A prized bike frame, destroyed by a careless motorist, lay in a garage for a decade and a half, its owner dreaming of the day technology might catch up with this carbon fibre malarkey. Attie Koekemoer reports.
I often wonder how my dad, Hannes, ended up on a baby-pink-coloured bicycle. Of the five road bikes he enjoyed over the years, this Rosa is the one that always stood out (Rosa sounds way more sophisticated than pink). Hannes completed his 1 400 km Edinburgh-London and the 1 200km Paris‒Brest‒Paris events on this machine at the ripe young age of 61. A year or two later he got hit from behind by a car while out on a club ride. He came down hard, thankfully only heavily bruised, but the bike was broken and so was his heart. One of the first commercial carbon-fibre frames around, the Look Once Team Edition – as ridden by Laurent Jalabert and others in the Tour de France – was done. There was no future for this frame.
All of that changed when Paolo from Carbon Bike Repair, in Johannesburg, visited the Ride offices with regards advertising in the magazine. We had always wondered why carbon fibre could not be repaired, and had recently learnt that this was already a reality in the UK and other parts of the world. I had seen the odd carbon bicycle repaired by ‘a friend in the aviation business’, but those were just repaired, not restored and the end product looked more like a duct-tape TV-room job. Nobody, until recently, was doing this professionally.
This is, of course, a treacherous area. In a car we risk our lives in a steel cocoon 15-times heavier than our bodies. On the bicycle we attempt similar speeds on a toy 10 times lighter than us. Not a time to run the risk of a back-yard job.
It wasn’t long before I visited Paolo’s workshop, which should be called a studio, more accurately. Or a laboratory. Here is where science, craft and art come together: CBR’s bike hospital.
The service that Carbon Bike Repair offers is complete: most importantly, they serve great coffee. They do health checks on carbon frames, repair and restore carbon frames (they give a warranty with their work), they do paint restoration on new and vintage bikes in their state-of-the-art spray room, and they have qualified staff to strip and re-assemble your bike. And, boy, are they busy: damaged carbon fibre, with the right skills and knowledge, is fixable in 95% of cases, even those that look hopeless. It is a wonderful material, so flexible and controllable.
Back to Rosa: the pink bike did not just have a cracked collarbone – the frame was snapped clean through in four places.
My dad and I decided to put Carbon Bike Repair to the ultimate test: we handed over Rosa for repair.
I expected a call to inform us this frame was from the 5% that could not be repaired. Instead, I got a call from Paolo’s team, wanting to know if they should aim to revamp the frame to newer glory or whether they should aim to complete a sensitive restoration, where they return the bicycle to a patinated former glory. We knew the latter was the tougher task. This Look frame was, after all, a numbered limited-edition piece. For a sensitive restoration, they would have to research and reproduce decals, blend some of the obvious scratches and match the now slightly-faded colour. A mammoth task.
A few weeks later I got a call. The frame was ready. There was a challenge, though. The CBR guys are passionate cyclists, and have a keen sense of history, especially when it comes to their chosen material. And they had fallen in love with Rosa. In the same call Paolo hinted at buying the frame from us… I could hear the emotion and immediately knew that the pink bike was alive and well.
The end product was spectacular. The handover, slightly emotional. Hannes immediately had the bike built up at his bike shop and went off on a ride, or two, or 10.
But how did Hannes end up on a baby pink bike? He claims the only reasons he bought Rosa bike were because he wanted to go lighter, and because the measurements of the frame matched the closest to what his pro bike set-up, done by Bill Lange, calculated. I think buying and riding a pink top-end frame was the final step in the process of becoming a full-blown road cyclist. First it is the Lycra, then the shaving of the legs, and lastly the introduction of pink to the outfit and bike and the metamorphosis is complete.
Thankfully, Rosa is back and Dad is raring to ride once more.