My steel-riding retro grouch days ended about a year ago. Still, I have no plans to buy another carbon frame. Here’s one of my reasons why.
It’s my old riding buddy’s BMC Cross Machine CX01 – a beautiful frame made with super high-module unidirectional carbon fiber tubes. The only problem is that less than a year after he bought the rig, hairline cracks started appearing in the area around the bottom bracket and chain stays. The company’s explanation was that there’s nothing to worry about because it’s just the paint cracking. My friend wisely refused to accept this explanation and demanded a refund, which he got. He has invested the money in a new Moots Psychlo X titanium cross bike. Bravo.
I apologize for these small photos, which don’t provide a good view of the cracks. The pictures I received were huge, and I had difficulty resizing them. Anyway, let’s suppose that the paint, not the carbon, was cracking. Would I keep riding the frame? Certainly not. I would never feel safe on the bike. It’s possible that a new crack could form and this time it would be the carbon. How would you know? Cracking paint simply should not be tolerated on a frame made of carbon - a material that’s famously strong but when it fails, it fails catastrophically, with little obvious warning. Imagine screaming down a mountain descent and worrying about whether it’s really just the paint cracking on your bottom bracket. Should you have such concerns when you fork over about $1,700 on a frameset?
Some background on my friend. Was he some kind of bike-abusing yahoo? Far from it. He’s one of the classiest guys I’ve ever ridden with. True, he’s solidly built, an Ironman and a powerful time trialer. Think of Fabian Cancellara, all muscle and big bones. But most importantly, he takes great care of his equipment. His drivetrain is always immaculate and perfectly lubed. Everything is dialed in to his incredibly exacting standards. His BMC was in a three-bike rotation, with a Focus tri frame and a titanium Bianchi road bike. He bought the BMC because he was worried about deteriorating road conditions and wanted a bike that was a bit more rugged for training.
Like I said earlier, I’m no longer a retro grouch, and I can appreciate the appeal of carbon. Almost every day, I get an e-mail from Competitive Cyclist, Wrench Science or some other outfit tempting me with the latest carbon goodies. Most of them are absolutely beautiful. I realize that carbon can be a strong, reliable frame material. They make planes out of the stuff nowadays, though it’s my understanding the aircraft industry has access to much higher quality carbon.
My concern is that as carbon frames become more of a commodity, quality is going to suffer. Many, if not most, of the frames are made in China now. There’s greater pressure to bring down costs, and there’s an increasing risk of what’s called “quality fade.” The Chinese factory starts cutting corners to make a little bit extra from razor-thin margins. The frame quality starts to fade.
I think carbon is great for pros, who get a new set of frames every season and have skilled wrenches routinely working over their bikes. Carbon is also great for a dentist or someone else who can afford to buy a new frame every year or two. But for someone like me – with kids, wife, mortgage and a job in a shaky industry – my frame needs to serve me well for 5 or 6 years. I just don’t feel comfortable demanding that length of service from the latest carbon frames. That’s why, just like my friend, I’m riding titanium.wafflesandsteel | Filed under: BMC Cross Maching CX01, Carbon frames, Moots | 3 Comments »