Carbon repairers have you covered
By Jill Janov
RALEIGH, NC (BRAIN) Wedsnesday August 15 2012 4:33 AM MT—When a new full-suspension Trek Fuel fell off a hook in the warehouse at Flythe Cyclery, the impact splintered the bottom bracket shell and left the $2,000 carbon frameset unsalable.
Uncertain what to do with the busted frame, retailer Winn Flythe left it sitting in his Raleigh, North Carolina, shop until he met framebuilder and carbon repair specialist Jack Kane during an open house at J&B Importers.
When Flythe learned that Kane, longtime owner of The Bicycle Shop in Jacksonville, North Carolina, also builds and paints custom racing bikes and has been repairing carbon for 12 years, he decided to have Kane repair the shell.
“He did a great job,” Flythe said. “It’s flawless. You can’t even tell it was broken. Of course I can’t sell it as a new bike and I am going to be honest with the customer.”
Carbon repair, once considered a risky option, is gaining acceptance among cyclists and retailers as a viable, safe and affordable option that often comes with its own warranty.
There are more than a half-dozen companies that repair carbon. Some companies also build custom carbon bicycles. Each has a unique, meticulous approach to repair, and they all stand behind their work as being stronger than the originally designed model at the location of the repair.
The repair to Flythe’s Fuel cost a few hundred dollars, much less than a replacement, and it exposed the shop to a new option when dealing with customers who have broken carbon bikes, particularly when employees discover broken frames while doing tune-ups.
“There is nothing worse than getting a phone call from the shop saying, ‘Hey, your frame is cracked,’ ” Flythe said. “Before, I didn’t have a method of fixing their bikes. I ended up selling them a new bike. Repairing the frame is a good way to save the customer money.”
LIKE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN
For years, Kane, a tool and die maker who has a background in custom painting as well as fiberglass repair of boats, cars and motorcycles, relied solely on referrals from importers, racers and manufacturers for his carbon repair work.
Four months ago, he decided to offer the service to the public and posted information about it on his website. His service promises a complete match to the bike’s factory details and spotlights safety and aesthetics.
“We make it look like the damage didn’t happen,” he said, adding that his work includes precise computer-generated decals for all brands.
The process involves removing damaged carbon, rebuilding tubes from the inside and then wrapping them to increase their strength. Kane’s repairs go so far that when he repairs one chainstay, for example, he supplements the other chainstay to balance the bike and make it even stronger.
He offers creative approaches to re-pressurize tubes with foam and other materials. The work adds only a few grams and includes a durable clear coating and paint, which is an added cost. He won’t let anything out the door unless it’s perfect.
As retailers start to do business with conscientious and passionate repair experts and find their work to be reliable over time, they are beginning to believe that the risk of carbon repair is almost a nonissue.
With that confidence, retailers are regularly offering money-saving repair options over expensive frame replacements.
“Every bike shop has dealt with emotional customers who have broken their frames. If it cannot be covered by their warranty, it is even more of a sensitive subject,” said Zane Schweer, Kane’s marketing manager. “The bicycle shops need to view this as an extension of their service department. This is how loyalty is built.”
Most carbon repairs cost $100 to $800, depending on the severity of the damage and whether it requires Di2 internal retrofits. The average repair cost is approximately $200-$400 per break and takes two to four weeks, although many companies offer rush jobs for additional fees.
Retailers can charge customers for labor to disassemble, pack and ship broken frames directly to carbon repair shops. When repaired bikes are returned and need to be reassembled, retailers have another opportunity to sell cables, bar tape, chains and parts.
Some carbon repair companies even offer retailers direct financial incentives for referrals or for handling the transactions themselves.
Carbon repair specialist and longtime Northern California carbon builder Craig Calfee of Calfee Design in La Selva Beach previously offered retailers $300 for every six broken bicycles they sent for repair.
This July, Calfee enhanced the arrangement with a new Repair Dealer Program open to all retailers with no commitment. Calfee, responsible for the first carbon frame ridden in the Tour de France, gives retailers a straight 20 percent margin, treating repairs as just another product or service the store provides.
Retailers send photos of broken bikes to get estimates for repair from Calfee. The customer pays the retailer directly and Calfee discounts the price 20 percent so the retailer can profit. The shop sends the frame to Calfee for repair and Calfee offers the customer a 10-year warranty on the work.
Fixing everything from broken toptubes to severed seatstays, Calfee’s expertise has allowed more than 8,000 riders to get back on their bicycles. Several manufacturers, including Trek and Scott, back Calfee’s carbon repair business.
Calfee generates 70 percent of its carbon repair business from its direct relationships with approximately 1,100 retailers. Last month, Calfee improved the dealer locator on its website.
“We try to drive customers to their local bike shop and encourage them to transact through their shop,” said Michael Moore, sales and marketing manager for Calfee. “It is an opportunity for the dealers to make money. Preparing the frame for repair can be a challenge to many customers. And a bad packing job is a great way to do more damage to the frame.”
Kurt Gensheimer of CarbonFrame-Repair.com in San Marcos, California, has found that most common damage to carbon frames includes dings to toptubes from swinging handlebars, cracked chainstays and seatstays from derailleur failure and assorted damage from “running out of talent, aka crashing.”
“Fewer than 10 percent of our repairs are due to manufacturer defect,” Gensheimer said.
PEACE OF MIND
When customers ask employees at the Trek Superstore in San Diego, California, if their carbon frames are structurally damaged, owner Mike Olson sends them to nearby CarbonFrameRepair.com for a $50 inspection.
“Like most retailers, I don’t have the expertise to tell them if their bicycle is OK to ride,” Olson said.
CarbonFrameRepair.com, run by Kurt Gensheimer and co-founder Joe Hendig, works with manufacturers Colnago, Masi/Haro, Ellsworth and Felt and offers flexible arrangements with retailers including price incentives based on the volume of work they send their way.
Trek Superstore’s Olson profits by disassembling and reassembling bikes that need repair, but he opts out of any incentives to avoid what he calls the “liability chain.” And when one of the store’s demo bicycles is damaged, Olson relies on CarbonFrameRepair.com to fix it.
“Mostly it helps on the front end when we are making the sale,” Olson said. “It gives us and the customer peace of mind to know that if their bicycle breaks it will cost them $200-$400 to repair rather than buying a new frame for $3,000-plus.”
Mike Humphries, general manager of the Kickstand bicycle shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, works with Calfee Design and also finds bicycle shoppers more at ease when they are informed of the options in advance.
“Most customers are sold on carbon fiber when they come in, but those that are on the fence are most likely to go with the bike they want when they know all the details concerning durability, warranties and repair availability,” Humphries said.
As more cyclists purchase carbon bikes and existing bicycles get older and damaged, the opportunity for carbon repair will only increase.
“When we had our professional teams and were more involved in the race circuit, word-of-mouth was bringing us about 60 to 80 repairs a year,” Kane’s Schweer said. “Since making our services openly available to the general public in mid-February of this year, we’re on track to exceed projected numbers.”
The demand has supplemented Kane’s income at his North Carolina bike shop where he stocks Trek, Cannondale, Jack Kane and MirraCo BMX brands.
About a dozen years ago Kane began to expand his business to support his five children and keep his shop competitive. He got the idea to diversify after reading an article in Bicycle Retailer & Industry News about the importance of brick-and-mortar retailers finding a niche to compete with Internet retailers.
His 6,000-square-foot retail store, The Bicycle Shop, which opened in 1973, is now attached to his 7,000-square-foot machine shop where he builds Jack Kane Custom Racing Bicycles and offers custom painting and repairs of carbon, aluminum and steel.
“Besides my wife and family, of course, there are two things I love dearly: riding bikes and fixing things,” CarbonFrame-Repair.com’s Gensheimer said. “The disposable society in which we live today really bothers me as I have always been a recycler, fixing perfectly good things that still have plenty of good life in them.”
The reward to him is seeing customers’ happy faces only weeks after they were struck with horror and teary-eyed over their broken frames.
“They don’t throw away a carbon airplane wing or a composite Lamborghini chassis when it’s damaged, so why wouldn’t you repair a frame versus throwing it away?” he asked. “If it isn’t recycled, a frame will take millions of years to decompose in a landfill. It makes good sense financially as well as environmentally to repair carbon bike frames.”
Los Gatos, California