A lot has gone on in Texas recently. Lots of friends and family are in the process of recovering, re-building, and normalizing their lives. For a lot of us this includes getting back in the saddle to get away for a minute and re-charge those batteries. A lot of bikes were underwater and we want them in good working order. I had a phone call about some carbon fiber wheels that were submerged in Houston and that got my gears turning. What if anything do we need to keep our eyes open for after a flood and are these composites safe to ride? Below is the cliff notes from a series of phone calls I had with manufacturers on their insights on how to deal with flooded bikes and what people, but mainly mechanics, should keep in mind.
Carbon Fiber: Frames, Forks, and Wheels
Carbon fiber is what got my gears spinning so I will start by talking about those frames and wheels. I talked to a few places that know a thing or two about carbon fiber: Orbea, Masi, and Ruckess Composites. Everyone agreed water should not damage the frame or wheels regardless of how long it was marinating. Yes, even if your car was in the garage leaking gasoline and oil. Even that bottle of paint thinner in the corner that is now empty, you should not have an issue.
Ruckess Composites did point out three caveats to the above statement. One, if debris was floating with or heavy things shifted around with your precious bike an impact could have happened. Two, only worry about fluids mixing with flood water if they are an acid. Are you an evil genius planning to take over the world? Do you have a pool or hot tub? If so then you probably store acid somewhere. Definitely let your shop know about this! The acid would also cause other noticeable damage to the other items in the room. Third, combinations of carbon fiber and kevlar can be problematic. As the nice people at Ruckess put it “when kevlar gets wet the fibers can slip against each other and compromise integrity”. The only record I could find of this type of type of construction was on some composite frames from the 1990s. That is not to say others do not, I could not find documentation of it.
So where does this leave us? Whether a composite or alloy there is a frame full of
water. Your bike will probably need an overhaul, bearings, and cabling replaced. It will need to be completely dis-assembled, everything pulled off, even the derailleur hanger and left to dry out for at least a couple of days. It could take longer, just be sure it is completely dry. The folks at Orbea mentioned to pay particular attention to headset and bottom bracket inserts of composite frames. Does the bike have an integrated headset, threaded or BB30 bottom bracket? If you answered yes then there is some metal inserted into the frame and it might take longer to dry, or could have some corrosion in those stainless steel inserts. Anything metal we want to get clean and dry as quickly as possible!
Mountain Bike Specific
You mountain bike guys have a few more things to take into consideration. Have your suspension serviced. You don’t want corrosion inside your nice fork or shock. I called the folks at Rock Shox to get their opinion. While they had “no official statement” they did offer some killer advice. The most logical being to take lots of notes! It seems simple, but details will get fuzzy over time. To see how much water is in there without having loads of time tied up in a disassembly, pop the bolts on the lowers (after the air chamber has been emptied) and see how much water if any comes out with the bath oil. Also take off the air cap and see if any water is in the air chamber. Those will be two quick and easy indicators to the state of the fork. One should count on having to do a 20 hours service on all your suspension. It was also pointed out that each bike will have its own unique scenario, so use the manufacturers as a resource with questions or possible issues.
For the full suspension guys, have the pivots cleaned or bearings replaced. If bearings aren’t in the budget, at a minimum have them removed and repacked if possible while the pivot points dry.
Above I mentioned we do not have worry about stuff in the water when it comes to composite frames and wheels. With brakes we are going to have to use the “C” word with all kinds of stuff floating around the water. That is right, contamination. Disc brakes do not like oil on the pads or rotors. You may find yourself with a clean dry bike, fresh cabling, new bearings (or at least re-packed bearing if possible) and no brake power do to contamination. Keep in mind this will depend on where the bike was submerged.
Talking with the guys at Avid we both agreed that with any brake system we should air on the side of caution. Again, this is “no official statement” from the folks at Avid. Check the seals in the caliper with a flash light. If the lever was submerged it is recommended to rebuild the lever when possible. Also pressing fresh fluid through the system is not to be overlooked. It will sometimes be cheaper to replace the brake then to service it. Remember, new brakes come with new brake pads!
Everyone I have talked to showed more concern for the condition of the components then the frames, forks, or wheels. It was also echoed that if one does have issues they will most likely turn up a few months down the road. Some of these things I talked about may be overkill for what actually happened to your ride. Always talk to your mechanic about what your individual situation is. Keeping records will be in everyones best interest to make sure all problems are resolved and everyone is on the same page and understand what work did and did not happen so everyone can move forward.