Monday, September 26, 2011

Everything Breaks Sometimes

So, with so many carbon fiber bicycles and bits to bolt onto them these days, I figured it was time to write a bit on the subject of fear. know you've thought about it. The fear of carbon fiber bike part breakage. It seems that the man-made wonder material suffers from some paranoia about its integrity, especially in terms of mountain bike use.

More carbon here than you can shake a stick at.
The fact of the matter is, everything breaks sometime or another. So, why the fear-mongering when it comes to carbon fiber parts?

Is it because we fear being skewered by shards of carbon? Is it because some believe that it "explodes" without warning?

Yeah....scary scenarios all, but what is reality? (I suppose none of us really want to find that out!)

Generally, I try not to give these sorts of thoughts any space to burn up in my limited amount of "brain-hard drive" that I can still access these days. I mean, who needs the "devil of parts failure" sitting on your shoulder, whispering sweet warnings in your ear as you bomb down the single track? I don't. As the old NorCal instigators of mtb used to say, "that harshes my shred, dude!".

And bicycle companies know this too. Take Niner Bikes "C5 Warranty" for example, or Whiskey Parts Co. , who also offer a 5 year warranty, and tell us that they test their parts over and beyond CEN Testing protocol to insure that their carbon parts will hold up to trail riding.

So good!
I have to remind myself sometimes that the "standard" practice in the early 90's was that you should replace your "lightweight" aluminum handle bars every two years. Aluminum frames needed to be checked at the bike shop for cracks in the head tube. Wheels would "taco" on a moments notice if you landed a jump just wrong.

No, you could even break steel frames, and often they did just that.

Now with materials technology the way that it is, we hardly give a thought to running an aluminum bar for more than two years, or think twice about aluminum rims, nor do we fret over our aluminum frames every time we send one in for a tune up. Yes- it is true these things still break, but not to the tune that they used to.

And now we have carbon fiber parts, frames, and heck.....even rims, that we thrash off road. Will they hold up?

I think it is safe to say that they probably will have no better or no worse a failure rate than any other material we ding on, crash, or ride with aggression. But I'll tell ya, when I see that carbon seat post bend a bit under my weight, I have to beat back that devil on my shoulder a bit!


mw said...

i've broken a good amount of parts. two suspension frames. lots of pivot and suspension hardware. 5 crank arms. bent a few bars. and i'm just a whittle guy...

rideonpurpose said...

Sadly, this is going to take a few years for a lot of people.

Aluminum certainly has a scarier way of "going" if you ask me! Seems most of the carbon damage that I see is the result of falls or damage inflicted while in transportation. A carbon tube can be very strong, almost indestructable in the direction and orientation it is designed to deal with forces in, but relatively weak when a crushing force is applied from the side (although this is maybe even more true for aluminum).

I've been in a few debates recently with people in the "steel is real" type camp who say that they'll never spend the money on a stupid racer's carbon bike. That carbon is somehow just wrong, Fred-like, whatever. My argument has been that in 5 or 10 more years the carbon frames will be cheaper than all but the cheapest steel.

Captain Bob said...

Very nice looking bike too. I ride an old Giant Cadex that had the carbon tubes glued to alu lugs and it seemed tough as nails. Rode amazingly smooth. I rode it single speed for years. Rigid, never really left the ground more than 12in or so but I felt secure on it......I do miss it too.

MG said...

That's true about modern carbon having a very safe failure mode. I inadvertently learned this last year when I overtightened a carbon handlebar, but didn't realize it until several months later when I felt a certain 'softness' after a rough 50-mile race. But it held together just fine and though broken, was still ridable. No alloy bar would have done that...

So, I suppose carbon is evolving... But you probably can't throw a blanket over it all.