As much as I want to think that I walk into Interbike each year excited to see what is there, my experience at the Taipei show yesterday was instructive. Clearly, I’ve lost some of that wide-eyed wonder of a kid on Christmas morning. What has changed isn’t my enthusiasm for cool bike stuff; what has changed is my ability to believe that Interbike will impress me by showing me cool stuff that I didn’t expect to see.
Which is what the Taipei show gave me in spades. Holy cow.
Look, I’ll admit that at least 80 percent of what I saw at this show doesn’t conform with my riding life—or yours. But there’s nothing like seeing creativity and unusual answers to existing problems. Or unusual answers to unusual problems. Or just totally random stuff.
I’ve been curious to know more about where carbon fiber construction stands at this point. While many, if not most, of the companies that own the factories that produce carbon fiber frames are Taiwanese, at this point almost none of the production is in Taiwan anymore. The factories themselves are in China. And six years ago, when the whole open-mold movement fizzled—at least in terms of the U.S. market—open-mold frames were good, but not amazing. I’ve been curious to see how much better the open-mold frames are now.
The questions I’ve had are: What construction methods are being used? How have weights come down? How have the designs evolved in terms of geometry and fit?
Even though companies were showing currently available product and were happy to hand out brochures with most of the relevant details printed, no one wanted to talk on the record or even elaborate on any of the details in their brochures. I’ve got a thing or two to learn about how Taiwan does business.
In broad terms, here is what I learned from my visits with factories offering open-mold designs:
- The precision in molding and the cleanliness of the inside of the frames is noticeably better.
- Ply position accuracy is way up.
- Weights have come down, significantly. I saw a number of frames in the 800 to 900 gram range for a size 56cm.
- Construction methods have evolved significantly. Many are using polystyrene and silicone forms on which to lay up the carbon.
- The materials they use have evolved. I saw frames that incorporated Textreme (which is not cheap) and Innegra.
- The sizing runs have improved. While the geometries haven’t evolved much, many companies offer more sizes; only one company that I was was offering four sizes in one of their frames.
- The kinds of bikes being offered has diversified. In addition to traditional road bikes, I saw grand touring, aero and gravel models.
My takeaway from my survey of open-mold designs is that the market is ripe for someone to take another run at launching a brand based on bikes every bit as good as the bulk of what’s out there, but for a fraction of the price.
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