-Mass-produced carbon-fiber frames are the polar opposite of the handbuilt steel world. With one you know everything about what goes into the finished product, with the other, you know nothing. The opacity shrouding the production of carbon-fiber frames breeds cynicism. Any given frame may be, well, anything.
Adding to the difficulty of understanding what goes into a carbon-fiber frame is the outsourced, multi-national nature of production these days. Is the finished frame the result of an idea from somebody at the company with its name on the down tube, or did it come from the anonymous factory it used, or a third party who sold either one or both of them a concept? Then there’s the difficulty in understanding what’s going on underneath the top coat be it clear, or woven, or painted.
Further muddying the waters are cheap frames coming out China. Enter the Chinarello Mad-Dog, yours for $634 from Great Keen Bike in China versus $4,000 for a Dogma from Competitive Cyclist in Utah.
The few attempts to peel back the shroud covering Asian-made frames show that there are vast factories churning out goods for many different brands; one company even claims to have made all three frames that took cyclists to the podium of the 2008 Tour. If you want to know more names of factories that produce popular brands, the Cycling IQ article Shadow Optic: The Manufacturing Partner Paradox should get you started.
The cheap frames could be ones that failed quality control tests but were spirited out of the factory before being ground into dust. Or maybe they walked out the door with some disgruntled employees. Or are they the product of enterprising workers taking advantage of otherwise unused molds? Or, more likely, they’re just copycat frames. At least on the outside. Inside, who knows what the real differences are? Who’s ready to take the risk of finding out on a 50 mph descent?
Some people apparently. Not only are there reports of Mad-Dog buyers on Road Bike Review, but the Italian Cycling Journal has posted warnings. In two parts. See here and then take a look here. Cycling IQ has a great piece on the matter, describing Chinarello as ‘the lead character in a new online fantasy world where eager players can select a favourite bicycle hero, dress him with a personalized costume – or leave him in default stealth black – then acquire tools (called ‘components’ in this game) that give their hero increasing mobility as they navigate an increasing array of obstacles enroute to rewards, status and ultimate victory.’
Gita, the US importer of Pinarello, gets calls from shops asking what’s going on with these frames. Their customers have brought the frames to be assembled into bikes and problems appear. The frames are poorly finished or they have trouble going together. They present oddities like conventional 27.2mm seat post or English-threaded bottom brackets. Not a surprise, as you can see a front derailleur tab assembled backwards on the Great Keen site.
I wrote the Chinarello people, inquiring about a 56cm Dogma. They responded quickly, informed me it was in stock, and attached an invoice that included details about paint, decal, seat post, headset, and shipping. Yes, I can get the Chinarello Mad-Dog decals or Pinarello Dogma. It also is threaded for English bottom brackets. Should take about 10 to 15 days to arrive. If we prefer to use PayPal, add 4 percent to the cost. In a follow up, I asked how to know if this is the real thing. They responded, ‘this is copy frame!’
- The most important bike trade show is the one that gets talked about the least, Taichung Bike Week. The most interesting anecdote coming from the show was the conclusion that carbon frameset production capacity is outstripping industry demand. It’s a revelation with funny timing, particularly when put alongside this recent article, because we’re finally starting to prototype the next generation Merlin titanium road frameset. Yes, it will be American-made. Yes, we’ll just make a handful for starters. We can’t wait to show them off.
- Frame aesthetics have been bland over the last few years, with the industry’s best attempts at creativity coming in the form of matte paint and ‘murdered out’ black-on-black schemes, and never-ending iterations on paneling. I’ve noticed something new of late, though, and I’ll admit that it turns me on a bit. It’s painting the tops or fronts of tubes differently than the rest of the tube. I’m sure it has a name but I don’t know what it is. Still, it’s spicy. How long until non-American production copies it?