Ruckus Composites wants to boost profile of bike science

Ruckus Founder and Engineer Shawn Small (in 2015).
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Shawn Small, founder and engineer at Portland-based carbon fiber repair shop Ruckus Composites, wants to shake up the world of bicycle science. Right now, he says, this field relies a lot on anecdotal evidence, and data that is collected is difficult for average bike consumers to understand.

Small thinks bike science has the potential to grow into a well-respected field and he’s taken a big step toward making that happen: Ruckus Composites has launched a dedicated bicycle science program that utilizes engineering, chemistry and physics to look at fields relevant to the bicycling world, like sustainability, maintenance and repair.

The hope, Small says, is that scientists, bicycle technicians and consumers will all benefit from the research this program will produce.

“We’re trying to make people more aware of the products they’re using, whether it’s from a safety perspective or just trying to dispel some of the pointless myths around cycling technology,” he tells me.


(Photos: Ruckus Composites – Click for captions)

Small, who launched Ruckus in 2008 and has since repaired 7,000 carbon frames, has written articles for BikePortland that dig into the ins-and-outs of bike science. He wrote about everything from traffic signal sensors to how trigonometry plays a role in Paralympian bike racing.

In order to better communicate this information, Small has hired a staff science writer to beef up research Ruckus produces. One recent paper authored by Small and Heather Wilson is titled, Ultrasonic Testing of Carbon Fiber Bicycles. It presents several cases, “where phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT) is used to detect non-visible damage to CFRP [Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic] bicycles.” This article — which ranked in the top ten most viewed at a recent conference — should help designers and engineers make better carbon fiber bikes.

(Images: Ruckus Composites – Click for captions)

Small says carbon fiber bikes aren’t just for racing anymore. As the price of carbon fiber bikes decreases, the market has grown significantly in the past decade, so it’s all the more important that these bikes are made safely and people know how they work. There’s a lot of changing information, especially in the field of carbon fiber e-bikes, and Small wants Ruckus Composites to get ahead of the curve.

The bike science program is going to delve into the nitty-gritty of carbon fiber technology, analyzing things like drop impact testing of carbon frames, galvanic corrosion testing, exploring epoxy and carbon fiber materials and using a torque wrench for bike repair.

One of Small’s goals is to boost the durability of carbon fiber bikes. Making bikes more durable means they’ll last longer and have less environmental impact. Another recent study out of Ruckus says getting a carbon fiber framed repaired produces significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than replacing the bike.

“Products that last long-term are important to fighting climate change. How does repair fit into consumer culture?” Small says. “For us this is showing our intentions about what we want to be putting out and standing behind as a company.”

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