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Las Vegas, USA, October 4-8, 2004
Vegas hits the road
If the theme of last year's Interbike was 'carbon, carbon everywhere' that trend continued and diversified at the 2004 show, with carbon development going off in all sorts of directions.
The most prominent direction is toward lower weight, of course. Everyone wants to be able to claim sub-900g for their lightest frame, and then hang a bunch of component exotica on it to build an insanely light bike. Scott USA and Speedplay's Richard Bryne were two top contenders in this game, with bikes coming in at just under 9 pounds, and 9.5 pounds respectively. That's rather under the UCI's 6.8kg (14.96lb) weight limit, and well under the 12-13lb that's been the mark of many previous show specials, an indication that it's not just frames where weight is being saved, but the carbon influence is knocking it out of just about every other component too.
But it's not just about super-light super-exotica. Carbon bikes got substantially cheaper this year too. Complete bikes are available with full-carbon frames from about US$2000. That's still hardly chump change, but it's a far cry from the price you paid for an all-carbon bike just a few years ago.
One of the beauties of carbon fiber is that it allows a frame designer almost complete latitude to place material anywhere he likes to fine-tune the ride and trade off stiffness against weight. As a result we're starting to see bikes that are designed not just to be light but to be, say, extra-stiff for bigger, stronger riders, or to be a bit more flexible for long-distance riding. And check out Pinarello's latest trime trial rig for an exercise in using carbon shaping to smooth the air flow over a frame.
A big debate in the road bike industry is whether to source frames in the far east or to stick with US or European manufacturing in the company's own factories. On the one hand, Taiwan's bike factories have proven extremely good at making frames over the last couple of decades and don't seem to be having any trouble making high-quality carbon frames at extremely competitive prices. It does seem to help if you have a QA guy on hand to monitor the process, though.
On the other hand, companies such as Colnago are determinedly sticking with European manufacturing. Colnago's is an interesting case, as the Italian builder sources its carbon fiber from another Italian company ATR, which also supplies Porsche, Ferrari and the aerospace industry. If Colnago were to move manufacturing away from Italy it would be much harder to get a direct line to ATR's latest materials. Given that this year it's ATR carbon development that has allowed Colnago to shave off 200g from the weight of the the C50, that's an advantage Colnago is understandably reluctant to give up.
If carbon fiber is technically a composite - comprising a resin matrix holding the actual carbon fibers together - what does that make bikes that mix carbon with metals? Composite-composites? Whatever you want to call them, they were widespread again at Interbike this year. Richard Bryne's bike mentioned above was one example, with a frame built by Bill Holland that used titanium joints and carbon fiber tubes, a construction technique also adopted by Javelin for its new Gattinara model. It's not a technique that will ever be cheap, given the cost of welding the lugs together and then adding the carbon tubes between then, but it sure looks great.
Less radically, aluminium frames with carbon seat- and chainstays were everywhere. We mention it only to point out that this is a construction technique that's gone from cutting edge to run-of-the-mill in an incredibly short time, an indication of the speed of development in road bikes recently.
Anyone who needed to be reminded where it all started - at least as far as modern road bikes go - only had to wander over to the Eddy Merckx booth where one of Merckx' Molteni orange race bikes from the early seventies was rubbing chainstays with the slimmed-down Greatest Cyclist Ever's latest carbon offerings. Remember skinny steel tubes, external gear cables, down tube shifters and toeclips? If you starting riding in the last decade, probably not, but that old stuff didn't seem to slow the Incomparable down any. It was certainly a dramatic contrast to compare that bike with Merckx' 25th anniversary Carbon AXM in tasteful black and silver.
Overall, Interbike showed a road bike scene in rude health, with a huge diversity of bikes and something for everyone.