Bike Intelligencer » mad fiber All bike, all the time Mon, 20 Jul 2015 21:20:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fiber Skeptics: Are carbon wheels reliable? Wed, 14 Jul 2010 14:25:12 +0000 Regarding our recent post on Mad Fiber’s revolutionary new “holistically engineered” carbon-fiber wheels, Ron George over at Cycling Bee quotes wheel-building legend Jobst Brandt to the effect that carbon in wheels is too fraught with peril:

“Meanwhile, another respected engineer Jobst Brandt told me that the whole idea of a non-heat absorbing rim is nuts. He saw a collapsed carbon fiber wheel in Italy and did not like the stress problems in the spokes. “I think he is more into the art of the wheels than function in manufacture, building and performance,” he remarked [about Ric Hjertberg]. Yes, carbon fiber’s strength-to-weight ratio is off the chart but I do have to consider Jobst’s comments. How well do people know carbon fiber anyway? The engineers behind the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, built with 50 percent carbon composites, can’t even accurately predict how the structure will behave in the event of a crash. Other experienced engineers remain uneasy in spite of the fancy imagery their computers show them. The material’s true value can be overrated when kept in context with its price.” [Full post here.]

Wheelbuilding guru Ric Hjertberg shows off Mad Fiber's new offering.

We would not expect anything different from Jobst, who is as old-school as they come. (That’s not a criticism; we’re pretty old-school ourselves, and unlike Jobst, our family has roots in “show me” Missouri.) It’s also true that carbon wheels have suffered failures, largely due to the heat of pads on sidewalls during fast and extended braking.

Rim failure from overheating is hardly unique to carbon, however. In our callow youth we once blew out an aluminum rim coming down viciously steep Alba Road above Santa Cruz on a 95-degree day.

All that said, we nonetheless were curious about Mad Fiber founder Ric Hjertberg’s response to Jobst’s challenge. (As a side note, these guys know each other well. Back in the day we often ran into Jobst at Ric’s Wheelsmith shop in Palo Alto.)

In an email, Ric offered up his defense. Anyone who knows Ric understands he’s as articulate as they come, so what follows is a minimally edited version of his original email.

First off, Ric makes it clear (and we would second him) that he’s no starry-eyed fiber groupie. “I doubt there’s a perfect bicycle or component design,” he notes. “Certainly, the classic tubular metal diamond with wire wheels, pneumatic tires, and chain drive is a timeless stroke of genius. But it’s a human invention — not a given, like rain.”

What does set Ric and other bike-engineering pioneers (Gary Fisher and Charlie Cunningham are leading examples) apart is their insistence on continuing to innovate. Despite accomplished careers where they reached the pinnacle of their profession, these guys still think there’s work to be done for improving the cycling experience.

As Ric put it, “I recommend we 1) Try and better understand the bicycle’s function, a lofty task, 2) Enjoy and expand our riding, 3) Share the joy of pedaling, and 4) experience the varieties of cycling.”

In other words, no matter how much mileage we have on our tires, let’s keep pinning the fun meter!

To that end, composites bring a whole new aspect to biking. “Cycling’s pioneers attacked the issues of efficiency, weight, durability, aerodynamics, safety, comfort, and beauty with a ferocious determination,” Ric notes. The hallowed names of Colnago and Cinelli and even Schwinn “certainly would have made extensive use of composites, were they available. Reckless, ambitious, challenging? Yes indeed. They pushed the limits in every possible way.”

Variety itself “with bicycles, like art or food, is part of the fun,” Ric says. “Carbon wheels are not ‘better’ than wood or aluminum any more than dirt is better than pavement or ale better than stout. Folks should try stuff out and judge for themselves.” And while “ill-advised uses” of carbon exist in cycling, they’re no different from other materials. Bottom line: “Composites are here to stay.”

Regarding carbon wheels in particular, Ric notes that they are late coming to the carbon-component game, which means they’re still young in their development cycle. “In the early days of suspension forks, there were many obvious shortcomings and skeptics. Carbon wheels will eventually sort it out.”

In terms of brake heat, then? Ric acknowledges that “carbon rims have serious issues with it.” Disc brakes (de rigueur on mountain bikes and getting that way for comfort, commuter and folding bikes) ultimately will solve the issue. “Perhaps the way carbon wheels renewed the popularity of sew ups will also apply to the adoption of disk brakes. Stranger things have happened,” Ric notes.

And what about the ever-colorful, imperiously opinionated Jobst? “His “opinions are always a welcome addition” Ric says, adding that Jobst is a “gifted, out-of-the-box thinker.” It’s important to note, though, that Jobst’s engineering career “predates” the carbon-fiber revolution.

“I doubt he will represent himself as a composites expert,” Ric concludes.

In any case, with dialog being the No. 1 piston for the engine of innovation, Ric says to keep the communication channels open.

“More than ever, we need sage advice on the costs and benefits of high technology,” he notes. While carbon is “not for everyone,” it’s paramount to “keep the conversation going!”

Link: BikeHugger visits the Mad Fiber factory

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Mad Fiber’s Carbon Wheels: Crazy light, insanely great Thu, 03 Jun 2010 20:48:38 +0000 Since leaving Woodinville-based FSA in 2008, wheel-building legend Ric Hjertberg has kept his work largely shrouded in mystery.

Now the story can be told: Hjertberg has been working on innovative unibody, featherweight, aerodynamic, bullet-strong, all-carbon wheels. His new company, Mad Fiber, is in production at the former Essential Bakery in north Seattle and expects to have wheelsets on the street by July. They are road only initially but mountain bike wheels are on the boards as well.

Wheelbuilding guru Ric Hjertberg shows off Mad Fiber's new offering at Lake Union headquarters.

“We’ve created the wheel as a single unit, where forces flow gracefully from component to component,” Hjertberg says.

Translated: Energy from the rider gets distributed evenly and more directly throughout the wheel, providing more direct and efficient transference of power on acceleration and climbs.

“Our goal is singularity, a unit with organic transitions — much as found in nature, where force and function move smoothly, not abruptly.”

Let’s just say they’re really cool.

Wheels are the one place on a bike where carbon has been under-optimized, Hjertberg feels. During the carbon revolution of the past decade, frames, handlebars, cranksets and even small components on shifters and derailleurs have been honed to greater strength and reliability through constant R&D.

Wheels have been part of the mix but held back by conventional concept and design, resulting usually in a hybrid of carbon and other materials.

Mad Fiber wheels look like they’re stamped from a single piece of material, much like CNC-machined components. The blade spokes flow directly out of the rim, meeting at the hub not so much in a flange but a hood of carbon (the hub itself is titanium). Although the wheel starts out in bits and pieces, it’s nearly impossible to tell where each begins and ends by the time the final wheel materializes.

The result isn’t cheap: Mad Fiber wheels will retail around $2,600, which most people consider pretty expensive for an entire bike. Carbon as a material is not costly (it’s plastic, after all), but custom molds run $10,000 to $20,000 apiece. Over time amortization will bring down cost, but out of the gate any new carbon component is pricey. And Mad Fiber’s target price, cheap next to some wheelsets like the Reynolds RZR at $6,000, is well in the range of Easton’s EC90 SL, which retails for $1,800.

Without beginning or end, Mad Fiber's wheel integrates components into a unified structure.

In return customers get a weight — 1085 grams per wheel set — that seemingly defies the laws of physics, with strength and performance unmatched by anything metal. During the recent Tour of California, George Hincapie gashed the front rim of his carbon Easton EC90 tubular clear through the sidewall. The wheel not only held together but stayed true while Hincapie completed the stage.

With the bemused engineer’s sense of irony that marks much of Hjertberg’s world view, Ric notes how fitting it is to be “cooking” carbon parts in a space that formerly housed Seattle’s leading organic bakery. Essential’s cafe is still at its familiar lower Wallingford location, but the bakery part moved to Georgetown in March. At Mad Fiber, carbon is baked in custom molds by white-cloaked engineers, then glued and finished on location.

“Our ovens go to 350, we bring stuff out and cool it, cut it into little shapes, make our little pastries, put ’em in the oven,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not that different.”

It’s all very Mom ‘n Pop right now. Hjertberg said he “could have gone the Taiwan route” (where most of the world’s carbon cycling production is based) but liked the idea of soup-to-nuts control over the process. And Mad Fiber joins a growing number of American startups that can stamp their products “Made in U.S.A.” without fudging.

Hjertberg’s latest venture marks a return to roots of sorts. Working out of a tiny shop in Palo Alto, Hjertberg and his brother Jon rose to prominence in the late 1970s with Wheelsmith wheel sets that became synonymous with strength, quality and attention to detail. By the mid-1980s pros everywhere were using them and the shop expanded rapidly into downtown Palo Alto.

Wheelsmith eventually outgrew Hjertberg’s interest in running a big company, and FSA’s fledgling operation, which was doing pioneering work of its own with carbon, attracted him to the Northwest. After FSA he worked on wooden wheels and founded the popular wheel tech blog, Wheel Fanatyk.

Mad Fiber started out as an idea in Hjertberg’s Madison (the “Mad” part) Park basement. Ric credits aerospace designer and Mad Fiber chief technologist Max Kismarton with much of the tech ingenuity, comparing himself as a sous cook to Kismarton’s head chef. Russ Riggins, chief operating and financial officer, is a cycling enthusiast with more than three decades of experience helping startups. Hjertberg says the idea was always to come up with a different name, but angel investors liked it and it stuck.

Hjertberg has funding to see Mad Fiber well through early production — two sets a day through the end of the year — but continues to seek financing, drawing on Seattle’s active cycling culture and venture wealth. Mad Fiber also is pursuing partnerships with industry names for distribution and marketing.

The Seattle area is a perfect seed bed for innovative design, Hjertberg says — reminiscent of the San Francisco Bay Area during the first wave of the Euro-inspired bike boom when Wheelsmith rose to prominence. Puget Sound’s aerospace and maritime industries provide a rich source of engineering acumen as well as lots of small companies doing creative things in sporting goods.

“This is a fantastic location to be doing what we’re doing,” Hjertberg said.

[For further perspective seem comments queue in VeloNews story.]

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