7 things you might not know about carbon fiber

Interesting details about the material of choice for high end bikes

Components Video
Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is a true triple threat, light, strong, and it looks cool.

In the early days of Mtbr 20 years ago, we ran a massive survey on what the ideal frame material was, aluminum, steel, titanium, or carbon fiber. Carbon fiber finished firmly in last place with steel taking top honors. Now the tables have turned, as carbon fiber has become the material of choice for high end bikes. The price for admission is around $2000 minimum for the bike, so it is for the true enthusiasts to justify the cost versus benefit. But the surprising thing is it has not only taken over frame material dominance, but also many components as well. Parts such as handlebars, wheels, and even cranks are now the domain of carbon fiber when top performance is required. Here’s a primer on carbon fiber from our friends at the Global Mountain Bike Network.

Carbon fiber manufacturing is a labor intensive process that can produce lightweight, complex frames with many different combinations of attributes desirable for bicycles.

What is a carbon fiber?

Carbon fiber is a long strand of material made from carbon atoms. Thousands of these are spun together to make a yarn, which are then combined with resin to make carbon sheets.

What’s a layup?

A carbon layup is a combination of these sheets, laid into a mold, usually around a bladder, before being baked or cooked in order to harden them into the frame shape.

Where is it made?

Most carbon bikes come from a handful of factories in Asia, specifically Taiwan and China. These factories have been producing carbon fiber bikes and products for decades.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber can be shaped into almost anything. But a massive commitment to R&D and tooling is involved to truly realize its benefits.

Sheet and Layup

The sheets have a uni-directional weave, which lends itself to the ride characteristics of the bike. Ideal carbon frames are stiff, light, and dampen vibration. A combination of these factors will produce a great bike. All of these factors are in fact controlled by the layup, so the better the layup, the better the bike!

How strong is it?

Super strong! Carbon can take a lot of cosmetic damage before becoming compromised and even then can be repaired much easier than most other materials.

Fakes

As with most things in life, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. A fake frame will be from a budget knock-off mold and will have a fraction of the engineering and development behind it to make it the bike it is.

Carbon is still being developed as a material, meaning bikes have got a long way to go to becoming stronger, lighter and more affordable.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.



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  • 0gravity says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Carbon has rapidly been taking over the majority of new bikes, and yes more components now too (can’t believe all the mtn bike wheels coming out lately). I can’t be the only one that’s interested in the technology and materials advances going on behind this. If it’s taking over, the materials must be getting better, and the manufacturing costs must be going down

  • Oleksii says:

    Easier to repair?? Joking?

    • notevenbro says:

      It is very easy to repair carbon, as long as you have access to the materials and knowledge of course. Much easier than welding.

  • jj jayMan says:

    Hope you can do a video on carbon fiber splinters and how to make repairs.

  • Frank says:

    It only cost for an outside person to weld steel or aluminum frame joint about $75, how much does it cost to repair CF? around $200 to $600 depending on what joint broke, you can get a new CF frame for that cost.

    • sam says:

      well it is much more difficult than just welding a frame typically, and carbon fiber is much easier for someone to do themselves for ~$100 than to buy welding equipment for hundreds

  • Robert says:

    The notion that so called fake carbon frames are not good is laughable…

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