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  1. #1
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    Durability of Carbon Frames

    A friend of mine told me that carbon frames don't last as long as steel or alu. He didn't know the details, but told me he had heard that over time the carbon material looses some of its properties (stiffness?).

    Since I'm a bigger rider, I'd like to know how much of that is true before I go shopping for a carbon bike.

    Also, how durable is carbon at holding up to abuse? Can it survive crashes, the occasionally bounce on the car rack, etc.? Is it really meant to stand up to the abuse of the common man, or is carbon more for the elite racer who either didn't pay for his bike and doesn't care how long it lasts, or uses it only for competition and not all his training riding as well?

  2. #2
    SuperGimp TrojanHorse's Avatar
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    Carbon fanbois will beat you with a downtube for suggesting that it's not as durable and frankly, if you use crashing as an example, no frame is really suited for crashing.

    I found a website a while back that had a stress test of about 14 different complete frames - they subjected them to about 200k load/unload cycles and if I recall, the carbon frames did quite well (didn't fail) where some Ti and steel frames failed, usually at a water bottle boss or something equally small.

    So for people who upgrade their bike every couple years, it looks like carbon holds up great. I'm riding on a 20+ year old Merlin Ti frame that's still in nearly perfect condition. I don't see a whole lot of similarly aged carbon frames for sale on ebay or craigs list (there weren't as many back then) so it's hard to say if they have the same longevity.

    You can get fancy shmancy looking carbon frames off ebay for about $500 these days, probably from the same molds that make name brand bikes knowing how the Chinese work. Go get one of those and you won't have as much to worry about if it breaks.

  3. #3
    Senior Member socalrider's Avatar
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    Carbon has been around for a long time and they are very durable even for Clydes.. The only negative is when you crash, if your carbon frame cracks, it is done..

    A similarly crashed steel frame can always be bent back to some ridable shape..

  4. #4
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    You should worry more about the wheels then the frame.
    Bikes use brakes to stop.

    If your bike has breaks, don't ride it.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by socalrider View Post
    Carbon has been around for a long time and they are very durable even for Clydes.. The only negative is when you crash, if your carbon frame cracks, it is done..

    A similarly crashed steel frame can always be bent back to some ridable shape..
    I wouldn't say "it's done." Calfee will repair carbon bikes and has for years. They are very good and you can't even tell where it was broken. It is expensive but if you have an expensive frame it's worth it. There are probably a few others who will repair carbon bikes.

    If you are looking for early carbon bikes look for Specialized and Kestral. There are quit a few 20+yr old carbon bikes still out there still on the road.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  6. #6
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    My first carbon frame (Trek) lasted 15 years. It was still in great shape when I sold it earlier this year. I admit I just wanted something different after a decade and a half of riding... The replacement frame (Cervelo RS) gives the impression that it is much better designed and manufactured. YMMV.

  7. #7
    Trying not to fall off. Coopers_Dad's Avatar
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    Don't buy a frame if your that worried about it. I tried three frames a Ti bike and Aluminum Carbon and a full Carbon before I decided on full carbon. Personally it felt the best and while all three shops told me horror stories about people crashing carbon bikes that couldn't be repaired they could also tell me stories about cracks in frame welds that went undiscovered and failed on the road with the obvious results. I'd suggest that if your in the top 5% of the weight limit on a bike call the manufacture directly and get their honest opinion on your size and weight vs the frame and wheel set.

    DieselDan is right I'd be more concerned about the wheels though. I've taken my Madone 1800+ KM in three months with zero frame issues and 6 wheel issues so far this year.

    Good luck!
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  8. #8
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by socalrider View Post
    Carbon has been around for a long time and they are very durable even for Clydes.. The only negative is when you crash, if your carbon frame cracks, it is done..
    I made a (too-sharp) turn in the rain one evening on slick pavement, and went down. My rear triangle bent, and the aluminum cracked at the inside of the bend. The frame was junked. I think bikes just aren't meant to be crashed in general.
    Don't believe everything you think.

  9. #9
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RiverHills View Post
    A friend of mine told me that carbon frames don't last as long as steel or alu. He didn't know the details, but told me he had heard that over time the carbon material looses some of its properties (stiffness?).
    This should have been your first clue. Same thought process to "If it's on the internet, it must be true."

    As for your concerns? They are answered here...
    Quote Originally Posted by socalrider View Post
    Carbon has been around for a long time and they are very durable even for Clydes...
    Carbon can be repaired and be just as strong as prior to crash. Downside? $$$

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

  10. #10
    Member Pink Lemonade's Avatar
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    I find this thread very interesting because when I first joined (um, a couple months ago or so), I spent some time reading the Clyde bike buying posts that were linked on stickies. I clearly remember one of them talking about frame material and basically said, "Look for AL or steel. Carbon is too weak".

    Oh, here it is... Recommended Clyde Bicycles FAQ

  11. #11
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pink Lemonade View Post
    I find this thread very interesting because when I first joined (um, a couple months ago or so), I spent some time reading the Clyde bike buying posts that were linked on stickies. I clearly remember one of them talking about frame material and basically said, "Look for AL or steel. Carbon is too weak".

    Oh, here it is... Recommended Clyde Bicycles FAQ
    To make a general statement "Clydes should/should not ride carbon bikes" is really not the wisest thing to do because there are a vaiety of clydes. Clydes are anywhere north of 200-lbs. This includes mega-clydes over 350 (the problem is how do you define it?) or even higher (Tom started at 500-lbs was it??).

    I think it is safe to say that someone who is really large (350+) should think twice about CF. However (I think) they probably wouldn't be comfortable on too many CF geometries (generally road bikes instead of more upright cruisers/comfort bikes) so it may be a moot point. I do know of one person, though, who has ridden a CF frame starting when he was 320-lbs down to his current 260 weight and has ridden countless centuries and raced/won criteriums against some very good competition on said frame.

    So making a blanket statement that CF is not suitable for all clydes is just an exercise in F.U.D.

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

  12. #12
    Member Pink Lemonade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mkadam68 View Post
    To make a general statement "Clydes should/should not ride carbon bikes" is really not the wisest thing to do because there are a vaiety of clydes. Clydes are anywhere north of 200-lbs. This includes mega-clydes over 350 (the problem is how do you define it?) or even higher (Tom started at 500-lbs was it??).

    I think it is safe to say that someone who is really large (350+) should think twice about CF. However (I think) they probably wouldn't be comfortable on too many CF geometries (generally road bikes instead of more upright cruisers/comfort bikes) so it may be a moot point. I do know of one person, though, who has ridden a CF frame starting when he was 320-lbs down to his current 260 weight and has ridden countless centuries and raced/won criteriums against some very good competition on said frame.

    So making a blanket statement that CF is not suitable for all clydes is just an exercise in F.U.D.
    I didn't make that statement. What I said is that in reading the post I linked, the impression that I got was that carbon was too weak. I'm seeing opinions and stories here directly contradicting what I got out of the linked article and I find it interesting.

  13. #13
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pink Lemonade View Post
    I didn't make that statement. What I said is that in reading the post I linked, the impression that I got was that carbon was too weak. I'm seeing opinions and stories here directly contradicting what I got out of the linked article and I find it interesting.
    Didn't say you did. Just trying to shed light on the linked discussion.

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Wogster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RiverHills View Post
    A friend of mine told me that carbon frames don't last as long as steel or alu. He didn't know the details, but told me he had heard that over time the carbon material looses some of its properties (stiffness?).

    Since I'm a bigger rider, I'd like to know how much of that is true before I go shopping for a carbon bike.

    Also, how durable is carbon at holding up to abuse? Can it survive crashes, the occasionally bounce on the car rack, etc.? Is it really meant to stand up to the abuse of the common man, or is carbon more for the elite racer who either didn't pay for his bike and doesn't care how long it lasts, or uses it only for competition and not all his training riding as well?
    For strength, carbon fibre is pretty strong stuff, it's a close relative to fibre glass, and a more distant relative to steel reinforced concrete. Carbon fibre is actually the reinforcing material for a plastic resin, like the other materials, there is a lot more resin then there is carbon in it. Essentially what they do is weave a cloth out of the carbon fibres, and then this cloth is impregnated with a liquid resin, which later hardens, you can layer several or even many layers of the cloth together as long as this is all accomplished before the resin hardens. Cloth of all types has a bias, it's stronger in one direction then the other, so it's common for items that need to be very strong to rotate the cloth for each layer, so that the bias is running in opposite directions. I don't know if this is always done though. Like other plastics, it can be affected by UV light, which simply means that covering it with a UV blocking material, such as paint is sufficient to protect it.

    For normal use it's light, it's strong and it doesn't corrode. Crashes, well it depends on the crash, there are reports of bicycles falling over and breaking, CF has a problem though, it can look like it survived a crash, where it really hasn't. The problem is that a few of the fibres can get broken in a crash, but look fine, except that it weakens the material and stress can cause more fibres to break, putting more stress on the material, causing more to break, until the material fails, this is called a cascade failure. After a crash it really needs to be inspected by an expert in the material, familiar with how it reacts after it has been inflicted with impact stress loads. The guy at the bike shop who starts all sentences with Duh, isn't the kind of expert I am talking about, these experts typically have letters after their names that indicate they have doctorates in science and engineering , it may require that the frame be Xrayed to see what is going on inside. For a frame worth less then $1000, it probably costs more to inspect it properly then it does to simply replace it. There are some disgusting people out there, guy buys a bike for $1500, crashes it, bike company warranty covers the frame, but not the moving of components from old frame to new, which costs say $500, guy decides that he could get $750 on fleabay, so he can get a brand new bike for only $250 more, he sells you the bike without disclosing that it was in a crash, where the company that made it, recommended replacing the frame and fork. Of course, the fork fails and you do a face plant in the ditch. This is why CF has a bad rap in some circles. The general recommendation is to buy CF bikes new, so you know their history. Aluminum also has issues, in that if it's flexed enough it can suffer a fatigue failure, so it's also not recommended to buy used Aluminum either, because it's hard to know if there are actually the 500km on a frame the seller says there is, or whether it has 50,000km on it and is about to fail from fatigue, so also buy Aluminum new.

    Steel, can corrode, but if there is no bubbled paint, the stem, head tube and fork are all in alignment and a look down the seat tube with a flashlight doesn't show massive amounts of rust, it's okay, new steel frames, make sure the shop uses Framesaver or boiled linseed oil in the seat tube and brake bridges, the rest is fine.

    Ti, doesn't corrode, there are instances of cracking, usually at welds, these can be repaired by the manufacturer in most cases.

  15. #15
    Used to be fast surfjimc's Avatar
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    Two years ago I bought a CF frame. I have always ridden steel. Since all my bikes were over 15 years old, I treated myself to an inexpensive CF frame to see what would happen. I figured that if I was to big for it and broke it, I would have a box of good new parts to put on my favorite steel frame. The experiment worked and I am still riding it at 280 lbs. I like the ride, but miss my old bike now and then. It does have a carbon fork and steerer tube, and that is in the back of my mind, but I doubt it will break unless I crash it. I think if I were racing again, I wouldn't ride a cf frame, the chance of crashing is just way too high. That seems like I would be trying to throw away my money.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wogsterca View Post
    For strength, carbon fibre is pretty strong stuff, it's a close relative to fibre glass, and a more distant relative to steel reinforced concrete. Carbon fibre is actually the reinforcing material for a plastic resin, like the other materials, there is a lot more resin then there is carbon in it. Essentially what they do is weave a cloth out of the carbon fibres, and then this cloth is impregnated with a liquid resin, which later hardens, you can layer several or even many layers of the cloth together as long as this is all accomplished before the resin hardens. Cloth of all types has a bias, it's stronger in one direction then the other, so it's common for items that need to be very strong to rotate the cloth for each layer, so that the bias is running in opposite directions. I don't know if this is always done though. Like other plastics, it can be affected by UV light, which simply means that covering it with a UV blocking material, such as paint is sufficient to protect it.

    For normal use it's light, it's strong and it doesn't corrode. Crashes, well it depends on the crash, there are reports of bicycles falling over and breaking, CF has a problem though, it can look like it survived a crash, where it really hasn't. The problem is that a few of the fibres can get broken in a crash, but look fine, except that it weakens the material and stress can cause more fibres to break, putting more stress on the material, causing more to break, until the material fails, this is called a cascade failure. After a crash it really needs to be inspected by an expert in the material, familiar with how it reacts after it has been inflicted with impact stress loads. The guy at the bike shop who starts all sentences with Duh, isn't the kind of expert I am talking about, these experts typically have letters after their names that indicate they have doctorates in science and engineering , it may require that the frame be Xrayed to see what is going on inside.
    This is well said, and I have a few things to add - per me, the carbon has 2 mayor problems for use as a bike frame material. First problem - oxidation. No, it does not corrode, but it does oxidize; as in over time the resin that makes up the most of the carbon fiber material picks up oxygen from the air - and that makes the material more pliable, and easier to bend as resin weakens. That can lead to cascade failure in itself over time, with no apparent damage. It leads to the second problem - mode of failure. Most every other material be it Al, steel or Ti - has some yield before it gives completely, crumpling to the end. CF does not. When it breaks, it most often shatters into pieces. One second you're riding on your bike, the next it is missing a fork or a tube of the frame etc. I have a problem with that, since combined with first mentioned problem, it makes CF unpredictable. You might ride it for at least 20 years with no problems, or it might shatter tomorrow. The problem is, that you cannot know that for certain. And testing on composite materials is usually done with dye colored penetrating fluids, and ultrasound. Those methods enable us to find over 99% defects in composites while in production. And you're right, it costs money - one hour of testing is typically around $50 to $100, depending on tests selected, and on complexity of the structure.

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    Whatever you do, do not, I repeat, do not go to this website: http://www.bustedcarbon.com/

  18. #18
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    Oxidation must be what my friend was talking about. How long does it take for oxidation to significantly impact the frame?

  19. #19
    What??? Only 2 wheels? jimmuller's Avatar
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    I really shouldn't contribute to this thread because I have no experience with CF. But I will anyway.

    I would think that damage to or repairability of the frame after a crash is the least of one's worries. I would worry much more about repairability of the engine. Avoid the crash as well as you possibly can. The frame is just a tool. If the frame fails and causes the crash, now that's something to be concerned about. But in the short-term, which would seem to be at least years, it's still minor compared to other dangers faced by a cyclist. If you really want to worry, find something significant to worry about.

    I admit I ride a 37-year-old steel frame. Take that for what it's worth.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by whitecat View Post
    Most every other material be it Al, steel or Ti - has some yield before it gives completely, crumpling to the end. CF does not. When it breaks, it most often shatters into pieces. One second you're riding on your bike, the next it is missing a fork or a tube of the frame etc.
    In my experience, aluminum breaks suddenly and without warning. I, personally, have never seen any carbon fiber frame break while Just Riding Along. I have, however, seen seen aluminum frames and parts fail in that manner. The difficulty of casting and welding aluminum, combined with the lack of a well-defined fatigue limit usually seem to be the culprits.

    Quote Originally Posted by RiverHills View Post
    Oxidation must be what my friend was talking about. How long does it take for oxidation to significantly impact the frame?
    Decades? Centuries? While UV damage of the resin used in carbon fiber construction is possible in theory, it rarely happens in modern carbon fiber components due to two factors:

    1) the components (e.g. bike frames) are painted, which prevents the resin from seeing any UV exposure... as long as the paint is intact.

    2) the outer layer of the carbon fiber sandwich is often an "appearance" layer (especially for parts that will be clear-coated rather than painted); it makes the part look good but doesn't contribute to the structural integrity. This appearance layer is the one exposed to UV, not the structural layers.

    As I said earlier: my last carbon frame showed no degradation after 15 years, and the construction methods were certainly several generations behind was is currently being used. I'll admit: I do store my bikes in the garage between rides, rather than leaving them outside in the sun...

  21. #21
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    Uh, oxidation and UV exposure are entirely two different things.

  22. #22
    Senior Member socalrider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RiverHills View Post
    Oxidation must be what my friend was talking about. How long does it take for oxidation to significantly impact the frame?
    This is way overblown too.. I still ride steel frames today that are from the late 80's and early 90's, both Merckx's.. If you are worried there are treatments for steel frames that help with the problem of rust.. I have just used wd40 over the years but there are some better sprays like JP Weigel that work wonders..

    http://www.speedgoat.com/Catalog.asp...=C202&Prod=947

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    Quote Originally Posted by socalrider View Post
    This is way overblown too.. I still ride steel frames today that are from the late 80's and early 90's, both Merckx's.. If you are worried there are treatments for steel frames that help with the problem of rust.. I have just used wd40 over the years but there are some better sprays like JP Weigel that work wonders..

    http://www.speedgoat.com/Catalog.asp...=C202&Prod=947
    What is it with reading comprehension today??

    The discussion was about the oxidation of carbon.

  24. #24
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Oxidation requires oxygen, I know of zero carbon fiber frames that are not either painted or have a clear coat on them. This is a non-issue... If you are worried about carbon fiber oxidizing or falling apart you'd be better forget about your bike and start worrying about flying in airplanes...
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    Oxidation requires oxygen, I know of zero carbon fiber frames that are not either painted or have a clear coat on them. This is a non-issue... If you are worried about carbon fiber oxidizing or falling apart you'd be better forget about your bike and start worrying about flying in airplanes...
    1) Paint cracks, fails, and is not applied perfectly
    2) I know of no bike in which the frame is painted from the inside-out. Further, I know of no bike in which the insides of the frame tubes are sealed air tight to prevent oxygen from reacting with the carbon on the inside of the frame.

    Now hopefully someone who knows what they are talking about will comment.

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