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NYTimes Op-Ed?: Tech Makes Bicycles Lighter, Cyclists Fall Harder?

NYTimes Op-Ed?: Tech Makes Bicycles Lighter, Cyclists Fall Harder?

I find MAJOR faults with this article in the New York Times.  Open for discussion.

As Technology Makes Bicycles Lighter and Faster, It’s the Cyclists Falling Harder

There is a little bit of interesting info in this article that many may not know but I think it makes some statements, without evidence or data or statistics, that lead to an unlikely conclusion.  The shocking headline stems from an unsubstantiated small statement in what I'm calling an Op-Ed. The article implies that carbon bikes can simply "shatter" or "fall apart" under the rider which I have NEVER seen, with pros or amateurs...ever.  In this tour we saw some bikes broken in pieces, turns out one was run over by a car and the other snagged on another team car while the bike was bolted to the roof-rack causing the fracture.  There is no evidence given or that I've ever seen that cyclists are "falling harder" except that rewards and therefore speeds and aggression to win keep increasing.

While it can be true that a simple crash or collision can stress carbon fiber in a direction it wasn't meant to be pushed leading to a failure, other materials like aluminum or even steel when "butted" and used to build high-end performance bikes, can also be stressed to failure in the same way.  Both often lead to "throwing away" the bike.  With aluminum, the tubes are drawn to extremely thin walls and can easily be dented or opened up like a can.  Magnesium is a rare material with great properties for bikes but I've also seen those tubes crack.  Titanium perhaps is the most durable material but nothing except carbon (done right) is going to yield the ultimate combination of lateral stiffness and vertical compliance and aerodynamics (=Nirvana).

I've had a high-end, butted, aluminum frame with carbon fork and rear triangle fall off the upper part of a floor to ceiling bike rack striking a glass coffee table.  The thin aluminum was dented beyond repair and the seat stay which easily supported my near 190+lbs snapped like a toothpick from the side impact.  The thick glass coffee table was unhurt!  Trash can.

I've watched a co-Glenelg Gang rider put his rear derailleur into his spoke (note: regularly check alignment, the inside limit screw adjustment, and if it is bent after transporting your bike) and it tore off the entire derailleur hanger on his carbon Trek and had to throw it away and buy a new frame from Trek on their "crash replacement program."  If Trek had used a "break-away" hanger that was replaceable, this *might* have been avoided but the exact same thing can, and does, happen with all materials on high-end bikes when the hanger is "part" of the frame.

Another fellow rider just detected a fracture in his carbon seat-stay, unknown when it happened.  He is having the carbon fiber repaired so no different than welding a steel frame after an accident, just a different technique.

Carbon fiber strength may have more to do with the quality of the construction and just how close to the limits the manufacturer chooses to push.  Ernesto Colnago was asked why his bikes were not as light as some competitors and he simply replied "my name is on my bike."  Ten years ago, on a BBC 16+ ride on RT-24 near Bel-Air I was going 25+ and hit a deep pothole hiding in dark shade unseen coming out of bright sun with dark sunglasses.  I was on a brand new Colnago all carbon fiber bike.  The front wheel wrenched to the side and basically stopped with all that stress going up through the fork and headtube into the frame.  I was ejected over the bars and the bike tumbled on the pavement behind me.  My clavicle was shattered but the bike was perfectly fine and I've ridden in 9,679 miles since then including sanity defying descents in the Italian and French Alps without any issues.  (  The Video doesn't show the middle part where I was accelerating to 40 mph repeatedly, then slamming on brakes full force for each hairpin turn fully stressing the bike.  Speeds on this video are mostly 40-50 mph after the initial roll-out.).  I totally trust this well built carbon fiber bike.

I think that last statement is key. I own another ultra-high-end (currently one of the two darling brands out there) with really exotic, shaped, uber-thin-wall carbon tubes and where the Colnago above weighs 18 lbs in L-XL size, this one is under 15 lbs.  I have to admit, I fear any kind of accident on this newer bike and could easily see it getting broken and thousands going in the trash can. 

The author of the article uses the word "shattered" which shows a real ignorance of the subject because CF doesn't shatter on bikes, only on suspension and body parts of Formula One race cars when they hit the wall at 100 mph plus.  Note that the "survival cell" of those incredible cars is ALL carbon fiber and these drivers regularly walk away uninjured from spectacular accidents, with 30 g-force accidents and the driver cell always perfect, never broken or "shattered."

So, as usual, we have folks who seem to have limited actual knowledge of a subject getting published and stating a lot of false info trying to get a headline and paycheck.  Needless to say I'm not thrilled about the content of this article or it's overall accuracy.

~too much of anything is just enough for me. Pete Townshend

Stuart Lamb
Stuart the Descender
196 Posts
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