tires that make the most difference when it comes to compliance.
I think that carbon forks boil down to two things Like I mentioned earlier, "stiffness is better". Most of the "modern" steel bikes being made are being touted for their stiffness, not compliance. Oversized tubes, often shaped to optimize stiffness, made to work with stiff carbon forks. Also, with what little I know about frame building, it seems like making a steel fork is probably the most labor intensive part of building a steel bike. So outsource that stiff fork that everyone wants anyway.

And yes, while tires make the biggest difference, a compliant fork brings a lot to the table. I've got an old Miyata that I used to ride a bunch that I've ridden with and without a Blackburn low rider pannier mount, and the fork is definitely stiffer with the low rider mounted. The mount attaches to the fork at the dropouts and midway up the fork leg, above the curve of the blade, not allowing the fork it's ability to flex. The low riders are awful handy, but I wouldn't want to ride with them mounted all the time. They're easy enough to mount and remove, 'specially on a fork with brazed on mounts, that there's no need to leave them on when not needed.

Anyway, riding with the low rider and without showed me how much comfort a fork can bring to the table.
 

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I think that carbon forks boil down to two things Like I mentioned earlier, "stiffness is better". Most of the "modern" steel bikes being made are being touted for their stiffness, not compliance. Oversized tubes, often shaped to optimize stiffness, made to work with stiff carbon forks. Also, with what little I know about frame building, it seems like making a steel fork is probably the most labor intensive part of building a steel bike. So outsource that stiff fork that everyone wants anyway.
I think weight is also a big factor in what sells too. Despite choosing steel for the frame and taking the extra weight in the frame people see the gram difference in the fork and go with the lighter carbon option.

I'm not sure about cost but I'm pretty sure you'd be right that just slapping on a mass produced carbon fork would be cheaper and easier for the builder.
When I was looking at custom steel the carbon fork cost more but in that case it was Enve or similar. But when talking off the shelf mass produced steel they don't use forks like that generally and I'd imagine whatever they get by the truck load from Asia would be a lot cheaper.
 

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I think weight is also a big factor in what sells too. Despite choosing steel for the frame and taking the extra weight in the frame people see the gram difference in the fork and go with the lighter carbon option.

I'm not sure about cost but I'm pretty sure you'd be right that just slapping on a mass produced carbon fork would be cheaper and easier for the builder.
When I was looking at custom steel the carbon fork cost more but in that case it was Enve or similar. But when talking off the shelf mass produced steel they don't use forks like that generally and I'd imagine whatever they get by the truck load from Asia would be a lot cheaper.
Yeah, I'm sure that you're right about weight playing a big part also.
 

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Here's the deal: by the selective use of layup patterns carbon forks can be laterally stiff (so that tracking through a corner is consistent and predictable) while allowing for vertical flex which provides comfort. This combination is extremely difficult to produce in steel. Are all carbon forks made this way? No... some manufacturers are just producing them as cheaply as possible, but the good ones work extremely well.
 

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What is interesting is that many of today's CroMo bikes have a carbon fork. This seems counter intuitive to me. If there were only one place I could have compliance, I would choose the front end.

Though at the end of the day, it's tires that make the most difference when it comes to compliance.
I think pairing carbon forks and steel frames is a marketing thing. It's an attempt to sell old-school tech with modern tech. Personally, I don't mind carbon forks on steel frames, but most of the time, they look terrible. The worst offenders are thick Reynolds Ouzo forks or straight bladed aero forks on standard diameter steel frames <vomit>. I have seen Enve 1.0 forks on a standard diameter English frame and it looked good.

As people have mentioned, the geo of the frame has more to do with comfort than the frame material, and the wheel set and tires even more so. I experimented with my road frame (steel frame and fork) that takes 26" wheels. The best balance of comfort and responsiveness I got was riding 650c x 23mm at the front and 26" x 1.1 (28mm) in the rear.
 

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Smoothness has more to do with the design, build quality and material quality than anything else besides tire pressure.

I have two bikes and I ride them equally as often.

I have a Madone 5.2 all carbon with Mavic Equipe S wheels and a Lemond Buenos Aires with Rolf Vector Comp wheels and a carbon fork.

Both run 25mm tires and I run about 95 in front and 100 in back.

The Trek has a Bontrager Blade bars on an 80 mm stem and the Lemond has 3T ergo flat top bars on an 80mm FSA stem. Both have Selle SMP saddles.

Riding, they feel exactly the same, in terms of smoothness. Handling is very similar. Acceleration is very similar.

My point is this, two quality bikes, one carbon and one steel will have very similar characteristics when set up in the same way.

To say you are going to get a better ride switching from a carbon bike to a steel bike may work and may not. But it won't be because one is carbon and one is steel.
 

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My experience may be a bit different. To me there is a difference in the feel of a steel, or carbon bike. This true regardless of the fork.

When I bought my Waterford several years ago, I asked about the difference. Between the steel and carbon choices DAve at Waterford answered "about two pounds". His opinion was that there was no difference between the two. I bought the carbon

This year the bike was replaced under a crash replacement built with the same plans as the original. Waterford offer, or suggests two carbon forks and their steel. At least one the carbon forks was more expensive than steel. I went with the steel. Any diffence between the bike with carbon vs. steel is too close for me to tell., but the steel looks better to me

My opinion is that the frame material has an effect on how road noise is transmitted, but design determines nandling The fork makes little difference It should also be mentioned that not all steel forks feel alike, the same applies to carbon
 

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frame/fork can only do a limited amt of buzz-elimination. Riding an endurance bike vs a crit bike of similar geometry and tires (yeah I know they wont be same geo, but bear with me) after a 1/4 hour on each you'd swear they were the same thing. It's why so much more emphasis is placed on tires for comfort. And also probably why Specialized gave up on making their endurance frames mushy, and just put actual suspension in place in the seat post and stem to make a real difference.

Heck if a Giant TCR is a bit harsh for those 200km rides, throw on a CaneCreek seat post, some 28c tires and 2nd layer of bar tape = transformed in a few minutes work and less need for a quiver of bikes.
 

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My opinion is that the frame material has an effect on how road noise is transmitted,
That's probably how best to describe the difference between carbon and steel when there's this perceived "smoothness". The frame is like a guitar string, and a carbon guitar string would not resonate anywhere near as long as a steel string. Therefore it seems it would damp road noise, giving a perceived smoother ride.
 

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Here's the deal: by the selective use of layup patterns carbon forks can be laterally stiff (so that tracking through a corner is consistent and predictable) while allowing for vertical flex which provides comfort. This combination is extremely difficult to produce in steel. Are all carbon forks made this way? No... some manufacturers are just producing them as cheaply as possible, but the good ones work extremely well.
Here's how they did it in the old days. The crown is very stiff laterally but compliant vertically. On a steel frame the ride is superb.
 

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Here's how they did it in the old days. The crown is very stiff laterally but compliant vertically. On a steel frame the ride is superb.
Still plenty of builders doing it this way. Not only good to ride, but good to look at too.
 
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