By Kate Agathon
Last winter, my Trek Domane SL6 road bike came off of its Wahoo trainer and resulted in a damaged seat stay and chain stay. I posted photos of the damaged carbon frame on Facebook.
Almost immediately, comments poured in from fellow cyclists. Unsurprisingly, more than half of my friends maintained that it was damaged forever and said to get a new bike.
In contrast, the minority of responses that I received said the damage was likely repairable and that I should look into getting it fixed. Interestingly, the people advising me to get my bike fixed were bike shop owners.
I admit, I was taken a bit by surprise. Bike shop owners were suggesting that I get my bike fixed? Wasn’t this the perfect opportunity to sell me a new one? Wasn’t carbon supposed to be unfixable?
Getting the seat stay and chain stay repaired was not cheap ($725), but much easier on my wallet than the alternative- $4700 for a 2023 Trek Domane SL6.
While a very small part of me welcomed the excuse to buy a new bike (because New Bike Day), the common sense part told me to heed the advice of bike shop owners, who, after all, are experts in the business.
“It’s our job (as bike store owners) to educate and inform,” said Eric Francis, owner of Pedal Pushers Cyclery in Golden.
“Carbon fiber has very different characteristics than other materials. It’s super strong…and then it’s not. Some areas on a frame are bullet proof and others are more sensitive. For example, road bikes are crazy thin, whereas the lay up on an all-mountain mountain bike can be pretty thick at the higher stress rise points,” he continued.
Francis likened fixing a carbon frame to that of a broken bone. “Sometimes the break that has been repaired can be stronger than the original. Break it-fix it!” he exclaimed.
In my quest to get my Domane SL6 frame repaired, two Front Range carbon bike repair businesses that were mentioned most frequently and had the highest ratings were Altitude Composites (Littleton) and Broken Carbon (Boulder, and most recently, Grand Junction).
I got my bike fixed at Altitude Composites because they were the closest in proximity to where I live. They did a good job and offered a lifetime warranty on their work. I plan to take it off the trainer and ride it outdoors once mud season ends.
In this interview with Broken Carbon (Altitude Composites was unable to participate at the time of publication), I take a closer look at carbon bike frame repair and address some of the myths behind whether or not damaged carbon bike frames are restorable.
Stronger than Before
“The biggest misconception about carbon frame bike repair is that it can’t be done. Lots of cyclists don’t even know it’s possible and often think their only option is to purchase a replacement frame,” said Broken Carbon owner, Brady Kappius.
“Working with carbon fiber components to repair parts is a well established industry. Now that airplanes have huge composite components, when those parts are damaged by impact, they repair them instead of replacing them,” he explained.
Kappius reiterated Francis’s statement and pointed out that another big misconception is that a repaired carbon frame is weaker than it was prior to damage.
“People worry that the frame won’t be as strong as it was new. It absolutely will be and if we can’t do that, we won’t perform the repair,” he maintained.
Broken Carbon was founded in 2009 when Kappius was attending graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
For him, Broken Carbon is an intersection of his recreational and educational backgrounds (Kappius grew up racing bikes and was a professional cyclist for 10 years).
As a teen, he and his engineer father started experimenting with carbon fiber. He went on to learn more about engineering fundamentals at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, and continued his engineering education in Boulder.
While attending graduate school, he had a good friend and Olympian, Colby Pearce, ask if he thought he could fix a carbon fiber track bicycle that was damaged in a crash. Kappius gave it a shot, and Pearce rode the frame for many more years. As a result, Broken Carbon as a business emerged from restoring that first carbon frame bike.
Since then, Broken Carbon has refined their process to an exact science that makes their repairs safe and reliable.
Word of Mouth
Broken Carbon has grown primarily based on word of mouth in Colorado and the national cycling community. This method has allowed them to open a second location on the Western Slope in Grand Junction most recently.
For example, two years ago, Peak 10 Customs owner Cory Benge approached Kappius about two damaged BMX bikes that his teenage son (a nationally ranked BMX racer) owned.
Benge had been a part of the cycling world for 30 years, and had heard about Broken Carbon through the cycling community grape vine. He also had a friend who had a downtube on his YETI fixed by them.
“Everyone wants light and fast. In order to do that, accept that things can break. A single one of my son’s bikes can cost thousands of dollars. It’s nice to know that our investment can be salvaged with a professional company like Broken Carbon,” said Benge.
Benge was impressed with the quality of Broken Carbon’s work.
“Despite the manufacturer saying they couldn’t fix the Supercross Vision carbon BMX frame, I reached out to Brady just to get his opinion. I was super impressed that he was able to do it- the carbon is stronger now than what it was originally. His abilities are impressive as well as his customer service,” Benge enthused.
Word of mouth and some research is also what led Francis of Pedal Pushers to seek out Broken Carbon.
“There are a lot of composite companies out there that claim to be able to fix carbon bikes, but do they understand the complexities of a bike frame?” asked Francis.
“I sent a customer who had broken his bike in a garage tip-over to Broken Carbon. A few weeks later, I saw the magic and could not believe how well it was done. They had paint matched it and you could barely tell it was there,” he continued.
Broken Carbon has the magical combination of employees who have a passion for bikes, decades of experience, and a slew of engineering degrees to back up their work.
Broken Carbon currently has two full time employees as well as a business partner who helps with repairs and behind the scenes work. To date, they have repaired over 7,000 damaged frames.
A lot of training goes into repairing carbon bike frames correctly.
“While there is quite a lot of training (it takes approximately 6 months to get an employee fully trained), the science behind the process isn’t too complex, but putting it into action on bicycle frames with complex shapes and very thin walls makes it more difficult,” said Kappius.
“We have a very good eye for detecting damage, given the number of damaged frames we have repaired. Subtle differences in crack shape, location, etc. help us determine if something is structural versus cosmetic and we also employ specific testing devices,” he continued.
According to Kappius, the most common area of damage occurs either on the seat stay, or the top tube (a result from the bike falling over).
Mountain bikes are built stronger but see more abuse, whereas road bikes don’t see that abuse but are built so light that it does not take much to damage them.
“On a mountain bike, tipping over on a rock can easily do it. For road bikes, just having the frame tip over while standing up and hitting a blunt object can do it. The handlebars swinging around and hitting the top tube is also quite common,” he said.
Over the years, Kappius has heard plenty of interesting stories, ranging from an impact with wildlife while riding, to customers forgetting their bike was on the roof of their vehicle while entering a garage.
He recently did one where the customer was trying to remove their bottom bracket with a screwdriver and punched a hole right through the frame.
How long does it take to get a damaged carbon bike frame repaired?
It depends on the time of the year, but standard turnaround time is usually 2 to 3 weeks. Rush repairs can be done within a few days for customers who need their bike back ASAP.
Before you replace your damaged carbon bike (even if the manufacturer says it is irreparable), look into less expensive options to see if it can be fixed. The technology has advanced so much that fixed carbon can be stronger than ever.
“We hope people don’t need our services but we are always happy to get people back out on the trail quickly and for less money than a new frame,” Kappius finished.
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As summer slowly bids farewell and the leaves begin their vibrant transformation, there’s no better time to explore the breathtaking beauty of Colorado on two