Carbon fiber as we know it is slowly changing, starting with Evil and Revel’s rims that use far fewer toxic chemicals and are made with material that can be repurposed. Famed steel frame builder Joe McEwan of Starling Cycles has taken the idea of recyclable fiber to the front triangle of their new bike project, with the hopes of creating a more repairable and sustainable version of that sweet black plastic.
Like many in the frame engineering business, McEwan moved to bikes from a job in aerospace R&D where he regularly worked with carbon fiber. An opportunity recently arose to work with the UK’s National Composites Centre to create a more sustainable bike frame, and he leaped at the chance. Regarding the new material, McEwan says “I never said carbon is rubbish, it’s just that having worked in aerospace and seen carbon manufacture to the highest level, I don’t believe current carbon manufacturing methods for bikes offer anywhere near the kind of quality I’m used to.”
The prototype Starling eMTB uses a Starling steel rear triangle, while the front tubes are made of braided thermoplastics that provide a host of potential advantages. First up, they avoid toxic epoxies, shrinking the frame’s environmental impact while reportedly increasing the physical impact resistance of the material thanks to a high level of plasticity.
On the concept of recycling the material, Starling Cycles says “we need to be super careful when using the term, ‘recycled’. To me, it is a cycle than can continue forever. Steel, for example, can be recycled. It can infinitely be melted down and reformed into pristine new material. Noting some super high-grade steel does require pristine ore. Plastic cannot be recycled, there is always a degradation in quality with each cycle. The life may only be three or so cycles. This is not recycling, just reusing.”
So, it seems the immediate advantages of this material technology are its lower toxicity and reusability. McEwan adds that thermoplastics also require less energy to produce, are easier to fully repair, and allow for mid-process inspection.
This all sounds brilliant, so when can we get a bike? This initial prototype is looking great, but McEwan wasn’t 100% satisfied with some of the finishing touches. “Going forward we have more studies happening to refine the technology. It’s a long way off being a finished bike, or even being rideable, but it was a super interesting project.” Stay tuned for updates on this exciting project.