Taking Good Care Of Your Carbon Bike Frame
There’s nothing quite like carbon fiber for instilling a bike with lightweight strength, excellent vibration damping and stomp-on-the-pedals-and-go responsiveness. And let’s be honest, having a sleek and sexy carbon bike to throw a leg over is pretty darn exhilarating. But, like steel bikes and aluminum bikes, a carbon frame bike requires continual care to keep it looking and running as great as the day you brought it home.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
There are lots of good reasons to choose a carbon fiber bike. Unlike metal, carbon doesn’t rust, dent or corrode. It’s stiff and strong. It’s also very lightweight. And unlike steel or aluminum bikes, a carbon bike’s tubing can be manipulated during processing to exhibit specific performance characteristics.
On the other hand, carbon can crack, splinter, shatter or delaminate when subjected to intense stresses. Problems of this nature represent the extreme end of the potential damage spectrum. Any accident severe enough to result in significant damage to carbon would most likely put a major hurt on an aluminum or steel frame, as well.
Carbon Care Do’s and Don’ts
If you do end up springing for that tricked-out, featherweight carbon ride you’ve been lusting after, here are some tips you can use to give your new dream bike the best care possible and ensure that it delivers many years of trouble-free service.
Carbon fiber bikes and components are strong, lightweight and durable, but they do have their physical limitations. Take their aversion to excessive torque, for instance. Apply more than the recommended force while tightening your seatpost clamp and you could end up scrunching the top of your seat tube.
Over-tighten your water bottle bolts and you risk pulling the threaded fitting right out of the carbon tube. Instead of attempting to guess how much to tighten the bolts on your carbon bike and components, the safer alternative is to invest in a torque wrench to ensure that you stay within recommended limits.
Baby Your Bike to Keep Your Carbon Clean
Using solvents or harsh abrasives to clean your carbon bike could damage the finish or even compromise its structural integrity. So when it’s time for a bath, soap and water - applied gently, is the only way to go.
Start with a gentle rinse to remove the worst of the crud and then, using a soft cloth, sponge or soft bristle brush saturated with warm soapy water (car wash concentrates diluted with the recommended amount of water work great on bikes) wash your bike from the top down, using a light touch. Rinse thoroughly (if you use a hose, don’t direct high-pressure spray at your bike). Dry with a soft towel.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, apply a coating of wax or other surface protectant, followed by a gentle buffing. Finally, lube your chain, derailleur pivot points and caliper, cantilever, or V-brake pivot points (be careful not to get any lube on the brake pads). Wipe off any excess lube with a rag, work your derailleurs and brakes a few times to distribute the lubricant thoroughly, and you’re good to go.
What You’ll Need:
- Warm, sudsy water
- Soft cloth, sponge or large brush with soft bristles
- Soft towel
- Wax and applicator (optional)
- Buffing cloth (optional)
- Chain lubricant and rag
Notice any minor scuffs or scratches while you were washing your carbon frame? If so, clear nail polish could become your new best friend. As long as the scratches are shallow and don’t penetrate too deeply into the resin coating, acrylic nail polish will do a great job of sealing surface scratches. With a steady hand and careful application, most shallow scratches will virtually disappear.
After a Crash
Even the most skilled cyclists occasionally find themselves hitting the deck unexpectedly. If it’s a soft landing, no worries. But if a carbon frame bike takes a nasty hit, performing a post-crash inspection post-haste is imperative. Begin by looking for any signs of cracking splintering or shattering. A severe enough blow could even puncture a carbon tube.
If you notice damage of this type, or if you observe any deep gashes or soft spots, have your bike inspected by a professional bike mechanic before riding it again. Thankfully, even serious damage can usually be repaired by professionals who specialize in carbon fiber frame restoration.
- Soft areas
Stand and Deliver
To avoid potential damage when using a repair stand, clamp the bike at the seatpost, not the frame (if your seatpost is made of carbon, too, be sure to clamp it loosely, allowing the saddle to support the weight of your bike).
When transporting your bike with a hitch rack or trunk rack, make sure the frame doesn’t come into contact with the rack, the vehicle or other bikes. Exercise care when securing your bike to the rack, avoiding excessive pressure when tightening straps or clamps. To help prevent scratches and wear while you’re in transit, use a length of foam pipe insulation or other soft cushioning to protect any areas where bike-to-rack or bike-to-bike contact could occur.
Great Care = More Great Rides
Understanding, respecting and responding to your carbon bike’s special needs will pay you dividends when it comes to performance and longevity. The time you spend properly caring for your bike before, during and after every ride will prolong its useful life and add up to more trouble-free hours in the saddle, resulting in even more great rides.