Loving modern bikes is sometimes an act of cognitive dissonance. I feel good about using muscle power instead of fossil fuels. But on the flip side, carbon fiber frames and wheels aren’t exactly environmentally friendly. I'm torn, because when carbon bikes are as well-tuned as the Revel Rover, they're hard to ignore.
The wheels equipped on this bike, however, do offer a small ray of hope. They are Revel’s RW23 wheels which use a type of carbon called “Fusion Fiber.” Unlike traditional carbon, Fusion Fiber is produced without harmful chemicals and it is easier to recycle.
I like them a lot, and it makes me wonder if someday we'll see an entire frame out of the material. Until then, using Fusion Fiber for rims seems like a decent first step, and it makes me feel just a tiny bit less guilty about lusting after this mint-colored race rig.
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The Carbon Rover is Made for Rough Gravel
Before we go into the recyclable wheels, let’s take a look at the frame. Revel is a relatively new brand hailing from Carbondale, CO. It got its start back in 2016, and it is best known for carbon mountain bikes designed around Canfield’s CBF suspension design.
Like many mountain bike brands, Revel decided to create a gravel bike to give customers a drop-bar option to add to their quivers. The Rover, however, technically isn’t Revel’s first attempt at a gravel bike.
You may have heard of Why Cycles, who make titanium gravel, hardtail, and fat bike frames. Why Cycles and Revel are actually sister brands with the same owners and operating under the same roof. Last year, the owners consolidated everything under the Revel name, so Revel carries titanium frames now too.
With modern bikes, I truly don’t believe there is a single “best” frame material (you can argue with me in the comments!). For me, titanium come close, and I’ve owned and loved titanium bikes in the past, but as my goals have shifted more toward racing, carbon has become the most appealing to me. It’s lightweight and it can be formed into aerodynamic shapes. I also just love how well-engineered carbon frames ride, perfectly balancing vertical compliance with lateral stiffness. (I actually think my carbon Aethos has the best ride quality I've ever experienced.)
Sam Pickman, the Director of Product and Engineering at Allied, once explained it to me like this: "With carbon, you unlock a whole different world. You can control the properties of [a frame] along the tube because it is anisotropic. You can have incredible properties in one direction and they’ll change as you pull in different directions. What it allows you to do is change and tweak the characteristics that affect how a bike feels along the tube to hone it to do pretty much whatever you want it to do. It just gives you an unbelievable amount of control."
Clever carbon engineering has resulted in bikes like this Revel Rover. It’s light for a gravel bike, coming in around 18-19 pounds for a complete build. But what’s really impressive is the ride quality. It feels stiff and direct when you get on the pedals and dive bomb corners, but supple and comfortable when trying to float over the rough stuff.
Even the fork, which looks deceivingly beefy, actually has some visible fore-aft flex without any excessive twisting. This provides a lot of useful shock absorption without affecting the handling.
With low weight, high comfort, big tire clearance (up to 700x50mm), and long and stable mountain bike-inspired geometry, the carbon Rover seems like the ideal rig for the toughest endurance gravel races. I think it’s pretty good-looking too.
Who’s Actually Recycling Carbon Bikes?
Despite its performance advantages, the biggest with carbon is if something goes wrong. Carbon is a strong material, but it tends to crack when it gets hit with certain acute impacts. Fortunately, carbon fiber is very repairable, and we try to repair as many damaged carbon frames as we can to keep them on the road or trail. But if a carbon frame has damage that can’t be repaired, we have no choice but to dispose of it.
Metal frames made of steel or aluminum are generally easier to recycle. Our recycling partner Eco-Cycle is a local facility that accepts metal bike frames and wheels. Carbon fiber has the potential to be recycled too, but it is a lot harder to do because it’s produced with toxic epoxy resin and require specialized machinery and techniques to process.
Left: Carbon fiber with epoxy and other chemical agents. | Right: the finished product, pyrolyzed carbon, can be reused.
CFR produces “clean” reclaimed carbon fiber by grinding carbon bicycle frames and wheels into chips that then undergo a process called pyrolyzation. The epoxy and other chemicals in the carbon break down into methane gas, which is recycled to heat the pyrolyzation oven, and a highly-refined petroleum by-product that CFR extracts and converts into jet fuel. What remains is “raw” carbon fibers, which are safe for the environment (they're similar to activated charcoal) and can be repurposed.
A few companies are recycling carbon using similar methods (like Toray and Toyota). However, neither the bike industry nor the recycling industry has reached the point where the average cyclist can simply bring a carbon frame to a recycling facility and expect it to end up somewhere with the machinery to process it. But someday, maybe we will.
So About Those RW23 Fusion Fiber Wheels
Revel launched its RW30 and RW23 wheels a few years ago. We even received a few sets at TPC for testing and I personally rode the RW30 mountain bike wheels on my Epic Evo for a couple of seasons. The RW23 is a narrower version designed for gravel bikes.
Overall, I think these Fusion Fiber wheels ride great. They’re stiff and strong, and the weight is good. One thing I’ve noticed is that they don’t have the same sense of “springiness” I’ve felt in other high-end carbon wheels. Like the Revel Rover, they seem to provide a more damped feeling on rough terrain. A lot of that comes down to the Fusion Fiber construction.
Fusion fiber (which is safe to handle) and a rim cross section. Photo: Revel Bikes
To make its wheels, Revel teamed up with CSS Composites to make carbon wheels that don’t use any epoxy resin. Instead, Fusion Fiber uses a nylon-like polymer, which is more pliable than a cured epoxy. This is what provides that damped feeling, but it also means the wheels can be recycled more easily if they’re damaged. No fancy pyrolyzation machines are needed. The fibers can simply be chopped up and repurposed.
If you break a wheel, Revel will take them (and if you bought them new, replace them under warranty) and repurposed them.
Another benefit is the Fusion Fiber manufacturing process itself is a bit more eco-friendly. Without resin, Fusion Fiber has an unlimited shelf-life and doesn’t require refrigeration like most conventional carbon fiber prepreg sheets. When molded, the rims cure in seconds and come out of the mold ready to go. They require no sanding or finishing work which often releases toxic dust particles.
Fusion Fiber rims are also more durable. According to Revel’s engineers, if damage is incurred, Fusion Fiber technology prevents cracks from propagating. I’ve smashed my RW30 rims seriously hard several times and they’re still solid. If I did manage to crack them, supposedly it's unlikely to be catastrophic, and I could still safely finish the ride.
So What's Next?
So far, Revel has only used these recycled fibers for tire levers, but supposedly they’re still experimenting with more applications.
As I said, Fusion Fiber wheels have been around for a few years now, but in my opinion, they haven't quite gotten the buzz I think they deserved. Revel isn't breaking any sales records, and brands using traditional carbon still dominate the market.
Chris King's latest carbon wheels use the same technology. More Fusion Fiber wheels is a good thing, and I hope to see more since carbon wheels are one of the most common carbon components to get sent to the landfill.
In a dream scenario, I could get an entire frame made of Fusion Fiber just like the wheels. Maybe Revel is already working on a full Fusion Fiber frame (I have no contacts there so I have no clue). Maybe something about Fusion Fiber makes it impractical for frame construction (I’m not an engineer so, again, I have no clue).
More than anything, I'd just love to see recycled carbon fibers used in more products. Other than Silca's sealant on those one-off Revel tire levers, I don't know of many cycling products incorporating recycled carbon fibers yet. Obviously, it'll take time, but I'm optimistic.
What are some potential products that could be made from recycled fibers? Based on those Revel tire levers, here are some entirely uneducated guesses:
- Bottle cages
- Computer & light mounts
- Frame protectors / Bash guards
- Sunglass frames
The Revel Rover Is Still Very Tempting
The Rover is one of a few gravel bikes that has caught my eye recently. It has two of the key features I want in my next gravel bike: great comfort and longer reach to match my mountain bikes (the medium has a 407mm reach!).
Another bike in the running is the newest version of the Santa Cruz Stigmata, which Keegan Swenson used to win last year’s Life Time Grand Prix overall. Likewise, it’s been designed with longer reach (405mm in medium), but the head angle is also a bit slacker.
Whatever frame I do end up with in the future, a set of more eco-friendly RW23 wheels is highly appealing to me. Whatever I end up with, I hope Revel sticks around because I like their bikes a lot and their wheels even more!
What’s the greenest way to get a gravel bike? Buying a used one that already exists!
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Want to keep your carbon bike on the road/trail and out of the landfill? We buy bikes too!
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