Duncan McCann from United Wheels

“Carbon fibre is a dark cloud hanging over the cycle industry and it is our responsibility to do something about it”

While cycling is a green mode of transport, bike production may be lagging behind on sustainability. Duncan McCann, IBD Manager for United Wheels, is on a drive to reshape the cycle industry’s relationship with carbon

This piece first appeared in the June edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Can you talk us through the idea for a carbon recycling project?
Currently carbon fibre is not ‘recyclable’ as we class other materials. It has a high impact on the environment, specifically in production – basically great for bikes but horrible for the planet. Doing some research on this, there are a few companies who can ‘repurpose’ carbon fibre. This is basically melting out the resin and stripping it back to the raw fibres.

These can be then reworked into non-structural items such as car fenders, aeroplane seat backs, even sunglasses frames. I contacted Gen 2, a carbon repurpose facility in the UK, and I learned firstly that carbon has to be a certain quality to be worked on, so this narrows down the process to the higher end of the bike market.

Secondly they will not do anything less than tonnage. Obviously this is more than one brand or person can do as failure rates on high-end bikes are very low. The only way for this to work is if the whole (or a large proportion) of the industry works together.

What was the inspiration behind idea?
I have worked as a consultant with a number of high-end bike brands over the years and it’s always been a question in the back of my mind what happens to the cut off carbon from the process, and more importantly to the bikes once they are at the end of their life or damaged.

Things are clearly changing for the better, and with companies like Vaast, who not only use a more environmentally-friendly magnesium frame, but have 100% plastic-free packaging. Carbon fibre is a dark cloud hanging over the cycle industry and it is our responsibility to do something about it.

What needs to happen to make this an industry-wide initiative?
Good question, I don’t mind doing some of the leg work, but we need someone to really get hold of this and run with it, an industry association or something along those lines. We will have to talk numbers with the brands as well as quality of the carbon and that can be a sensitive subject, so an association that’s more neutral would be easier to work with.

The next step is to try to get as many people to agree in principle and to try to get some volume potential. The end goal is to have everyone in the industry signed up – from manufacturers to shops, then start organising pick up points.

What has the feedback been like so far from the industry?
The feedback from the industry so far has been amazing and it makes complete sense to everyone who I talk to about it, and not just as a ‘marketing’ exercise, but a true heartfelt desire to change things. Currently we have Niner, YT Industries UK, and PYGA Mountain Bikes ready to start, although we need more to get to the critical mass where the carbon repurposing companies will accept the volume they require to talk with us seriously.

We need to go to these guys as an industry and try to get everyone we can involved – this isn’t about who has the best geo, or what’s the best DH bike, it’s about us all working together for our kids!

If you’d like to learn more, contact Duncan on dmccann@unitedwheels.eu

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