01 March 2014

B.C. (Before Carbon)

In my previous post about my old Land Shark, I mentioned that John Slawta, who builds and paints all LS bikes, is constructing his frames only from carbon fiber.

I am sure he’s still doing the great work he’s always done.  However, in the end any carbon-fiber frame is still plastic.  Yes, it has strands of fiber woven into it, but it’s plastic that holds them together.

To be fair, those bikes are stronger—and probably lighter—than earlier plastic bikes.  I’m not talking only about earlier carbon-fiber bikes, such as the Graf-Tek (Exxon’s only foray into the bicycle industry) during the mid-to-late 1970’s or the first high-production CF bikes made by Trek and other companies a quarter-century ago.  I am talking about bikes made only from the resin.

"The Original Plastic Bike"

A few years before the Graf-Tek came out, a company named The Original Plastic Bike claimed to have built a plastic bike that weighed about half of what racing bikes of the time weighed.  It was offered in primary colors (red, yellow and blue) and black, if I recall correctly.

I don’t know how many people actually bought or rode them.  Apparently, there was some sort of scandal surrounding them and investors lost out.  Also, as it turned out, some parts, such as the chain and spokes were made of steel.  Of course, 99.99 percent of bikes ever made have such parts, if at varying levels of quality.  Even the most technologically advanced of today’s CF bikes will have a steel chain and, most likely, spokes.  

Perhaps the day will come, in my lifetime, when all frames are made from carbon fiber.  I hope it doesn’t.    

Yes, carbon-fiber bikes are light and fast (when they’re designed well).  But I sill have to wonder how long they’ll hold up.  I recently saw an early Trek CF bike.  Its owner admitted that it had been sitting in a garage for about twenty years.  Perhaps they’re stronger than anyone realizes.  And, certainly, rust and other kinds of corrosion are not issues, as they are with steel and other metals.  But one still has to wonder how well they take repeated, prolonged stress.

But the other reason why I hope that we don’t have an all-carbon bike world is that the materials are derived completely from fossil fuels.  Perhaps someone will figure out how to make carbon-fiber tubing from other materials, or another material may supplant it altogether.  Still, I have always felt good that by cycling instead of driving, I have reduced my “carbon footprint,” however incrementally.  

Can you see an ad of the future:  “Carbon without the footprint”?

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