Carbon frame life

by Dunluce   June 18, 2014  

I've been looking at getting a new bike and one of the options I've been considering is a titanium frame. I like the idea of the longevity of the material. This got me thinking, what is the expected life of a carbon frame? If I buy a carbon frame now will I still be able to ride it in 20 or 30 years time as I could with a steel or titanium frame?

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It really depends on the frame construction and the forces it's subjected to (from riding or crashing). There are a lot of 20 year old carbon bikes still on the road working fine and not falling apart, and carbon fiber is highly repairable. Of course newer carbon bikes are both better made (higher quality manufacturing) and much lighter than carbon bikes of 20 years ago. Some are incredibly light and my guess is they probably won't last as well as a 1995 OCLV Trek if they get any significant abuse.

All things considered I think the Ti bike will last the best when subjected to rough duty: 20-30 years of bad roads, some salt water, and an occasional tumble on the pavement. But I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from carbon or steel bikes, which have many wonderful qualities and I love them all. Most people never break a frame, regardless of the material, even if they keep it for decades.

posted by Derny [35 posts]
19th June 2014 - 2:24

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The only 20year old carbon frames I've seen about are colnago c40s, but of course being colnagos people only ever ride them like once per summer, or ride it a few times and sell it on ebay for what they bought it for. Also you have to factor in the fact that there aren't many carbon frames being made 20years ago. So basically I've just said nothing Crying

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posted by pants [71 posts]
19th June 2014 - 7:29

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I had the same decision to make roughly this time last year. I decided that Ti is the only *material* that I can guarantee will last for decades. Steel can rust if you don't touch up chips, carbon can go snap in a crash, and the only frame I've ever had fail on me was made of aluminium (weld failure at DS chainstay/BB on a Felt FA).

Of course the quality of construction and the care with which you maintain your steed will affect the longevity of the frame, but when I considered salted roads and the odd spill (you're bound to have one or two in the next 30 years!), I came up with Ti.

There's no paint on mine, so no chips to touch up, and after a wash it always looks like it did the day I built the bike.

posted by srchar [52 posts]
19th June 2014 - 10:17

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srchar,
Out of interest what Ti bike did you go for and how has it been?

posted by Dunluce [59 posts]
19th June 2014 - 11:19

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I've got a Van Nicholas Ventus, built with a Chorus/Athena mix, Zonda wheels and nice finishing kit. I love it, but there's just one problem. I thought it would be my "best" bike and that I'd only ride it in nice weather, but I prefer it to my other bikes so much that it gets ridden in all weathers. However, it has no guard mounts and clearances are too tight for cruds, so I get covered in crap and have to clean the drive train every time it rains.

This is my build - https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1omgJJzU3ZiwAnFC3LApPimMck0uJ14Wu... - if I did it again, I'd go for something that can take guards. I'd probably stick with Van Nic, as the bike is a pleasure to ride and the frames tend to be cheaper than those of other, more prestigious brands.

posted by srchar [52 posts]
19th June 2014 - 15:57

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My 12 year old Colnago C40 is still going strong, so is the C50 which I bought second hand from someone who put serious miles on it. Carbon is not as fragile as people are lead to believe...

posted by Bontie [1 posts]
19th June 2014 - 17:23

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Carbon doesn't fatigue like metals so over the life span of two identical frames one made from carbon the other from steel the Carbon frame could technically go on forever where as the steel tubes will fail. Only problem with that is we don't live in a test lab.

Personally I think the likely hood of a frame dieing from old age is tiny compared the the likely hood of a crash destroying a frame. Most mechanicals failures fall into 2 categories 1)bad design 2)pushing the mechanism beyond it's design limits.

posted by pablo [4 posts]
19th June 2014 - 21:37

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Agree with the above comments. Its a good question, and not possible to answer given how young carbon frames generally are. time will tell..

What it will probably come down to is ability to survive crashes and heavy use on rough roads, and I went Ti because I kept on breaking Alu..

posted by 700c [554 posts]
19th June 2014 - 22:25

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Bear in mind that some metal frames these days are incredibly thin, 0.4mm on some, which is basically bacofoil plus a bit. If they get dented they are likely to suffer stress fractures after a while, and if they break it's not practical to weld up material so thin, so perhaps won't last forever.

Steel frames on the other hand can be heated up and the braze melted to take out a damaged member and slip in another. Carbon can be repaired by several small firms in the UK.

posted by drmatthewhardy [289 posts]
20th June 2014 - 21:48

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I am not aware of carbon failing, though the consensus is that it doesn't retain all of its stiffness over time, which is probably preferable to it becoming brittle! Not an issue for the amateur rider.

One difficulty is that even if you know what fibre it's made from, the frame is made from carbon reinforced resin.....and you don't ever know what resin was used!

In actual fact, for longevity, aluminium is probably the worst option of the four.

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [457 posts]
21st June 2014 - 9:40

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The way I have usually seen carbon bikes often fail (absent crashing or chain suck) is in their interfaces with metal fittings, such as frame lugs, aluminum inserts used in the head tube and bottom bracket, and dropouts. Sometimes water will intrude, and aluminum bits corrode.

posted by Derny [35 posts]
21st June 2014 - 14:29

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Whoops, wrong thread.

posted by Derny [35 posts]
21st June 2014 - 14:47

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Srchar,
The Ventus sounds good to me and it's about within my budget. The mudguard issue is a problem though as I will be riding the bike everyday and would definitely need them in the winter. What about something like the SKS raceblade guards which can fit onto the quick release or the Crud roadracer which attach to the frame. Do you think they would fit? ( I hope the links below work as I've never tried to insert them before)

http://road.cc/content/review/33843-crud-roadracer-mk2-mudguards

http://road.cc/content/review/50952-sks-raceblade-long-mudguards

posted by Dunluce [59 posts]
22nd June 2014 - 18:41

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Not being funny guys but fighter jets are made from glued composites and they will see many more fatigue cycles than a carbon bike frame, if it's a decent brand and you don't crash it then life shouldn't be an issue.

posted by gdmor10 [29 posts]
22nd June 2014 - 20:03

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I have a similar overall build but with a Kinesis Granfondo Ti frame (Athena and Zonda) and use Cruds in it during the winter. Love it and so apparently do road cc Smile

William

posted by WilliamAC1 [2 posts]
22nd June 2014 - 21:20

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Dunluce wrote:
The Ventus sounds good to me and it's about within my budget. The mudguard issue is a problem though as I will be riding the bike everyday and would definitely need them in the winter. What about something like the SKS raceblade guards which can fit onto the quick release or the Crud roadracer which attach to the frame. Do you think they would fit?

I tried Cruds - not enough clearance beneath the brake caliper (I run Michelin Pro4 25s which are actually more like 27). With 23s you might get away with it.

Had RaceBlades on a previous roadie and hated them.

If you really need guards, you're better off getting a frame with proper clearances and mounting points. I'm sure someone will be along shortly to recommend the Kinesis GF Ti, which looks like a lovely frame, although I've not tried it myself.

posted by srchar [52 posts]
23rd June 2014 - 10:53

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All I can add: the ratio of "cracked Ti frames" posts to "cracked carbon frames" on cyclechat and yacf is suprising...

A single tube of Ti is lovely stuff, but bicycles are not single tubes, and the prettiness of a weld does not correlate well with its quality. For almost any structure I can think of, joins and welds are usually the failure points.

Furthermore, for all the mystique of artisan welders, etc etc, a small company does not IMO have the same incentive, or ability, to do quality control as a big company, with a twitter account, sending frames to major bike races, does. You do NOT want a frame failing at 40mph in front of millions of viewers, nor do you want pissed off ex-owners when you're that public, and you can afford to pay a lot of people good money to make sure that doesn't happen. And given carbon's density, adding a big margin for error might only mean adding 100 or 200g. That margin directly translates into a long fatigue life.

So I'll have a punt on the average carbon frame outlasting the average Ti frame. In either case, age-related failure usually will mean obsolete connectors - new headtube standards, new bb standards etc. So try and buy for trusted standards supported by many companies as possible, instead of new and propietary.

posted by nuclear coffee [113 posts]
23rd June 2014 - 12:00

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Steel rusts. Titanium cracks.
My custome 653 frame rusted - it was repairable though.
Friends have had Titanium bikes crack.

Carbon can break if its impacted in a crash or something - but I'd think that would be my choice for longevity. Don't go superlight on it and you should be fine.

posted by fenix [5 posts]
23rd June 2014 - 13:49

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fenix wrote:
Steel rusts. Titanium cracks.
My custome 653 frame rusted - it was repairable though.
Friends have had Titanium bikes crack.

Carbon can break if its impacted in a crash or something - but I'd think that would be my choice for longevity. Don't go superlight on it and you should be fine.

I think unless you cycle by yourself in a velodrome you will crash at some point regardless of how good you are. Personally I'd rather have the extra protection of a frame being able to survive a crash as well as lasting a while.

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posted by pants [71 posts]
23rd June 2014 - 14:16

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Flying Scot wrote:
... though the consensus is that it doesn't retain all of its stiffness over time...

Consensus among whom ... the ignorant?

Back to original post. By all means justify a frame purchase by the longevity of the materials said frame is built from, but ask yourself whether or not you really will forego a new bike purchase over that period? My 2002 Ti frame is great - but it has a BSA threaded BB shell (rather than press fit), an inch and an eighth head tube (rather than a tapered inch and a half to inch and an eighth) and an external headset. And it doesn't have disc tabs or 135mm spaced rear end. If you are happy foregoing loads of tehcnical innovations then maybe it is valid to use a 30 year life span as a justification for buying a Ti frame.

posted by surly_by_name [137 posts]
23rd June 2014 - 15:24

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+1 on comments recommending the kinesis gran fondo ti, it's what I ride and very pleased with the choice I made.

choosing a bike based on longevity of the material (or let's be honest, the warranty period offered) is a sound strategy. RE the example above,. I'm not convinced there's been that many technological innovations over the past 12 years which will actually make a difference. Threaded BSA BB's are still in common use, as are calliper brakes, discs being a very new development for road bikes, 1 1/8 in headsets also common, and so for all of these standards there are lots of after market options even after 12 years..

Obviously no one would deliberately choose a weak frame because they intend to change bikes every 2 years, but I imagine titanium owners change bikes less frequently than those who own Al and carbon..

Just a gut feeling, no evidence!..

posted by 700c [554 posts]
23rd June 2014 - 16:14

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Given that Boeing has largely built its Dreamliner out of carbon fibre I imagine they hope/expect it will last quite well. Better than its batteries in any case. I trust Boeing did a bit of research before opting for carbon but they won't be taxiing down British roads.

posted by Scrufftie [20 posts]
23rd June 2014 - 20:32

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Maybe they will....remember this?

http://taxi.ba.com/

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posted by Comrade [133 posts]
24th June 2014 - 3:47

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