Carbon is king in the mountain bike world, right? Most racers are riding on carbon machines, and they often sit proudly at the top of a brand's price list, decked out in the top spec. But carbon is far from perfect. It's expensive, it has a questionable environmental impact, and if it goes wrong, it can go really wrong. On top of this, some riders can find it overly stiff and harsh to ride. In short, there can be a trade off for the light and svelte frames it creates.
Over the past couple of years, a number of other materials and processes have emerged that could revolutionize the sport. At the moment, most of these are ways to tune carbon fiber, and may allow us to remove the negative aspects of carbon and keep all the good stuff. Let's take a look at four of the most promising:Long Carbon Fiber Reinforced Composites - Recyclable Carbon
A big talking point around carbon in the last few years has been its ecological impact - when you’re done with it, the land fill beckons.
Hoping to solve that problem, HYC (Hsin Yung Chien Co Ltd.) have developed Long Carbon Fiber Reinforced Composites (LFT) together with Taiwan's government-funded Industrial Economics and Knowledge Centre. The company started making slats for conveyor belts, but recently saw the utility for its carbon in bike manufacturing and debuted a frame at the Taipei show.
So how does it work? Well HYC claims that the non-recyclability of carbon comes not from the fibers themselves but the epoxy resin in which the fibers are set. HYC uses its own PPS resin that is recyclable and only requires 10 percent carbon fibers to form the LFT tubes, although stronger mixes can be made with up to 30 percent carbon fibers. Unlike traditional carbon fiber manufacturing, which requires a lay up process, the LFC can be produced using an injection moulding technique, which should also make it cheaper in the long run.
HYC had a protoype frame at the show that used carbon tubes and 3D-printed lugs, similar to the Atherton Bikes
production method. At the moment, the bike is heavier than a carbon fiber counterpart and reportedly, just as strong. However, HYC are hoping to bring that weight down as their methods become more sophisticated. HYC claims that LFT could be commercially viable within two years and that it has had interest from some of cycling's biggest manufacturers.
More info here
.Un-Break System - Prevents Catastrophic Failure
UBS or the Un-Break System, was developed by Kalloy Industrial and brought for the first time to the Taipei show. It's basically carbon with a layer of aluminium foil inside and Kalloy claim it can be bent, withstand greater impacts than traditional carbon fiber and even be drilled into. Basically, UBS is aiming to combine the lightness and stiffness of carbon fiber with the ductility and utility of aluminium.
When the UBS does break it will crack, but not totally fail like some carbon fiber structures do. Whereas regular carbon may expose sharp fibers and leave you looking for a bin bag to pick up what's left of your component, UBS should be more or less in one piece and could even be nursed home. While UBS is not lighter than carbon fiber in a straight fight, Kalloy claim it can be made thinner than carbon tubing thanks to the added strength of the aluminium so the final product should be lighter overall too.
This isn't the first carbon/metal composite material cycling has seen and Rein4ced
announced late last year they will be making frames from carbon and steel fiber. At the moment, Kalloy only have a few handlebars and seatposts made of UBS, but a greater product range, even frames would not be out of the question in the future. Dyneema - Improves impact resistance and vibration absorption
It may be old news in the road cycling world, but Dyneema, claimed to be the world’s strongest fiber, is yet to break through into the world of mountain biking. It was first discovered by accident in 1968 after Dr Albert Pennings was doing research into polyethylene for a coal mining and fertilizer company and discovered a thread he couldn’t pull apart. After 20 years of R&D, Dyneema was born.
It’s claimed to be 15 times stronger than steel on a weight for weight basis, yet it can float on water. This combination of extreme strength and low weight make it suitable for a wide and expanding number of applications.
In cycling, we’ve mainly seen it in road cycling clothing, where it offers abrasion resistance to help with crashes. However, we’ve seen spokes made from Dyneema
from Newman Wheels at the last two Taipei Cycle Shows, and a frame made from Dyneema, woven with carbon fiber, was displayed at a plastics show in 2016. DSM claim that Dyneema will increase the absorption of vibration by 100% and will also increase impact resistance.Graphene/borophene - Even lighter, stronger and vibration absorption
Graphene has been touted as the world's wonder material since it was discovered in 2003, but we're still yet to fully see its impact in the cycling world. It is the world's strongest material, yet also elastic and super light, so it's no surprise then that the scientists who first found it were fast-tracked to a Nobel prize. It has started appearing in road cycling with British brand Dassi
making a frame that wove graphene with carbon fiber for its light weight and vibration dapming properties. Vittoria also uses it in its tires
and cite improved cut and abrasion resistance, a higher tensile strength, less air seepage, and improved grip in wet conditions.
But recently, a new material has come along that may replace it, borophene
. The best way to think of borophene is as graphene+. It was first theorized in the 1990s and only synthesised in 2015. Much like graphene, it is a single layer thick but this time it's boron atoms, not carbon atoms. Borophene is claimed to be stronger and more flexible than graphene, while still sharing its conductive properties. At the moment, we can't make large quantities and it oxidizes very quickly, but if it can be refined, borophene could well bring even greater benefits to mountain biking.