Modern 'Glass Boats: Can't Take A Punch?

Light, strong, inexpensive…
Pick any two!

That’s been true in the bike world. It hasn’t changed.

It applies to the boat world equally well.

Therefore , Hence, Consequently,
If the kayak industry follows the trend of the bike industry, more and more boats will get lighter and lighter. A segment, albeit a small, one will opt for heavier boats for price and strength reasons.

What planet do YOU live on?

– Last Updated: Dec-16-12 5:41 PM EST –

Sorry, but I have to take issue here. For the record, I own steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber bikes.

Carbon Fiber (CF):
In terms of strength/weight/stiffness, carbon fiber wins hands-down; metals simply cannot compete. Additionally, you can tailor the stiffness of a CF frame in ways that are simply impossible with metal tubing. From a pure performance standpoint carbon fiber has no equal, which is why essentially all professional racing teams, road and off-road, ride CF bikes. Recently, manufacturers have been putting a lot of emphasis in making CF bikes that are more suitable for recreational riders, for whom comfort is a key consideration. I bought my first CF frame in 1979, the second in 1995 and the third and forth at the end of last season. The evolution of CF has taken a long time, but it's been dramatic.

That said, there are three areas where carbon is less than optimum:

1- Carbon fiber has low abrasion resistance, so it needs to be protected against it. This doesn't seem to be a major issue with bikes, but it could be in the case of a loose/broken spoke causing tire rub on the frame.

2- Carbon fiber has a somewhat unforgiving failure mode. It doesn't dent or bend like metals will, it cracks or breaks. While it's not an issue in normal riding, it can be problematic in accidents.

3- It's expensive, although that seems to be improving slowly. It's likely to get better in the near future, as global carbon fiber production capacity increases.

Titanium (Ti):
I loved my titanium bikes and rode them for many years (I still have both frames, in case I ever want to set one up again). Ti is arguably the best of all the metals. It's impervious to rust (unlike steel) or corrosion (unlike aluminum). It doesn't fatigue the way aluminum does. It's lighter than steel, though heavier than aluminum. However, it's much stronger than aluminum, so in frames, there's little difference in weight. It can provide the same type of resilient ride that steel does, with better vibration damping.

The major downside to Ti is the price, which is similar to CF. It can't be built as stiff as CF without being considerably heavier.

Aluminum (Al):
Aluminum is the lightest of the three metals and can be built into the lightest metal frames. It's also much cheaper than carbon fiber or Ti. However, aluminum has three significant issues:

- Fatigue is a problem if Al frames are allowed to flex, which forces manufacturers to make their Al frames very stiff, in an effort to extend their fatigue life. That adds weight. I still have my '77 Klein Team Super and it's still in good shape, but it probably only has 10-12K miles on it. I have had a swingarm break on an Al mountain bike.

- Aluminum is only 1/3 as stiff as steel. In order to make a stiff Al frame without making it heavy, you have to use large diameter tubing with thin walls, which makes them prone to denting and "beer can" failures.

- Aluminum will corrode, particularly if it comes into contact with another material such as CF or steel (such as a seatpost). Al-Al joints can also corrode. This can be particularly problematic in coastal areas and when bikes are ridden on salt-covered roads in winter.

Basically, the lighter you make an Al frame, the shorter its lifespan. This is why most Al frames have short warranties. However, recent developments in hydroforming Al have helped to overcome some of its shortcomings and it seems to be gaining some traction in the market again.

Steel it relative inexpensive and has a resilient ride that many riders prefer. It's also popular among people who prefer the "classic" look of skinny tubes. I've owned steel bikes since before AL, Ti and CF hit the market. Steel suffers from some serious disadvantages:

- Steel is the heaviest of the frame materials. In order to make an even reasonably light frame, you have to sacrifice stiffness. It's just not in the same league as the other material when it comes to stiffness-to-weight ratio and never will be.

- Steel rusts, which means you have to paint it and maintain the finish. It also means that you have to be aware of condensation and water infiltration into the seat & chain stays, the seat tube and the bottom bracket. That means using a product like "Frame Saver", which is like automotive rustproofing in a can. The newer stainless steels can eliminate this issue, but at a significant increase in price that puts them in the range of Ti and CF.

While steel lovers are found of claiming that it's experiencing some kind of resurgence, they've been making that claim for decades and it still hasn't happened. While steel is not going away, it's a bit-player in the market and will remain that way.

The bottom line is that people ride whatever they like best in their price range. That often has little to do with performance comparison and everything to do with personal preference.

It’s also apparent…
…that he doesn’t know how to repair 'glass boats, either.

2nd, 3rd and 4th that

You can have your CF, IMO
I won’t ever go for a CF fork, period! You gotta be kidding. You know from what you wrote that its failure is dramatic and highly dangerous. Even the manufacturers warn you to have it inspected any time it takes a bruise, whether or not you can see any evidence of damage.

All its virtues I said the same as you. All Aluminum’s vitures and Ti as well, I said the same as you. Steel is still a wonderful alternative when you want a less expensive frame (and especially a fork) that is less prone to failure, can be made stiff or a bit forgiving too. Don’t count the duchess out; she’s still royalty.

Ti is best of all. What makes it expensive is more than that it’s labor intensive. It requires a special atmosphere in order to weld it. So it’s a slow going process with a not cheap material using expensive equipment to work it.

CF is a wondrous material with lots of great uses in many fields. Aviation, audio, automobiles, just to name a few of hundreds at least. I’m not knocking CF, just pointing out that it is NOT the be all and end all that many bikers think it is due to clever marketing, which you also seem to recognize.

Roadies especially worship light weight, and may sacrifice safety for that goal; road racers certainly do. What’s really ironic was written up in the bike mags 20 years ago: It costs far less and is far more effective to lose weight on your body than on your bike! And the most dramatic difference on a bike is what you carry on your wheel assembly, not on your frame.

I’m not at all sure that, other than for portaging, weight in a kayak is quite as dramatic in effect in the water as poundage on a bicycle wheelset. On that I’m willing to be corrected.

steel bikes
Many many small frame fabricators are working exclusively in steel. And it isn’t at the detriment to CF, but rather for the strength to weight ratio for the COST, steel wins hands down. And the resurgence of all the interest in fixies, and hand-built bikes has created a resurgence of steel frames. It’s what all the cool kids in skinny jeans are buying!

Almost every college town has 3-4 bike shops with at least two custom frame makers you’ve never heard of. I even have two friends who make custom bikes. Not saying this is scientific, and does it make up for all of the giant’s and treks made in aluminum or cf, no… but there are lots of new bikes made in steel.

Please elaborate on Kaz and Millbrook

Mike Appel
I have a custom Mike Appel steel road bike from the early 80s and can’t bear to part with it even though I don’t ride much any more. He used tubing from various makers so as to tune the bike to its purpose and rider–no tubing maker decals on his bikes. Before getting this frame, I road a Cannondale. Took several minutes off my 25 mile TT with the new frame. Have ridden a lot of off the shelf bikes over the years and never found anything I liked better probably because the Appel was perfectly set up just for me…

To Summarize
I think it would be fair to say steel is nearly dead in the ‘go fast multi gear’ road bike market. In the rest of the market…not so much.

Ergo… in the kayak market would it not follow that a segment will demand lighter and lighter while others… not so much?

Nothing like a bike that fits perfectly. Well maybe a kayak. And a Lumpy paddle.

of course
In order to justify high tech production volume is required. Even though molds are specific to each model produced, the rest of it - vacuum pumps, autoclaves, etc. are the same.

Necky and TideRace made conscious choice to go with the high tech manufacturer instead of relying on barnyard production methods.

of all the production kayaks and canoes in n.america…all have about 2-3 layers of glass except two companies. and they have 12-lyers in one and i think close to that in the other.

the kruger canoe-hybrid kayak decked canoe and the superior expedition as well. Kruger use to take a sledge hammer to his hull during demonstrations to show you how tough. they are the last boat you would need. ive lost mine off the top of my truck at 55-mph and watch it cartwheel a dozen times…only surface scratches.

only weighs 55lbs which is nothing.

I think it’s fair to
say that racing doesn’t use cf bikes? But cycling, like kayaking is more than racing.

Many many people the world over don’t race, and even some of us that do race aren’t racing on CF.

That said, I have 4-5 cf paddles!

They are not the only ones to make
tough, composite boats. I have a Clipper whitewater canoe in Kevlar/Duraflex that has taken some wicked hits:

I also have a Hemlock Shaman which seems very robust as well. And Kazimierczyk’s Millbrook canoes seem to be near universally well-regarded by many whitewater boaters.

heavy vs. strong
They author mistakenly equates strength with weight. He’s confusing the sacrificial quality of a thick gelcoat with the strength of the underlying fiberglass.

I have a 43lb Sterling reflection which has a very strong layup but relatively thin gel coat. I’ve taken off big pieces of gel coat rock gardening but the glass has never been damaged in lots of high speed hits. Same goes for my Tiderace Xplore. Relatively thin gel coat but very strong layup. In contrast to some older brit boats with thick gel coat but low quality chopped mat layups, I’d rather do the occasional gelcoat repair and not worry about the hull integrity.

Light, strong, and lively but not too flexy, assuming you match it and the design to the rider’s weight and use. Like steel, the feel can be made to vary.

Chopped mat weaknes is matter of context
The chopped mat I have seen is layered with woven cloth. This makes for a strong layup as chopped mat is isotropic and helps to re-enforce the weakness of bi-directional woven cloth. I have not seen cloth layers laid down at 45 degree angles to help strengthen a cloth only layup (although that layer may be hidden underneath the visible layers). Cloth is strong, but only in two directions. Pull at cloth on a 45 or even 20 degree angle and it is significantly weaker. Mat also bonds very well to other layers because its random surface strands interlace.

I have also heard that chopped mat is more resistant to tearing after a puncture, but that is hearsay.

re: to summarize

– Last Updated: Dec-17-12 4:53 PM EST –

"I think it would be fair to say steel is nearly dead in the 'go fast multi gear' road bike market. In the rest of the market...not so much."

Agree that steel is far from dead in the non-racer segments of the market - in commuter/'practical' bikes, touring bikes, fixies/SS, etc., steel is alive and well.

And even in racing bikes, there's still companies and builders churning out 'club racer' bikes in steel. If by 'nearly dead' you mean a niche that'll probably never go away, then, yup.

"Ergo... in the kayak market would it not follow that a segment will demand lighter and lighter while others... not so much?"

It doesn't necessarily follow, because the parallel breaks down.

In cycling, lightness is equated with performance – even though that's really only true when going uphill (or accelerating), and to less of an extent than is commonly believed.

For example, people look at at an 18 lb bike and a 16 lb bike and go, "Wow, the 16 lb bike is 11% lighter, so I'll probably go 11% faster!!!".

Uh, nope. Your bike's weight matters almost not at all on the flat, and even going uphill, well, what about the RIDER? Rider weight + bike weight for many ppl is around 200 lbs.

So, being 2 lbs lighter means you go... 1% faster. Uphill, not on the flat. Was it worth the extra $1000 you spent on the really light bike? Probably not... especially if you had any weight at all to lose off your body.

In kayaks, it's a bit different. Lightness is generally not seen as a big huge performance enhancer, more a convenience, in terms of carrying and car-topping. But it's still important to older paddlers and female paddlers... just not quite in the same way that lightness is seen as important in bikes.

Personally I think a lot of the lightness-need in kayaks could be obviated simply by having a nice portable cart and a good load-assist roof rack (Hullavator, etc), but for whatever reason these things don't seem to occur to many buyers in the market. Many of them focus on the boat weight, not the tools they can use to make sure the boat weight doesn't really matter.

Truth is, lightness in kayaks may have just taken on a life of its own – some ppl really really want it, sure, but then at some point it becomes 'something to market' and an arms-race among manufacturers ensues.

It's an easy-to-understand differentiator ("Oh, this one weighs 51 lbs, this one weights 39, so it must be much better"), so if you can make a lot of $$$ catering to lightness as a selling-point, you do, and everyone else jumps on board so as not to have marketshare/sales taken from them.

'Life of its own', like I said. You see it in bikes all the time, over time. Back around 1990, there was an arms-race to see whose bikes could have the narrowest, lightest tires. Result was stock midrange bikes with uber-narrow 18mm tires that would pinch-flat riding over railroad tracks. o_0

A remarkably stupid trend that soon died off as the market rejected the impracticality, but you can see how it snowballed. "Narrower is faster! Lighter is always better!!!" etc. etc.