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I crashed on my Carbon Fiber bike. Is it OK?

Someone ran into you on your Carbon Fiber bike? Or you ran into something? Here's why replacement is often required.

First things first. You might not think you have a carbon fiber bike, but you may still have a carbon fiber fork. Everything below applies, except that you need to be less concerned about concealed damage to the rest of the frame if the frame is aluminum or steel. Aluminum & steel are less likely to "hide" damage.

If your bike has been subject to impact, you have to ask yourself this question- was it designed for that use? Was it really made to run into something, anything, and come out of it without damage? Keep in mind the point to a lightweight high-performance bicycle is to not waste your effort. It is designed to be comfortable, efficient, and safe under normal operating conditions. As would be expected, any crash also voids the manufacturers' warranty.  

We will attempt to look for obvious damage, such as dings & chips & scratches that might indicate areas of damaged carbon. We will then do a "tap test" to see if we can hear a "dull" sound in the area (compared to undamaged surrounding areas) that tells us definitively that carbon has delaminated, losing strength in that area. But we cannot catch hidden damage that could result in failure down the road. Frame failure from prior damage can occur without warning and, to put it mildly, is hazardous to your health. So why do we bother looking for the dings & chips & scratches and do a tap test? Because it makes it a whole lot easier to convince you there's a real issue.

So if you bring a carbon fiber bike to us, and describe a crash that the bike wasn't designed to take, we're going to recommend replacing the frame. The bike may be safe to ride. Or it may not. We cannot gamble on your life. If the crash is one in which you were not at fault and insurance is involved, don't try to be the good guy and think hey, it looks OK, I'm sure it will be fine. You could pay dearly for that decision. Also, if you've gone down hard and it seems like, miraculously, you're all good (body-wise) and that really doesn't make sense, get to the doctor anyway. Many injuries don't show up in full force for 24-48 hours, and the way insurance companies work, if you don't seek medical attention that first day, they discount the seriousness of any claim made.

What all this means is that, in any crash your bike wasn't designed for (and unless it's a mountain bike, it wasn't expected to be running into things, and even then there are limits), we are going to recommend replacement of the frameset, which in most cases means the entire bike, since the cost of a frameset plus tear down and reassembly is generally going to exceed the cost of a new bike.

And finally, carbon fiber handlebars. Don't even think about re-using a carbon fiber handlebar that's taken impact. Any failure at the front end of your bike (whether handlebar, fork, or the front end of the frame) invariably results in loss of control.

But repair options do exist. If an insurance company is involved, we would not recommend going down this path because it's expensive, takes a lot of time, and you still end up with a bike without a warranty. But if the bike has great sentimental value, then here you go-
There are a couple of places that do repair damaged carbon fiber bikes (not forks or wheels, just frames). Calfee Design in La Selva Beach (near Watsonville) is on. We have many customers who have used them and been happy with their repair (please note that minimum repair cost runs about $400 with $1000 being common if you want paint matched, plus the labor for tearing the bike down and rebuilding). Another is Spyder Composites in Scotts Valley. They have non-destructive technology that allows them to, they believe, spot weaknesses in a frame that aren't visible. Please note that both companies can have very lengthy repair times, up to several months in some cases.

Why aren't bikes built strong enough to take a crash and keep going? They could be, but they'd be very heavy, less efficient, have a harsher ride and basically lose all the advantages a modern lightweight bike has over bikes 20 years ago (and the 20 years ago bikes, and older, often failed in crashes too, just in a more-obvious fashion). The new generation of so-called "Gravel" bikes is a move towards more durability though, still using carbon fiber but a lot more of it, resulting in a frame and fork that might weigh a couple pounds more than a bike made strictly for "road" use. But even though stronger, they still have their limits and they can still hide their damage.