Thursday, October 23, 2008

Inspection of Dave's Carbon Fiber Road Bicycle

Disgruntled user : David Kina, NY - Cat 3 USCF Racer
: 2005 Specialized Roubaix Elite

Frame material
: Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP)

Time in service : 3 cycling seasons

Check these pictures out. A primary aim of this post is to help you as a carbon fiber bike owner relate with these incidents and give you an idea of a couple of things to watch out for while on and off the bike.

Last weekend, after I rode with my amigo David Kina, I decided to inspect his machine. His specialized Roubaix Elite was supposedly designed with the "Paris Roubaix" in mind, and the frame geometry is pretty slack for a racing bike. Its fork has a very subtle curve to it and the bike is adorned with Zertz' inserts for vibration reduction in more places than you have fingers to count. Ofcourse, he claims that they make practically no difference whatsoever to riding comfort, and he may be right. But that's the topic for another day, perhaps.

1. Now Dave has crashed on his bike a couple of times in the past. He did not say whether the damage to his bike was a result of the crash, but he did notice resin cracks appearing on a couple of spots on his top tube. He thinks its the resin chipping away. I think it may be the clear coat. anyway, he ensured that air and water do not get into these 'cracks' by applying a fine layer of nail polish (remover?) on them as per the advice of another expert. This acts as a binder/sealant when cured but I have nothing else to back up its advantages.

These two appear to be two different (?) cracks on the same top tube and pictures were taken from both sides of the tube. The cracks appear very subtle in thickness, but not in length.

Dave also happened to skip his chain on an occasion, causing its metal links to fall and scrub against the chainstay. He did not have any piece to prevent the chain from hitting the frame, so his bike suffered another blow.

One day, Dave was rushing to get to a race on time and hurriedly placed his bike into the back his car. He realized later that day that this exercise had caused the metal alloy front brakes to impact the downtube of the frame when the handlebars were turned. Check them out.

A closer look :

To give you an idea of how this happened, I had to take the following picture with the handlebar turned. Look at my red arrows. Makes sense?

The practicalities on how to avoid this situation is under your discretion. The bottom line is, take caution when placing your bicycle into the back of a vehicle or bike case. You may use bubble wrap or layers of rags or anything such as that between the parts. Its these kind of impacts you're looking to try and avoid.

4. Dave generally likes to keep his bike clean. However, he thinks the design of this bottom bracket-chainstay junction along with the vertical internal cable routing hole creates a perfect storm for clogging of dirt. He thinks the dirt may be so deep as to suggest that it runs through a portion of the chainstay itself, like as marked below. The question he's now asking is : "How do I clean this crap?"

I'm not sure whether that is truly the extent of the clogging, but I certainly can see how the design allowes for it to happen. Generally, I'm not in favor of internal routing. (Weightweenies, I think all this dirt could weigh as much as the mounting bolt of a water bottle cage. Area for caution!)

Conversely, Dave has prevented water and dirt from seeping through his seatpost clearance and into the seat tube by sealing that off with insoluble grease. Its not a bad idea, but be prepared to take some grief from your riding friends. Hey, there's a reason behind everything! If he or she can't understand that, just go ahead and attack them on the next climb.

All in all, Dave is keeping his fingers crossed while he sits on this bike and is generally not very happy. Durability issues have cropped up just three seasons into his racing. The worst part is the feeling that even if he chooses to sell his bike as a second hand, no one may be ready to buy it from him. That surely is a bummer and I can understand that.

We certainly didn't go to great detail here, but I hope this simple case study helped give you some more perspectives on how to care for your carbon fiber bicycle - an investment that you shouldn't be ready to lose before its actual expiry date.

Besides, better safe than sorry, aiy mate?

* * *


Anonymous said...

Ron I hear applying nail polish is bad on carbon fiber.

Anonymous said...

Nail polish is neither good nor bad.
It does do well to stabilize the clear coat paint, but it will do nothing to stop the propagation of a crack.

Dave should draw a line on both sides of each crack he has and pay close attention to see if these cracks grow beyond those lines.
If they do, he needs to call Spec. and see about purchasing a replacement frame at a discount.

2 years race seasons on a Roubaix is about all he should have expected.
Like most carbon bikes, the Roubaix was not designed to get smacked around.

- Ryan

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment there. Paying 2000 or 3000 k for just 3 seasons of riding doesn't seem worth it to me.

David Kina said...

I do like my bike a lot. The zertz took some getting used to as I first thought they were like high tech nontraditional bling. But I have learned to appreciate my bike and like her for who she really is. Her effort to give extra vibration dampening is commendable. I haven't been unfaithful and ridden another bike long enough to tell the difference...that's what I told Ron.

When I bought this slightly heavier than feather weight frame that weighed in at about 2.8572 lbs I expected long term potential...especially because it was designed to take the pressures of the rigorous Paris-Roubaix. On second thought the pros only used this exact type of frame and fork for a day then they could do away with there rides to some fanatics. I do intend to ride this bike for as long as possible and will inspect the chips in the resin.

Thanks for the advice on returning a damaged frame to Specialized for a discount. Most of my feelings urge me to hope that this will not happen and that my bike and I will live happily together for all my riding days.

Ron said...


Excuse me. You bring up a good point. I'm not sure why Dave has his clamp turned the other way around. Interestingly, he did tell me of some kind of crack at the back of the seat tube but we didn't have time for photos. Dave, whats the idea ?


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