A VISIT TO CARBON BIKE REPAIR
With customers including Colnago, Trek, Argon 18, Parlee and Pinarello entrusting them to do their warrantee work, Michael Stenning was expecting something magical from Carbon Bike Repair and he wasn’t disappointed.
Based in Leatherhead, Surrey, CBR was set up in 2011 by Rob Granville, who comes from a background in polymer engineering. CBR evolved from a small scale repair to full blown restoration service with a comprehensive, laboratory approach to diagnostics and remedial work. On a slow month, 110 frames will come through their doors, nearer 300 during peak season.
Welcoming me in reception, Rob is happy to talk, although slightly guarded about photography. Some of the technology and techniques developed are very specialist and not something he wanted his competitors seeing. Naturally I agreed and asked permission before pressing the shutter.
Rob is proud of their client base, independence and standards of workmanship. He explains that the present, industrial set up accommodates trade volumes but without alienating walk in retail customers.
This enables them to concentrate upon a fast, reliable and, moreover, exacting service. Internally, the set-up is closer to a contemporary car plant or operating theatre than workshop. Light and airy throughout, there is no hint of overspray, let alone dust or grease.
Rob starts by gauging my own knowledge of and experience with carbon fibres/composites from an engineering context. Aside from understanding of paint technology and repair, mine is from a journalist/tester perspective, not that of a qualified composite engineer.
We begin by discussing some of the common misconceptions, when it comes to carbon. It’s often assumed and indeed suggested, that a badly crash damaged carbon fibre frameset is pretty much bin fodder. Rob surprises me by saying 99% of damage is repairable on a good-as-new basis. Many household names will turn to him for repair, rather than replace a damaged frame.
Obviously, economics also come into play. Given the skill involved a basic repair starts at around £80. Viable on a set of forks costing £300 but not a £35 seat post with aluminium head. Our attention turns to a badly battle-scarred TT frameset on display. This belonged to a rider involved in a serious collision with a car; resulting in the loss of their arm.
The frameset had broken into 27 pieces, which a bystander had painstakingly collected and placed into a bag, Ultimately, Rob’s team were able to piece it, including the fork back together.
Rigorously tested and structurally sound, perhaps unsurprisingly, the owner purchased another frameset and gifted this one to CBR.
With this in mind, there are some instances, such as badly damaged main triangles prohibit economic, or reliable repair. However, I’m assured this is rare.
Rob recounts several similar stories and their successful, warrantied repairs. This becoming increasingly relevant as insurance companies insist upon repair, rather than replacement. Full carbon builds can be just that i.e. frameset, wheels, aerobars, stem and seat post. Repair could be a few hundred, replacement, thousands of pounds.
CBR are often asked to perform inspections by manufacturers/distributors when warranty claims present. Rob says they can spot failure resultant, both from misuse and manufacturing defect.
As discs and bigger clearances blur the boundaries between genres, road bikes are increasingly being miss-used in cyclo cross events. Manufacturers are cottoning on and with the help of CBR’s diagnostics, rightly declining to honour these sorts of claims.
Talking of which, though Rob and his team exude a can-do attitude, he’s quite forthright and will decline some repairs where risks are considered too great. For example, some people will demand their saddle rails are repaired ...
Saddles, rails, or seat post clamps can splinter. At best, this could mean an undignified trip to A&E, bearing your buttocks at an overworked and underpaid trauma nurse. At worst, potentially fatal should breakage lead to puncturing or similar internal organ trauma.
It is often said that X-rays are used to inspect a composite frame’s integrity. Like most urban myths, there’s an element of truth here. However X-rays are only appropriate during the manufacturing phase, to check wall thickness, or bubbling.
Ultrasound, or more recently, thermal imaging technology, is used in their workshops as the only means of detecting structural troubles, invisible to the naked eye.
Rob regards this as a myth in carbon circles, most frames are still joined, by a series of lugs, at the factory. In his experience, premature fatigue or failure often results from poor lug bonds and over-zealous sanding of lug work.
Another myth is that many prestigious names are massed produced in the Far East and painted different colours/decals. Rob was quick to scotch this. He also pointed out that, like TIG welded steel frames, many produced in the Far East are made to extremely high specification and standards.
Rob’s industrial model becomes apparent as he leads me into another sterile area, where customer’s bikes are logged and stripped for a full inspection. With the frame bare, components are tagged and placed carefully in large, sealed storage boxes with the owners’ details clearly marked.
They are in the process of streamlining this through a scan to database, which not only cuts down on time but means at any point, they know where and at what stage the customer’s repair is. Frames are treated to generous helpings of shrink wrap to safeguard against damage during storage.
Talking of streamlining, even the best equipped workshops can’t tell whether a frame is damaged. In some instances, many err on the side of caution, recommending replacement.
Once stripped the customer is charged a £30 inspection free, whereupon a booking ticket detailing repair cost is generated.
At this point, if the customer feels this is beyond their budget, or if nothing is detected, they can simply pay the £30. However, if repair/restoration is commissioned; that £30 is deducted from the final bill.
Rob is looking to set up a “Course of Carbon Certification”; where reputable shop/mechanics could be trained to inspect and therefore, make the whole process more efficient for him and the end customer.
From the inspection room, he leads me to the repair section. The first thing I’m struck by is just how clinically sterile it is. Ducting sucks particles seamlessly, so technicians can work completely unhindered. Only when this phase is completed to perfection can the frame pass, ready for weave and paintwork.
As any car body shop will tell you, matt paints can be very tricky customers. Rob explains that any traces of contaminant can wreck matt effects.
Quality control is very strict and reminiscent of a modern Japanese car plant. Anything below the exacting standard gets passed back for remedial action, so technicians take responsibility for, and a pride in their own work. Though pace is brisk, there’s no margin for error, or sloppiness.
Bonding is left to cure for seven hours at room temperature.in the past, more intensive curing technology had been used, reducing curing times to 60 seconds. However, this resting technique is regarded more reliable in the longer term.
Rob tells me Team Sky and other global teams have sent frames to him for emergency repair. He also offers an express service for mere mortals, needing their bike back for a big ride/race. This will add another £96 (Including VAT) to the bill, turnaround in seven days. Half that of a standard book-in. Either way, lead times will depend upon demand but all customers are regularly given progress updates. Rob will soon be offering an online portal, where customers can simply log in and check status themselves.
We acknowledge that carbon fibre repair is a flourishing industry but, at present, there isn’t a recognised training path, or qualification. Rob recruits very carefully and each new starter undergoes six months of formal training using in-house stock before being entrusted with customer pieces.
I wasn’t surprised to discover his three sprayers came from a qualified, automotive background. Even so, it takes a further three, sometimes six months to harness the skills required to produce the effects and finishes to house standard
By now, I’m sure you’re getting the idea that Carbon Bike Repair prefer to focus on the repair and restore, rather than bespoke respray market.
This involves performing structural repair and at its most basic, giving the affected area a precision painted black cover strip. Tube repairs start at £180 (inc VAT) but obviously, this varies, depending upon complexity and multiple fractures are at discounted rates.
A simple “block spray” covering the repair adds £24 (inc VAT) to the bill. These are not matched for colour or texture. That said; judging by those I saw, you’d need to know it was there. Arguably, this is an obvious, cost-effective option for shop soiled, or indeed shop branded black frames.
This is where factory paints and decals are painstakingly cut and applied.
Rob describes their painting process as almost forensic in nature. Often they will need to retouch lacquers, or recreate effects, which are no longer produced. 2K (2pack) wet spray paints are the only option and contain cyanide, which is why the firm regret they cannot supply touch up kits.
The gold detailing on this Colnago took my breath away. I jokingly suggested the paint shop would love me, since I’m a plain colour, no decals man!
Retouching a small blemish starts at £96 including VAT per colour depending on their complexity of design/decals and so on.
There is room in the booth for spraying two frames, without risk of cross contamination. Obviously, carbon cannot be cured in an oven at 120degrees as you might steel, or aluminium framesets.
Flash curing, where heat is projected at intervals takes place in the next room. Air drying is an option for 2pack but runs the risk of particles contaminating the colour/lacquer coats.
Steel is Real?
In amongst the rows of composite, I spot a pencil thin Colnago dripping in chrome. Rob says the rider was involved in a crash during the Eroica - another rider went over the top of them resulting in some cosmetic damage.
The team refinished that to the same exacting standards. While he’s happy to entertain this kind of job from time to time, vintage/heritage pieces like this are very much secondary but still very enjoyable experiences for the team.
Many thanks to Rob and his team for opening their doors to us.
Want to know if they can help you?
Check out their site: http://carbonbikerepair.co.uk
Or give them a call on 01372 372 766
PUBLISHED JUNE 2017