Shave pounds with carbon fiber
Brainy suspensions revolutionize bikes
April 10, 2004
If carbon fiber is good enough for 21st Century fighter jets, it’s probably good enough for your bicycle.
Today is still ski season in Steamboat, but Monday might as well be dubbed the unofficial beginning of bicycling season, and local shops are stocked up with bikes featuring the latest in brainy suspension systems and high-tech frames.
If you succeed in getting Denis Campanali at Ski Haus talking about road bikes, and it isn’t difficult, he just might invite you into the back room to see his Wilier (pronounced Villee-ay) Triestina, which has an exotic single-tube scandium frame overlaid with carbon fiber.
“I’m a big road-bike guy,” Campanali said. But he’s equally conversant in mountain bikes and when it comes to today’s bikes the rule of thumb is: “The less you get, the more you pay.”
That’s right — the new technology means you can purchase a bicycle that you literally can lift with your pinkie finger. But you might pay $3,200 for it. At the other end of the spectrum, Campanali points to a sleek Giant brand mountain bike that comes with high-tech disc brakes and retails for just $430. Technology definitely is trickling down. However, if you want less bike, as in the lightest bike in the shop, you’ll pay for it.
John Morse at Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare said carbon fiber isn’t just for frames any longer. Manufacturers are developing ways to mold carbon fiber into more shapes, allowing them to apply the material to handle bars, seat posts and even crank sets.
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The folks at Trek bicycles think they have developed a superior carbon fiber technology that eliminates gas bubbles that can weaken frame components, Morse said. He takes a ball-peen hammer and wails on a piece of a demonstration frame. No harm is done.
Morse can sell you a Trek bike with the same frame Lance Armstrong can be expected to use in the climbing stages of this summer’s tour de France. The frame weighs just 2.8 pounds and costs $4,660.
Trek uses computer design technology to layer carbon fiber on a bike frame to enable it to resist forces precisely where it needs to, Morse said.
Road bikes such as the Wilier Evasion combine an aluminum frame with a carbon fiber fork.
Campanali said when cyclists consider the weight of a bike, its dynamic weight is probably as important as its sheer weight. The “rotational weight” of a bike is telling in terms of how much energy it takes to move a bike down the road, Campanali said. Rotational weight can be attributed to the parts of a bike that spin — wheels, pedals, chain rings and even the bottom bracket. Purchasing a bike with components that add up to low rotational weight is a good bet, Campanali said.
Chris Oppold at Sore Saddle Cyclery said bike buyers are benefiting from bicycles that are smarter than ever. Bikes don’t have brains, but the sophistication of modern suspensions might lead people to think otherwise.
Both the Manitou SPV technology and the Pro-Pedal technology on Fox Shox are “anti-bob” fighting measures that eliminate one of the most common complaints cyclists register when using fully suspended bikes to climb hills. They don’t “bob” up and down with every crank of the pedals.
“They improve traction and efficiency,” Oppold said. “That’s the big change.”
Manitou SPV and Pro-Pedal both allow the bike suspension to react to hard jolts form terrain, but resist unwanted travel because of the simple pedaling action of the rider.
Morse said the new suspension technology allows mainstream singletrack riders to enjoy suspension travel that was previously only built into extreme bikes for downhill racing or riders launching off 5-foot drops.
“Seven to 10 years ago, a bike with 5 inches of travel was a heavy downhill bike,” Morse said. “Even three years a go, a bike like that was designed for free riding (riding off drops and performing stunts).
The new bicycle suspension technology is being driven by off-road motor sports, which demand extreme amounts of suspension travel, but also require a suspension to remain stiff in heavy cornering, Morse said.
“The last couple of years have seen some real breakthroughs,” Morse said.
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