Carbon Creations

A great many people I talk to about NAHBS speak almost exclusively of steel bikes built with lugs. To the degree that lugged steel bikes dominate what is displayed at the show, it’s not a particularly unfair impression. However, show organizer Don Walker should get credit for having welcomed builders working in any medium to the event. Ineed, one-third of the original bunch to show at NAHBS work in carbon.

Those two, Nick Crumpton and Craig Calfee, have been joined by a great many other builders working in carbon, such as Parlee and Alchemy. The perception that NAHBS is a show all about steel sells the event short for surely one of its best aspects is the sheer diversity of designs presented to attendees.

The simple fact that carbon bikes are being shone isn’t enough to get excited. What gets me excited is how far they have come in the last five, six years. Roll the clock back to 2005 and most all carbon fiber bikes were being built either as two or three-piece monocoque designs or as tube, lug and glue constructions. Things have come a long way.

The shot above is of a Parlee custom head tube. The cutaway view shows how the tubes are mitered and then wrapped with carbon fiber before going into a mold to cure. The knock against traditional tube-and-lug designs was the redundancy of material and the risk of stress risers at the transition points. The amount of extra material here is minimal and the transitions, all things considered, are terrifically smooth.

Next up is an example of a Parlee Z5 made overseas. You’ll notice the incredible compaction and the lack of unnecessary material. The quality of the molding is as good as I’ve seen. All this lacks is the ability to provide the custom sizing you find in their domestically produced frames.

The BB of a Parlee Z1.

This matte-finish frame shows the care taken in fiber placement.

Nick Crumpton’s work has always impressed me, but I have to say that this bike achieved a level of quality I really didn’t think possible from a one-man operation. Crumpton miters tubes and then wraps them with additional fiber and molds the frame into its final form. The smooth transitions, internal cable routing and features like seat masts redefine what I thought was possible from a small builder.

Nick positioned the battery pack for this Di2 bike under the down tube, but that’s not what’s most impressive about this bike. Even though you can see where he begins wrapping the down tube above the bottom bracket, there is no sudden material bulge. That conservation of material results in a lighter frame that will last longer.

Between the internal cable routing and the seat mast design, I couldn’t take my eyes off this bike.

Alchemy’s name isn’t as well known as Calfee’s, Parlee’s or even Crumpton’s, but they showed some very impressive bikes. This TT bike features tubes drawn to Alchemy’s spec; the down tube is shaped according to NACA profiles for real-world aerodynamic properties. They also offer a road version of this bike, a la the Cervelo Soloist or Felt AR. Only this one is available in custom sizing.

I’m accustomed to seeing work of this quality coming from a much larger company.

Working with the same mitered, wrapped and molded technique seen in Parlee and Crumpton, you can see the ever-so gradual transition from one tube to another.

You won’t see this down tube on anyone else’s bike.

Final thought: It wasn’t long ago that I thought that a custom-sized, strong, 900-gram frame with great ride quality just wasn’t possible. Not without spending $15 grand. Times are changing and What is possible in custom work can truly rival the best work out there by manufacturers like Cervelo and Felt.

 

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