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If Bicycling Has Mastered the Carbon Frame, Why Can’t Motorcycling?

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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.

We would like readers to weigh in with their thoughts in the comment section below.

136 Comments

  1. simon c says:

    I think the main reason is production bikes follow trends from racing and steel and alloy have better feel characteristics than CF. I have two dirt bikes, one with a steel frame and one with an alloy frame and they ride very differently.

  2. Mike says:

    I never looked forward to the first breakfast at a rally and the 15 minute presentation by someone wanting to impress everyone by the weight savings of the latest small carbon tidbits added to his/her bike.

    The reality always came down to a 1 pound or so combined weight savings …….and my comment “for of us big Americans this weight savings could be accomplished by simply skipping this breakfast !!!!

    Then before the ride we would all meet at the gas station to top off and discuss the route ……..where someone would always short the fillup by two gallons for a weight savings of 12 pounds. (not to mention names)

    Am I the only one that sees a pattern with all these carbon and other latest/greatest parts…….those using them are infrequently near the front on the actual rides????

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Am I the only one that sees a pattern with all these carbon and other latest/greatest parts(?)”

      nope. same as the lightweight batteries (that not a single of the big/established companies bother to make), it’s the psychology of the “miracle diet pill”.

  3. Norm G. says:

    since we’re geeking out on C/F, here’s a fave application. I’m sure many of you have seen the How it’s Made episode on Brembo Carbon/Ceramic rotors. the process itself is surprisingly simple, however (comma) what we didn’t see is the “Million-Billions” in R&D, trial and error, it took to get to this point.

    right then, short fibers (not Neo) in the matrix…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNM2xhN8Po0

  4. iliketoeat says:

    Carbon fiber isn’t used by racing teams because there is no need for it. Race motorcycles have minimum weight limits, and teams are perfectly capable of hitting those limits without using carbon fiber. So there is just no reason to deal with the complexity and expense of CF.

    In the bicycle world there are no minimum weight limits and every ounce counts, so CF makes a lot of sense there.

    If MotoGP got rid of minimum weight limits, you’d see more manufacturers experimenting with carbon fiber.

    • Dave says:

      In bicycle racing there is a strictly enforced weight limit of 6.8kg (14.99lbs). With today’s frames and components most bikes come in under weight and have to use ballast. It does afford racers the opportunity to “spend” weight on aerodynamic and strength features depending on what racing conditions require.

      So many of these comments remind me of when carbon fiber first started proliferating in tennis and cycling.

      • iliketoeat says:

        Interesting, I didn’t know that. Still, it would be tough to meet the weight requirement without CF, so CF makes sense for bicycles in a way that doesn’t make sense for race motorcycles.

        In the commercial market (non-competition), one big difference between motorcycles, and tennis rackets and bicycles is the amount of CF you’d need for a motorcycle frame. A CF tennis racket might be a few hundred $ more expensive than one without it. A CF bicycle a few thousand $. Those are acceptable price premiums. A CF motorcycle frame would cost tens of thousands $ more, and I don’t think there is a market for that.

        • Dave says:

          Re: “Still, it would be tough to meet the weight requirement without CF, so CF makes sense for bicycles in a way that doesn’t make sense for race motorcycles.”

          More interesting still is that the minimum weight figure was established before carbon bikes were popular in pro racing. It was done to assure bikes were strong enough at the time. It is now very antiquated and the UCI is looking at replacing it with testing standards (like all the bike manufacturers use) instead.

          Point – the minimum weight is not a fixed value. A carbon fiber motorcycle component would likely cost more than a bicycle’s but the two industries operate in completely different economic conditions. The fact that a top of the line c/f bicycle costs $10-12k, despite still being just a bicycle demonstrates that.

  5. Hair says:

    Put small motors on Carbon Frame bicycles. Then Bob’s your uncle you have a CF motorcycle.

  6. troy says:

    I was the president and CEO of one of the first bicycle companies doing carbon, carbon & titanium composite and carbon and aluminum bicycles and components. I have since sold the company and am no longer involved in the company.

    In my opinion I just don’t see the value in doing a carbon framed motorcycle, you can’t build it from existing tube so you have to go to molds, that are slow and expensive to develop, and for every small change you are back into serious engineering. With steel and or aluminum you can have a couple of skilled tradesmen make fast engineering changes, rapid prototypes etc … You would also be surprised at how much a skilled welder or machinist can teach an engineer in part design and then its application for use; some our biggest engineering issues were solved at the tool level rather than in engineering.

    People also worry that a nick or a scratch will compromise a carbon fiber component, it can, but most of the time it doesn’t. We did some crazy machine based and real world based destructive testing on carbon components and frames and the survival rate was fairly amazing. We also gave new replacement components to riders that had crashed to get the product back and test it after real world crashes. Again we were amazed how well a very visually damaged component would hold up to failure testing. The real reason carbon bicycle companies scream about issues with carbon failure is that insurance companies make us do that, I would trust the material and the processes far more than I would ever trust an insurance company.

    All of that said, would I like to see one for the ultimate farkle factor sure .. would I buy one most likely not. Now lets talk itanium and then we may have something …

    http://thekneeslider.com/titanium-frame-ducati-monster-s4rs-mostro-della-strada-from-stradafab/

    Cheers

    t

  7. Superlight says:

    Motorcycles aren’t bicycles, so CF usage should be different. CF would be of most benefit on motorcycle unsprung mass (like wheels), as others have stated, not sprung mass like frames.

  8. Glen says:

    I think in the end, you won’t see much in the way of carbon fiber production motorcycles until you see carbon fiber production autos.

    • Norm G. says:

      I don’t think you’ll see much in the way of carbon fiber motorcycles until motorcyclists THEMSELVES smarten up and re-establish a VALUING mentality for the hobby they claim to love.

      (follow the money)

      industry endeavours where they see a return (on investment), they don’t endeavour for “billionaire cheapskates”.

  9. Tom says:

    I expect there is more than one reason, however I expect that it is mainly a matter of cost/benefit ratio. In most successful applications of carbon fiber, a small reduction in mass is of substantial value. The obvious example is aircraft, where a reduction in mass means that the wing can be smaller, for the same wing loading (wing loading is total aircraft weight divided by wing surface area). A smaller wing means less drag and reduced fuel consumption, and the effect is compounded by the fact that reducing the size of the wing means further mass reduction. Over some specific number of flight hours, the break-even point is reached, where the savings in fuel cost has paid for the greater production cost.

    As for why bicycles and not motorcycles, the difference is that it is enormously easier to increase the engine power for a motorcycle than it is for a bicycle. Certainly there is a disadvantage to making the engine bigger, as compared to making the frame lighter, but that has to be evaluated relative to the difference in cost.

    One of the first major aircraft applications of carbon-fiber/epoxy was with the AV-8B Harrier II, which McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) developed from the original Harrier, which was a British aircraft. For this particular aircraft, performance characteristics are even more strongly influenced by mass, as compared to other aircraft, owing to the amount of fuel consumed during vertical takeoff or landing. Development of the AV-8B started in the late 1970s, and it entered production in the early ’80s. The top and bottom skins of the wing were each a single piece of carbon fiber manufactured via a lay-up process, and cured in a big oven. Obviously the thickness of the skins varied considerably from edge to middle. Even more interesting is the fact that the internal spars of the wing are similarly made entirely of carbon fiber. The leading edge is the only part of the wing made of metal, I believe. The spars were referred to as “sine wave spars”, because they had a wavy shape whereas metal wing spars ordinarily are straight. That wavy shape was evidently advantageous, but I wonder if perhaps that shape gave the spars some flexibility that they otherwise would not have. The Harrier II is still very much in service, although it ceased production about a decade ago. It is being replaced by the F-35B. The design era for these two planes are separated by a good thirty-five years, and this shows readily in any comparison of the two airplanes. However the F-35 has been plagued by huge cost overruns, much of which has been attributed to redesigns that were made necessary by the B-variant’s failure to meet the specified performance characteristics.

    • iliketoeat says:

      You’re sort of right. The reason why CF used in bicycles and not motorcycles is that racing motorcycles have minimum weight limits, so you can’t make bikes lighter by using carbon fiber – they’re already as light as they can be.

      As for production motorcycles, the problem is cost. Have you seen how much those CF bicycles cost? In some cases it’s more than brand-new motorcycles.

      • Tom says:

        Thanks for saying that I am “sort of right”, but I’m pretty sure that that isn’t a very right characterization of what I wrote. You sort of fixated on racing applications, and in effect you claimed that cost/benefit does not enter in to it, i.e., that it is simply that the rules obviate the advantage of lower mass. I doubt if it is so simple: more likely, enough teams are concerned about what it would cost to compete if the rules encouraged the use of carbon frames. Then you wrote that for “production motorcycles”, it is simply a matter of cost. To be more fully correct, cost has to be considered in relation to benefit. You need to explain why the cost/benefit is fundamentally not the same for motorcycles as it is for bicycles. I.e., you need to point out that with bicycles the engines can’t be made much stronger than they already are, whereas with motorcycles you can simply make the engine more powerful, to achieve the desired improvement in power/weight ratio, which for bicycles can only be accomplished by making the frame lighter. (Of course you end up with a heavier motorcycle, which is disadvantageous, but this is besides the point, i.e., it doesn’t bear on the question of why carbon frames have come about more fully in bicycles than in motorcycles.)

  10. Lenz says:

    Be interesting if the capability of Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) could be used to “grow” a composite motorcycle frame work. Optimised by Finite Element Analysis etc and with the carbon fibre suspended as a random colloidal element within the laser activated “parent fixative” then maybe the end result – maybe as a hexagon void wall structure – could be cost effective and approach the performance of current CF molding..

    Or did I just give away a billion dollar fabrication technique ….

    • Nick says:

      Nope, you didn’t give anything away. You just mixed up a bunch of additive manufacturing methods without a clear understanding of capabilities. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) scans a laser across a bed of powder, melting the part together one layer at a time. It is most commonly used to process exotic metals such as stainless, inconel, and titanium. Stereo Lithography (SLA) scans a UV laser across a tank of resin, curing the part one layer at a time. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) squirts out a thin bead of molten plastic, drawing up one layer at a time (picture drawing a 3D part with a hot glue gun).

      By the way, regardless of process, all of that layer drawing takes a long time. A simple coffee cup could take an hour.

      Short strand (less than 1/8″) fibers are often used to reinforce injection molded parts. These are not high performance parts though. The high performance composites used in race cars, bicycles, and airplanes utilize very long fiber strands woven in the form of a cloth or spools of thread called roving. The resin is typically a two part epoxy (something that won’t melt when heated) To visualize short strand versus long strand picture particle board versus plywood.

      What you are suggesting would be a very slow process with poor mechanical properties.

      • Lenz says:

        Thanks for the clarification on these processes Nick.

        Process speed surely is a function of the laser capability and the number of lasers employed simultaneously on a shared task. ie faster stronger lasers / multiple lasers. Industrial design people I used for prototyping were very pro SLS and future derivatives of the technology. I wonder if the capabilities of the laser could be extended to the development of long filament strands oriented for design load stresses.

        Perhaps your final somewhat sweeping statement regarding process speed and poor mechanical properties could be amended to “current understanding suggests ….”

        • Dave says:

          Nick’s second sentence was more important than his last.

          Sounds to me that “current understanding suggests” that laser based forming is impossible with carbon fiber material. It only works with powders and plastics and things that can be liquefied. Suspending the carbon in a fixative results in a carbon reinforced plastic. Carbon’s properties are best employed with a high percentage of carbon content.

  11. Norm G. says:

    speaking of C/F, if any of you happen to watch/record this past Sunday’s GP…? go back and take a look for the crash of “Joe Crazy”. he low sides like 6 laps in, and as the bike hits the deck, the rear comes around and the works pirouettes a few times on it’s side. LEFT side.

    the crash itself was nothing to write home about, however (comma) until you realize he’s on a Ducati. sure, the D16 frame’s may be ally twin spar now, but the swingarms are still FULL CARBON FIBRE. not only are they full C/F (supposedly), but they’ve adopted the inverted design that’s become so popular as of late.

    ok so what’s your point Norm G…? (talk to us goose)

    well despite how the commentator says the bike should be undamaged and he can continue, you can clearly see (if you know what you’re looking at) as he remounts to join the race, there is a noticeable 2″-3″ worth of damage (abrasion) to the lower edge of the swingarm (chain side). because it’s inverted, the underside bracing sticks down far enough to contact the ground when the bike’s laying down taking a nap.

    eventually he pulled in to the pits, but timing/scoring had him out circulating 18th all the way up till the last 3 laps. where the laymen stewards (and even race control) were more than happy to put him back in the thick of things…? I was immediately reaching for a BLACK FLAG.

    a can of bug spray…? not so much, a visual signal telling Iannone to pack it in/hit the showers. from my vantage point, he and his 250HP race bike represented a safety hazard. ie. a clear and present danger that NOBODY else (not even his own team) saw. damn sure not for 18 laps anyway.

    not to be an alarmist, but unless there was some kind of aluminium honeycomb or substructure to that swingarm with the C/F merely acting as a skin (like you might find in aviation)…? a serious problem just “flew” under the radar.

  12. F111 vs Pelican says:

    Why? CF can asplode. Even a squirrel can shear a CF fork in half.
    Do an google image search for “busted carbon” or “squirrel vs carbon fork”.

  13. Jim says:

    Small correction – carbon fibre has been around for more like 20 years, at least in the mountain bike world. My Gary Fisher Procaliber from 1996ish is still incredibly light and an amazing frame even considering its age.

  14. Gronde says:

    It’s amazing that so many folks are aware of the properties of materials and understand why carbon fiber is of limited use on motorcycles. I hope carbon fiber continues to be developed but stays far, far away from motorcycle frames.

    • Nick says:

      It’s amazing that so many folks THINK they are aware of the properties of materials. Composites, more than any metal, can be specifically tuned to meet desired design goals. Almost every part of a motorcycle COULD be safely made from composites. The only real downsides to composites are the dollar and time costs of production.

  15. Dug says:

    I know this is probably not relevant, but aluminum arrows shot from my bow will bend when hitting a rock for example. A carbon arrow stays straight, but shatters when hitting the wrong thing. I wonder how cf frames hold up to accidental impact?

    • Nick says:

      In both cases your arrow is now junk. A properly designed carbon fiber frame can be just as or more durable than a typical metal frame.

  16. iliketoeat says:

    The biggest drawback of carbon fiber, especially in racing, is its stiffness. Have you seen the lean angles that MotoGP bikes reach these days? Marquez is hitting 60 degrees pretty regularly. At those lean angles, the suspension doesn’t work at all. You hit a bump leaned over that much, and it’s like riding a bike without any suspension at all. In this situation, only the flex of the frame (and tires) provides some suspension action for the wheels, and prevents the wheels from skipping off bumps and losing grip. So you need the frame to be relatively flexible side to side. Carbon fiber is too stiff for that, and that’s why carbon frames won’t work in racing.

    • Nick says:

      Sorry, but no. Composite frame stiffness is solely at the discretion of the designer. In fact, composites make it much easier to tune stiffness in various directions. A carbon fiber frame could just as easily be more flexible than a steel or aluminum frame and a wood frame could be stiffer than all of them. It all depends on the choices made by the engineer.

      • iliketoeat says:

        OK, I’ll buy that you can engineer stiffness, though I wonder about durability. How many stress cycles can CF go through vs. metal? Also, if you can do the same thing with CF as you can with, say, aluminum… then why bother with CF in the first place? The big advantage of CF is weigth savings, but race bikes have minimum weight limits, and I don’t think any race team has any problems getting down to those limits without using CF. So why use CF?

  17. Marshall says:

    If the BMW i3 sells like the Nissan Leaf, I believe we’ll see the price of carbon fiber builds drop precipitously. I’m starting to see them around here (Silicon Valley) for $41K MSRP and maybe ~$34K after all the rebates. At least in California, they’re going to sell like hotcakes. Hopefully BMW use this manufacturing technology in their motorcycle line. A `superleggera’ version of the S1000RR would be a great place to start!

  18. jim says:

    Maybe start with unsprung weight – wheels & swingarms and the then the sub-frame and misc cast/molded covers and farkels?

  19. John says:

    IMO, the best way to reduce the weight of a motorcycle is to reduce the weight of the engine, or increase it’s output without adding weight. Every pound in the engine radiates outward, with more weight added in every area of supporting that extra pound – frame, wheels, suspension, tank, etc, etc. Of course, added horsepower and speed does the same thing. Even if we could take 5-10lbs off the bike due to the frame….really, what victory is that??? It’s meaningless for the most part, unless you’re racing. Some weight helps with stability anyway. Lower Cg is more useful. What I would like to see are more motorcycles that are compact, midsized-engined and higher spec. I’d rather have better suspension than a carbon frame.

  20. Ricardo says:

    I recently bought a carbon fiber bicycle, and can tell you it is a world of difference between the carbon frame and the aluminum, carbon is much more rigid in my bike so it flexes less thus transmiting more energy to the pedals. BUT carbon fiber is more “delicate” as if I were to hit the carbon bike with some object during a fall, I would not know if the frame has been compromised with internal cracks, as where the aluminum frame I would be able to see the nick or the bend of the metal and assess if it has an issue or continue riding. I think the same would apply for motorcycles frames. You just won’t know when the carbon frame has been damaged…metal can flex during a hard hit, carbon does not.

    • iliketoeat says:

      The fact that carbon is so rigid is exactly the reason why it works so poorly in frames for race bikes. Bike frames have to be somewhat flexible side-to-side, and carbon fiber can’t do that.

      • jim says:

        Not true, you can adjust with section and layup and achieve the same deflection with less mass…

  21. Norm G. says:

    re: “Of course, an initial transition to carbon fiber manufacturing techniques would be costly”

    RISKY.

    re: “ultimately the materials involved shouldn’t prevent their use in higher end motorcycles.”

    correct, more than anything the HUMAN element is what’s “running interference”.

  22. Nick says:

    The biggest reason why motorcycles aren’t using carbon frames is production time. Most sportbikes are using variations of a die cast aluminum frames. Finished frames can be produced very quickly and efficiently either in-house or from a number of existing suppliers. Contrast that with a carbon fiber frame that requires complicated layups and time consuming curing processes.

    Most of the comments below about durability, repairability, toughness, thermal expansion, strength, rigidity, etc. are just plain false. Properly engineered composite structures can be tuned to have almost any desired property. It is possible to design a composite frame that looks and rides identical to a Ducati steel trellis frame. However, it would take much longer to fabricate than a typical steel Ducati frame.

    Every material has pluses and minuses and a multitude of requirements need to be balanced in the design process.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “However, it would take much longer to fabricate than a typical steel Ducati frame.”

      which itself took considerable labor. now compare that to the new aluminium monocoques, which can be cast and cranked out tirelessly in an automated process (ie. terminators, robots gon’ rogue) in a fraction of the time, with a fraction of material, at a fraction of the cost.

      now we see more clearly that the benefits of Preziosi’s genius were actually intended for MANUFACTURING, not for racing. the Italians weren’t necessarily being pig-headed sticking with the monocoque, they had an “End game” all along.

    • Brinskee says:

      Sorry but wrong here too. Bicycle manufacturers wouldn’t use CF as a frame material if it were time consuming to create. And they sell a lot more bicycles (at low price points) than motorcycle brands ever will.

      • Nick says:

        Sorry, but you’re wrong in comparing motorcycles to bicycle frames. “Time consuming” is relative. Production time of a composite bike frame is competing against the precision cutting and welding of multiple steel or aluminum tubers. It is not realistic to build a bicycle out of die cast aluminum.

        I don’t have exact production times, but compared to alternate materials, the composite bike frame may take twice as long, whereas the composite motorcycle frame could take ten times longer. The motorcycle frame also needs a lot more mechanical interface points plus a much thicker layup.

      • iliketoeat says:

        Ha ha seriously? Bicycles sold at low price points? How much do you think carbon-fiber bicycles cost? Many of them cost more than motorcycles, precisely because they are time-consuming to create. Now look at how much CF is used by a bicycle frame, and how much CF you’d need for a motorcycle frame.

        For production motorcycles, CF makes no sense because it’s too expensive. For race bikes CF makes no sense because it provides no advantage – race bikes are already as light as they can be.

        • Brinskee says:

          Well, let’s see. I own both steel and carbon framed bikes and have on Wed aluminum as well, so I have an idea of what I’m talking about. You can buy a CF bike with lower end component set for less than a steel or aluminum frame bike with higher end gruppo. So… Yes, actually you can get carbon at a lower price point. Sorry fellas but it’s not about the time to build ’em.

  23. Stuart Brock says:

    Carbon fiber is cool, but I would never buy a bike with a carbon fiber frame, or wheels. One scratch and the component is ruined. I have several friends that race bicycles and they have stopped using carbon fiber for this reason.

  24. Jeremy in TX says:

    Manufacturers spend fortunes carving off a gram of weight here and there on their flagship sport bikes, so I don’t think cost is very prohibitive for that market given the amount of weight that can be saved and the current stratospheric prices of premium bikes.

    People concerned about the durability of and inability to repair carbon fiber must not be very familiar with the material. It is exceptionally strong, durable and repairable beyond what could be imagined for aluminum or magnesium.

    I think there are two main reasons why we don’t see carbon fiber in practice:

    1) As Dirck mentioned, manufacturers just don’t have experience with the material, and the manufacturers that would likely do the most effective job of employing CF components on a mass scale (the Japanese) are slow to change.

    2) The biggie I think is that the development of electronic rider aids are likely turning a much higher ROI (both financially and with respect to performance gains) than CF. Electronics are just winning the competition for R&D dollars at the moment.

    I think the time will come when CF frames, swingarms, forks, and subframes won’t be so exotic. Just not quite yet.

  25. chasejj says:

    All this speculation about CF properties vs. aluminum vs. steel is nonsense.
    It boils down to 2 factors.
    1) Engineers have a lifetime of data with steel properties and to some extent aluminum as well. The behavior of these materials is known and the variables can be contained to an acceptable level.
    2)Cost- CF is flat out ridiculously expensive as you cannot simply weld together a mock up and test it. A viable frame requires a very expensive mold process and hand layup then baked in a large autoclave. All very expensive and time consuming. Guess what happens if you don’t like the stiffness, geo, whatever. Throw away the new molds you made and start over.

    Last item, though not a factor for MotoGP teams is there is little hope of recovering the R&D on a CF frame for a production run. Are you really gonna be OK paying $100K for a CF framed Sportbike? Maybe a few very wealthy to park in their stable but not even the high end general rider can go that deep into their bank account for that.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Maybe a few very wealthy to park in their stable but not even the high end general rider can go that deep into their bank account for that…”

      …and the general/general rider is put off entirely when the objects of their desire cost a Quarter.

    • Nick says:

      Sorry chasejj, but you’re wrong. All of the sportbikes using precision die cast aluminum frames require molds that are much more expensive than production molds for composite parts. Furthermore, molds for prototype composite parts can be produced quickly and cheaply.

      Whether it is an aluminum or composite frame, engineers fine tune the “stiffness, geo, whatever” in software long before any expensive molds are “thrown away”.

      • denny says:

        Let’s think about cycle-time for second Nick. The conventional metal, mostly robotically handled work is lot faster. You cannot do the same with composites, not to mention autoclave time, controlled cooling and so on. That is one of most compelling points for metals.

        Just to be clear – I do not have aversion against composites and actually would like to see them, but the cost of final product would be staggering.

        • Nick says:

          That was the exact point I made a couple of posts up. Some of the composite process can be automated, but the speed would never come close to die casting aluminum.

  26. Norm G. says:

    it’s gonna be cool when the stunters and high-chair wheelie boys get their hands on a composite frame.

  27. secret asian man says:

    This is because a motorcycle frame has more design goals than a bicycle frame.

    Neither strength nor scale are an issue. Racing bicycles are made of carbon fiber, as are F1 cars and the Boeing 787 and a variety of fighter aircraft. Carbon fiber can be built to take the type, frequency, and level of loads in motorcycling.

    The design goal of the above frames is to be as stiff and light as possible. Carbon is both stiff and light.

    What separates motorcycle frames from F1, bicycle, and aircraft frames is that in addition to being a chassis, a motorcycle frame is also suspension.

    At the lean angles experienced by a racing motorcycle, the majority of suspension loads are directed into the frame. Metal frames provide a certain amount of damping that both increase traction at the wheel end and feel at the rider end.

    Ride a carbon mountain bike back to back with a steel one and you will see the difference.

    The carbon bike will have better power transfer (stiffer) and climb faster (lighter).

    The steel bike will climb over roots a little better (feel) and provide a smoother ride on the descent (traction)

    • chasejj says:

      Secret Asian- This is simply not true. CF is the MOST adjustable of any material to engineer of all the available choices. You could make a CF frame that is totally a wet noodle or stiff as a bridge abutment. It is all in the shape and orientation of fibers. Easily engineered stuff.
      The problem is the lack of real knowledge engineers have with dynamic variables of chassis development on motorcycles and the exhorbitant expense required to change the design in significant ways once molds are made.
      Look at a Britten if you want to see it done right as a Proto. Had he lived that bike would be like Prometheus for CF motorcycles. Simply brilliant.

    • denny says:

      I agree and this is the point I was trying to make: metal’s damping ability thru internal friction. This is what carbon fiber due to its rigid construction cannot do. I would bet that average rider would get tired of it fast; it must feel like riding on needles.

      • ROXX says:

        I’ve been riding road bikes (bicycles) for 20 years and I’ve had and ridden them all.
        Flat out, carbon fiber is a smoother ride than either steel or aluminum.

        Carbon fiber frames can be ‘tuned’ to add stiffness where needed like around the pedal cranks.
        I’m sure a motorcycle frame would not be a problem at all regarding which parts of the frame are tuned for smoothness and which parts require stiffness.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “The steel bike will climb over roots a little better (feel) and provide a smoother ride on the descent (traction)…”

      …and absolutely MARAUD around Imola even while restricted and saddled with a weight penalty.

      this weekend WSBK visits Italy. since Marinelli and Guigliano have been talking up the Panigale’s performance since the start of the season, here’s their first true “litmus test”.

      right then, if the ally front boned 1199 doesn’t at least match (better to exceed) the laptime of the sublime steel trellis 1198 as last ridden by Checa…?

      then Louie, you got some “es-plaining” to doooo…! (Cuban band leader voice)

  28. Vrooom says:

    I think for the most part it simply comes down to the relative weight savings as the article says. Saving 2 lbs. on a bicycle might be 10% of the weight of the bike. On a motorcycle you might save 8-10 lbs. on say a Ducati Trellis frame, which is in the neighborhood of 2% of the bike’s total weight. Furthermore as another poster said, there isn’t a big incentive for a manufacturer to invest in the R&D when most race series have minimum weight requirements.

  29. xactoman says:

    I think part of the success of carbon in the bike industry is that most of the brands use a small manufacturing base in china. The bicycle industry is a design and outsource industry; most companies don’t do any production of carbon themselves. Only a few brands build carbon frames in-house, i.e. Trek, which does their high end line in the states. The advantage of this is that they can keep cost lower and leverage a skilled supplier to make parts that are fairly common across all brands. Brands may appear to have “unique” product but most of it is made by the same suppliers in china.

    The motorcycle industry does not have this supply chain. Frames and parts are not common and are very specific to each model. You couldn’t take a frame mold that was designed for a twin and tweak it to hold a inline 4. The cost to R&D, lay-up and test specific frames would be cost prohibitive. Like others have pointed out above, the weight savings would be minimal. Carbon is super strong compared to a aluminum or steel frame, somewhere in the range of 3x….but when it fails, it shatters. That probably posses as a safety concern whereas a steel or aluminum frame would bend.

  30. mike says:

    I ride several carbon bikes in addition to the other 3 materials. It’s great. People don’t seem to understand that it’s way tougher than metal. I’ve trashed several steel forks but not even come close to seriously damaging a carbon fork. It used to seem prohibitively expensive but nowadays you can get a great carbon frame for less than custom steel. Economics of scale will eventually evolve and you’ll see carbon all over motorcycles wherever platform sharing applies.

  31. Craig Jackman says:

    Another reason is durabulity. Lowside your CBR1000RR and you’ve got plastic body to replace, but the scratches and gouges on the frame are just cosmetic. Tumble your YZR and the frame can be put in jig and straightened. In either case on a carbon frame bike, your $20,000+ playtoy is about to be parted out and thrown away, or you cough up how many thousands for a new carbon frame … and the DVR headaches to change the VIN. On a Ducati MotoGP bike, where the entire thing is disposable, that’s fine. For 99.99999% of motorcycle enthusiasts? Let’s just say they wouldn’t be “happy” about the situation.

  32. John says:

    Aren’t there already minimum weight limits in MotoGP and WSBK? If the bikes are already at the minimum weight threshold why would a manufacturer spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a frame lighter and then have to add weight back to the bike to make it hit the minimum?

    The area I see for improvement from bicycling is wheel aerodynamics. Wheel design makes a huge difference in cycling but this area doesn’t seem to have been explored by the manufacturers. The wheels that the racers are using today look virtually identical to the wheels from the 70’s.

    • azi says:

      Might be getting a little off topic… but the trouble with making bicycle wheels more aerodynamic is that they start to get heavier. Aero wheels also cause problems in crosswinds. Modern spoked clinchers might look old fashioned but they are incredibly strong for their weight 🙂 Same reason why dirt bikes don’t run cast alloy wheels.

  33. Tommy D says:

    The motorcycle industry has come a long way in the last 30 years with developing aluminum frames. It wasn’t that long ago that aluminum frames were only on stuff like Bimota or factory race bikes. I remember drooling at the Bimota pic’s back in the day. Now look at all the sportbikes and even Goldwings that have that frame technology. They are squeezing out all the incremental performance gains while managing the R&D and manufacturing costs.

    The first carbon bicycles helped sell steel (steel is real) and more expensive titanium bike frames. The early carbon frames had a dead feel to them. Aluminum was a harsh ride. It took serious R&D and higher consumer prices to deliver a “better” carbon bike. A top end aluminum frame Cannondale CAAD 10 can be made to weigh about the same as a lower end carbon frame and have about the same ride quality. Tuning ride quality with careful carbon lay up and that diminishing return for subtracting those last 100 grams of weight savings is big $’s. Imagine this, >$10,000 US dollars is typical of a top of the line production race BICYCLE. (Frame and forks are around $4K-$5K) Consumers are buying this stuff as they do their ironman to local group rides looking to squeeze out any advantage.

    Yes the lower cost carbon bikes are out there but its those big money $5K-$10K bikes driving R&D that allows the trickle down economics to flow. Someday carbon could be the frame we all ride on but I think its mostly economics of R&D and production that will keep this from becoming a reality. If they are looking to lower the cost of a fielding a motoGP bike then I expect R&D to be spent elsewhere.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Consumers are buying this stuff”

      now compare/contrast this to the behaviour of the motorcyclist. where bicyclists generally come off the dime…? we mount a never-ending quest for free lunch.

      re: “its those big money $5K-$10K bikes driving R&D that allows the trickle down economics to flow.”

      we short-circuit the trickle down.

  34. denny says:

    As I am from metalworking trade and have plenty of experience, I can speak of that particular material – aluminum and steel. My composite (part of plastics) experience is none, but I have a grasp what they are about.

    In short, let me tell you this: metals will stay. Why? Because they have properties which are desirable for motorcycle frames; we are talking common sports touring products, not racers. First of all, frame needs redundancy in fatigue strength and maintain reliable connection with engine and chassis. It also is active vibration damper; composite cannot due to its stiffness do that. Metal bends, expands, muffles and comes back to its original shape and for that reason is perfect. Some extra weight adds to motorcycle stability – especially in inclement weather conditions. I consider weight ratio of machine to man in about 2:1 as perfect. Anything les does not look as stable set to me.

    If you follow the trend lately, all motorcycles have frames heavier than they need to be. This is for a reason – makers do not want to deal with legal cases od frame failure. This is the game everyone plays; yes, it somehow hurts progress, but is safe way to go. Stay tuned!

    • denny says:

      Just to add little explanation about vibration damping capability of metals, aluminum in particular. This is meant for parts made in form of castings, be it engine cases and/or parts of frame connecting engine to swing arm and steering. Castings have multidirectional fiber orientation called ‘dendritic structure’ – this allows diversion and attenuation of energy input. This technology in form of combination of high stiffness trellis and cast components is brought to perfection by Italian makers – MV Agusta, Ducati and Aprilia. And are they ever gorgeous, part of being light, not to say razor sharp!

  35. Ed says:

    The biggest weight reduction obtainable on a motorcycle is the rider (me). I’m not paying a premium for a carbon fiber frame. I will pay for the company to add more power.

  36. Clasqm says:

    Let’s not forget heat. That thing a motorcycle frame holds, what’s it called again, an engine? It gets hot. Hot things expand. Metal frames can absorb that expansion, carbon, not so much. Not an impossible problem to solve, but something the bicycle guys don’t have to worry about.

    • ROXX says:

      What about Formula 1?
      I can’t imagine those chassis don’t have to handle heat.

      • clasqm says:

        Quite right. Formula One. One-off, no-expenses spared, damn-the-bottom-line-this-is-Formula-One. Formla One has CF frames. And, how many production cars has that trickled down to?

        I did say it could be done. My point was that the bicycle guys don’t have to worry about it, so to say “bicycles have it, why don’t we?” is to ignore this fact. The motorcycle started out as a bicycle with an ancillary engine. But that was a hundred years ago.

  37. azi says:

    I am not an engineer but I’m a keen bicycle rider as well as motorcyclist. In the bicycle world the main advantage appears to be weight saving. It’s mostly used in the performance end of cycling (both road and mountain bikes). Aluminium and steel are usually good enough for more utilitarian purposes, but even here there are many who prefer high quality chromoly steel frames (Columbus, Reynolds, etc) for the vibration damping properties.

    Then there’s the use of carbon fibre composites in the aircraft industry. You can’t get more exposed to the elements here (except perhaps a submarine), so I don’t think the durability argument holds. The aviation industry does however have much tighter regulation over structural inspections and maintenance schedules in comparison to cars and motorcycles.

    I’m going along with what Krisd said in his comment – the potential weight savings aren’t really justified when everything else hanging off the frame is so heavy, especially for a production series model (no matter how performance oriented it is). The quality of components on even a mid-priced carbon framed bicycle would put the components of something like a GSXR1000 to shame – steel fork tubes, cast wheels, moulded plastic light projectors, thick ABS fairings – even the sidestand is a weapon in comparison to a bicycle seatpost. By the time you lighten all the components of a motorcycle enough to justify a carbon frame you’d end up with a motorcycle that’s probably around $100k.

    • paul246 says:

      Good points, especially in para 1.

      That is why I love my ’77 Cinelli SC…. Columbus tubing.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Then there’s the use of carbon fibre composites in the aircraft industry”

      see entry for Boeing 787. see entry for Airbus A350.

  38. hh says:

    ..this is the most absurd article to date….. I am off this site again..this is like when the site was motorcycle daily I heart casey stoner,,jeez birds have been using wings for years, I feel in time motorcycles will use wings for propulsion and fly….

  39. Adam Smash says:

    As long as MotoGP is using spec tires, there will never be carbon fiber frames or any other chassis innovation.

  40. paulysr says:

    My opinion is the initial investment in learning about how to build a successful carbon motorcycle frame is too big, and the pay off of that investment would be too small and take too long. I think a carbon motorcycle frame is possible and would provide an advantage, just because Ducati couldn’t make it work in MotoGP doesn’t mean it can’t be done or wouldn’t work on a street/off-road/mx bike. It would probably have to start out in MotoGP but the weight limits/rules don’t seem to favor it right now. It is kind of surprising there are no structural carbon parts on any production bikes. Maybe a one-piece carbon outer fork tube/lower clamp would be a lot to ask, but no carbon brackets, fairing stays, rear subframes, handlebars, etc.?

    • Harry R says:

      Heron Suzuki I believe had a carbon frame and swingarm back in the late eighties for their WSB or GP machines. I am also pretty sure Team Muzzy had carbon swing arms on their ZX-7’s in the early 90’s. Rules changes in WSB and AMA requiring production frames and Suzuki pulling out of MotoGP ended development. The cost of carbon parts verses same part in aluminum is a no-brainer aluminum is by far cheaper and less labor intense in the production manufacturing environment. Even in production runs of only a couple thousand units the costs add up to considerable dollars that would have to be passed on to consumers. Those same consumers that drool all over the latest offerings from the likes of Bimota are reluctant at best to fork over the asking price for those same high dollar masterpieces. How many would cough up another four grand or more for a GSXR1000, ZX-10R, R-1, or CBR1000R because it had a carbon swing arm or frame?

  41. Brian says:

    I think the durability and feel are also at the top of the list. Carbon is amazing for reducing the feel of vibration to the end user. It removes or numbs vibes a lot.

    Also, a crack or nick can compromise the integrity of a piece of carbon fiber.

    How does it hold up to the outside world? The abuse of the most careless customer?

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “How does it hold up to the outside world? The abuse of the most careless customer?”

      Q#3: what are the warranty and liability implications to a manufacturer engaged in the niche business of motorcycling…?

  42. Krisd says:

    Simple; cost versus weight saving is simply not worth it. A motorcycle aluminium frame is what, 12kgs? A carbon frame would be say 4kgs? An 8kg weight saving for a production bike of 200klgs wet is not relative, and not worth it.

  43. al says:

    As some one has already said the high cost of frame repair, adding accessory items to the frame by clamping or welding is not possible. I guess the big question for me is why?

  44. Adrian says:

    For the same reasons that we still use telescopic forks, methinks.

  45. Bob says:

    Motorcycles need carbon fiber frames like a fish needs a bicycle.

  46. stinkywheels says:

    My biggest question is why? What would carbon fiber accomplish? It can’t be welded, brackets and anything bolted to it must be helicoiled or something similar. It doesn’t take vibration well. Steering head bearing races would be a nightmare, not to mention scratches and nicks compromising it’s strength. It’s not worth the trouble. I’ve ridden bicycles of carbon, steel, aluminum, titanium, and of those, I prefer steel or titanium. Bicycle frames are like a tuning fork, and it can be REALLY felt, the flex, the stiffness, even the shock absorbing qualities. They’re masked by a motorcycles weight and suspension.

    • Dave says:

      The great irony of Ducati’s failure is that the advantages of c/f are exactly what should have given them the tools to fix it. Look in on carbon bikes again sometime. All the issues you cite have been fixed with solutions equal or superior to their metal counterparts’.

      Carbon fiber enjoys the advantage that most of the finished part’s traits are under the control of the engineers, instead of the engineer working within the rigid confines of a metal’s properties. One advantage the bicycle industry has is the decades they’ve been working with it.

      F1 has fairly rudimentary carbon fiber tech yet a competitive F1 car made of metal would be impossible by now.

      • stinkywheels says:

        I know it can be tuned, it can be shaped, it is a blob. I don’t care for the looks, it’s cost, and it’s kinda fragile. Look at the lengths they’ve had to go to, for it to as good a mouse trap. It’s a character/soul thing. I still don’t think it’s worth it. They could make carbon fiber wrenches, and I’m not gonna pay for them unless it’s all that’s available. F1 is a very expensive laboratory, which is what MotoGp is supposed to be. I know someone can make use of it’s properties. Ducati didn’t leave enough frame to work with to tune it. Motorcycles are just toys, sometimes the greatest is undesirable.

  47. dino says:

    I think the article hit most of the high points. Light weight is always welcome, and higher-end bikes could absorb a higher cost for the feature of a Carbon frame. But like the comments below, a carbon frame just did not have the right kind of tuned flex that racers were expecting, or able to adapt to when Ducati tried it a few years ago.

    I think carbon can be easily tunable for flex. Doesn’t the “Blade Runner” run on a pair of carbon legs, when he isn’t on trial for murdering his girlfriend? Those ‘legs’ have flex and strength built in, but maybe it is more of a spring action, that does more than just flex, but rather carbon might oscillate more freely than aluminum. Maybe that is what gives it a weird feeling when leaner over on bumpy corners. Pure speculation on my part, but something like that, somebody will likely figure out someday.

    Someone just has to REALLY want to figure out how to make a carbon frame, spend the big bucks to do it, test it, and find that missing sumpen-sumpen that Ducati just could find. Until then, we still can get our carbon covers, small brackets, maybe even sections of subframe that can shave off some weight, look cool, and maybe lead the way to the whole frame.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Someone just has to REALLY want to figure out how to make a carbon frame, spend the big bucks to do it, test it, and find that missing sumpen-sumpen”

      and there it is.

      re: “Ducati didn’t leave enough frame to work with to tune it.”

      full stop.

  48. John says:

    All you have to do is look at the cost of a bicycle compared to the cost of a motorcycle, pound for pound. A typical entry level high-end bike costs as much as a CB500X and has maybe 5% of the materials in it.

    • Dave says:

      That is largely driven by (tiny) volumes in the cycling world.

      • Guu says:

        Tiny volumes? Where do you get this? Mountain bike sales in the US alone are in the millions. And thats not the largest segment nor the largest market. Compare that to dirt bike sales and you’ll see what tiny is.

        • Dave says:

          Millions of what? The “entry level, high-end bike” at similar cost to a CB500x you cite is not millions of units, very far from it.

          The high-end carbon fiber products (price comp. to moto) are made & sold in tiny volumes.

          • Guu says:

            Millions of bikes where the frame costs the same as on a CB500X, hundreds of thousands of bikes that cost the same as a complete CB500X.

            Please define tiny numbers. Whatever it is, carbon bicycle bars, seatposts etc. aren’t produced in tiny numbers.

            Btw. I don’t think you get your money’s worth with carbon frames unless every other part is already high end. Carbon wheels make much more sense.

          • Dave says:

            The US bicycle industry sold 13m bicycles with a wheel size above 20″ (<kids' bike size) in 2012. The average retail price of bicycles sold in independent dealers (who sell the highest quality bikes) is $673. Road bikes comprised 20% of the volume (2.6m). Based on the average retail price, it is known that a very small fraction of bicycles are made of carbon fiber.

  49. tori zimbalis says:

    The answer lies within the scope of flex…..more specifically sideways flex..carbon is just too stiff…maybe the development of different resins etc with change this…but carbon is not cost effective as well

    Honda ran into this problem of flex when they tried(at first unsuccessfully) to make aluminum perimeter frames for the CRs…..but aluminum is “adjustable” and predictable it took a few years to get them work with the correct amount of flex…..with carbon its an engineering cul-de-sac for lack of a better term

    Ducati tried to no end and could never make the riders comfortable on the bike….it was endless chatter that they could never get rid off

    carbon someday? Maybe

    • MGNorge says:

      I think that sums up what I have read. If it was viable and cost effective then we’d maybe see it. What about more of a limited use, allowing some flex where wanted but light weight and strength where needed?

    • PABLO says:

      +1 to what Tori has written and I do think it will happen one day. I also belive environmental conditions (mainly UV) are not great for Carbon fibre longevity. My guess it will appear first on a hi end electric bike, maybe something like a ZERO as they don’t have to deal with the same amount of stress/vibration/weight generated by an IC motor.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      I feel a big part of it is simply a lack of experience with carbon. Bicycle frame manufacturers have successfully varied frame stiffness at different parts of the frame to compensate for handling requirements.

      • iliketoeat says:

        Experience is part of it, but the fundamental reason is that carbon fiber simply isn’t needed for race bikes. Race bikes have minimum weight limits, and they are already at those limits, so you won’t get any weight savings with carbon fiber. Yet you’d still have to deal with all of its cost and complexity. It just isn’t worth it.

        For roadbikes, the cost of carbon fiber is prohibitive. Carbon-fiber bicycles use just a few pounds of the stuff, but cost a shitload of money (sometimes more than motorcycles!). Carbon-fiber-framed motorcycles would be crazy expensive and there just isn’t a viable market for that.

    • Guu says:

      Fishing rods… You are making one of the greatest strenghts that carbon has sound like its weakness. As far as the first aluminum CRs, I think its now accepted, that it was problem with the mass production on Hondas part. That bike was “new” in many other ways too. Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki got it right the first time.

      Personally, I would make and buy carbon wheels before carbon frames both on motorcycles and bicycles.

    • Tom Shields says:

      I agree. Add to this the fact that the direction of the weave in the layup of layers determines the stiffness of CF in all dimensions but not equally. Metal is a homogeneous compound and it’s easy to regulate its stiffness by simply varying its thickness. CF is not so simple. You can’t just go shaving a bit off here and there without compromising the structure, or glopping a little more on here and there. Every change is a brand new structure or substructure.

      Then of course there’s the possibility of CF being susceptible to structural compromise after a crash, although I don’t recall that being an issue for Ducati, nor have I heard of any issues with those high-dollar BST CF wheels. It’s tough stuff but it will break rather than bend.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “nor have I heard of any issues with those high-dollar BST CF wheels. It’s tough stuff but it will break rather than bend.”

        if you ever have the pleasure of meeting the South African representatives of BST at a trade show, they will hand you a bare rim and dare you (not them) to drop it (on edge) from a standing height to a concrete floor. I can only describe it as a “frighteningly convincing” demonstration.

        that being said, however (comma) I’ve also seen more than one BST destroyed by a perhaps careless tyre fitter. all materials have a yield strength.

        • Tom Shields says:

          Norm, yes, I’ve heard that those rims are most at risk during tire changes.