Ceramic coating technology benefits racing cyclists

Paul Boughton

An anti-wear ceramic coating originally developed for Formula 1 racing cars is also suitable for use in a wide variety of applications, one of which is improved braking for racing bicycles equipped with lightweight carbon-composite wheels. Created by Zircotec, the ultra-thin lightweight ceramic coating is applied to the rims of carbon-composite wheels to provide a tough, long-lasting and durable braking surface that is capable of delivering exceptional levels of modulation even in wet conditions. The coating offers improved stopping distances and wet-weather performance, and permits the use of standard hard-rubber brake materials in place of the specialist blocks normally used on carbon rims. Testing by a professional cyclist during a pre-season training camp in Majorca demonstrated consistent and repeatable performance during 3400km of riding in all weather conditions.
Increased availability of lower-priced carbon wheels has led to a marked increase in their usage. Until now, however, using the carbon rim as the braking surface has led to compromises in brake performance, notably in wet weather conditions or where high temperatures are experienced - such as during steep descents. Cork-based pads reduce the risk of damage to the rim surface but these are ineffective and can disintegrate in the wet. Other techniques, such as aluminium braking rings or switching to more complex disc setups, negate the weight-saving benefit of a carbon wheel. By providing a better braking surface, Zircotec's ceramic coating enables cyclists to retain light hubs and rims, as well as more slender and aerodynamically efficient forks.
Peter Whyman, Zircotec's sales director, states: "Testing using standard rubber blocks suggests that our coating offers a significant improvement in stopping distances and no wear to the coating or wheel rim. Dexter Gradias, the cyclist undertaking the trials in Majorca, believed that in slippery conditions, control under braking was "excellent" and pad wear was reduced, the rubber blocks lasting for over 2500km of varied riding."
This testing regime also highlighted the coating's ability to protect the wheel from heat and abrasion, with both of these attributes deriving from the process by which the ceramic coating is applied to the carbon-composite wheel rim. Molten ceramic is sprayed at very high temperature in a carefully controlled process that ensures the underlying carbon composite is protected. Whyman explains: "Zircotec developed the ability to safely coat composites for motorsport. We currently coat composite parts for more than 70 per cent of the F1 grid and have developed bespoke protection methods for the substrate." The result is a coating that has an excellent bond strength and minimal wear. The ceramic protects the carbon surface from damage inflicted by road grit trapped between the rim and pad material, which is currently an issue with existing set ups.
Zircotec's ceramic coating for carbon-composites is the subject of a recent patent filing, and the use of the technology for bicycle wheels is just one of the potential applications identified by Zircotec. The company is now seeking partners from within the cycle industry to help take the technology forward.
For more information, visit www.zircotec.com

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