The Carbon Repair
24 Aug 2017
By Natty G.
It was one of those days, out on the trail, where everything was going so perfectly on my new favorite bike. I was railing berms, popping off rocks, and sailing through the air like Wile E. Coyote. Flying swiftly down the mountain, all smiles, not a complaint in the world, and nothing could’ve brought me down. That was until; I stopped for a water break, and looked down to find a rather disturbing crack in the paint of my rear triangle. My sexy, salaciously blue, four month old Pivot Switchblade was broken! The sound in my head was like a needle being drug off the best record of all time, Errrrrrrt! Nothing deadened the air more quickly than the realization that my glorious day out on the mountain needed to come to an abrupt stop. When bikes break, or even bike parts, shit gets real...palpably quick-like. I had to make a plan, get out safely, call the bike company, think and ruminate over when the break could have happened? When conversations with the bike manufacturer didn’t go as I had hoped, my plan “B” was set in motion. Having the bike repaired became my best option when considering the exorbitant cost of replacement. Mountain biking is my life; no bike, means no bike stories. So, plan “B” took me down a road I’ve never explored before. It felt a bit like going to the vet’s office with a sick dog.
After realizing the bike frame was cracked, Trey, (my man-half) was surfing the net and looking at different do-it-yourself home carbon repair kits. (Insert a freaked-out emoji face here) I sat there with visions of my beautiful new bike frame dying in a graveyard of sad broken bike bones. Suddenly, an idea popped into my head. Reaching over, I grabbed Trey’s arm just before he hit the ‘submit payment’ button. Facebook has been known to offer up answers during dark times. So, I posed the question to my facebook wall, “Do any of my North East friends have experience with carbon [bike] frame repairs? And/or know someone who does?” Straight away there was a heap of back-and-forth debate and loads of questions. Of course, people wanted to know what happened to my bike and if I had crashed (Nope). But, they also wanted to know why I wasn’t getting it warrantied or going for a crash replacement. For me, it came down to the bottom line (cost = $750) and the turnaround time (two weeks). So, I needed another option. Among the flurry of conversations and recommendations, one company—Hot Tubes came up three times, and it just so happened that they were only 78 miles away from where I was at that time—Thunder Mountain Bike Park in Charlemont, Massachusetts.
When I got Toby Stanton, the founder of Hot Tubes on the phone, I did my best not to come off like Darth Vader in Death Star Canteen while I exhaustively explained my situation to him.
He understood right away that my window for being in any one location for any extended period of time was very short!! Toby immediately relieved my anxieties by working me right into his busy schedule. His experience with bike repairs is hard to beat. When you have 26 years in the business of frame building, repairs, and paint, your customers tend to breath a sigh of relief knowing their carbon baby will be healed soon enough.
The next day, Trey and I arrived at Hot Tubes, after spending the whole morning disassembling the bike. Despite what people may think, neither Trey nor I are bike mechanics. However, we love those that are, in our desperate times of need. Hours were spent on Youtube that morning, as we tried to figure out the best way to remove internally routed brake cables. With no real luck or skill, we succumbed to just cutting the gold thingy attached the rear brake cable. Once at Hot Tubes, Toby gave us a behind the scenes walk through of the paint shop/carbon fiber repair center. He showed us his bike-sized oven, paint room, and he even took us into a subzero freezer to show us where he keeps the carbon fiber material which is impregnated with resin. The carbon is kept cold because it becomes quite sticky once out of the freezer.
Once the paint was removed from the rear triangle and the sanding process was complete, the resin infused carbon enveloped the cracked rear triangle. Pressure was applied to remove bubbles, and then the heat set it up nicely. A little secret sauce, some magic sorcery, and VOILÀ, it was time to paint! The whole process took a full day. However, Toby makes no promises that he will be able to fix every frame this quickly. The normal turnaround time is about a week, and the cost is between $200-$400, depending on how bad the crack is, and where it is located. The cost goes up from there when you add in paint matching and decals.
Last year, I cracked the rear triangle of my carbon Ibis Mojo, which I had replaced; you’d think I would have learned my lesson the first time. Stating that, I need an aluminum rear triangle, best sums up my takeaway on the topic of full carbon bikes. Toby sees cracked carbon frames come into his shop all the time. His opinion is that, unless money is no object or someone is being paid to ride a full carbon bike, it’s not worth it. I’m not a racer, and no one is paying me to ride a full carbon bike. Carbon is sexy and light, but in my experience, it is not crack proof. I also have a carbon Specialized DEMO 8 with a rear aluminum triangle and I’ve never had any issues with that bike. An aluminum rear triangle is the way for me to go, in the future.
In all, my experience at Hot Tubes and with Toby was outstanding! His service and understanding was above and beyond anything I could have asked for. I am beyond grateful. I don’t want to think about my bike breaking again, but I would not hesitate shipping my bike to him for repairs again in the future. I’ve put a couple hundred miles on my switchblade since that repair. Nothing feels any different; everything rides the same, and looks the same except for some added silicon wrapping on the chainstays, thanks to ESIgrips. I’m sure that I’ve stirred the pot enough, considering the Facebook blowup that happened after my initial posting... so I’ll leave it at that for now.