Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Speed of Carbon Fiber

In an effort to prove, once and for all, the actual speed of carbon fiber (or fibre, depending on your locale), I performed a highly scientific experiment. Yes, James isn't the only one who can conduct such studies.

You see, it has often been rumored that carbon fiber is fast. This is evident anecdotally by watching the carbon penetration in the pro peloton. Also, why would companies be pushing the material so much through expensive marketing campaigns? I'm certain that they, the companies, have only our best interests at heart.

But, how fast is carbon? For instance, would I be better off getting the slightly heavier, and much more expensive carbon stem over a lighter, stiffer, and less expensive one? Would the inherent speed of carbon make up for the weight? Also, how much can I cut off my time-trial by increasing my Carbon Part Ratio (CPR) on my bike. Could I, in theory, sit up on an all-carbon cruiser and go faster than tucked into a tight aero position on an aluminum time-trial machine? And, is it really the make-up of the deep section carbon rims that make those wheels so fast (in other words, more carbon), as opposed to the "aero" shape?

My Experiment
1. I decided that if I was in top condition, it would be hard to tell how much of my speed was due to carbon, and how much due to my own conditioning. Therefore, for the past few months, for the good of all and the sake of this experiment, I stopped riding so often and I even gained a little weight.

2. My bike already has a lot of carbon on it, so I couldn't replace just any part with carbon. Also, I wanted a part that would obviously not give me any other benefit other than just increasing my CPR. For this experiment, I chose to replace my plastic water bottle cages with carbon ones.

3. Although these two cages probably, collectively, save me about 30-35 grams, I more than made up that difference by gaining weight. Also, I haven't washed my bike lately, which probably comes close to adding that much weight.

The results were disappointing to say the least. Not only did I not gain any additional speed, but it appears that losing conditioning and fitness has a far greater negative impact that merely increasing my CPR can overcome.

Clearly I'm going to have to revisit my methods.


tkp said...

I eagerly anticipate the arrival of affordable and durable carbon fiber cassettes.

As for carbon bars and stems, after crashing a few years back with carbon bars and discovering on a retape job several months later that my bars were cracked, I'll stick with aluminum in the forward portion of my cockpit. In fact, I was shopping for new bars a year or so ago and was looking at the Easton EC90 (flat section) carbon bar. The price was $175. I brought in my electronic scale and compared the EC90 to the aluminum version (EA90), also a flat top bar. The aluminum version was 10 grams lighter in weight and $115 lighter in the wallet. Not that I'm a weight weenie, but given the durability of aluminum that I was going to get anyway, having it be cheaper and lighter was just a nice bonus.

What does all this have to do with your post? Not much, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. Just because I'm home sick and on meds and don't know what I'm saying.

BTW, I saw Troy and Jenny last night and they mentioned they were making the pilgramage to visit your family later this month. That begs the question, when will you be making the pilgramage to visit your in-laws (most importantly, bringing your bike)?

Jon said...

Well, with everyone coming out here, it might be quite some time before I get around to heading out that way. Saves me miles and miles of "bored" children and driving. Also, I hate cleaning the bugs off my bike.