When Ben Farver from Argonaut Cycles decided he was going to make the switch from building custom steel bikes to custom, made in the USA carbon fiber frames, he needed to find some local experts. The team at Innovative Composite Engineering, or ICE, were located just over the river in White Salmon, Washington state. Their expertise lies in everything from SUP poles to products for the aerospace industry. A few phone calls later and they began to meet to discuss a new, proprietary system for manufacturing custom carbon fiber bicycle frames.
ICE and Ben began to collaborate. They both were motivated to develop the frame using the best and most advanced molding technology, and to bring something new to the industry. They both pushed each other to do this without compromise or cutting corners, deciding on a few key points: There would be no vacuum forming, no tube to tube carbon lug bonding and no real hand finishing needed. The process would be streamlined, efficient and most importantly, customizable. While I can’t show you the juicy details, which I can assure you are juicy, I can show you snippets of the Argonaut Cycles process.
It begins with a roll of carbon, which is then cut out based on digital CAD templates on a large cutting bed. Each piece is based on the individual parts’ dimensions. From there, the carbon is inserted into aluminum molds, around a bladder where the resin layup occurs. Then, these aluminum molds are heated, allowing the resin to cure. This is repeated until all the parts are finished. When it’s all said and done, the frame is ready for assemblage.
Shot at ICE, these photos lay out the process used in manufacturing a 100% made in the USA carbon bicycle frame, like my Argonaut Cycles road.
EDIT: see a reply from Argonaut below that answers many questions everyone seems to have…
“This is Ben from Argonaut. I’m happy to jump in and answer some of these questions as I’ve put John in a little bit of a difficult position by tying his hands in terms of how much and exactly what parts of our process he can talk about. Much of our process is proprietary, which is why the pictures above are a bit vague.
A lot of questions here, so I’ll do my best to address each one.
First, my primary goal in all of this is to build the best carbon bicycle frame on the market, and it is this goal that brought me to partner with ICE and develop our process in the manner we did. With steel, it was easy for me to point to large manufacturers and claim I built a better bike because I was using better material. Its nearly impossible to find a frame made with True Temper S3 steel made by anyone but a small custom builder.
With carbon, though, it’s very different. Small custom builders can’t compete with the R&D powerhouses of Trek and Specialized, and they’ve been refining their carbon for years. ICE actually helped Trek with their OCLV carbon up until they started making the Madone. I don’t think a tube-to-tube custom carbon builder can say his frame is as technologically advanced as a Specialized Venge. So, going into this, it was very important for me to be able to make that argument; to say that the Argonaut frame uses the most advanced manufacturing techniques available, which as you can see from the video posted by Shep looks very similar to the Argonaut process detailed in John’s photos.
The individual frame parts are made using aluminum clamshell molds and latex bladders, similar to Trek, Specialized, Cervelo, Time, etc. HOWEVER, a very important distinction is that we actually lay up the material ON the bladder as apposed to in the aluminum tool as seen at about the 9:00 mark in the Trek video. This gives us a much cleaner part with much more consistent flex characteristics. This might seem like a minor distinction, but in reality it’s an engineering feat to figure out how to do this.
Carbon frames made with bladder molded frame parts are superior to tube-to-tube frames because they have more consistent wall thickness throughout the frame and have more continuous strands of carbon, which is a more efficient use of the material. Argonaut bladder molded frame parts are superior to other other manufacturers frame parts because we lay the pre-impregnated carbon fiber on the bladder as apposed to the in the tool, giving us parts who’s inside looks like this: what counts is on the inside!
So that’s actual part construction. More importantly is that we apply all this technology to the customer on an individual basis. That layup pattern in the first picture of John’s post? That actually has a customer’s name on it. That’s not just Argonaut’s BB layup pattern, that’s YOUR layup pattern designed to give ride and handling characteristics specific to YOUR needs and riding style.
Sorry, now I’m grandstanding… this is the real value of the Argonaut custom carbon frame. The customer gets access to all the same technology used by the big three, but with the ability to make it handle exactly how they need.
Oh yeah, and we can make custom geometries…..”