Carbon fiber is the hottest material in today's performance bike market. Sitting on top of the progression from wood to steel to aluminum to titanium, carbon fiber offers comfort, stiffness, light weigh and curvaceous looks. Asian sourcing has overcome the labor intensity of the fabrication process, helping to keep the costs within reach of cycling addicts. About their re-sourcing decision (from the USA to China), Cannondale reported that the typical carbon frame required 45 hours of hand labor to create. That gets expensive at US labor rates, but at $1/hour, production in China made good sense, and dollars!
There's just one little dark secret that stands in the way of everyone living happily ever after: more than any other material carbon fiber is vunerable to impact damage. It doesn't take much to disturb the epoxy matrix and create a stress riser that can result in an unannounced failure. Dropping your bike on a curb, closing it in your trunk with a wheel or other gear in the way--or, God forbid, a competitor taking a ball peen hammer to it in the transition area--can put a ding in the frame. Unlike metal frames where such a collision leaves a mark that suggests the extent of the forces involved, carbon fiber is mute in all but delaminating events.
So the caution is, be extra careful. Treat your carbon fiber bike like the fine piece of China it truly is. Unlearn any habit of tossing it around like it was made of metal.
The Vice president and general counsel of TREK, Robert Burns, recently chimed in on this topic. His letter is published in the October 1, 2012 issue of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News:
"I am compelled to comment on your Aug.15, 2012, carbon fiber repair article ("Crack problem? Carbon repairers have you covered"). Contrary to the impression given by your article, Trek Bicycle does not endorse or recommend repairing damaged carbon fiber frames or parts, nor do we endorse or recommend any business that offers such repairs.
Carbon fiber is a superior material that is lighter, stronger and has greater fatigue life than either aluminum or steel. [Notice the omission of titanium.] However, when it is overloaded and becomes damaged, we recommend that it be replaced--not repaired. In fact, while we realize that we cannot stop bicycle owners from seeking carbon fiber repair services, such repairs void Trek's lifetime warranty and we require repair shops such as Calfee's to provide us with the serial number of the carbon Trek bicycles they do repair in the event of a future warranty claim or injury.
Trek offers a generous Loyalty Replacement program under which we replace damaged Trek carbon fiber frames and parts at greatly reduced cost. If you, as a dealer, have any doubt regarding the integrity of a carbon fiber frame or part, you should recommend that a customer replace it with a newly manufactured frame or part."