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GRAPHENE: is this the new Carbon Fiber For Bikes?
While not a new material Graphene has hit the headlines recently, due to it being produced in a lab for the first time (gaining the professors a noble prize in the process). Previously, it had only be a theoretical substance, though impossible to exist in the real world. Now, the race is on to product Graphene commercially.
What is Graphene?
Graphene is – in it’s simplest form – a single sheet of carbon, exactly one atom thick. Three million sheets of graphene would only be 1mm thick.
Why should cyclists care?
Well, quite simply – it makes carbon fibre look like material from the stone ages, in terms of weight and strength. The Nobel prize committee claimed that a 1 metre square sheet of graphene, could support the weight of a 4kg cat, while only weighing 0.77milligrams (less than one of the cat’s whiskers). Yes – that’s milligrams.
Other colourful examples include the pressure of a full-sized elephant – sitting on a pencil – being needed to breakthrough a sheet as thick as cling-film.
It has the tensile strength of 130GPa; even the strongest Carbon Fiber (Toray T1000G) is only 6.3GPa – Graphene is therefore 2000% stronger, pound for pound!
But strength and weight isn’t everything – and this is where the key to Graphene lies. Because it (theoretically) can be woven into sheets, it can be made to act exactly like carbon fibre, with very similar manufacturing processes and performance tuning.
Except you would barely need any of it – even with a generous impregnation of resin (though new types of resin will likely be needed), I’d expect monocoque graphene frame and fork combinations to tip the scales at 300-400grams…and still be way stronger than the same frame made in carbon fiber. That’s half the weight of existing carbon, but the heaviest parts of the frame would be the metal lugs, head-tube and bottom- bracket races! Could we get lighter? Theoretically, yes.
And therein lies the snag – that word: “Theoretically”. While it’s now possible to isolate graphine in it’s purest form in the lab, that’s still a long way from being rolled into massive, multi-metre square sheets, useful for building bike frames. Nor, do I imagine, would the conventional resins work, so new resins would be needed.
And you can guarantee it won’t be cheap when it is ready – there are *billions* of dollars/euro’s/pounds being invested here, and the investors will want their money back! So expect to pay a huge premium.
Then again, imagine the possibilities. Replace every carbon fibre item on your current bike, with something that weighs 25% of the original part with an equal or improved strength. If you were to do this say with Rebecca’s new sportif bike weighing currently 7.2kgs, the bike with Graphene would weigh less than 4kgs, and I’m being conservative here…now that’s something worth thinking about…!
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