Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Your frame on Crack

The website BUSTED CARBON is devoted to a single, sobering topic: failed carbon frames, seat posts and handlebars. You won't soon forget a visit to this site. See below and click on one of the photos for more.

Rivendell Bicycle Works
has been sounding the alarm on carbon frames for some time. I bought a beautiful all steel Romulus from them years ago and have enjoyed every minute on it. It's a supremely comfortable and ergonomic ride. As promised, I can ride all day without any aches and pains. But have I really been safer?

Here is Ken Thiessen on steel/vs carbon bike frames:

I crashed hard on my all-carbon Giant bike a couple of years ago. Before I rode the bike again, I hired a mechanic formerly with TREK (I wanted an opinion independent from the manufacturer) inspect the bike for damage. The carbon bike checked out just fine and I am riding it today. One of the reasons I choose the Giant in the first place was that the composite layup seemed to be more stout than the competition. I would not buy a super light carbon bike designed for one-month's use by a 150 lb pro racer. I do not want to live in fear of an unseen pothole.

Meanwhile, I have broken three steel bike frames. My former steel bikes were all assembled with brazed lugs at the joints. I think that in all three cases the steel was weakened by excess heat applied during overzealous brazing. The most dangerous of these breaks was on a new Raleigh Super Course (Reynolds 531) where the fork crown braze parted from the steer tube. Fortunately the brake bold held the assembly together until I recognized the problem. Raleigh replaced the entire fork. No matter the material, paying careful attention to the integrity of your bike is paramount to your safety.

Ken's an engineer, a frequent contributor to this blog and a riding buddy of mine. He's definitely not the kind of guy who beats the hell out of a bike or exaggerates for effect. And let's face it, even if you were trying for spin, a blown fork crown doesn't give you a lot of wiggle room.

Every once in a while something truly unexpected happens out there in the physical universe: a devastating earthquake in Missouri, a near miss by an unknown asteroid, the melting of an ice cap or two. True, a bike frame failure isn't as catastrophic as, say, a mega-volcano erupting under Yellowstone National Park, assuming you're not actually on the bike when the frame fails.

This bike shop sounds a warning that you'll want to read, especially if you're thinking of adding a carbon fiber seat post to a steel frame.

Yes, more data is needed. What are your experiences with steel vs. carbon bike frames?