Why I Didn’t Choose a Carbon Fibre Frame

A recent article on Pink Bike has gotten a lot of attention lately.

The piece was essentially a press release by Pole Bicycles about why they wont be making a carbon fibre bike anytime soon. They had various reasons, but one of them struck a cord with me as it was the same reason why when choosing my new trail bike, I went with alloy and not fibre.

metal is infinitely recyclable,
carbon fibre is not

I would be naive to think, that in some point in the future, that my current wunderbike will not be essentially worn out beyond use. It may suffer from metal fatigue and be no longer safe to ride, it may simple outlive me and have no use once my need to ride has past.

Sobering thoughts, but lets not be blinkered about this. All consumer goods (bikes included) have a life span and when that time is up we need to consider how we safely dispose of and reuse the materials they are made of.

Whilst carbon fibre to a certain degree can be recycled, due to the very nature of the material once recylced it is weaker and not fit for load bearing applications. The current recycling processes also require the material to be either burnt or melted in chemical baths to release the carbon fibres themselves from the polymer resin then are incased in. Both fairly damaging processes, either through the chemical waste created or the toxins released into the atmosphere.

In short, carbon fibre cannot be, safely recycled into a meaningful raw material for remanufacture. Whilst metal is infinitely recyclable, carbon fibre is not. This is not a new problem and cycling is not the largest producer of carbon or resin waste. But that does not mean we should, or rather, that I wanted to perpetuate it.

I do not judge other people for choice in carbon components, now in full disclosure, I have carbon bars on two bikes, both are second hand bars. I feel that if I were not using them they would most likely be sitting in a shed getting damp. I also grant that carbon has some benefits both in performance and aesthetics, but new carbon fibre is not for me.

The thing that first made me ask the question myself was a picture from behind a factory for high end carbon fibre road bikes. The pictured showed a pile of quality control fails dumped behind the factory that would dwarf a bus. This pile will not bio-degrade, they cannot be melted down and they will still be here in centuries to come. I considered that this was one product line of one factory. That it would likely be a similar story at many carbon bike frame and component factories. Each having a similar pile of factory fails, all waiting to be crushed by bulldozers at a landfill site.

With the large scale use of carbon fibre in the likes of aviation, renewables and the increasing growth of its use in the automotive industry, all meaning that there is a vast and growing amount of carbon that will need recycled. This creates an opportunity for a process of meaningful disposal or recycling to arise, as there is a business there and money to be made.

But I could not comfortably buy a carbon frame with that end disposal question being solved by some future what if?

We need to learn the lessons from history when it comes to materials like carbon fibre. They mostly seem to have been ignored or belittled by the mockery suffered by some of the more iconic uses of similar materials. For example, there is Duraplast and the little East German car, the Trabant.

The Trabant 601  was a car manufactured in the DDR from 1963-1990, it featured a metal monocoque body with body panels made of a material called DuraplastDuraplast is not dissimilar to carbon fibre or fibreglass, it used cotton or wool as the fibres and held them in a resin based plastic similar to bakelite.

the-junkyard.jpg

Now the problem with Trabi’s beyond their soviet obsolesce, is that once the car has died, once the chassis has rotted beyond saving, the panels will live on. East German scrap yards and country lanes have at one time or another been filled with dead and abandoned Trabant’s whos body panels will not rot and cannot be recycled.

They will outlive history and carbon fibre has the potential to do the same.

Fungle to Keen

One of the wonders of living in Scotland is the landscape in which we live.

 

 

Sometimes, you need to step out and journey into those hills. Riding with a former student I taught, (Callum Grant) we took in a 45km route that sampled flowing natural singletrack, warp speed loose fire roads and a hike a bike up a Munro.

This route was an attempt to tie together some classic trails and descents whilst racking up some respectable distance and climbing. It would be the longest day on the Banshee and a good bedding in for the new fork. It would also be a good indicator to see if the TDB would be fun (or even achievable for me) on the longer travel bike.

Starting in Aboyne we climbed to the start of the iconic Fungle singletrack via New Mill. After this perfect ribbon of Aberdeenshire trail, we climbed up onto the slopes of Baudy Meg. From here it was a rip roaring descent on a loose and ever so slightly fast fire road down into Glentanar.

Then it is a long grind past the tree line to the foot of Mount Keen (the most easterly munro in Scotland), then comes the hike-a-bike. You can try and ride the first part of the climb, but I always decide to try and conserve energy at a fairly early stage and push. Hiking up the rutted, washed out and rock strewn climb lets you fully take in the tech this descent has on offer.

More than once during the hike-a-bike I reminded myself that I’d only ever done this descent on a 100mm HT.  The additional squish that my Spitfire offered, would open up a lot more possibilities and line choices, hopefully preventing the need for too much vitamin I by the time I was back down!

The descent was a wild ride, starting from above the Grouse buttes the trail is fast, sandy and with enough rocks to keep you focussed on line choice. Once you get to the buttes though line choice becomes a whole other story. The trail morphs into a delta of washed out ruts, the peat and sand cleaned from the hill side revealing a mine field of loose rock and boulders.

With drops and wheel grabbing holes littering the trail speed may not exactly be your friend, but the front brake certainly was your enemy. Focussing hard on the trail ahead , I was feathering brakes and shifting weight, all whilst trying to not get drawn into a rut that would result in a dead end or a wheel killing drop. Venturing onto the open heather whilst initially appearing smoother, still had some surprises as all it did was disguise the rocks and holes on the hill side.

After a few close calls we rattled over the cattle grid and back on to a wide and rough as you’d like it land rover track. this was a short and simple strip of orange rubble with enough snipper rocks to keep you guessing, a strong tubeless game is a must for this descent.

With the heat of over exerted muscles building in my thighs we were back to the river at the base of the hill. With adrenaline and stoke high, the long drag in became a fast pedal smash back, with both of us surprised at home much elevation we had gained on the approach to Keen.

After reaching the tarmac of the south Deeside road, its a short spin back to Aboyne. The weather had played fair, The trails were fantastic and the Spitfire had done itself proud, another great day playing bikes in proper hills.

Fungle to Keen via Baudy Meg

Now this has complicated matters as now I have to decide on 160/140mm or 100mm XC HT for TDB, #MTBproblems