Carbon composite bicycle wheels are a fantastic choice for competitive road cyclists who want to reduce their bike’s revolving weight, while maintaining wheel strength and rigidity. They do have one drawback however: standard hard rubber brake pads don’t work that well against carbon rims, especially in wet conditions or when excessive heat is being generated, such as on steep descents. Cork pads are sometimes used, but these can disintegrate when wet. Disc brakes are another alternative, although their added weight somewhat negates the weight savings gained by switching to carbon wheels in the first place. Now, heat management company Zircotec is experimenting with a thin spray-on ceramic coating for carbon rims that allows for effective use of rubber brake pads under all conditions.
Wheels treated with the coating were tested by a professional racing cyclist using rubber pads, at a pre-season training camp in Majorca, Spain. After using them for approximately 3,400 km (2,113 miles) in “all types” of weather conditions (although we’re assuming it didn’t snow), he stated that they performed significantly better than uncoated rims – the difference was especially pronounced on wet rides. Not only were the stopping distances shorter, but there was also better modulation, and the pads lasted longer.
The molten ceramic coating is plasma-sprayed on at a very high temperature, which is said to help protect the rims from heat and abrasion. The Majorca testing would seem to bear this out, as there was reportedly no wear to the coating or the underlying rim at the end of the trial.
While using the coating on bicycle wheels is new, it is reportedly already being used by over 70 percent of F1 teams to protect composite components on their cars. Zircotec is now looking for business partners to move its technology into the cycling industry.