Carbon Concerns Part 2… Carbon alternates.

By | January 21, 2014

Carbon is a great material and bicycle manufacturers have embraced as a material for bicycle frames as well as components.  It is a fantastic material!  It is light strong and can be layered in limitless configurations.  However, as discussed in part one of this series, carbon does have a few drawbacks.  It is prone to failure due to impacts and abrasion, it requires a significant amount of energy to produce, and is not recyclable.  In addition, it seems that every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane on the road whether they are newb or experienced rider is sporting a carbon frame.  These are reasons to consider some carbon alternatives!  There are some dead sexy alternatives out there too!

This is a list of carbon alternates and some of the finest crafted examples of these materials I could find.  No these are not inexpensive, but they are as beautiful and well crafted as any resin and carbon concoction on the market.

Steel is a great material for bike frames.  It is strong, and yet flexible to absorb road vibration.  Steel is widely available and easily recyclable.  Some minor cracks can be fixed by an experienced, skilled welder.  Unfortunately steel can be heavy and shapes tend to be rather basic.  My first mountain bike had a steel frame, I dented it and later cracked it.

  • Co-motion bicycles out of Eugene, Oregon makes custom steel and aluminum framed bicycles.  They are well known for tandems, but they also make mountain bikes, touring bikes and road bikes.  By using high quality materials and careful craftsman ship, they can make their steel bikes extraordinarily light.  These bikes are handmade and everything can be customized from geometry to paint.  As a result, the price can be high. One of my favorite options is the Co-pilot package.  This option adds couplers to the frame so that it may be broken down and fit into standard sized luggage.  This is a great options for those of us who fly with their bike. Click here for more information.
  • Steelman Cycles out of Redmond, California produces steel framed bicycles.  The company was started by Brent Steelman (yes Brent Steelman).  I have seen a couple of their bikes in the flesh.  What caught my eye is the stunning level of detail and quality of craftsman of their bikes.  Their lugged frames are gorgeous!  I would imagine if I owned one, I would run into things because I could not keep my eyes off of it.  That quality of work can come at a cost.  Frame and fork prices can be as high as $5,000. Click here for more information.

Titanium absorbs road vibration like steel, but at a lighter weight.  It is also resistant to corrosion and is often left unpainted.  Typically one can recognize a titanium bike by its gray metallic appearance.  Titanium can be difficult to work, machine and weld.  As a result titanium bikes are expensive and very difficult to repair.  Titanium is recyclable.

  • Litespeed talk about titanium bicycles and the first think people think of is Litespeed.  Litespeed is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.   They have been producing titanium bikes since the mid 80’s and are still going strong.  They are high quality, durable and widely respected.  Click here for more information.  
  • Lynsky also from Chattanooga, Tennessee has only been producing titanium bicycles since 2006.  However, the Lansky family was there at the beginning of titanium bicycle manufacturing.  They started Litespeed in the 80’s and sold the company in 1999.  They came back to the bicycle business as a family run company with as much experience as anyone in the industry.  I was first made aware of Lynsky at last years RAGBRAI.  We were in Oskaloosa, IA as the sun set, it was obvious that we were going to get rain.  Many people sought shelter in the grade school.  That is where I saw it sitting in the hall.  I was stopped in my tracks, but this stunning piece of bicycle design.  I just stood there staring at it.  Well the owner saw me and swooped in like a protective mother hen.  We said a couple words to each other and I stumbled off awkwardly.  That bike was the Lynsky Helix.  Stunning.  Based on the price of this lovely, I can understand why its owner was so protective!  Click here for more information.

Aluminum is a light, strong, stiff material well suited for bicycles.  It is widely available, inexpensive and easily worked.  This stiffness tends to transmit road vibration directly to the rider.  Aluminum it is typically found in low end bikes.  This has tarnished its reputation.  In recent years, there has been a Renaissance in aluminum. Manufacturers are using the material in new, innovative ways.  I expect to see more and better aluminum framed bikes in the near future.

  • BMC  is a Swiss manufacturer that I am very familiar with.  I reviewed several of their bikes on this blog including the GranFondo01.  As it turns out, the GranFondo 02 brings the same amazing road dampening qualities to an aluminum frame.  I would seriously consider this bike over the GranFondo 01 and at a lower price!  Click here for more information.  

Wood and bamboo are abundant and two of the few renewable resources for making bikes. Wood was once used for wheels, but has all but been abandoned by the bicycle industry.  There are just a few companies branching out into wood and bamboo for their bikes.

  • Renovo is based out of Portland, Oregon.  They use the combination of  modern milling techniques and epoxies to create a wood hollow framed bike.  Through the use of varying species or lumber, veneers and grain direction, Renovo claims to be able to modify strength characteristics in a manner similar to carbon.  Not only does the layering of different species of wood alter a frame’s strength characteristics, it also makes for one stunning machine.  Click here for more information.
  • Calfee based out of La Selva Beach, California is very well known for their carbon frames.  They are well known in the industry as carbon innovators bringing carbon fiber to Greg LeMond’s team in the Tour de France.  They are the go-to company if you break your carbon frame.  They are one of the few companies willing to take on carbon frame repairs.  Now they are bringing bamboo frames to the people who can afford them.  According to their page, bamboo is a great material, which is very strong and able to absorb road vibration.  There are few renewable resources that are so cheap and plentiful.  Unfortunately each frame required forty hours of labor.  Hence they are not cheap, but certainly eye catching.  Click here for more information.
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