Has carbon fiber made "high end" bicycles more of a commodity now?
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  1. #1
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    Has carbon fiber made "high end" bicycles more of a commodity now?

    With carbon fiber, the bike design (and manufacturing) are becoming convergent. What do I mean by this? I mean bikes (from all makes) are becoming more and more cookie cutters with these features

    - oversized tubes
    - thin seat stays
    - wide pressfit bottom bracket
    - tapered heattube
    - most being made in Asia from a few mega factories (countable on one hand)

    And there is no real technical barriers to prevent the Chinese from building a knockoff that performs, for all PRACTICAL purposes, within 90% of the "real thing" but at 20% of the sticker shock. Note: I said practical purposes. So don't go tell me how your aero shaped headtube or stiffer bottom bracket now has made you dominate the weekend club peloton.

    Honestly, I think the only area left that I think the "made in Italy" or "made in elsewhere except China" has a real advantage on is the paint job.


    High quality steel bikes, eg., stainless steel. Now these still take real skills to build. Most likely will never reach commodity stage.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by aclinjury View Post
    With carbon fiber, the bike design (and manufacturing) are becoming convergent. What do I mean by this? I mean bikes (from all makes) are becoming more and more cookie cutters with these features

    - oversized tubes
    - thin seat stays
    - wide pressfit bottom bracket
    - tapered heattube
    - most being made in Asia from a few mega factories (countable on one hand)

    And there is no real technical barriers to prevent the Chinese from building a knockoff that performs, for all PRACTICAL purposes, within 90% of the "real thing" but at 20% of the sticker shock. Note: I said practical purposes. So don't go tell me how your aero shaped headtube or stiffer bottom bracket now has made you dominate the weekend club peloton.

    Honestly, I think the only area left that I think the "made in Italy" or "made in elsewhere except China" has a real advantage on is the paint job.


    High quality steel bikes, eg., stainless steel. Now these still take real skills to build. Most likely will never reach commodity stage.
    You forgot this one out of your list of cookie cutter features:

    • ...
    • Devoid of all visual appeal (a.k.a. matte black or 'stealth')
    • ...

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by aclinjury View Post
    With carbon fiber, the bike design (and manufacturing) are becoming convergent. What do I mean by this? I mean bikes (from all makes) are becoming more and more cookie cutters with these features

    - oversized tubes
    - thin seat stays
    - wide pressfit bottom bracket
    - tapered heattube
    - most being made in Asia from a few mega factories (countable on one hand)

    And there is no real technical barriers to prevent the Chinese from building a knockoff that performs, for all PRACTICAL purposes, within 90% of the "real thing" but at 20% of the sticker shock. Note: I said practical purposes. So don't go tell me how your aero shaped headtube or stiffer bottom bracket now has made you dominate the weekend club peloton.

    Honestly, I think the only area left that I think the "made in Italy" or "made in elsewhere except China" has a real advantage on is the paint job.


    High quality steel bikes, eg., stainless steel. Now these still take real skills to build. Most likely will never reach commodity stage.
    Nothing to do with carbon. The fact is that all the bike companies look to each other and emulate what sells. Plus you have the bike magazine publishers all touting stiff and aero. Story wouldn't be complete if you didn't mention Taiwain and China producing bikes for just about everyone.

    Similar thing occurred in wine, Robert Parker hawks surmature fruit bombs, the public reads Robert Parker and demands wine of this style. Each producer watches each other and sees how they make the wines and which producers get top dollar, the result is similar with more and more wines made in a similar way.

    If steel were the dominant frame material, I think we'd see all the producers going to China and building similar looking frames. Nice to see there are some producers who go there own way, such as Colnago with lugs and now an innovative bottom bracket.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by nirVELOvana View Post
    You forgot this one out of your list of cookie cutter features:

    • ...
    • Devoid of all visual appeal (a.k.a. matte black or 'stealth')
    • ...
    I should probably elaborate on my last post there. What I was trying to say is, going by the thousands of bikes with the "no paint job for me" look that you can see in thousands of posts on any of these links...

    1. Velobuild
    2. This forum's Chinese Carbon Thread...
    3. This forum's Chinese Carbon Picture Thread

    ...then, it seems like an outstanding or exceptional paint job has lost its appeal among masses of bike riders. People are voting with their feet against nice paint jobs. I mean, thousands (maybe millions) of bike riders are empowered to such a degree these days where they are sourcing, speccing, buying and building their own bikes. And even though they can have any paint job they want, millions of them are opting for no paint job at all!

    That tells me paint jobs are meaningless to a LOT of people. No offense if matte black/stealth is your thang. I'm just sayin'...

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    Well I think it has everything to do with carbon. It's not hard for the Chinese to copy a mold and to make it. There is really no cost nor skill barriers to prevent this. Sure, one can always argue that a high-end S-Work or Felt or Cervelo frame (even if made in Asia) will still require the R&D and experiment with the layups that are done at the headquarters in North America, and that this is something the Chinese can't copy. This is true. But for practical purposes, it doesn't matter. It only matters much if you're weightweenie wanting the lightest and stiff frame. If you are ok with adding 150 grams (almost a meaningless figure), the Chinese can also make the same frame using lower modulus carbon fiber at 20% cost.

    And guess what. In 4-5 years, your super carbon bike is now obsolete. And now you're having to justify to yourself that your obsolete carbon bike is still "good enough" (when in reality you want the latest but can't afford)..., just like all the carbon guys who have gone before you reasoned.

    But a stainless steel frame, or a well built ti frame, well these material don't change much, the design doesn't change much, and the bike it'll always be a classic.

    I have come to the conclusion that if I want a racing bike, a bike to thrash around, then that's when I buy a carbon frame, made in China. And if I want a keeper, then that's when I go stainless or ti from Europe or North America.

    And because stainless steel tubesets from Reynold and Columbus are not cheap to buy even at wholesale, the Chinese will never going to build a quality stainless steel bike. Ti, this is a bit different since Chinese can source ti cheaper than they can stainless steel.

    I have been in and out of the cycling scene since the 90s, and my keeper bike is a 1990s Casati made with Columbus Genius steel. I'm in the process of buying a Cinelli XCR stainless steel. I've had a few highend carbon frames, and am still riding one, but I have completely stopped with the lust over highend carbon frames because they are simply commodity to me. There are exception like the highend Colnagos C-series which have excellent paint job, but at the end of the day they're still fancy paint over plastic. I personally like the solid and cold feeling and the luster of stainless.

    When the chinese can knockoff a frame using Columbus XCR at 20% cost of a Cinelli XCR, then I'll take notice.

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    Has carbon fiber made "high end" bicycles more of a commodity now?

    My bike is matte black with very basic styling, I preferred it to the other bikes in the shop with ultra flashy, stripey, and in my opinion ugly graphics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nirVELOvana View Post
    I should probably elaborate on my last post there. What I was trying to say is, going by the thousands of bikes with the "no paint job for me" look that you can see in thousands of posts on any of these links...

    1. Velobuild
    2. This forum's Chinese Carbon Thread...
    3. This forum's Chinese Carbon Picture Thread

    ...then, it seems like an outstanding or exceptional paint job has lost its appeal among masses of bike riders. People are voting with their feet against nice paint jobs. I mean, thousands (maybe millions) of bike riders are empowered to such a degree these days where they are sourcing, speccing, buying and building their own bikes. And even though they can have any paint job they want, millions of them are opting for no paint job at all!

    That tells me paint jobs are meaningless to a LOT of people. No offense if matte black/stealth is your thang. I'm just sayin'...

    And therein lies the brilliant marketting. Remember in highschool, it was cool to drive your dad's crappy car with primer paint? Or how about the matte camo truck? If you did that, you were the man. You were badass.

    In cycling, if you go matte black, it's like you're telling the world that you know your stuff, that matte black will save you 100 - 150 grams over a lushious and elaborate paint job. Pretty and elaborate and exquisite paint jobs are now girlyman stuff.

    All in the pursuit of the baddest lightest matte black tarmac terrorizer for the club ride. Oh yeah baby!

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    Quote Originally Posted by cgrr View Post
    My bike is matte black with very basic styling, I preferred it to the other bikes in the shop with ultra flashy, stripey, and in my opinion ugly graphics.
    yes a lot of them flashy graphics are butt fugly, just like those flashy graphics on the Japnese race replica motorcycles. But when done correctly, a nice paint job is exquisite. The problem is most guys who buy bikes can't imagine spending $300 - $500 for a nice paint job, and so manufacturers go with cheap decal paint job, and have their marketting department market the list of aforementioned cookie-cutter features.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by cgrr View Post
    My bike is matte black with very basic styling, I preferred it to the other bikes in the shop with ultra flashy, stripey, and in my opinion ugly graphics.
    I've been there and done that too. I owned a matte black carbon 2007 Specialized Sirrus hybrid. There weren't that many matte black bikes around then. At least I never noticed any other than my own back then. When it was stolen in 2009, I moved on to the next stage of adulthood and ticked "own hip-looking matte black carbon bike" off my todo list.

    I also grew out of a penchant I once had back in the day for wearing all black clothes and black fingernails. That too eventually got old and boring to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nirVELOvana View Post
    I've been there and done that too. I owned a matte black carbon 2007 Specialized Sirrus hybrid. There weren't that many matte black bikes around then. At least I never noticed any other than my own back then. When it was stolen in 2009, I moved on to the next stage of adulthood and ticked "own hip-looking matte black carbon bike" off my todo list.

    I also grew out of a penchant I once had back in the day for wearing all black clothes and black fingernails. That too eventually got old and boring to me.
    you an ex-goth or something??

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    Quote Originally Posted by aclinjury View Post
    yes a lot of them flashy graphics are butt fugly, just like those flashy graphics on the Japnese race replica motorcycles. But when done correctly, a nice paint job is exquisite. The problem is most guys who buy bikes can't imagine spending $300 - $500 for a nice paint job, and so manufacturers go with cheap decal paint job, and have their marketting department market the list of aforementioned cookie-cutter features.
    For the most part a nice paint job is a thing of the past. Very few frame builders still take the time

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by aclinjury View Post
    you an ex-goth or something??
    No moreso than Richard Lewis

    I did love that one Sisters of Mercy tune, "This Corrosion", though. But that's the extent of any association I had to Goth.

    But I digress...

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    Paint jobs add grams and cost. To be competitive in the market, you eliminate the paint and tout the low frame weight. Advertise it enough and the public will believe that's what they want.

    Anyway, manufacturers clearly aren't hiring the most artistic people to design the schemes for bikes that DO get painted. To me, Bridgestone was the last to paint bikes in understated two-tone schemes that didn't make me nauseous. A tip of the cycling cap goes to the old circa 1980's Treks with single colors as well as some iconic designs such as Klein and the Serotta fades.

    Today, I think one low volume manufacturer that deserves mention is Independent Fabrications. Many of the other custom frame fabricators in steel, titanium, and carbon, have done wonderful things with paint and graphic finishes but that's what you get when you pay for a custom frame.

    I do have to agree with the OP's observation that carbon frames have long since been assimilated into one piece of sameness. The one place the brands could differentiate themselves and make a market would be in paint and graphics but it doesn't seem anyone has read the memo yet.
    Last edited by Peter P.; 03-11-2014 at 04:11 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter P. View Post
    Paint jobs add grams and cost. To be competitive in the market, you eliminate the paint and tout the low frame weight.

    Anyway, manufacturers clearly aren't hiring the most artistic people to design the schemes for bikes that DO get painted. To me, Bridgestone was the last to paint bikes in understated two-tone schemes that didn't make me nauseous. A tip of the cycling cap goes to the old circa 1980's Treks with single colors as well as some iconic designs such as Klein and the Serotta fades.
    really do not like the all black bikes, especially since multiple sellers do it, the bikes all look the same. a good paint job can make the bike feel very personal. i get stopped all the time by people who notice my postal colors on my 5200.

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    This seems like the usual neo-traditionalist thread where everything modern gets trashed.

    Carbon frames are much more varied than steel frames were back in the day when you had the choice of 531 or the same tubing from Columbus, all the same diameter and all constructed the same way.

    Now there's all sorts of "tube" shapes and placement. Many CF frames don't even have tubes, they're monocoque. And CF lets the builder put the material where he wants it. There's so much more variety in design than back in say 1983.

    Except for the Chinarellos the majority of Chinese frames are not copies. They are what's known as open mold frames. The factory designs them on spec and small bike "manufacturers" can buy them, get them painted and sell them. For example Ritte. The same frames are sold direct to consumers through trading houses like HongFu. These frames are made to a fairly high standard which is improving at a rapid rate. The FM066SL I have is up to the construction quality that my 2006 Cervelo was (there is much visible UD layup on both frames)... except the BB shell hasn't come loose like the Cervelo's did. It weighs the same as that R3 did (920g in 56cm).

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    Quote Originally Posted by ericm979 View Post
    This seems like the usual neo-traditionalist thread where everything modern gets trashed.

    Carbon frames are much more varied than steel frames were back in the day when you had the choice of 531 or the same tubing from Columbus, all the same diameter and all constructed the same way.

    Now there's all sorts of "tube" shapes and placement. Many CF frames don't even have tubes, they're monocoque. And CF lets the builder put the material where he wants it. There's so much more variety in design than back in say 1983.

    Except for the Chinarellos the majority of Chinese frames are not copies. They are what's known as open mold frames. The factory designs them on spec and small bike "manufacturers" can buy them, get them painted and sell them. For example Ritte. The same frames are sold direct to consumers through trading houses like HongFu. These frames are made to a fairly high standard which is improving at a rapid rate. The FM066SL I have is up to the construction quality that my 2006 Cervelo was (there is much visible UD layup on both frames)... except the BB shell hasn't come loose like the Cervelo's did. It weighs the same as that R3 did (920g in 56cm).
    difference without a distinction. agree with the original poster, there's clearly are several trends, larger down tube, press fit bottom bracket thinner seat stays. and while there are some differences, i can see similar design cues between the canondale evo black, urgestalt light and cervelo rc5.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cgrr View Post
    My bike is matte black with very basic styling, I preferred it to the other bikes in the shop with ultra flashy, stripey, and in my opinion ugly graphics.
    This was the same for the Spesh Expert I bought last week. Matte black was my preference over gloss (same thing for the rash of matte helmets that have proliferated cfb over the last 2-3 years vs gloss helmets.....I like the matte finish for some reason).

    I prefer fewer graphics, loud colors, flashy, etc. just not my style. It was when I was younger, say high school and college aged, but as I've aged (I'm 40 now), I prefer more subtle styling. But to each their own and I wouldn't criticize those liking louder colors and graphics.

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    Bike colors are "the flavor of the day". When the day of the week changes, so do bike colors. So, what was "in" yesterday, is gone today. They all seem to vary the graphics and color schemes from year to year. I had a gloss white 2011 Giant Defy Advanced 1. It had Giant's name all over that bike, too many times in my opinion. I guess they wanted everyone know from every angle that it was a Giant. Then they made it a dull grey and blue. WTF, over?

    I've gotten away from buying the carbon fiber flavor of the day designs and colors. I now ride a plain bright brushed Lynskey R255 road bike with just the name "Lynskey" on the downtube, and "R255" on the top tube. Nothing fancy. No flavor of the day schematics or color schemes. Just titanium in its finest natural element. Hand built, one at a time, right here in the USA.

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    With all due respect, this is silly. Do you choose to ride a given bike because you like how it rides and how it looks to you, or because it has some symbolic value based on where it was made, or how many other people buy it, or whether or not it's a "commodity" whatever that means? It really sounds like you're much more hung up on lusting after equipment (and deciding what you should lust after) than the people you're effectively calling shallow.

    NTTAWWT. Ride what you want. But the criticism of what others choose seems kind of unnecessarily defensive. You've gone through a lot of bikes for being "in and out of the cycling scene since the 90's" (I've been riding since the early 70's - I probably bought my last road bike about the time you bought your first).

    And what's with the fixation on 'stainless steel'? The great majority of good steel tubesets are NOT stainless (including your Genius).

    Anyway, I sincerely hope you enjoy riding all your bikes.
    "None of us knows for sure what's out there; that's why we keep looking. Keep your faith; travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you, constantly." The 13th Doctor.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aclinjury View Post
    Honestly, I think the only area left that I think the "made in Italy" or "made in elsewhere except China" has a real advantage on is the paint job.


    High quality steel bikes, eg., stainless steel. Now these still take real skills to build. Most likely will never reach commodity stage.
    How do you figure? Is if really that hard to weld tubes together?

    I understand design is a big deal but so it is with carbon.

    Had the global economy gotten to this point 30 years ago I really don't imagine some chinese guy couldn't be trained to weld tubes together like some Italian guy could.

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    Zillions of steel bikes were mass produced for many many years. With the right equipment and a bit of training it's quite straightforward.
    ... 'cuz that's how I roll.

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    Re: Has carbon fiber made "high end" bicycles more of a commodity now?

    Quote Originally Posted by looigi View Post
    Zillions of steel bikes were mass produced for many many years. With the right equipment and a bit of training it's quite straightforward.
    And that was done in communist China, no less.

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    Re: Has carbon fiber made "high end" bicycles more of a commodity now?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Strongbow View Post
    Had the global economy gotten to this point 30 years ago I really don't imagine some chinese guy couldn't be trained to weld tubes together like some Italian guy could.
    The Chinese guy had to do it out of basic necessity, since that was their main mode of transportation because Chairman Mao said so.

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    High end carbon makes little sense to me from a purely practical standpoint. If I were racing crits these days, I'd buy a couple cheap FM-XXX frames and call it a day.

    However, it needs to be said that this very high level of performance similarity between high end and low end frames is really nothing new. The decision on which farme to buy is not usually driven by pure practicality. For example, back in the late eighties I started racing on a Miyata 912 made out of own brand splined tubing. It was really a terrific bike for the money but I wanted something flashier. I saved up a bunch of money mowing lawns and bought a Tomassini made out of Columbus SL. The Tomassini frame alone cost more than the complete Miyata and was not any better as a racing bike if I'm honest. Did I ever regret buying the Tomassini? Hell no. With that chrome rear triangle, chromed lugs, chromed and engraved fork and insane "quattro colore" paint it was worth ever penny.

    Of course, few modern frames are constructed with the care and aesthetic flash of that old steel Italian frame. Don't me wrong, carbon frames are definitely the best option these days, they just all look the same and very few manufacturers do anything really nice with paint.

    Another point: if you're buying everything retail, going with a Chinese generic and buying a group, a saddle, some wheels, a cockpit, some pedals etc isn't going to save you much of anything compared to simply going to a store and buying a bike off the rack. If you're swapping out a frame and keeping everything else, Chinese generic can be a good way to go, if not... just go buy a complete bike.

    Also, the differences between a given manufacturer's "low end" carbon frame and "high end" carbon frame is pretty small these days. Bike makers have been very aggressive about "trickling down" the latest designs as well.

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    The Chinese guy could never achieve the same level of craftmanship as the Italian guy because he just cant grow a decent handlebar mustache. Case closed

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