500g barrier shattered by groundbreaking new frame
By James Huang, technical editor | Thursday, April 1, 2010 8.30am
cc:'s new Air-O frame is said to weigh just 450g thanks to revolutionary internal pressurisation technology James Huang
Carbon Copy Components ('cc:') have announced the development of a revolutionary carbon road frame that promises to put an end to the weight weenie wars once and for all.
The carbon fibre parts and accessories company, founded last year by our own technical editor, James Huang, claims that frame weight for the new Air-O is a jaw dropping 450g (0.99lb) – for a large size.
Rather than jump on the currently fashionable aero bandwagon, the new Air-O (say "aero" – get it?) eschews drag reduction goals entirely in favour of the proven light-and-stiff formula for faster climbing and more efficient power transfer.
And in keeping with cc:'s original edict, the frame design is a familiar-looking combination of massively oversized tubes here and frightfully spindly ones there that is wholly lifted from shapes already produced by the likes of Cervelo, Canyon and Specialized for the ultimate blend of lateral stiffness and vertical compliance.
So if the tube shapes aren't exactly new, how do cc: achieve such an insane weight figure, you ask? The answer's in the frame's very name: it's air.
One of carbon fibre's inherent structural limitations is that it works best when loaded in tension. In other words, while the fibres themselves are incredibly strong when pulled and highly resistant to bending, they're conversely very susceptible to compression. As a result, conventional frames generally have to use excess material to deal with ancillary issues such as impact strength and crumpling under clamp-type loads.
The Air-O's patented 'BlowOut' technology, on the other hand, incorporates a trick fully sealed internal architecture that is pressurised via a built-in Schrader valve. Once inflated up to the recommended 300psi operating pressure (a conventional suspension pump is included), all of the fibres in the system are thus acting solely in tension and reinforced pneumatically from the inside so much less material is needed to achieve the same levels of stiffness, strength and durability as a conventional frame.
In essence, the Air-O isn't all that different from conventional bladder-moulded frames – it's just that the bladder is now designed as an integral part of the structure and isn't removed after the carbon has cured. According to cc:, the frame can be ridden without any pressure at all in the event of an emergency but stiffness and impact resistance will both fall by 80 percent.
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Ultimate weight weenies will undoubtedly note that the frame could theoretically also be pressurised with helium – or even hydrogen – to further negate the effects of gravity, though the use of either will void the warranty and it should go without saying that the latter is just plain dangerous (remember the Hindenberg?).
As long as the recommended pressure is maintained, cc: decree the Air-O to have no rider weight restriction and also cover the frame under the same no-questions-asked lifetime replacement policy applied to the rest of the company's carbon fibre componentry – so whether you crash while racing in a criterium or slam the bike into your garage, you can get a replacement at no cost aside from shipping.
Ironically, since the new technology can't yet be applied to forks, the matching 350g Air-O unit nearly doubles the weight of the chassis but faithfully adheres to the 'stiff' theme with oversized carbon legs and a tapered steerer. Cc: are already testing BlowOut-equipped fork prototypes for inclusion in the 2011 version, however, with target weights falling near 200g, again with no rider weight limit.
Air-O framesets are available now direct from the cc: web site but, not surprisingly, that level of technology won't come cheap. Retail price is a whopping US$8,000 (roughly US$10 per gramme) but that will at least also include cc:'s own press-fit bottom bracket and integrated headset – both with industry-exclusive carbon fibre bearings – along with a matching carbon seatpost, two carbon bottle cages and even a replaceable carbon derailleur hanger.
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