How Are Carbon Fibre Bikes Made? | LOOK Cycle Factory Tour

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– Carbon fiber is a material that's absolutely revolutionized
bike frame design. It's enabled engineers to build frames that are lighter, stronger,
and in far more complex shapes than they could previously with materials like steel and aluminum. But how are carbon fiber
bikes actually made? Well, to find out more about
the manufacturing process in more detail, we've teamed up with LOOK, and we've come to Tunisia to visit their carbon fiber bike factory. Now, LOOK is a company
with a huge heritage in carbon fiber bike design. They have a well-earned reputation for innovation and cutting-edge design. But before we go any further,
I think we should have a quick science lesson about carbon fiber, and also, learn a bit more
about the heritage of LOOK.

So to do this, we'll teleport back to LOOK's HQ in Nevers, France. (fingers snapping)
(air wooshing) (calming music) We're here in Nevers, France, which is where LOOK designs and prototypes all of its carbon frames. Now, this is an incredibly
complex and intricate process, and a common misconception
with carbon fiber is that, well, steel frames
are handmade and steel is real and carbon fiber frames are perhaps not. Well, that's completely not true. Building a carbon frame is
incredibly labor-intensive and complicated, and
that's one of the reasons why they're expensive. Because behind me, this isn't just a funky
wallpaper design, oh no. This is all the individual
parts of carbon fiber that go into making a
LOOK 795 Aerolight frame. There's over 300 individual bits. It's absolutely mind-boggling. It's just that, well, it's a
very complicated jigsaw puzzle. And what's even more impressive
is that the latest LOOK, the 795 BLADE RS, has 405
individual carbon parts. (bright electronic music) Carbon fiber is an
incredibly versatile material to make bikes from, because
of its material properties.

So here we have some individual
strands of carbon fiber, and in one direction, they
can be incredibly strong, yet in another direction,
they can bend and be flexible, which can be really useful, for example if you're
building a chain stay, because you want it to be
incredibly strong laterally, but in the vertical plane,
you want it to have compliance so that you've got comfort
built into your frame. And by carefully
considering and manipulating where they put the carbon fiber
and how they orientate it, with different layers
on top of one another, you can actually tune the frame to be exactly stiff where you want it, but also exactly compliant
where you want it, too, and keep it very lightweight,
all at the same time.

It's impressive stuff. So, I wanna show you something
really cool just over here. To demonstrate how carbon
fiber can be laid up to be stronger in certain directions, LOOK have created this
really clear display. So what you have here is
different modulus carbon fibers, and also we've got steel and
aluminum in there, as well, and they've been laid up different ways. So each weight that's hanging off the end of each one of these rods
is exactly the same mass. Now, here you can see that
the deflection in this rod is far less than the
deflection in this rod. Now, the reason for that
is because the carbon has been laid up to be
stronger, on top of itself in this rod, whereas in this one, it's not been laid up in that way.

You can also see that
aluminum is deflecting more than carbon as well, so
aluminum is less stiff. Also steel as well, you can see the steel is deflecting more. The really important thing
to point out here is that you can't just build a bike out of carbon. You can't just slap carbon
together and expect it to be a good bike, it really is
about how you manipulate that material, and how
you actually lay it up, and the orientation of how you
lay it up, and that's where LOOK has lots of expertise. Because the same mass of
carbon fiber is used here, in this rod, which has
loads of deflection, as there is in all of these
other carbon rods, as well. So, you can see it's really important how you lay that carbon up. (relaxing music) LOOK's pedigree in carbon fiber bikes is absolutely unrivaled.

This is the KG 86, and it was
the first carbon fiber bike to win the Tour de
France, when it was ridden by Greg Lemond in 1986,
the clue is in the name. It was also ridden by
Bernard Hinault, as well, and it's got carbon fiber
tubes that are reinforced with Kevlar, with these aluminum lugs in the construction, as well. It's an absolute beauty. So now, I'm gonna click
my fingers and we're gonna fast forward to the latest
bike that LOOK have introduced. (fingers snapping) And so, we come to the present day, and this absolute beauty,
the LOOK 795 BLADE RS. It's the culmination in
all of LOOKs expertise in carbon fiber bike design. It's their latest model
and, as I mentioned, features over, well, 405
individual carbon fiber pieces. So, I think we're gonna go
see how it's put together and how it's made, back in Tunisia. (air whooshing)
(bubble popping) Phew, that was quick. So, we should first
start with carbon fiber. Back in France, we showed you those individual strands
and filaments of carbon.

Now they are combined
into large, huge rolls of carbon fiber, which is then impregnated with an uncured, two-part epoxy resin, to form a composite material. This is known as prepreg carbon,
and it comes in huge rolls, which you can see behind me. There are different kinds of carbon, too. So, some carbon fiber has a
weave pattern in it like this, whereas others, the
fibers are all arranged in the same direction,
and are unidirectional, like this one, and the
modulus can vary too. The modulus refers to the
stiffness of the individual fibers and higher modulus
carbon fiber is achieved by continually refining each
filament within the carbon to make it thinner and smoother. Now, higher modulus carbon
fiber can be stronger, but it's also more brittle,
so the best carbon frames use a combination of different fibers in different locations. The majority of carbon used
in a frame like the BLADE is unidirectional, and
this is because it has higher specific properties,
and is also easier to lay up in a specific direction. Woven fibers, like this, are
better suited to more complex geometry locations, where the
loads are less well-defined, so areas such as the head
tube, the bottom bracket, and also any joins in the
frame will employ this, and also areas where holes have
been drilled into the frame, such as bottle cage mounts, or say, where the derailleurs
are attached, as well.

The key thing to stress is
that making carbon frames requires a huge amount of
skill, expertise, and design. It's a bit like cooking, in
that you could have the same raw ingredients, this roll of
carbon, and you could give it to me and you could also give
it to a Michelin Star chef, but the end result would
be, well, very different. The big rolls of carbon fiber
are first cut into sheets, and then the individual pieces
of each frame are cut out of those sheets, and that's
done by a combination of, well, by hand, as you can see behind me, but also by a CNC profiler,
and by using that, they're able to minimize
wastage in the sheet and just maximize every single
square inch of that sheet.

(exciting funk music) The next step involves taking
those individually cut pieces and assembling them in what is, well, like a really complicated 3D jigsaw puzzle where the exact order and
placement of those pieces has to be really specific. Now, going back to our science
lesson, this takes advantage of the properties of
unidirectional carbon fiber. Some pieces are laid up in one
direction, while other pieces are laid up in an opposing
direction in order to create great strength in that direction, because that's the direction
the fibers are running in. And this enables LOOK to make really light and strong frames, but also
size-specific frames too. (exciting music) The workers here make
it look very easy, but, in untrained hands, it's an
incredibly fiddly process and it's so time-consuming.

Just to remind you, this
is a LOOK BLADE frame, it has 405 individual pieces
and they have to be laid up in a very specific order and placed. It's impressive.
(cheerful funk music) The individual pieces are laid up around bladders and pre-formers
such as this, as these form a crucial part of the molding
process, which comes next. But, how does LOOK decide where
to put the individual pieces and the different types of carbon fiber? Well, that involves an immense
amount of knowledge, skill, experience, and design,
and one of the ways in which they do it, is
through mechanical testing back in France, so I
think we need to teleport back to France to see how they do it. (bubble popping)
If you're a bike frame, going into this room is your
absolute worst nightmare.

But fortunately, I don't think
any of you are bike frames, so let's go in.
(scary music) You're gonna have to forgive me in here while I raise my voice and shout slightly, because I'm having to talk
over the torturous screams and wails of dying bike frames over there that are currently being tortured. So this is the sprint test machine, and this machine measures
the torsional stiffness of a bottom bracket, and
it does this by having a 120 kg weight on each side,
replicating each pedal stroke, and it does this over two
days with 100,000 cycles.

(playful electronic music) So using this machine,
LOOK can actually measure the deflection in the frame,
and then use this information to develop its frame
designs and prototypes in the way that we talked about earlier, with the different ways that
carbon fiber can be laid up. So, by late changing the way that they lay up the carbon fiber,
they can reduce or increase the amount of deflection in
a given part of the frame, whether that's to increase
stiffness in certain areas or increase comfort in other areas. We've seen how LOOK tests
prototypes here in Nevers France, so now it's time to teleport
back to Tunisia to see how the individual pieces are put together to mass-produce the carbon frames.

Teleport time.
(bubble popping) We're now in the area of the factory where the molding takes place. Now you'll have to excuse the noise, 'cause this is a working factory floor. But, LOOK takes the
lay-ups, with the bladders and pre-formers inside, and
places them in giant molds like the one you can
see the guys working on behind me, just through there. Now the way it does it
is through a modulus, monocoque construction, and
what that means is that you have a large part of the frame, like
this single front triangle, is constructed separately
from the seat stays, and chain stays, and fork. Those pieces are done
separately, and at a later stage, the stays are glued in place
and fixed with some carbon. The mold is then placed into
this massive heated press, which applies 2 to 10 bars
of pressure incrementally over 45 minutes at 170 degrees. This is known as debulking. Heat and pressure is applied
to the outside of the frame, while the bladders inflate on the inside of the
frame, pushing it outwards.

This heats the resin and
allows it to flow evenly through the layers, and
also eliminate creases, and force out air gaps, which can cause voids and points of weakness. After the molding process,
the frame is left to cool for 50 minutes before it's
removed from the mold, and when it's removed, any
excess bits of resin or stuff that are on the edges of
the frame are trimmed off, and then you get the frame like this here, but note it still has the
pre-formers attached inside. The next step is to put it
in one of these giant ovens where it's, well, baked,
and this is a process done to cure the resin in the frame and remove any remaining moisture or air
gaps that are in the frame, and this is a process that's
a bit similar to what you do with pottery when you
fire pottery in a kiln.

(relaxing music) Next up is the beginning
of the surface preparation of the frame, and this
involves, well, sanding it down as it's come out the mold. So this is what it looks
like after it's been molded and baked, and after the
initial surface treatment, this is what the frame looks like. You'll see it's quite different. It's at this point where
the pre-formers and bladders are removed from the carbon frames and then the surface treatments begin. (relaxing music) All these boxes are filled with
different carbon components that are gonna be surface
treated and surface prepped. So there's loads of
different size chain stays and seat stays, but look at this, it's a box just full
of LOOK carbon cranks.

There's so many of them, look at them. (relaxing music) Next comes the machining
process, and this is where all the little holes are drilled
and milled into the frame, for little details such as
where the derailleur hanger goes or little cable holes. So in case you were wondering,
like me, what happened to Arnie's robot arm at
the end of Terminator 2? Well, the answer is that
LOOK actually acquired it and put it to use in its factory to machine holes in frames for cables. (relaxing electronic music) After the surface preparation
and machining, the next step is to join the different
finished parts together to make the complete frame, so you can
see here that, on this frame, this is where the stays
are gonna be attached. And you may notice that this
area is actually recessed. Now there's a good reason for that. So, when the parts are
combined, a separate piece of woven carbon fiber
is attached over the top and this is to add strength,
well strengthen the area.

Now, because it's recessed,
when you add that extra layer, it means that there's just a
nice, continuous, smooth line and not a sort of lump
in the finished product. The dropouts and stays are
actually glued in place using a special carbon
fiber glue which is then put an oven for an hour
and cured at 90 degrees. Now, to make sure that everything's in the exact right place, this
is all carefully assembled on the special jig, which
clamps all the pieces in the exact right orientation, so that the precision is spot on. (rhythmic acoustic music) Next comes the surface
finishing and preparation. Now, at every step of
this process, the builders are meticulously checking
each product and component for the slightest flaws and imperfections. And even the slightest mark can result in a product being either recycled in the manufacturing process,
or rejected entirely. The bare, matte carbon frame,
once it's been fully cleaned and sanded down, is then
varnished with a clear coat. And you can see behind me,
that frame's been varnished and it's quite strikingly
different once it's been varnished to the matte carbon before it.

But even when it's been
varnished, it still needs to be surface finished, again,
by hand and smoothed, and polished, ready for painting. (rhythmic acoustic music) Behind me here is where the frames, and also other components
too, such as handlebars and chain sets, are actually
varnished, and after this, some of them are painted
by hand, here in Tunisia, but some other certain models are painted back at LOOK's HQ in Nevers, in France. So I guess we should head back
to Nevers to see the frames being finally painted by hand and assembled into complete bikes. So, let's teleport… What do you mean we can't teleport back? Well, I don't care if the
GCN teleportation budget has been used up.

Alright well, I guess
I'll just have to run. See you in a bit. (dramatic music)
(heavy breathing) (heavy breathing) That's a long way. So, we're back now in Nevers
in France, and the frame sets come back here from Tunisia,
where they're now painted and covered in the final decals,
so they can either be sold as frame sets or, in some cases,
complete bikes to you or I. The painting process is more complicated than you might imagine. So, the surface of the
carbon has to be rubbed down and treated first, upon which
then layers are applied. So there's primer coats
and base coats, and then in this case, we have a white frame to which then decals are applied. Now the decals are actually
designed and printed in-house here by LOOK, and they're
basically like a really, sort of posh version of
the transfers that you would've got in a model airplane kit if you ever made one of those when you were a kid, or maybe
you still make them today.

And then after that, a lacquer
coat is applied over the top to sort of seal everything
in and protect it and make it easier to clean as well, rather than just a raw, matte finish. (majestic music) We're how here at the end
of the production line, and these are finished LOOK 795 BLADE RSs that are ready to be shipped
to very lucky consumers. They're absolutely beautiful
in the white there, still with the Mondrian nod there, with the blue, yellow,
and red on the frames, and if you're interested in
what this bag is on the end, that'll actually hold
the bits and accessories that you would need to build this, if it was sold as a frame set.

LOOK do actually also sell them
as complete bikes too, but, oh, I quite fancy one of them, might try and steal one in a minute. (beautiful music) I hope you found this video
useful and informative, and if you have, then
please give it a thumbs up and subscribe to the
Global Cycling Network. I, for one, have been absolutely
fascinated in seeing how, you know, carbon frames are both developed and laid up and put together,
and it's nice to see that this is a really
intricate process that requires loads of technical knowledge
and expertise, and isn't simply a case of loading up a hopper
with a load of granules and then injection molding a carbon fiber frame out of a machine. It's just incredibly technical,
both on the development, but also the skill and
hours that are taken in laying up all those individual pieces. If you'd like to watch another
video, then I'd suggest, well, we've just see how
carbon bikes are made, so how about how steel bikes are made.

If you want to watch
that, click down here..

As found on YouTube

Extremely light racing helmet >


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