Carbon Frame Repair

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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This is the undamaged side:

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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.

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14 comments

  1. Chris Jennings

    I bought the last 08 Slipstream Sprint frame Felt had in stock on Thursday. Should be here today. :) Hopefully it will be awhile before I need to refer back to this article.

  2. Peter Lütken

    We have a guy here in Norway that does some pretty amazing things with carbon repairs. I’ve used his services through a couple of shops I’ve worked at and he’s pulled through every time. He doesn’t have access to quite the same array of paint & finish, but he will make the repair more than aesthetically pleasing nevertheless
    http://jaegerliteseat.mamutweb.com/subdet11.htm
    He also makes one-off custom carbon fiber seats at silly low weights that are said to be very comfortable

  3. Michael

    [quote]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[close]

    Soon to be father of a third child, with a B. Math and M. Eng, I’ll take a stab at this one.

    I don’t think a differential equation is appropriate, a trivial probability model sounds about right, specficially, let P be the probability that the bike needs repairs, then the equation is P = 1. (Too bad he doesn’t do wheels, just wrote off my Fulcrum Wind 50 XLRs a week ago, they had an entire 70km on them.) :(

  4. Eric L.

    Eric, the unfortunate frame owner here. I can tell you that when I found the crack, I was heartbroken. Many would look at it as the oppotunity to buy a new frame. I did not want to. I love this frame. I cannot explain exactly why but the bike has never let me down and it was there when I was put on my head and found my way to the hospital for an extended stay (but that is another story). I really thought my frame was gone. In steps Joe.

    After the referal, I reviewed the website and have to admit the sense of humor expressed there fit me well (go ahead, take a look, I will wait). I then called Joe and he answered the phone immediately and answered any questions I had.

    I have now ridden the bike once since repairs were made and will wait to fully comment on the structural efficacy until after July 4th when the bike will have to climb and descend an outside category road. That said, I have not noticed any difference in the way the bike performs. A 2 pound change is air pressure is infinitely more noticeable than this so far. I will post again.

    As for aesthics? Patrick has it all in the article. It is beautiful. The white dashed line would be impossible to do in paint and is only noticeable up close since it is so small. The stay is perfectly smooth. Not a ripple. Where the carbon weave of the new meets the old, even the weave pattern matches. Incredible. If I handed the frame to 1000 people that did not know there was damage, I bet 999 of them would never notice.

    I am so thrilled to have my frame back and now know that a crack in carbon is not the end of the world.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Grego: True, but we’ve heard many complaints about the length of time it takes them to do a repair, repairs that looked sloppy and damage caused inadvertently while with them. We’ve yet to hear a happy outcome. Sad but true.

  5. Mike C

    Got to see a repair to the right seat stay of a carbon Madone that suffered a broken and spun rear deraillure. The repair was easily seen as were the transitions. The repair time was over three weeks and shipping was a mere 85 miles N-NE of Tampa. If it would have been my bike I would not have put it back together or thrown a leg over it. The customer wanted it back.
    Let’s just say that it didn’t survive the re-launch. Trek was willing to take the frame and replace it under owner loyalty, so the owner has a new Madone Project one. Very nice of them to do that and remove a potential hazard from the road.
    Owner picked out a custom three color paint job that included one color from the WSD section. The new bike on the computer looked like wine red, white and a grayish color called dragon mist….
    Unfortunately for him, dragon mist turned out to be a sort of seafoam green. He wasn’t happy. Long story short, Trek repainted it again for him.

    What’s the point? Research, research and more research before you send your carbon friend to the surgeon. Better make sure it will come back as good as new. Also, double check your paint schemes because computr screens

  6. Mike C

    Computer screens don’t always show the correct colors. You may want to look at color chips or you could end up with a girly paint job… {;^)

  7. Eric L.

    I promised a second post around today after I had more miles on the bike. I now have 110 miles since the repair. Today was right about 50 miles and 5,200 feet of climbing. Since I ended at the same spot I started, it also meant descending 5,200 feet. For those in California, the ride was Glendora Mountain Road. The descent is fairly technical in spots.

    So what did I learn. The repair is perfect. The bike handled exactly the same as it always has. No difference in right and left handers and it absorbs bumps as you would expect a carbon frame to.

    My final conclusion then is while I hope to never need to repair carbon ever again, if I do, I will not hesitate to use Joe at Carbon Frame Repair. I am glad to see that others have found good alternatives as well. It is important to know that damage to carbon is not always the end of the frame.

    Wishing you all safe riding.

  8. Rob A

    This is a really encouraging article. As a recent college grad, the idea of racing and potentially ruining my carbon frame makes my already-thin wallet cringe. From what I’ve heard previously, carbon needing repair would be death to the frame. I’m really glad that there are reliable options out there should I need them.

    Thanks for the article!

  9. tinytim

    It’s always nice to get a frame repair, though four weeks is a long time to wait. Guess the wait speaks to the availability of carbon repair guys. For me, the steel frame repair is a faster and better value. Funny, because I broke a 15 yr old steel xc bike on the drive side chain stay at the BB. My local frame builder, who did not build this particular frame, did the repair for $150 + $150 for a whole new powder coat. The whole job took 1 week, and now my frame has custom painted lightning bolts on the down tube.

  10. Steve Bauer

    Count me as your first positive calfee customer feedback. My seat stay total cost was 70 dollars less, delivery on time, repair is indistinguishable from two feet, frame otherwise returned in top shape and she just survived the Markleeville death ride decents without a hitch…based solely on my experience I would gladly (well not gladly…I’d be really bummed to suffer another broken frame) use them again.

    Can’t argue with tiny tim on the benefits of steel when it comes to repair (and damage in the first place) though! No way my 10 mph flop over would have broken a steel stay.

  11. Ken

    I also had a frame repair by Calfee and am quite happy with the results. They met their time estimate (about 4 weeks) and the finished product is smooth and straight. Granted, I chose not to have it painted so I can’t speak to that. But the bike has gone another 4000 miles since then with no signs of weakness.

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