What’s in your fork?

Miscellaneous 10 1

It will probably come as no surprise to most of you that I subscribe to several different email newsletters from the various big bike companies. For the most part, they are full of the same marketing copy that you might find on the company’s websites. Of course there are always exceptions. One newsletter that I always find to have interesting new content is Zapata Espinosa’s “Exit 180” from Trek (Zap, if you are reading, I am a big fan of your work going back to my first Mountain Bike Action subscription in the late 80’s). If you are interested in bikes and don’t already receive it, I recommend that you sign up on Trek’s website.

The latest Exit 180 showed the above picture of a carbon fork with Chinese newspaper lining the inside walls. Apparently Trek found this while analyzing a competitor’s product. It makes for a funny picture and certainly pinpoints the fork’s country of origin, but newspaper inside a fork is not all that disturbing on its own. What is disturbing is the picture to the right, also from the Trek newsletter. This competitor’s frame is full of clay and foam at the seat tube cluster. It is hard to tell what else might be in there, Bondo, Great Stuff, sawdust, spitballs; who really knows? Suffice it to say this is not the type of material that you necessarily want to find inside a really expensive bike frame. At least it is not the kind of stuff I want in my frame. The materials themselves might not be so bad, but they certainly indicate a less than perfect manufacturing process. Which brings me to a question; do you as consumers care how your carbon frames are made? In my opinion, you should. With the incredible number of carbon fiber bikes currently on the market from companies big and small, some are just bound to be inferior. I am not saying that bigger is always better, but I do think it is great that companies like Trek and Giant choose to reinforce their engineering strengths in there marketing materials. Whether you believe it or not, investing in design, engineering, and R&D resources is necessary if a company wants to make better products. Marketing hype alone won’t make a better (or safer) bike. Still, boutique carbon frames are very popular now. To each his own, but I wouldn’t buy one. Let me know if you disagree.

10 Comments

  1. grand_bi May 3, 2006 at 10:33 pm -  Reply

    I’m an industrial designer with a technical degree in composites materials transformation and I’m now operating a bike shop; it’s always good to see a picture that illustrates what quality craftsmanship is all about… congrats on the blog… oh and btw I would not touch a frame like the one pictured with a 10′ pole!

  2. jeanthibca May 4, 2006 at 7:19 am -  Reply

    Do you have a bigger picture of these horrors? Please send at: jeanthibca@yahoo.com

  3. James May 4, 2006 at 7:24 am -  Reply

    No, I don’t have bigger pictures. These came from the Trek newsletter and were already sized for email.

  4. Tim Jackson- Masi Guy May 4, 2006 at 12:34 pm -  Reply

    Carbon fiber is a very dangerous material when done wrong or poorly. For a small company like mine, it is very difficult to remain price competitive because we work very hard to make sure we are doing “the right thing” with our bikes. We could get much, much, much cheaper product from different vendor partners, but the reliability and quality becomes very suspect. You’d be shocked to see some of the samples I’ve been given to test… some go right back in the box before a single part is bolted on.

    Consumers should care because their LIVES are at stake. Sometimes you pay more for a reason. The market is flooded with really cheap carbon bikes. Some are just heavy and poorly finished, but others are actually dangerous. There are bikes out there that I will not ride next to- honestly.

  5. Fritz May 4, 2006 at 12:42 pm -  Reply

    I’ve wondered about some of the ultra-cheap carbon frames I’ve seen at swap meets — the guys who go to Taiwan, buy a box of no-brand frames and ship them here to the States to sell.

  6. Tim Jackson- Masi Guy May 4, 2006 at 5:12 pm -  Reply

    Fritz- DO NOT buy one of those frames… you have a family to think of.

  7. James May 4, 2006 at 8:46 pm -  Reply

    Tim, Thanks for reiterating the safety concern. Unfortunately many people think that products like that must be safe or the company would not sell them. I have seen road bike parts fail with some petty nasty consequences. I remember on a group ride a few years ago when someone broke a seat post and was injured pretty badly. Unlike most other materials, carbon can fail catastrophically without any warning.Even though I like my current road bike a lot, sometimes I am a bit nervous about having a carbon steerer tube and seatpost. At any rate, I definitely would not advise anyone to buy cheap generic carbon parts.

    Fritz, good point about direct imported no-name frames. Keep in mind though that the ones pictured here were from an unnamed but supposedly reputable American bike company, not a fly by night operation.

  8. bob smoll May 7, 2006 at 3:36 am -  Reply

    Is this some kind of sneaky attempt at damage control by Trek for Hincapie’s broken fork? I worry for my life every time I ride my Trek road bike these days.

  9. James May 8, 2006 at 11:12 am -  Reply

    Bob, that was a sandblasted, anodized aluminum steerer tube on a non standar Bontager fork. I wouldn’t worry about the fork on your bike too much. Also, keep in mind that nothing could be harder on a bike than Paris Roubaix, especially with a big, powerful rider like Hincapie.

  10. hemant November 17, 2006 at 12:38 am -  Reply

    hi ,
    your bike so suitable for air resistance which affects velocity

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