Thursday, April 17, 2008

If carbon is good enough, why...

It strikes me as odd that a lot of the teams in the Paris-Roubaix race opt to change out many of their standard equipment for parts more suited to the cobbles. Basically, carbon road bits are fine for everyday use so long as one of those "everydays" is not a race over cobble stones? Some of the changes (made to ensure the bike survives the race under the rider) include: changing carbon steerer tubed forks for ones with an aluminum steerer, replacing carbon bars with aluminum versions, tossing carbon rims in favor or traditional box section tubular rims (also adds a possible comfort benefit), and a few teams with sufficient resources (and with frame sponsors who have big budgets) even go so far as to develop a special frame for this one race adding material to areas where the standard frame they sell to consumers might fail due to the stresses of the cobbles.

Sure, I understand that racing full-tilt over cobble stones will likely impose some hor categorie stress on bike equipment. In some cases, this may equate to a lifetime of use by Average Joe rider. 260k + 28 cobble sections + professional rider = Average Joe's lifetime of use.

I guess my point is if professional race teams aren't confident in their standard race equipment for this one race, how does that inspire confidence in consumers? How light is too light? What is the life expectancy of a carbon bike and carbon components? If there is a finite life, why do manufacturers give their frames a "lifetime" warranty yet component manufacturers, typically, only provide a 1-5 year warranty?

Consumers can walk into a bike shop (not mine) and plunk down upwards of $10,000 for a new carbon fiber bike. They can also pick up a carbon fiber bike for under $2000 - that's under $2k for a complete bike with carbon fiber frame! So what's different about the frame that is found on a $2k complete bike and the super-gucci $5k frame only? They're both carbon fiber. With aluminum or steel, you knew immediately what the difference was between entry-level and high-end frames. High-end steel frames had a little sticker that said "Reynolds 853" and entry-level frames proclaimed "4130 Cr-Mo." How does one quantify the difference between various quality levels of carbon fiber?

But carbon fiber is used in auto racing, you say. Sure, there's plenty of carbon fiber used on race cars. So you could use the argument that "it's strong enough for auto racing." However, in any kind of racing, parts and pieces are regularly changed with new parts being fitted at regular intervals. Average-Joe doesn't have that option. He buys a bike with a lifetime warranty and then expects it to last forever.

I don't think this carbon fiber phase is going away anytime soon. I'd just like to see some more testing that let's us know the exact life of carbon fiber frames and parts. I think there should also be some additional testing evidence of the more generic/private label carbon frames and parts. Anyone can virtually go to the TBG (Taiwan Bicycle Guide) and pick out a carbon bar/fork/seat post/crank/frame, slap their logo on it and call it done. How does the consumer know what went into the development of the carbon bike/part they just purchased? Was it designed, prototyped, tested by the company whose logo is on the part, or was the part simply picked out of a catalog because it looked nice?

Boy, I sound like a rambling retro-grouch. Maybe I just need to get out on my bike (with carbon bars, seat post, crank, seatstay, and chainstay) for a ride.

(What's playing: Leonard Cohen Ain't No Cure For Love)


First Flight Bicycles said...

carbon sucks...wES

Anonymous said...

I think what we really learned here is to not Blog while listening to Leonard Cohen.
Rob M.

blackmountaincycles said...

LOL - it does put you in a certain frame of mind. Leonard Cohen and 7:30 a.m. are probably not a good idea.