Why Carbon…. // A Blog by Ben Farver, Founder of Argonaut Cycles
Steel is what got me into frame building. Steel is what I loved to ride, and the material I thought made the most beautiful bikes. Elegant, efficient, classic, malleable, forgiving, it gives frame builders so much to work with, all while holding their hand and saying, “it’s okay. Whatever you do I’ll still ride like a dream.” Steel tubesets available off the shelf like True Temper S3, Columbus Life and Columbus XCR make amazing bicycles. They have tremendous ride characteristics, and all the builder has to do is weld the thing together. Sure, that glazes over important talent critical in building a viable frame. To build a steel frame that is straight and won’t fall apart takes care and practice, but any framebuilder will admit that it’s not quite brain surgery.
So why carbon? The simple answer is progression. Steel does many things well, but it also hasn’t changed much in almost a decade. More is being done with stainless steel, but stainless is a fickle animal and not dramatically different from its rusty counterpart. Working with steel I felt unsatisfied with the options available off the shelf, and felt like large investments in developing my own tube shapes or alloys would not be fruitful or cost effective. My eyes began to wander….
Enter carbon. For a long time I eschewed the material because every carbon frame I rode lacked the liveliness and character of steel. I saw it at as a lifeless, sterile material stamped out from huge factories a thousand miles a way. The need for a new medium helped me see the material in a different light, and I quickly found that my ignorant impression of carbon was due not from characteristics of the material itself, but instead from the manner in which it is widely used. The physical properties of carbon in terms of how it flexes and twists are not radically different from steel or Ti, and in many ways out-perform these materials. Carbon can have a higher strength to weight ratio than steel and has a faster refresh rate. The refresh rate is the speed at which it returns to its neutral state. In a bicycle this translates to carbon having better 'snap', the feeling I most loved about steel.
More than simply being light and snappy, the fact that carbon fiber is a composite is what’s most exciting about the material. What we most typically think of as carbon fiber is composed of individual strands of crystalized carbon atoms and resin. The physical properties of different carbons and resins vary wildly, and a cross section of a carbon bicycle frame likely contains other materials too, like fiberglass or Kevlar.
That carbon fiber is a composite is what I love most, and what makes me so excited about the material moving forward. The fact that it’s a material composed of many different components makes the potential for progression almost limitless. Nano technology, the introduction of other materials into the laminate schedule, varying the modulus of the carbon fiber itself; all these drive the progression of composites at a rate so much faster than what’s being done with steel or Ti. I spent three years basically making the same steel bike. In the three years I’ve been working with carbon I’ve already made a half dozen progressions, and there’s a ton of technology I haven’t even tapped yet.
I love that carbon has allowed me to make a better and totally unique bicycle. What I love more is the potential to make bikes that perform even better.