Friday, August 14, 2009

Maybe She's Got a Few More Miles Left in Her...

Since my crash I've had to spend a lot of time searching the web researching whether or not I'd have to get rid of my bike -- a 20 year old Specialized Allez Epic, one of the 1st generation Carbon Fiber bikes.

Its interesting going out on the web and seeing the universe of Carbon Fiber lovers and Carbon Fiber Haters. To give you a flavor of the Carbon Haters (far more vocal than the Carbon Fiber lovers) check out the following;

Its fascinating. How an inert material can generate so much hatred is something that a cultural studies Phd could spend decades writing about.

More importantly, despite 20+ years of use at all levels, carbon fiber is still a love/hate type of material in cycling.

The wackiest thing occurred today, after bringing my carbon fiber Specialized Allez Epic of unknown age (20 years +/- years) checked out. While going through the various mechanical issues that he fixed, the mechanic and I discussed some of the issues with my frame. While there was some definite wear and tear on the frame from my usage of Michelin 700 X 25 MM tires (too wide, rubbing up against the chainstay), the frame itself was still relatively strong. As far as he was concerned, this frame still had a few years left in it (that makes three bike shops in a row).

The mechanic discussed possible flexing in the bottom bracket when I cranked it. This would be reflected in chain rubbing against the front derailleur when mashing big gears.

I replied that I hadn't had that problem with this, that my only experience with this was on a triple butted steel Miyata frame that I was riding when I was 17 years old. I might have been a stronger and more aggressive rider back then.

He also mentioned -- and this was VERY INTERESTING -- this type of old carbon fiber was not "butted." It was the same thickness throughout the length of the tubes. Modern carbon fiber frames are double/triple butted the way aluminum and steel frames are -- meaning steel/aluminum is thinned out at different sections of the frame tube in order to save weight. As such, this old school Carbon Fiber was in a way safer than contemporary Carbon Fiber. Modern Carbon Fiber frames are thinned out at various sections in order to keep it light.

This kind of dovetailed with a contradiction with first generation carbon fiber frames of this kind that I had been reading about. Catastrophic failures of carbon fiber frames do happen even with modern carbon fiber. But these first generation Carbon Fiber frames (unintentionally) give you a forewarning. Historically they weaken at their joints. But when they weaken there, you can feel and hear it. There will be cracking, there will be squeeking, and when you do things to stress the frame (shove your foot against the bottom bracket, press down on the brake hoods to stress the headtube) you will hear noise.

So maybe -- despite her advanced age, her ancient technology -- this old beast that I'm riding is actually not that dangerous to ride on. Granted -- this frame (somewhere around 4 lbs) is now considered heavy (modern carbon fiber comes in around 2 lbs).

But she still gives a sweet ride.....

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