We received the following question recently from an Instagram user: “How long will a heavily used carbon frame last?” The gist of the question revolved around what happens to a bike once it's no longer usable. Does it just go to the landfill?
Sending stuff to the landfill is a valid concern in 2020. Landfills pollute our soil and water, emit greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane, spread disease through rats, flies and mosquitoes, and disrupt wildlife by destroying their habitat. Anything we can do as individuals to prevent sending items to the landfill is commendable. Some of these solutions include composting, forgoing plastic, elimination of single use items, recycling, and upcycling. But what about carbon bike frames?
Carbon vs. Metal Bike Frame
Carbon is a relatively new material - the first usable carbon fibre frame bikes were released in the mid-1980s. With this in mind, it’s understandable to think that an aluminum or steel frame bicycle, a frame material that has been used for centuries, would be stronger than a carbon fiber bicycle. But that’s just not the case.
In reality, as long as a carbon fiber bike is taken care of - no big crashes and don’t go at it with a hammer - theoretically it can last forever. Steel and aluminum, on the other hand, are frame materials that will fatigue and at some point, no longer be safe. Carbon is stable indefinitely (that’s a long time).
So, from a longevity point of view, carbon holds up versus steel or aluminum frame bicycles.
What If I Crack My Carbon Frame?
Mistakes happen, accidents happen, and unfortunately, they happen to your bike frame as well. A crack in a carbon bike frame can be serious as it jeopardizes the integrity of the material. But, with the popularity of carbon frame bikes increasing over the years, there are many carbon repair shops available to get your steed back to tip top shape.
We reached out to Drew Wilson, owner of Cyclocarbon, to get an expert’s take on carbon’s lifespan and durability.
- How long does carbon last? A properly built carbon frame should last a lifetime. There is no reason a rider would ever need to replace a frame other than damage or the desire for something new.
- How long does a repair to a carbon frame last? Carbon repairs likewise last a lifetime. We have been doing this for 10+ years and offer a no questions asked, transferable forever warranty on our work.
- What types of damage are repairable and/or non-repairable? The types of repairs that are doable and those that are not is a tricky question. It comes down much more to costs. Ultimately if humans build something, humans can fix it. A frame is only junk when a rider would prefer not to pay for the repair costs. In that situation we offer a donation program where we use the donated frame and rebuild to donate to junior and college aged riders.
- Can you recycle a carbon bike frame? I'm not an expert on recycling carbon fiber in the sense in which you are asking. In my shop any frame, no matter how damaged, is eventually used for parts or resurrected.
How to Dispose of a Carbon Bike Frame
Cycling enthusiasts and triathletes are likely to have many bikes during their lifetime, and while some let them pile up in their garage, many decide to part ways with that old bike they’re not riding anymore. Here are a few suggestions with what to do with your bike once you’re done with it:
- Sell it - many people are in the market for a used, well functioning bicycle, especially if the newest models are out of their price range. Facebook Marketplace, ebay, and Craigslist are popular places to sell your bike online. Also check with your local bike shop to see if they’ll help you sell your bike.
- Donate it - search locally for a bike shop or organization that will accept your bike as a donation. Some people connect with junior, college, or high school teams and donate their performance bike to them.
- Use A-Squared’s Buy Back program - available for the Speed Phreak and RP only, email info@A2bikes.com with photos of the bike to initiate a buyback. If you accept the buyback amount (up to $500 max), we will send you an A2 Coupon Code for that amount, and provide a shipping label good for up to $90 of shipping to return the buyback bike to us.
- Upcycle it - remove all items that can be recycled first - cables, rubber, metal parts - and find the specialty recycling facilities for these items. Get creative with the rest. We’ve seen tables, lamps, nightstands, hanging wall art, stools, and whatever you can imagine be made from old bikes.
Carbon Bikes and Sustainability
Being out on two wheels gives you the opportunity to witness and be part of nature, traveling slow enough to appreciate the views, hearing birds and seeing deer, and breathing in the fresh air that the trees and plants made for us, all powered by our own strength, not fossil fuels with those nasty emissions.
Cycling and environmentalism go hand in hand for so many reasons. A huge part of being Earth-friendly is considering the entire lifecycle of the items you use. A bike should be no different. But here’s the good news - the bike is a durable item. Our landfills are not full of old bicycles and we should keep it that way.
As our culture becomes more eco-conscious, we’ll likely see products in the bicycle industry that help us be more Earth-friendly and move us towards a circular economy and away from the take-make-waste cycle that we’re currently in.
At A-Squared Bikes, we’re here to help you get the most out of our bikes, and our Buy Back program helps move the bikes on to other people and keep them out of the landfill.
Thank you to Drew Wilson of Cyclocarbon in SE Rochester, MN for his contribution to this blog post. You can find his work on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cyclocarbon and Instagram @cyclocarbon.