Technology

Tech Tuesday: Graphene, The Solution To Every Problem

The Greatest Invention In Modern Science Trickles Into CrossTRI


What if I told you the strongest material known to man is also extremely light and can transfer those properties to plastics, metals, and weaves (I.E. carbon fiber)? Astonishing right? Like, Star Trek IV, transparent aluminum astonishing.

This substance exists and its called graphene.

Most importantly to us graphene applications to cycling and CrossTRI are virtually innumerable, and most excitingly, starting to trickle into endurance sport manufacturing.

Discovery

At the University of Manchester in 2004 Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov rediscovered the miracle substance, Graphene, which had kinda, almost, but not really been lost since 1962…or possibly 1947. Ultimately, Geim and Novoselov’s discovery was recognized as significant enough to earn the 2010 Nobel prize in physics. 

Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It is the building-block of Graphite (yep, like the stuff in pencils), but graphene is a remarkable substance with a multitude of astonishing properties which have lead to it being dubbed the greatest scientific discovery in the modern era.

The theory of graphene was first explored by P.R. Wallace in 1947. In 1962 Hans-Peter Boehm reported producing monolayer flakes of reduced graphene oxide. In 2004 Geim and Novoselov used Scotch tape, of all things, to cleave ultra-thin layers of graphene from a graphite block.

Its discovery is a fascinating story of the pursuit of a substance many scientists knew existed but had no way to prove. If you’re still interested you can find everything you want to know at graphene-info.com.

Catlike graphene mountain bike shoe
Catlike Whisper MTB graphene shoe

Application

Imagine a vase of marbles. Those marbles represent carbon fibers, or the atoms of a metal or plastic. Now, add sand to your vase full of marbles. The sand represents graphene. Graphene fills the interstitial spaces in the substance therefore increasing strength and lowering the weight (by taking up space which would be occupied by a resin or heavier matrix).

Graphene is strong, the strongest material known to man. A common analogy is that a sheet of graphene with the thickness of a sheet of paper could support the weight of an elephant…standing on the point of a pencil. Its a ridiculous analogy…I mean the pencil would have to be graphene as well…and what’s the average weight of an elephant? Anyway… the point is, graphene is incredibly strong, like sci-fi strong.

A basic list of graphene benefits across almost all industries is:

  • One gram can cover 2,630 m² –  six times more than steel
  • 200 times stronger than steel and with six times the flexibility
  • Superior conductor of heat and electricity with huge efficiency (more than 2 times better than diamond)
  • Half as dense as aluminium
  • Transparent
  •  Supercapacitor alternative to traditional electrolytic batteries, think five second phone charges, or terabit uploads in just seconds, and electric cars (or bikes) with over 400 mile range and only minutes to recharge.
  • Disposal of radioactive material
  • Cheaper than carbon and widely available
  • And the list goes on.

Where Is It Being Used

Like most awesome things graphene is currently in limited supply and expensive to produce. Thus, most products using graphene currently are using it as an additive to carbon fiber products. But, it is becoming ever more present.

Vittoria graphene
Vittoria Race 29 graphene wheel with Mezcal graphene tire.

Vittoria

Vittoria have got in early and in a big way, see this article in Cycling Industry News. Graphene can be found in Vittoria wheels and tires on both the road and mountain lines.

Vittoria told Cycling Industry News they had found the following benefits when graphene was added to their wheels:

  • 10% better heat dissipation than carbon
  • 15% weight saving
  • 26% greater material strength
  • 18% greater impact strength
  • 20% better spoke hole strength
  • 24% more flexibility
  • 50% more lateral stiffness
Catlike Maxino graphene helmet.
Catlike Maxino graphene helmet.

Catlike

Like Vittoria, Catlike have chosen to be early adopters of graphene, adding it to their helmet and road/mtb shoe lines. Catlike have added graphene to the nanotube matrix of their helmets as well as the carbon fiber soles of their top-line shoes. The addition of graphene has afforded greater strength and reduced weight in both cases.

Rolo Bikes

On November 7th, 2017 German custom bicycle manufacturer, Rolo Bikes announced the intention to produce a frame with their partner 77 composites utilizing a graphene-enhanced prepreg material. Their size 56 proof of concept frame weighs in at just  618 grams unpainted, or 679 grams clear-coated and painted.

Dassi Interceptor Graphene
Dassi Interceptor Graphene

Dassi Bikes

Dassi Bikes have committed fully to graphene, coating their carbon fiber Interceptor Graphene frame with a graphene resin producing greater stiffness and  a frame which weighs in at just 750g. Dassi is also working on a frame using more graphene which could weigh in at 500g.

What Now

Unfortunately we have not yet seen a graphene mountain bike frame. Which is a bit odd in that mountain bike frames could certainly benefit from increased strength and durability. However, this is probably due to the perception that the mountain bike segment is less apt to spend $15,000 on a bike (the median cost of a Dassi Interceptor Graphene).

Also, while the 2004 graphene discovery was thirteen years ago this is still very recent in global industrial terms. With the myriad of industrial applications for graphene the endurance sport industry has neither the deepest pockets nor the greatest leverage to compete with larger industries. This coupled with the slow process of actually mining graphite and refining it into graphene means we probably won’t be seeing graphene used to it full potential for possibly another ten years or more. After all, planned obsolescence and global social/political beurocracy will have to run its course.

Still it is a fascinating material which will have global life changing effects across a huge number of applications. We just want a super light, wicked strong, transparent mountain bike.

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Jimmy Archer

Founder and Editor at dirtTRI.com. Jimmy has been a professional athlete for over 15 years as a runner, cyclist, mountain biker, cross country skier, and primarily, triathlete. Jimmy has a degree in exercise science from the University of Colorado and is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach.
Jimmy became a freelance writer in 2000 while competing and covering the ITU Winter Triathlon World Championship. Since that time Jimmy has been head editor at two magazines, been published in numerous publications within the endurance sport, recreation, and travel segments.
Currently Jimmy is competing professionally in off-road multisport. In his spare time Jimmy passionately follows Formula 1, Moto GP, and is an avid cook.

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