Riding Circles Around Old Standards
August 29, 2012
Sent to Bicycle Paper from Janet Turley
After more than 20 years in the business of bicycles, the team at Cane Creek Cycling Components (Fletcher, NC, USA) knows a thing or two about enhancing the cycling experience. The developer of high-performance cycling components for road, mountain, track and cyclocross bicycles has notably introduced several industry innovations, including the world’s lightest headset – a component that connects a bicycle’s fork to its frame – and a high-performance rear suspension damper.
Both applications utilize technologies from the NORGLIDE® families of products from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. Saint-Gobain worked closely with Cane Creek, tailoring each technology to meet the company’s unique manufacturing challenges while creating a high-quality product for cyclists who demand superior performance.
Believers in the Power of Bicycles
In 1989, Cane Creek first came onto the cycling scene as Dia-Compe USA, with the manufacture, distribution and sale of the RockShox® suspension forks as well as an established line of brake products. Just a few years later in 1993, the company notably launched its Speed Check disc break system, a forerunner of modern bicycle disc brakes. Since then, several other innovations and a new namesake have followed. Cane Creek now offers a wide array of headsets, suspension components, suspension seat posts, brakes, levers and other gear for cycling enthusiasts. After all, who better to design parts for discerning cyclists than people who share their passion?
On the company’s website, Cane Creek’s staff members pose in photos with their favorite bikes and accessories. Their preferences for certain bike brands and components are listed alongside their professional titles. In addition to sponsoring multiple teams and riders, the company also supports nine bicycling charities and advocacy groups. Long story short, the staff at Cane Creek “believes in the power of bicycles.”
“We have a lot of passion for the sport of cycling and we believe that’s evident in the quality of our products,” said Jim Morrison, ‘Headset Guru’ and Design Engineer for Cane Creek Cycling Components. “Our goal is to make bicycle components that ultimately take the rider to the next level.”
Shedding the Grams for an Ultra-lightweight Headset
To diversify its offerings, Cane Creek looked to penetrate the extremely lightweight market niche with a high-performance headset. After working with Saint-Gobain on previous projects, the company enlisted its partner to help develop the AER® family of superlight headsets – each approximately half the weight of comparable products on the market.
The purpose of headsets i
s to provide a rotatable interface between the bicycle fork and the handlebars on the bicycle frame. Bearings are applied between these two moving parts to reduce friction, increase performance and save the cyclist’s energy.
“Balancing a bicycle actually requires energy in tiny, unconscious steering inputs,” said Morrison. “When the bike leans to one side, the geometry of the bicycle causes the front wheel to turn slightly towards the direction of the lean, realigning the wheels beneath the center of mass. Friction in the steering assembly inhibits this self-stabilizing tendency and can make riding very physically and mentally tiring.”
Rolling element bearings are commonly used by bicycle manufacturers to lower the friction in the headset. However, the amount of material traditionally contained by the bearings can add unnecessarily to the weight of the bicycle.
“In order to develop a solution that combined the lightweight effect and the durability they needed, we had to approach this challenge as a team,” said Ed Rumble, Global Market Manager for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics within the bicycle industry. “We worked collaboratively with Cane Creek through the R&D process to assure that the end result was perfectly suited for the extreme lightweight application.”
To achieve the ultra-lightweight headset, Saint-Gobain worked closely with Cane Creek in determining the right technology for the job, first implementing the self-lubricating NORGLIDE® X2 composite bearing. Leveraging its global resources, Saint-Gobain developed the X2 material in its Willich, Germany, R&D facility. The X2 material is composed of steel-backed Teflon® and rubber, using a layer of low-friction polytetraflouroethylene (PTFE) tape to prevent the absorption of water and provide one of the lowest levels of friction against other solids. These materials come together for a lighter alternative to the sealed cartridge rolling elements normally used in headsets.
The result was a bearing that weighed just four grams compared to other bearings on the market, which average about 20 grams. Ultimately, the lightness of the bearing helped Cane Creek achieve a headset that weighs in at approximately 54 grams compared to the average headset weight of 100 grams.
Taking the Design Further
Saint-Gobain continued to work step-by-step with Cane Creek to finalize the design. Recently, the decision was made to equip the headset with the NORGLIDE® T rather than the NORGLIDE® X2. The NORGLIDE® T bearing offers a higher level of rigidity, which lends itself well to the application and so it will be carried into the second generation AER® headsets.
Saint-Gobain’s NORGLIDE® T is composed of a composite material of compounded PTFE tape on an aluminum shell, which helps to prevent corrosion. The material structure enables machining of the bearing in the housing—forgoing the sizing process – to obtain the tightest tolerances on the inside diameter, while still offering the durability to provide 3,000-4,000 miles of smooth steering.
“We worked togethe
r, developing and testing multiple prototypes,” said Rumble. “The dialogue between both engineering teams was instrumental to the success of the project, as was the ability of our bearings to be customized to meet Cane Creek’s requirements.”
In addition to being the lightest on the market, the AER® family of headsets also represents the most cost-effective weight-focused upgrade. At a rate of $2.36 per gram saved, the reduction in weight amounts to $75-$120 in savings per bike when compared to achieving the same weight savings using other components.
“Bicycle weight is extremely important to manufacturers. In addition to enhancing speed and handling, lightweighting carries with it a marketing ‘cool’ factor that resonates with dedicated cyclists,” said Morrison. “For road bikes in the 16-pound range, it’s challenging to save 50 grams on a single accessory. Because we use extremely light and durable components, we’re able to achieve that.”
Manufacturing a Smoother Ride
At the same time that Saint-Gobain was working with Cane Creek to determine the best bearing for the AER® family of headsets, another application was being developed. In addition to achieving the lightest headset in the world, Cane Creek had also set its sights on producing its DoubleBarrel shock, the most adjustable and best-performing rear shock in the world.
Composite bearings are used within the eyelets placed at either end of the rear shock. The eyelet is a threaded fitting for bolting an accessory, such as the DoubleBarrel shock, to a bike frame.
“We only use the best parts,” said Morrison. “Traditional bearings end up being too tight, which puts unfavorable loads on the shock, or too loose which results in annoying creaks and knocking noises. The sizeability of the Norglide material allows us to get the perfect fit every time and ensures that the shock will perform to its full potential.”
Employing the same team strategy, Saint-Gobain set to work to develop a solution for the double-barrel rear-suspension eyelet, experimenting with different prototypes. This time, no research and development was needed for a new material as Saint-Gobain had a pre-existing solution. The NORGLIDE® SM, a maintenance-free bearing composed of compounded PTFE, bronze-stretched metal and steel backing, provided the durability and shock absorption required by the application.
“What Cane Creek was looking for was added performance. The NORGLIDE® SM is a premier high-load material that possessed the shock-absorbing properties they needed without endangering the integrity of the composite bearing,” said Rumble.
The bearing requires no surface lubrication, extending the life of the DoubleBarrel rear-suspension eyelet without the need for additional maintenance on the part of the rider.
With two game-changing technologies behind them, Cane Creek and Saint-Gobain have continued their partnership in other, upcoming projects.
“There’s more to come,” said Morrison. “With Saint-Gobain, it’s not about off-the-shelf components. It’s all custom products. We’ve really been able to get what we need out of the NORGLIDE® family of bearings and we’re excited to see how far we’ll continue to go.”
As the two companies look further down the road, more possible collaborations could be in store.
“What Saint-Gobain brings to Cane Creek is years of experience in the bike market as well as customized, engineered solutions,” Rumble said. “Both companies are highly innovative and that’s part of what makes our collaboration work in generating revolutionary products for the bicycle industry.”
About Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Bearings and Tolerance Rings SBU
Saint-Gobain is a global leader in the design, production and distribution of innovative, high performance materials for industry and employs around 195,000 people. With operations in over 64 countries, Saint-Gobain is the 60th largest employer and among the top 100 global industrial companies worldwide. Last year, Saint-Gobain achieved global sales of over €42 billion. Saint-Gobain is listed on the stock exchanges of Paris, London, Frankfurt, Zurich, Brussels and Amsterdam.
Saint-Gobain’s global strategy is focused around three core markets: Construction Products, Innovative Materials, and Building Distribution; and, the company is committed to play a leading role in developing energy efficient innovations for the housing and construction sectors, protecting the environment, and managing growth in a sustainable fashion.
With 15 sites and six R&D centres globally, the Bearings and Tolerance Rings Group, a division of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, provides ‘engineer-to-engineer solutions-in-motion’ to high volume international OEMs in the automotive, leisure, energy, industrial, and other markets. Backed by a heritage of product innovation, technology, advanced materials and market leadership, they are dedicated to working with customers using their extensive engineering expertise to deliver standard and custom solutions in NORGLIDE® bearings, RENCOL® tolerance rings, SOLGLIDE® bearings, JOINSHIM® rings, and NORSLIDE® cable liners that meet the most demanding applications. For further information, please visit: www.bearings.saint-gobain.com
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