At the weekend I was asked about a revolutionary new material being used to make bicycle frames – and if it was of any use for dog sports frames; bikes, scooters and rigs alike. That material, is graphene.
It’s something still largely unheard of outside of the bike tech geek circles, and is actually something I’ve been using on all my bikes in some form for the last 3 years. I’d believed it so specialised, if I’m honest, that it was unlikely to ever be of interest to most bikejorers and dog runners alike.
It seems however, I’ve been proven wrong. People are interested in what’s the next big thing. Alloy is still heavy as ever, steel more so, and carbon fibre leaves many, including myself, still feeling like a bit of an overpriced-high-risk option.
So, what is Graphene?
Despite what I just said about carbon fibre, in the concept of bike frame design, it is actually just carbon fibre. Carbon fibre crated and bonded with a graphene solution.
This is going to be one of those awkward terminology issues where someone turns around and says “my bike is made completely out of graphene”. And the truth is, it’s not. Not even nearly. And if it was, it’d be useless (as the video below explains). But what you may have, is a carbon fibre frame, made lighter, stronger, and really in every way better than the ‘traditional’ carbon composites – all thanks to this new wonder material.
The below video from Global Cycling Network really helps you to understand what is being talked about here, so you can make your own decisions about what’s what. But if you want the really short version; graphene is atom-thin molecules extracted from charcoal…so, it’s bits of old rock.
Can I buy a graphene bikejor bike now?
Err, nope. This isn’t a ‘no, not really’. As best as I can find, there is nothing remotely close to suitable out there at the moment.
Although the above video was released over a year ago, at the time of writing this piece, their comment regarding there only being a single producer of graphene tech’d frames available, still seems to ring true.
And such a small boutique company producing only road-specific frame-sets, it’s a solid bet that’s going to be far too expensive to even consider trying to adapt one for light off-road use with a hound.
So how have I been using it already?
Graphene, when it comes to bike tech, isn’t limited to frame technology. It’s also really helpful when it comes to tyres. And graphene infused tyres are something I’ve been a big fan of for the last few years.
The biggest player in the graphene tyre game is Vittoria. Most people won’t have heard of them, Maxxis, Schwalbe, Continental and a couple others rule the ‘big player’ tyre market. But they aren’t the only option.
It’s sometimes tricky with any new technology to see your way through the marketing hype, and find the actual benefits being offered. In the case of Vittoria’s off-road tyres (and I’ve used a fair few, including non-Graphene models to compare) the most notable elements are;
This one is a little abstract, but from experience I believe it to be (at least partially) true. Generally speaking, if you require a large amount of grip in the corners or in loose/muddy terrain, you’d opt for a very soft and sticky tyre. Something that obviously has a lot more mechanical grip. The downside to that, however, is that a tacky tyre also slows you down when you want to go fast. These graphene infused tyres appear to be able to change their behaviour, depending on the requirements at hand. Remaining hard during those long slog climbs, and softening up during faster descents. Assuming speed and heat here to be the catalyst, the effects are probably a small percentage of difference, but all those little gains do add up. The blurb from the Vittoria website reads:
Vittoria tires are now intelligent. IT’S compounds become harder and softer, depending on the needs of the rider. If the tire is rolling straight, the rubber is at its hardest and offers low rolling resistance. If the rider breaks, accelerates or corners, the compounds soften and offer significantly more grip. Prior to the advanced development of Graphene, there was always the requirement of choosing between optimizing, or aiming at, speed, grip, durability and puncture protection. Effectively, the introduction of Graphene allows for natural material barriers of rubber to be removed, which means that there is no longer the need for such compromises between speed, grip, durability and puncture resistance. All these features are now reaching their maximum possibilities.
Toughness v Lightness
As with graphene frame design, tyres can become tougher and lighter at the same time. It really is a win-win. MTB tyres are rarely light to start with, so don’t expect huge gains, but they are tough as hell, so there’s little to lose.
A tougher material also equates to bother fewer punctures and to decreased wear. As of yet, I have had no punctures on a Vittoria G+ (that’s their graphene brand name) compound tyre, and I’m struggling to wear through them as well. They really are of exceptionally quality.
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The Future for Graphene and Bikejor
I do hope, that one day, a bikejor-suitable frame is produced with graphene. I have been a long term-sceptic of carbon fibre, but the graphene application appears to resolve many of the issues I generally associate with it.
It’s not to say I don’t or won’t use carbon fibre on my bikes, I think carbon bars are exceptionally good when it comes to reducing vibration on bumpy terrain and reducing arm fatigue. For cranks they can also be incredible light and stiff. For less impactful riding, carbon wheels offer huge advantages. But always remember than almost all of World Cup Downhill field still use alloy wheels, and it’s not because they can’t afford carbon.
My biggest gripe with carbon has always been in frame design. While it’s totally possible to achieve brilliance with it, when frames need to change yearly to keep up with technology demands, the quality control suffers, and it is a material that needs more QC than old school metal options. When it fails, it often fails catastrophically. When there’s a dog involved in that equation, I don’t feel it worth the minor gains.
Graphene, however, promises to remedy a lot of these issues and may finally provide us with the carbon we’ve always wanted. Carbon fibre is often reffered to by sceptics as plastic. Plastic may indeed be the future, plastic infused with old rocks.