Recently i've been bumping into numerous articles about Trek's new patented "invisible weld technology", some of such articles (and commentators on them) speculating that it might signal a "new age" for aluminium within the bike industry.
Well, lots of brands (Merida and their partner Specialized first come to mind) speak of their smooth weld technology but in reality their welds are certainly not invisible on close look. No foul i guess. They say smooth so that's ok. However looking at Trek's new so called "invisible" welds, while they may even be slightly more smoothed, slightly nearer to hidden than the aforementioned brands, they are still clearly visible on close look so doesn't one have to call Trek out for their invisible claim and name here?
Below is taken from the Trek Website..
"Trek’s advanced Alpha Aluminum frames feature Invisible Weld Technology, a revolutionary welding process that decreases weight and increases structural integrity, while also delivering finely tuned welds that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are strong.
Let’s be honest: Looks matter. A premium road bike requires clean, esteemed aesthetics that are not blemished by sloppy, highly visible weld material at every joint. Invisible Weld Technology produces welds that are just that—invisible"
Hmm. Below again is a link to google images of the Olympia Khers alloy road bike (released around 5 years ago and discontinued last spring) that has 100% true hidden weldings to the point that they leave the frame mistakable as carbon (until you might notice the few traditional weldings in lower areas like bb zone and chainstays). I own the bike and can assure you the pictures don't lie, the welds are totally 100% hidden. Under no light or angle can you see any sign whatsoever of the welds. They have obviously been well and truly buried.
So then, truly invisible welds are nothing new. I'm pretty sure, though not positive, that De Rosa also have had smooth weld alloy frames like the Olympia in the past. In any case i don't think Olympia (who are not even that big or mainstream in Italy today, nevermind outside Italy) have some special corner on the market.
So, why don't more brands do it?
I can't think it's cost prohibitive (again, Olympia are not that big a brand and besides the Khers retailed at only about 750 euro in the entry Xenon Campagnolo build so was hardly an exotic priced bike)
A possible weight penalty was the first thing that popped to my mind (Ironically Trek say their invisible welds save on weight) but given the Khers in size L (second to biggest size) weighed 9.4kg on the scales and had no more than complete entry level components on it (in fact some remarkably heavy) save for Shimano 105 levers and deraileurs, this means that the frame, while not very light category definitely can't be remarkably heavy either (indeed I since got it down to almost 9kg even, merely by adding cheap enough Aksium Elite wheels and switching stem).
Third thing to come to mind was whether perhaps completely hidden weldings are considered to have a negative effect on ride quality (and i will readily admit "stiff" is a word that comes to mind if i am to describe the Khers ride quality, even if i have liked that "stiff" because it seems to translate nicely into speed).
Failing these theories, I'm left imagining some far fetched conspiracy within the bike industry where the majority of bike brands have jointly agreed not to source true hidden weld alloy frames for the fact it might negatively impact on carbon bike sales. Or perhaps they intend to all start making them sometime in the future and declare the true "new age of aluminium" is upon us all. I mean we've had Merida and Specialized doing smooth and now we have Trek doing even smoother..
Now the Khers is gone though (and as of now, still yet to be replaced) the only bike brand I know of doing an alloy frame that looks to have true hidden welds (and i'm talking only from seing file pictures here, so i can't be 100% sure) is the Rose Pro SL. If i'm right, it's worth noting the Pro SL is a remarkably light aluminium frame too which would seem to dispel any theory that a weight penalty could be part of why true smooth weld alloy bikes are so rare
I'd love to hear any ideas or insights regarding true hidden weld frames. Why are they so rare? There surely has to be solid reason(s)? To be honest (and i say this as somebody who has a carbon road bike too- also Olympia as it happens) it looks great up to the point when the time comes to buy my next aluminium bike I feel like I'll be annoyed if i can't find one i like with true hidden weldings.
Hmm, maybe the Rose Pro SL, if i like next years colour schemes as that frame is certainly geometrically very nice looking in my opinion.
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