When The Wattmeister packed up bike racing (after an unsuccessful 113 km solo break into a headwind in the Tour of CloudCuckooLand), tennis rackets were strung with catgut and stored in wooden presses and bicycles were made of steel. The internet, vaping and Strava were yet to permeate popular modern culture, and mamilology was not on the school curriculum (and is still not, but soon will be).
However, Paris-Brest-Paris a 1200 km bike race has been going since 1891 in various forms. In its current format, PBP takes place every four years and attracts around 4,000 entrants each of whom must qualify in order to ride 1200 kms in just 90 hours total time.
Which bike is best for this undertaking?
The truth is that for most riders, comfort should be the prime goal. How does one measure comfort across a range of materials without buying four bikes? Difficult question. Perhaps The Wattmeister can help.
Having ridden Paris-Brest-Paris three times and London-Edinburgh-London (1400 km) three times on bikes with different frame materials, his contact points have pretty much felt it all.
Firstly, if you cycle these long distances, then expect to suffer physical and mental peaks and troughs no matter what your bike is made of. The trick is to minimise the amount of suffering. The more comfortable you are the longer you can ride.
Good preparation is paramount. Carry just the right amount of stuff. This can only be learned by experience. For example, if you forget your gloves and it’s minus 2 degrees, it really doesn’t matter what material is used in the construction of your frame. Your mind will be on other things.
But back to the frames. Carbon is light, quick and perfectly suited to both fast audaxing and multi-day rides. It’s a little more rigid than the other materials, but an experienced rider would not be at all inconvenienced.
Titanium is very comfortable indeed, and is probably the perfect frame material for long days in the saddle. However, The Wattmeister has found that he is approximately 5% faster on his carbon steed.
Steel is generally a little heavier than titanium and certainly more so than carbon. Having qualified and ridden 2003 PBP on a steel bike, The Wattmeister would humbly suggest that the two other frame materials are equally comfortable and a tad more responsive.
With no experience of long brevets on an aluminium frame, there can be no comment. Ultimately it is up to the individual to choose what suits them best. Comfort is key, but do not heed experts who try to force their choice of frame on others.
All three types of material are well suited to the job.