My buddy Eric has moved twice in the last two years and has three kids. You math types out there probably have a differential equation to show that it wasn’t just likely that something would happen to his carbon fiber bike, it was unavoidable. But ask anyone who has ever had a carbon fiber frame damaged due to factors others think are inevitable and they’ll all tell you the same thing.
Inevitability can go suck it.
So before I dive into the specifics of what the damage was and how it was addressed, I should give you a tiny bit of back story on the frame itself. Eric, the owner of this frame isn’t just a buddy; he was also one of the people responsible for the beer fund. I know folks who know folks and at the end of the ’08 season Felt had some Garmin team frames that the team never took delivery of. I put Eric in touch with the right people and good things happened. Let me add, this is not the sort of transaction that gets advertised, but sometimes the right person gets lucky. His enthusiasm for this bike is what everyone ought to experience any time they buy a new bike.
This particular beauty is the previous generation of the F-series frame and is one of the rare Sprint layups. If memory serves, it tipped the scales at roughly 1100g (about a 10 percent increase in weight) but was closer 15 percent stiffer. Because this frame was painted, it was probably closer to 1300g. The important detail in this is that prior to his purchase, this frame had never been built, much less ridden, so the three-plus years of use he’d put on it were all it had. There was no chance there’d been any underlying damage due to previous use by a pro.
Unfortunately, one day Eric walked into the garage and noticed a crack on the non-drive-side seatstay. The crack wasn’t super-apparent, but it was noticeable and when he pressed on the carbon near the crack it would flex with some ease. Ugh.
He got in touch with me to ask about options. My one and only recommendation was that he contact Carbon Frame Repair. I’d met owner Joe Hendig at an event and was impressed with his work. He has worked in aerospace repairing carbon fiber structures (think carbon fiber jets and bombers) and doubles as a bike geek. It’s a handy combination, not unlike the electric guitar and Pete Townshend.
Eric says he wasn’t able to get a photo that captured the damage, but Joe at Carbon Frame Repair took a shot midway through the repair.
While this shot better shows the door to his repair shop than it does the seatstay (damn autofocus), you can still see clearly how layers of carbon fiber have been sanded away to remove damaged material, leaving a void that shows the inside of the seatstay. On a cognitive level, I understand the steps necessary to do the repair, but the reality of how to vacuum-bag a completed frame mystifies me. He talks a bit about the fact that he does the operation, and for those who don’t know why it’s necessary he explains how it’s important to achieving proper compaction so the frame will be as strong as before, not to mention weighing the same. Leaving a lot of old resin in the frame would add weight without adding any strength or even restoring the previous strength.
Here’s a shot from his web site of another repair he did that shows the work area in better focus:
I’ve seen a number of carbon fiber frames repaired. Many of them included lumps and wrinkles or other obvious cues that a repair had taken place. The lack of any effort to repaint them and conceal the repair was, honestly, unnerving. Of course, paint alone shouldn’t make you feel good about a bike that has experienced this:
As it happens, Joe has also repaired a number of surf boards and surfers won’t suffer a board that looks like it just returned from a war zone. Eric tells me he can’t see the repair, that the only way he even knows it’s not completely original is lack of the dashed lines denoting the argyle in the blue and orange diamonds. He says the color is spot-on.
This is the repaired side:
This is the undamaged side:
I’ve looked at a number of images and can’t find the repair. Eric tells me that the transition point happens in the “o” in Vittoria. What he says he can see in-person at reading distance is a slight change in color in the weave; the new stuff is lighter in color that the original. He took a number of images and says he couldn’t manage to record it. In his words, “The human eye can see it, but the camera can’t.” He adds, “At 10 feet, even I can’t see it. He blended the weave so well that the only way you can discern a difference is by the color.”
Joe at Carbon Frame Repair offers an a la carte menu for repairs. It varies by the severity of the damage, from “Mere Flesh Wound” all the way up to “Hella FUBARed.” Refinishing is separate and ranges from just clear coat (Raw Dog) to what Eric had done (Pimp My Repair). With shipping, Eric’s repair came to $540. The site does a nice job of spelling out what your expectations should be. From what I can tell, he’s a miracle worker with frames, but he can’t Lazarus everything. Some frames are beyond repair. And some stuff he doesn’t touch. He won’t do forks, any carbon components or some wheels.
Dude’s got 20 years of experience. It shows.
The repair took four weeks, start to finish, including shipping.
I have two boys and a garage full of carbon fiber. One day, hopefully not soon, I know I’m going to have an experience like Eric’s. It’s nice to know I won’t have to ask around about what to do when that day comes. Does that sound like an endorsement for a service provider I’ve never used? I’m okay with that.
If the day comes that your baby needs rescuing, just click here.