Magura MT Trail HC Carbon AndrewM
Editorial

Better Living Through Carbon Fibre

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major unless noted
Date Jan 28, 2019

Carbon Captured

For once, I'm not here to talk about bang-for-the-buck-beauties or to rag on plastic fantastic. Sort of. Value is, after all, relative and as it turns out I've become a bit of a wuss of late. Specifically when it comes feathering cold-as-ice* aluminum brake levers down North Shore trails on wet winter** days. 

The troubles I've been having with cold weather dexterity have been getting progressively worse the last couple of years to the point that what I previously saw as a luxury, carbon brake levers, have become a take-my-money-I-want-to-ride-my-bike item. 

It's left me thinking about carbon fibre, and relative value, a lot lately.   I've specifically left out stiffness because I'm quite convinced system-flex in bicycles is a good thing but otherwise I've sorted the benefits of carbon fibre into three categories:

  • Weight savings: often quite a bit
  • Enhanced durability: impact, fatigue, and design
  • Comfort: I'm not talking about that vibration damping bullsh*t

*Apologies to anyone who now has Foreigner stuck in their head. 
**Yes I know - 'cold' is a relative term and I'm not even generally talking about below-freezing. It's a wet cold okay‽ Wah! 

forbidden-bikes-cwx-whistler-160818-0018.jpg

Forbidden: The only carbon bike I've lusted after since the first time I saw Perry's Lahar. Photo: AJ 

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It's the 20th anniversary of the first time I lusted after a high-pivot bike. A Devinci Big Bang in Ford-Devinci team livery I saw in Victoria, BC. Photo: AJ

It's a funny thing talking about the value of premium products, but I'm at the point - on wet winter days - that I'd ride a Deore-spec bike with carbon brake levers over a brand new XTR super trail slayer with aluminum blades, so there's that. 

Also, as someone who has always been attracted to steel bikes, even for full suspension, from my old Balfa, to the unique beauties coming out of Altruiste, to the Starling Murmur that Perry tested it's beyond bizarre, to me, that I think the hottest bike released this year is the carbon fibre creation of Owen Pemberton and the Cumberland crew at Forbidden Bikes

Weight

More material where you need it and less where you don't. Carbon is to aluminum what fluid formed aluminum is to butted steel tubing - evolutionary. And, at the same time, for those that couldn't give two sh*ts about weight not so much.

But even for a non-gram counter, and I count myself in that camp, you have to admit that weight savings possible with carbon fibre, especially frames and cranksets, are impressive. I ran into a guy last year on a sub-30lb Specialized Enduro carbon with a coil shock and fork and real-ish tires. 

nsmb2016_SantaCruz_TallBoy_gearreview_firstimpressions-190188.jpg?w=1600

Cam was blown away by the descending capabilities of the 120mm ~26lb Tallboy 3 CC 29'er and there was weight to drop with money to burn. Photo: Dave Smith

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The carbon Enduro S-Works 29" that Perry pedaled in 2017 was 30lbs with pedals and 160mm travel. Photo: Dave Smith

I haven't had the best luck with any carbon cranks myself but swapping from Atlas arms to Next on my single speed would save me 250grams (a half pound) with no change in performance. It's actually surprisingly economical compared to other ways I've seen riders nickel-and-dime themselves to save grams and if I was racing it would be a hard upgrade to argue with. 

The lightest carbon wheels and bars can also ditch a healthy number of grams compared to their aluminum counterparts. 

Durability

More than one person involved in bike design has remarked to me that carbon bikes could be built up to be much more durable than aluminum at the equivalent frame weight. That is if riders were willing to pay the carbon premium for something with no appreciable performance gain that may end up being a solid investment over the long term for some riders. 

There are of course exceptions to the carbon-for-weight rule. Bikes like Marin's Wolf Ridgethe un-named Forbidden, and Norco's Aurum HSP are obviously optimized around carbon construction. 

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We Are One Agent rims aren't particularly light but Tim Coleman beat the crap out of them and they're still asking for more. Photo: Dave Smith

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Rims, spokes, nipples, labour and rim tape add up. Bombproof carbon rims are a great value for some riders when adding up lifetime costs. Photo: Dave Smith

It sounds a bit silly as a frame design philosophy, especially because aluminum and steel frames are awesome, so I understand why the main point of carbon frames remains weight loss; however, the philosophy is a bit different with wheels with an increasing number of companies offering impressive warranties on their carbon rims designed for trail smashing.

With carbon rims, like the made-in-Canada Agents from We Are One, carrying a 'no questions asked' lifetime warranty there's obviously manufacturer confidence and for many riders who are hard on wheels there's value proposition to consider based on how many aluminum rims (rim, spoke, nipple, labour) being laced up over the life of one Agent. 

Comfort

"I broke my carbon handlebars on my winter fat bike so switched to some aluminium ones.  I really noticed the difference in warmth (living in Calgary) so bought some more carbon." - Sweaman2

Full circle. Riding in summer weight gloves in the winter is a luxury that I've been enjoying immensely with a set of Magura's carbon HC lever blades - compatible with the MT 6, 7, 8, and Trail Carbon brakes. When the mercury does drop my winter gloves are genuinely comfortable where previously my the cold crept right through them. 

Suddenly I'm thinking about carbon handlebars as well, although appreciating the difference they deliver may require colder temperatures than the North Shore generally delivers. Certainly, I've come to think that investing in carbon bars and brake levers should be a goal for any product managers working to spec fat bikes for snow riding. 

Magura MT Trail HC Carbon AndrewM

My favourite Magura HC lever blade shape is now available in carbon fibre for one of my favourite brakes - the MT Trail

Magura MT Trail HC Carbon AndrewM

The difference I feel on cold and wet days translates into longer rides and they've solved the issues I've been having with my hands. 

This year I asked Santa for plastic lever blades in my favourite shapes to bring cold weather comfort to more price points. 
Absent a cheaper composite HC lever option, Magura can take my money considering the on-trail difference that the HC Carbon's are making to my ride experience.  


How does carbon fibre change your riding experience?

Comments

Holgerfromgermany
+1 Andrew Major
Holger Baer  - Jan. 27, 2019, 11:49 p.m.

Hi Andrew, I appreciate your content a lot. Thanks for that!

When degrees are falling below zero (celsius) I wish Hope would sell carbon Levers for my E4´s. Those Levers are so cold ....grrr.

Its the only time I think about carbon.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Holger Baer
Andrew Major  - Jan. 28, 2019, 12:04 a.m.

Thank you!

Solving way more first world problems with carbon Hope lever blades then with another carbon bar or trail 29’er... but those projects prove they could do them without a second thought if they wanted.

Reply

Tremeer023
+1 Andrew Major
Tremeer023  - Jan. 28, 2019, 6:25 a.m.

I nearly pulled the trigger on some Hope E4's the other day as my brakes are over 10 years old now. They are Hayes Stroker Trail's and look tatty, but they have carbon levers which I also love for cold weather comfort.

It's the only thing stopping me (pun intended). Please produce some after-market carbon levers Hope.

Reply

Holgerfromgermany
+1 Andrew Major
Holger Baer  - Jan. 28, 2019, 7:07 a.m.

yes its a downer they don't offer any carbon levers for hope e4/v4 brakes, still I can highly recommend them if you don't need super brake powers. there modulation and consistency is definitely on par with everything I ever tried  if not better.

It seems like you love to ride the crap out of your stuff (10year old brakes, hell yeah!) and I can imagine that my Hope E4´s still rock in 10 years from now also they do have amazing customer and product support.

Reply

Tremeer023
+2 Holger Baer Andrew Major
Tremeer023  - Jan. 28, 2019, 8:20 a.m.

Thanks for your thoughts. Yeh, I really rate Hope products and have their hubs, bb, and headset currently.  I used to have their brakes on another bike and they were faultless. 

My brakes are by far the oldest component on my current bike and they were heavily discounted when I bought them. Wouldn't usually splash out on fancy carbon bits (because I'm a cheapskate:-) and very reluctant to let them go.  I've grown used to their warm touch in winter.

Reply

craw
+1 Andrew Major
Cr4w  - Jan. 28, 2019, 3:04 a.m.

Last spring I switched from a carbon bar to an aluminum Atlas and I could swear that it's colder. As much as I don't think carbon is a super sensible material for bars I want another.

Reply

Holgerfromgermany
0
Holger Baer  - Jan. 28, 2019, 4:31 a.m.

hmmm... sounds intriguing as my hands are some very sensible divas when the weather gets cold. maybe I need to change my opinion about carbon bars, too.

or at least try one out.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 28, 2019, 8:41 a.m.

Interesting for sure. I prefer the flex/feel of a good aluminum bar generally but it does make me want to try a less-stiff carbon option in the cold to see if I notice.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
+1 Andrew Major
Sanesh Iyer  - Jan. 28, 2019, 4:14 a.m.

Carbon bars on in fall/winter are huge. I've got nerve relates grip strength issues in my right hand and I find the carbon bar makes a world of difference with the temperature. My feet also get less cold with carbon cranks... And the weight savings is great value as you said.  Other than cranks and bars I'll probably be off the carbon train thanks to cost for a while though!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 28, 2019, 8:43 a.m.

You notice the cranks in terms of warmth? Interesting. There was some debate in my Bontrager Line Elite pedal review on whether plastic vs. machined aluminum pedals makes a difference. 

Riding clip-in pedals I can’t see the cranks making a difference since I have heat sinks bolted to my shoes.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
0
Sanesh Iyer  - Jan. 28, 2019, 11:24 a.m.

I ride clipped as well... It's entirely possible that it's placebo effect as I'm on my first pair of Aluminum cranks in about 6 years and I definitely notice I've gotten generally more temperature sensitive in that time. The bar, however, is immediate.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 grcgrc
Andrew Major  - Jan. 28, 2019, 1:15 p.m.

Have you tried switching to flats? I've been trying to ride flats more and they definitely make a huge difference to comfort on the coldest wettest days. 

Clipping in I've been using a pair of Bontrager JFW boots and they're sweet. My issue with cold is mainly my hands though.

Reply

fartymarty
0
fartymarty  - Jan. 29, 2019, 4:39 a.m.

I have just put another pair of inner soles in my 5.10 Hellcats as I am getting tired of having frozen feet (altho it isnt that cold in UK).  I had my first ride on them this morning and it seemed better.  Next step is thermal inner soles.

Reply

delusional
+2 grcgrc Andrew Major
delusional  - Jan. 28, 2019, 1:37 p.m.

Have you experimented with thermal insoles at all? I've been looking around, and they seem like a potentially really cheap option that might well mean we can chose pedals based on what we want to ride, rather than how cold our feet get.

https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B005ZUI7N2/?tag=insolesclarity-20

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Feb. 5, 2019, 7:44 a.m.

Apologies - I was sure I replied to this. I haven’t tried thermal soles but I should. Some of my shoes I really need a supportive insole (Specialized BG ++ or SQLab medium) but I can get away without it in others. Really cheap hack of it works for me!

Thanks!

Reply

grcgrc
0
grcgrc  - Jan. 28, 2019, 2:02 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

GladePlayboy
+1 Andrew Major
Rob Gretchen  - Jan. 28, 2019, 6:15 a.m.

Good one Andrew... personally I avoid carbon on handlebars and cranks.. just because.. but frames and wheels for sure.   Brake levers?    Why not if it enhances comfort for your dainty digits... ;-)     I frequently ride down to -10ish temps and don't generally have issues with cold fingers...

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Rob Gretchen
Andrew Major  - Jan. 28, 2019, 8:46 a.m.

Dainty digits eh?! Ha.

I notice it less on XC rides or faster descents where I take my fingers off the levers - but ‘crawling’ down Shore trails, especially with wet gloves... maybe I just need to ride faster?

Reply

GladePlayboy
+1 Andrew Major
Rob Gretchen  - Jan. 28, 2019, 9:07 a.m.

That makes sense... where I ride in the interior, in the winter conditions are drier, but colder and probably less issues with cold hands... I think humidity and dampness play havoc with circulation.    Having lived in Victoria previously for 20 years I remember a lot of cold, damp winter rides.     And as for riding faster, sure thing, but you eventually gotta stop!!   ;-)

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Rob Gretchen
Andrew Major  - Jan. 28, 2019, 1:21 p.m.

It’s the dank-moist-cold factor for sure. On a dry cold day I’m happy with my pair of 100% Brisker gloves on any bike.

One other thing I enjoy about the carbon switches is how much colder I can run lighter gloves.

Reply

Timer
+3 grcgrc Niels Holger Baer
Timer  - Jan. 28, 2019, 6:17 a.m.

Heartily agree on the carbon brake levers. Need them even more badly for my commuter, but someone would probably nick the brakes off my bike.

Not so convinced by the marketing spiel around carbon FS frames and rims. While there are potential performance gains, the price/performance ratio is just not there.

Reply

Vikb
+3 Andrew Major Brad Sedola Mammal
Vik Banerjee  - Jan. 28, 2019, 7:08 a.m.

The Forbidden Bikes high pivot looks nice. It would be cool to ride a bike from a company on the island. Hopefully they release the bike for sale this year. :)

Reply

IslandLife
+2 Andrew Major Vik Banerjee
IslandLife  - Jan. 28, 2019, 11:33 a.m.

From their own chatter via answering questions on social media, they themselves have said this spring (Spring 2019).  If I didn't just get a new bike, I'd be all over that!

Reply

Vikb
+1 Andrew Major
Vik Banerjee  - Jan. 29, 2019, 5:33 a.m.

I read that, but I take a "I'll believe it when I see it." approach to new bike releases....especially with a new company. Spring could mean fall with a few hiccups.

I have a newish bike as well so I am not buying one this year, but I'm just greedy and want to read rider reports of the new rig to factor into future purchase decisions.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 31, 2019, 2:43 p.m.

I’m in the same boat. Not in the market this year but it’s the one bike I’m really hungry to learn more about.

Reply

Kelownakona
+5 Rob Gretchen Niels grcgrc Andrew Major James Vasilyev
Kelownakona  - Jan. 28, 2019, 9:29 a.m.

When it's cold I wear gloves. 

In fact when I ride I always wear gloves just not as thick as when it's cold. I also wear clothes and shoes and find these also help quite a lot when it is cold.

I also find socks worn in the shoes prevent me from feeling cold metal pedals.

Reply

Zapp
+1 Andrew Major
Zapp  - Jan. 28, 2019, 9:40 a.m.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Zapp
Andrew Major  - Jan. 28, 2019, 1:21 p.m.

Ha! "Coal is momentary"

Reply

AlanB
+1 tashi
AlanB  - Jan. 28, 2019, 9:39 a.m.

There are options much cheaper than carbon. Dipheads Unite!

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Jan. 29, 2019, 10:29 p.m.

Reply

ChazzMichaelMichaels
0
ChazzMichaelMichaels  - Jan. 28, 2019, 12:43 p.m.

My 2014 Enduro (M) is 30lbs with a coil shock and 170mm fork. I think the only carbon on the entire bike are the bars.

Maybe something to be said for 26" :(

Reply

Vikb
+1 Andrew Major
Vik Banerjee  - Jan. 29, 2019, 5:41 a.m.

Bike companies are making some pretty heavy carbon frames these days and some companies are making some fairly light metal frames. If you pick a well engineered metal frame you can get a very competitive weight for the final build.

I just recently sold my 9yr old 26er [SC Nomad]. I had a lot of fun on that bike! If I hadn't grown used to longer Reach designs I'd still be riding it, but it was too hard to adapt going back and forth.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 31, 2019, 2:41 p.m.

My brother did the same this year. Carbon Nomad V2 was excellent but one ride on his new GG Smash and he was faster and more confident up, down, across, etc despite adding a bunch of weight between frame and wheels.

Reply

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