Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Will This New Materials Technology Revolutionize Cycling?

Graphene, found in tires now, and helmets, is poised to change everything- or will it?
Every so often something happens which opens the door to newer ways of doing the same old things in cycling. Like when steel rims were replaced by aluminum and then those aluminum rims were made stronger by heat treatment. Same idea- something to mount a tire on, but with better and better materials technology.

I recall in the 90's when carbon fiber was just making inroads as a material to be used for cycling. I was a bit apprehensive when I started out using a carbon fiber fork on a road bike in the 1990's. But who can imagine a lightweight road rocket without a carbon fork now? It's common place. Materials technology made it so.

And speaking of carbon fiber, how about this new stuff we've been seeing. Nanotubes, and now Graphene. Just what is Graphene anyway? I had a set of tires to try out from Vittoria with the stuff in them. I knew it was some atomic structure, and Vittoria had a bit of info on the stuff, but it wasn't until I found out helmet maker Catlike was using the stuff in helmets that I found a better explanation. Here's something from their site:

"Graphene is a totally new material, derived from graphite, comprised of very interesting physical and chemical properties. Its basic structure is formed by carbon atoms set out in a hexagonal shape. This creates layered structures (like a honeycomb) of a thick atom whose intercalation, along with the “Van der Waals” forces, achieve a material up to 200 times more resistant than steel, yet is extremely light.

This material exhibits enormous mechanical resistance and some unique electronic properties. Its extraordinary properties and its potential technical applications have made Graphene one of the most active research fields in materials’ physics."

A chart found on the Catlike site showing general uses for Graphene now.
Of course, tires are the big news in cycling regarding this Graphene stuff. It has been touted as a material that increases traction without affecting rolling resistance. It also increases wear life and offers better puncture protection. Sounds like magic? Or maybe B.S.? Yes, it does at first blush, but reports coming back from riders are proving that Graphene is actually the "real deal".

In an article posted to "Bike Europe" recently about Vittoria and Graphene technology, we get a picture painted for us describing Graphene's attributes by the Italian patent holder for the material: 

"In a statement Directa Plus says “The G+ use in tyres produces the joint effect of simultaneously reducing rolling resistance and increasing grip. The result is a tyre that is both faster and safer in turning under braking or in extreme weather conditions. In addition, the effectiveness of G+ reduces fuel consumption as well as increasing the lifespan of the tyre due to reduced wear. As a result the application of G+ offers economic efficiency as well as environmental sustainability.”"

As we can see from the quote, there appears to be a future for Graphene in automotive and e-bike fields. So, that would point to a wider use of the material there. But what if Graphene gets applied to carbon fiber parts for bicycles as well? Could it be a game changer like it appears it is well on its way to be doing in the tire field? It is intriguing to think about.....

I was told recently by a person in the industry that Vittoria has the exclusive on Graphene for tires. I also found out a certain bicycle brand has been pressing Vittoria for them to make tires under their brand with Graphene in them, but they were rebuffed. This would point further to how important this material is and how it could significantly affect tire technology now and in the future.  

Maybe it will be a flash in the pan, but it would seem that in the years to come Graphene and its applications may be seen as a significant advancement just like the heat treating of aluminum for rims or carbon fiber frames and forks were in the past.


hank said...

GT, Howdy;

Being always curious I'm reminded that graphite fishing rods are like lightening rods for fisherfolk.
I then think about all the folks that are seen "On the News", after a bad rain riding around in the water choked streets and roads with the odd sparking hot wire not to far away. What is the thoughts about graphite tires, rims, metal spokes, graphite frame ....?


DT said...

Sample size of 1, but I rode the Terreno Wet 40mm tire for the dry LandRun and was really impressed. No flats, nothing sticking in or to the tire, and the tread looked brand new afterwards. I expected it to wear down a bit from the pavement and dry gravel, but even the edges were still sharp.