Taking a Look at a Carbon Bike Frame and How it Might Ride

Taking a Look at a Carbon Bike Frame and How it Might Ride

Looking at the history of the carbon bike frame reveals an item that probably owes its existence to the efforts undertaken by US defense and aerospace engineering concerns in the 1970s. That’s because efforts undertaken to produce the space shuttle and stealth aircraft were the main impetus when it came to its development. Nowadays, even bicycle frames and other components are made from it.

Back in the 1970s, engineers working for the defense industry and NASA began considering how they might take military aircraft and make them “invisible” to radar (“Radio Detection and Ranging”). Given that radio waves bounce off of metals, engineers looked to materials like carbon fiber to “mask” or make otherwise invisible to radar their aircraft.

This gave engineers the idea to start substituting carbon fiber from metal in many different applications, most especially those involving aircraft. When it’s properly laid up or molded, carbon fiber is able to be shaped into many different forms. Aerospace engineers and others looked at this with excitement, because certain shapes slip through radar easier than others.

There are also a number of positive properties to carbon fiber which help to contribute to the durability and rigidity that it naturally has. Perhaps the most positive aspect is that, ounce for ounce, carbon fiber is stronger and lighter than almost any metal yet developed for aerospace purposes. Lighter weight meant that less fuel would be used in an aircraft or the space shuttle, for instance.

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These same aerospace engineers eventually migrated to entrepreneurial activities in many cases as well. This means that they struck out on their own, forming their own aerospace companies or other businesses that created goods made from carbon fiber. One of these was bike frames. Carbon proved to be durable, extremely light in weight and easily molded into such frames, with the right equipment.

Back in the 80s, however, many professional and hard-core enthusiast bicyclists were wedded to the idea of steel for their bike frames. Even Greg LeMond, who won the Tour de France three times, resisted the idea of a non-metallic frame. Eventually, however carbon fiber’s durability, strength and smooth riding characteristics won over not only him but many other cyclists as well.

Nowadays, in fact, there’s almost no top professional cyclist who would ride anything other than a bicycle that included a carbon fiber bike frame. One of these is Lance Armstrong, winner of the Tour de France a record eight times. He rides a specially-manufactured bike that costs more than $15,000 but is also feather light, relatively-speaking. Additionally, it has butter-smooth ride characteristics.

A carbon bike frame will probably never be as inexpensive as a frame made with aluminum or steel (titanium bike frames cost about the same as carbon fiber), but the cost has come down significantly over the years. Many bikes today come out of factories in mainland China and Taiwan, where high-quality bikes and bike frames are produced in great number. This results in a less-expensive frame, overall.