IT’S ALL ABOUT CARBON

I was 17 years old when I started working in a Carbon Fibre factory.

I didn’t really understand the significance of where I was working at the time. It was 1996 and I had heard of carbon before; I knew it was used in F1 cars and planes but that was it. On my first day, I was shown around the factory and they described the carbon fibre production process to me from the weave design to pressure moulding and the types of products they made. They had four F1 tubs just sitting in the middle of the factory at various stages of production – worth around £1.5 million each, they said. 

My job was to test the tensile strength of different strands of carbon fibre. I had come from a science background and had always enjoyed lab work. At the factory, they would bring me strands of carbon to test, that I would place into the tensile testing machine and pull as far as possible until they snapped. I had to note the exact load which made the strand break and draw the graphs out by hand for review. There was a safety guard over the front of the machine, but the top of the machine was exposed and the ceiling had about 15 shards of carbon sticking out of it which I always found cool. 

So I was quite young when I got my head around the advantages of carbon fibre, and it is now thanks to technological advances and the ability of companies to produce it more cheaply, that we today see it in mountain bikes.

There is no doubt that carbon fibre is a fantastic material that has brought immense advantages to the bike industry. Most full-suspension mountain bike frames made from aluminium weight between 3-6 kilos (though some might weigh a bit less). Most full-suspension carbon fiber frames, however, weigh between 1.5 and 3 kilos and are 4 times stronger than steel. Strength is an interesting one with carbon. For metals, it is the purity that determines its strength, but with carbon it is down to the weave and, more importantly, the layup.

Carbon layup patterns can mean the difference between a frame failing or lasting 30 years. You may have heard people mentioning T800 or T1000 for the weave of their carbon frame, but this means nothing unless the layup corresponds well to the weave and the stress load on that area of the frame. Not all carbon is equal just because it says ‘T800’. The skill is understanding the stress imposed on any one structure and matching it with compliant and opposite forces. 

For me, the true potential of carbon as a building material has yet to be seen by the world. The properties of carbon fibers, such as high stiffness, high tensile strength, low weight, high chemical resistance, high temperature tolerance and low thermal expansion are only going to become more advanced year on year. 

One thing is for sure, when it came to choosing the material for our advanced Enduro bike, carbon was the easy choice.

 

FACTORY JACKSON

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