Carbon-fibre is everywhere, and it’s taken over cycling. Unless the word “carbon” or the material itself are included somewhere within a product, it won’t sell. Marketing people have had a field day selling us the dream of carbon. Unfortunately, this modern material, which uses terms such as polymer, crystals, weaves and graphite to describe the manufacturing process, exhibits a certain aura of mystery that the industry then exploits with nebulous, unfathomable jargon and extortionately high prices.
To entice you further, some manufacturers allege that their bikes and components are made in-house specifically to their design and thus deliver the ride experience and performance that the frame can only achieve in partnership with them. Whereas, the world’s total production of carbon-fibre is probably produced in one vast factory made of steel and a bit of concrete and is so secret that it doesn’t appear on Goggle Earth.
The sheer size of the place with its economies of scale offsets the enormous volumes of material produced, therefore making it Carbon-Neutral! Miles of carbon weave spill out of giant pasta-like rolling machines and are then cut and pressed into uniform moulds. Some say thousands of wage-slaves work there uninterrupted night and day; fatigue creeps in, obviously, with the consequence that some frames are produced having had more layers of carbon than necessary. Never mind, these heavier frames are probably reserved for the sportive market.
But it’s the cost to this country’s cycle industry that really galls. Years ago me and the lads from the K-Cubed cycling club would rush out after school down to the local bike shop. Here, we would press our noses to the window, each jostling to get a glimpse of old Tom, dressed in a long leather apron, Biggles-style glasses perched on top of his balding pate and blow torch in hand.
Placed in front of him was a thing called a jig. But it was what was contained in this jig that we’d come to see – a cycle frame in the making. A wondrous combination of tubes and hand-cut lugs crafted into a frame where every angle of intersection had been carefully filed and each tube’s length meticulously calculated according to the individual riders’ physique. The result was the culmination of years of knowledge and skill, often passed from father to son, creating something individual and bespoke.
Eventually Mrs Tom would come out and tell us to clear off for making marks all over her spick-and-span shop front. But what happens now when you go to a bike shop, assuming you can find one outside the trendier regions of the Metropolis? They’re full of garishly painted modular five-sizes-fit-all bicycles, festooned with carbon components, each ridiculously titled so as to flatter the buyer into parting with their hard earned cash.
Sadly it’s only the merchant bankers that can now afford them who inhabit these places, welcomed in by slippery salesmen who talk endlessly about the virtues of carbon and the need for the latest XPLR electronic slipper drive with Bio Flex technology. By which time, even a merchant banker’s eyes glaze over; that, of course, is the moment the salesman’s been waiting for. He knows he’s one question away from clinching a sale worth five, six or seven grand. “How much does it weigh?” “Eleven and a half pounds, sir.” [5.227kg – ed.] “I’ll take it”
Amazing; does it fit, is it suitable for what he going to do? No, it weighs 250 grammes less than his MD’s. So at a stroke, hundreds of old Toms are consigned to the scrap heap, another town loses its local shop and thousands of schoolboys have nothing to look forward to on the way home except getting into trouble as the economy of the Western World shrinks further, all because of the unrestrained hysteria surrounding all that is carbon.
Mitch Romney would like to make it clear that he still lives alone, but now with only two bicycles and a small dog.