It has come to my attention that all carbon fiber bikes have a flaw. They are wonderfully light and stiff. They are comfortable and fast. They don’t even rust or corrode when they get wet. They look cool with the smooth shapes and they make little sounds that remind you they are carbon. In short they are very well designed and professionally built to the highest standards thus they are a marvelous work of engineering and art. I want one so bad! Can you tell?
The issue I have with carbon fiber bicycle frames is they have a limited lifespan. True that lifespan may be fairly long if the bike is ridden well within the original design limits and never crashed. Eventually like every bike, even the high end supper bikes will come to the end of the service life. It may be of no fault of the owner. Newer better models eclipse the older ones making them obsolete. Old bikes get handed down to new riders and find life extension this way. But all bikes have an end of lifespan at some point.
What happens to old bike frames? Old steel, aluminum and titanium can all be recycled more or less. That’s not so easy with a carbon fiber product. Used carbon fiber has little or no value as a recycled product. With no intrinsic value there is little or no impetus to recycle it. There are few uses for recycled carbon fiber because it is a specific use product. It is made to do one thing and it dose that very well, but when it is recycled it loses its biggest advantage. Its high strength to weight ratio is lost. What happens to them? Most will likely find their way to some over filled land fill dump. This adds just one more piece of junk to the mountain of waste.
Have you ever noticed that almost nothing carbon fiber for consumer use is produced in this country? Yes some very fine high end items are produced but few of those are consumer products. Like most industrially advanced countries they have advanced environmental laws. These strict laws and guidelines control the production of potentially hazardous by-products and waste products. These laws add significant expense to the cost of a product. Parts for the aero-space or motorsports can be priced to account for these cost increases. Products for which the consumer is paying the price it is a global price war and the all mighty dollar rules.
Carbon fiber is a composite of various chemical compounds as a plastic resin that is combined with carbon or graphite fibers to form a ridged structure. The production of the end product may generate a significant waste stream and some of it could be very hazardous. Yes it is up to the manufacturer to run a clean and efficient operation. It is up to governments and the agencies they create to make sure that the waste and by-products are reused or disposed of in an ecologically responsible way. All manufactured products have the potential to generate a hazardous waste stream. It is up to the end user to decide “Do I really need a carbon fiber product? Do I feel that the benefits outweigh the negatives? Do I think another product may be a more responsible choice?” We as consumers have the final say in the use of carbon fiber in our products. We decide what the manufacture will build by what we buy. They won’t build it if nobody is buying it.
This has been an exercise in considering the pros and cons of the use of carbon fiber in bicycles. This was for me to help me think thru the logic of being responsible as balanced by desire. You and I are likely to take different views on such things. As for me I think yes to consumer products of carbon fiber. In all honesty I want a carbon fiber bike frame. I must in the interest of full disclosure (even though I’m not required to by anyone and it my blog so I can say what I want) I admit I have carbon fiber wheels, handle bars, fork and seat post on my road bike. If I get a good used carbon fiber frame then at least I will be extending the service life as long as possible. I hope that counts as being responsible and not just that I’m cheap.