Long time Choice subscriber here. I have no conflicts of interest to declare. Like many Australians, I have found myself cycling more during the COVID era. On researching the subject of buying a new bike (the bike stores all say they are low in stock as they’ve sold out), I found some rather shocking things about the poor quality controls in place to ensure the structural integrity of carbon bike frames, which unlike metal frames failure suddenly, unpredictably, and catastrophically.
There are services in Sydney and Melbourne that conduct ultrasound examinations on carbon bike frames. One of these is Leuscher Teknik in Melbourne run by Raoul Leuscher. He has a very helpful YouTube channel where he dissects carbon frames looking for defects in manufacturing and the results are quite scary. Frames that cost thousands of dollars can have terrible invisible defects that weren’t properly screened out during quality control. These defects are visible only on ultrasound. He even found them in the forks of a company (Canyon) that claims to screen their carbon frames with CT scans. Leuscher mentions on his review of a BMC bike that the brand became popular in Oz after Cadel Evans won the Tour de France on a BMC but the structural integrity on the inside commonly leads to frame failure due to shortcomings in manufacturing.
Leuscher has been asked by the Victorian Coroner to investigate cases of carbon frame failure such as reported here:
In this case, the fork of the carbon frame failed catastrophically causing the rider to hit his head on the road, leading to his death. That was on an old bike frame which highlights the fact that you should not buy second-hand carbon frames because you don’t know if it’s been involved in an accident causing damage to the frame only visible on ultrasound. Even something minor like hitting a pothole can bring out manufacturing flaws with catastrophic results.
However, this is not just an issue with second-hand frames but you come across reports of it happening with brand new frames as well (note that an S-Works Roubaix costs around $15K):
“A good friend of mine had a very serious accident riding a new Specialized Roubaix S-Work, the front fork collapsed while he was on a fast descent due to a manufacturing flaw in the fork. He’s lucky to still be able to walk, but will live with back pain for the rest of his life.”
There are no legal standards with respect to ensuring that carbon bike frames are properly scanned for defects at the time of manufacture. This makes it tempting for makers to cut corners to save on costs, which is unacceptable given we are being charged thousands for these bikes. Leuscher mentions on YouTube that Giant will immediately replace a frame where defects are found on ultrasound, no questions asked, but that Specialized flatly refuse to acknowledge the problem.
I have found similar services that do ultrasound scans in Sydney. Leuscher even recommends that you shouldn’t ride any carbon frame bike until it has first been scanned by an independent assessor. Some may say he is scaremongering to sell his services but the evidence of frame after frame with structural defects speaks for itself.
Would it be possible for Choice to investigate using ultrasound scans to see if common bike brands sell frames with serious structural defects? Or at least if a journalist could interview Raoul Leuscher and others who do frame integrity scans in Australia for their perspective. Many end-users may be at risk of serious injury or even death as a result of shonky manufacturing practices. The only way to eliminate this is by legislation enforcing minimal safety standards during the final QC step.