Carbon fibre is everywhere—from high-performance cars, motorcycles, airplanes, yachts, you name it. This material has also taken the world of high-performance cycling by storm more than a decade ago. More and more bike manufacturers are using this light, stiff material in their latest line-ups.
We won’t deny the fact that carbon fiber has enabled bike makers to produce more unique designs that would have been difficult if not impossible in metal.
But, as carbon fibre is relatively new material, much of its characteristics seem mysterious and obscure than metal or any other material.
Here are ten facts you need to know about this common material:
#1 Carbon fibres are not what you think
When we say ‘carbon fibre’, we actually mean ‘carbon-fibre composite’. Bikes aren’t fully made of carbon. You see, this fibre is quite brittle and can split and crack easily.
Indeed, the incredible toughness and durability of carbon fibre came from combining it with a glue-like material called epoxy resin. The result is a ‘composite material’.
This composite material is later moulded to form various shapes.
#2 Not all carbon fibres are made in Asia
It’s true that China and Taiwan are the primary manufacturers of the carbon fibre bicycle frames. They also produce other carbon-based products. But, some USA or European bicycling companies such as Zipp (US) or Time (France) produces carbon fibre frames and parts too.
#3 Most of the raw carbon comes from Asian companies
Carbon fibre doesn’t occur naturally. It is derived from a material named Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) fibre. The Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) fibres are baked at very high temperatures, which break down the non-carbon elements present in the PAN fibres. This leaves you with extremely thin, long fibres of carbon.
More heat and processing can increase the stiffness of the fibres. More than 90% of the entire world’s carbon fibre suppliers are from only six companies; Toho Tenax, Mitsubishi Rayon, Toray, Hexcel, Zoltek, and Cytec. And yes, all of their locations are in Asia.
#4 There are many varieties of carbon fibre
Carbon fibre used in many forms: raw thread, sheet or chopped. Bike manufactured mostly use sheet or chopped fibres. Sheet fibres are used in bike frames, while chopped ones are found in pedal bodies.
#5 Bike manufacturers don’t set the standard
Despite what you hear from bicycle companies that their bikes frames are of ‘high-modulus, or ultrahigh-modulus’ standard, these buzzwords mean nothing, except marketing gimmicks. The grade of the carbon fibre depends on its stiffness or technical terms, ‘tensile modulus’.
In layman terms, it means how much pressure or weight is required to deform the material. That is, speaking of setting stiffness ranges, those are set by the Japan Carbon Fibre Manufacturers Association (JCMA), not the bike companies.
#6 The carbon is a blend of itself.
A good, high-quality carbon fibre has more than one blend of fibres of different types. Use of carbon fibre is different in terms of types and places on the bike. Most significantly, this blending process is essential to create a high performance and durable carbon fibre bike frame.
#7 The real strength of carbon fibre comes from its layup
Bike manufacturers are using carbon fibre on their frames for mainly two reasons. One; it’s a lightweight material, yet stiff, and two; its stiffness is unchangeable. The most important thing is, carbon fibre is anisotropic, that means it can be stiff if it lays out along the long axis of the fibres or unidirectionally.
On the other hand, metals are strong and stiff, regardless of how they are positioned.
#8 Carbon fibre frames are handmade
All carbon fibre bike frames, handlebars, wheels, and other parts of the bike are handmade.
#9 It’s repairable
There is a misconception that if carbon fibre frames or parts damage, dent, or break, it is not repairable. But, it is a false claim. The damaged section can be easily bridges with new material. Also, if properly cut, cure, sand, and paint, you can’t even notice the difference.
#10 It can be faked easily
Finding a bike with distinctive frame style is easy, thanks to the availability of carbon fibre. As a result, it is also difficult to distinguish between a real carbon fibre bikes from imitations. The fact is, the fibre’s unique industrial design makes counterfeiting easy.
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