The Tour de France is the world’s largest sporting event that occurs annually in July and consists of more than 20 days of bicycle racing throughout France and adjacent countries. The Tour de France is contested by roughly 200 professional bicycle riders who represent the elite in bicycling. As has been the case for several years now, virtually every Tour de France rider will be aboard a carbon fiber bicycle frame throughout the event.
Carbon fiber bicycle frames were first developed decades ago, and even relatively inexpensive bicycles today often have carbon fiber frames.
For many years now, the bicycle industry has poured millions and millions of dollars into R&D to improve all aspects of carbon fiber frame technology in order to achieve the lightest, stiffest, most comfortable and best handling frames. Specialized Bicycles, for instance, has a partnership with the McLaren F1 team centered around carbon fiber technology and Specialized, like many other bicycle manufacturers, has developed great expertise in advanced, intricate carbon fiber fabrication … involving such things as layup technique, resin technology, and various bladder molding techniques designed to combine light, thin walls with sufficient strength characteristics.
Literally dozens of bicycle manufacturers create carbon fiber frames for customer bicycles. Pictured above is a production bicycle produced by the Canadian manufacturer Cervelo.
In the motorcycle world, of course, carbon fiber frames are a rarity and at the professional racing level a failure. Most recently, Ducati tried to race in MotoGP with a carbon fiber frame, but abandoned the effort when riders simply could not develop the frame to work competitively. Ducati races now with an aluminum frame, just like all the other manufacturers. Some manufacturers still employ steel frames for production bikes and for some racing outside of MotoGP.
Why can’t motorcycles successfully transition to carbon fiber frame technology, like bicycles have? Obviously, the forces generated by a motorcycle for acceleration, braking and cornering can far exceed those generated by a bicycle, but frame strength is not an issue. Carbon fiber frames are easily capable of being strong enough for use in motorcycles.
Cost is not really an issue, either. Although lower end and mid-priced motorcycles might need steel or aluminum frames to be cost competitive, higher end motorcycles ought to absorb the frame cost without significant issue. Of course, an initial transition to carbon fiber manufacturing techniques would be costly, but ultimately the materials involved shouldn’t prevent their use in higher end motorcycles.
The one critical difference between bicycles and motorcycles is weight. A bicycle frame, as a percentage of the total weight of the bicycle is far higher than that of a motorcycle. Many carbon fiber bicycle frames now weigh less than one Kilo (2.2 pounds) . The weight savings for a human-powered machine is far more significant than for a machine powered by an internal combustion engine, or even an electric motor.
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