Factory Tour: Inside Ciamillo’s Carbon Fiber/Alloy Brake Workshop – Plus Gravitas Cranks Closeup!
Ted Ciamillo is an interesting guy. He’s built a business around incredibly lightweight road bike brakes, has been teasing a radical (and radically light) carbon-fiber-and-alloy crankset and dreams of pedaling a one-man submersible across the Atlantic Ocean solo.
Fortunately, on our way home from visiting LH Thomson, he opened his doors to us and showed us how he makes the feathery parts. And his sub. We also took the opportunity to talk about the new Gravitas crankset in great detail, as well as see parts for them being machined and assembled.
Before we show you around, Ted let us know he’s updated the Zero G and Gravitas brakes to -wait for it- make them lighter!
As of mid January, the brakes get a new Delrin cable housing insert to replace the barrel adjuster (both versions shown above). Ciamillo’s brakes are designed to use various pad carrier heights with spherical spacer washers to accommodate different rim widths. Before, you could take up the slack using the barrel, but that would pull through as much as 40% of the brakes’ movement, which means you wouldn’t have the intended power at the end of the stroke, nor use the cam’s leverage as designed.
The carbon fiber Gravitas comes with the washer and both standard and super low profile pad cradles. The Zero G comes with the washers and either standard or low-pro pad cradles, customer’s choice. If you needed extra, a four pack of cradles with hardware is $93. The washer allows for a “middle” setting, and the low profile carrier is made with today’s wider rims in mind.
Another change is that the quick release lever is now aluminum. They were originally Ti, then they went to stainless steel, and now they’re alloy. This saved five grams for the brakeset, and now they can be anodized to match the arms. The Delrin stops dropped another gram.
UPDATE: The photo at the top of the post is the production version with color-matched quick release and cable stop. Directly above, the front brake shows a prototype Delrin cable stop and unfinished alloy QR lever. The carbon Gravitas brakes will keep the threaded alloy cable barrel adjuster for now, but we’re thinking a redesign on that isn’t too far off.
Now for a little tour…
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Ciamillo’s workshop is tucked away, just north of Athens, GA, and all but hidden from view. In fact, we drove down the access road once, turning around just feet from his driveway, before calling him and learning that we really did need to go right up to the barriers, then make a sharp left. Behind a cemetery. His building, which he and his employees built using a chainsaw and hard work, is nothing short of amazing. Massive (and heavy!) doors open wide to reveal work tables down the center, flanked by rows of cutting machines and other heavy equipment.
A giant fireplace sits in the middle for heat in the winter, and a Big Ass Fan covers the cooling in the summer. This is a dream workshop.
MAKING THE ZERO G ALLOY BRAKES
GSL alloy brakes start out as a six foot blank sheet of 3/4″ 7075 aluminum. The row on the right show how the arms are cut out in a series (foreground), and finished parts are lined up for inspection. They produce nine complete sets per day on average.
The arms are made on one machine, another makes the pad carriers and cams, and a third makes the quick releases. Once all the parts are cut, they go to a tumbler to remove any burrs.
After that, they go to a de-ox tank to remove any oils or residues. Cleaned parts have a very matte finish, shown above in bins waiting to go into their anodization tank (for red or black). If ordered white or a custom color, they’ll then move on to the powdercoating booth. They anodize under the powdercoat to make it stick long term, and it also helps maintain appearances if the paint gets chipped. It only adds about a gram per brake (we weighed them).
Then they move to assembly. Above, all the parts that become a Zero G.
Just some of the custom color options. Ciamillo keeps a few on hand for quicker turnaround of custom orders. He also said if a customer calls and needs something quickly, he can offer them different colors that are on hand if time is more important than exact cosmetics. Standard colors are Black, Red and White Powdercoat.
…AND THE CARBON FIBER GRAVITAS BRAKES
Carbon fiber comes in a 4′ wide roll. They stack it five layers thick and cut to shape using a cookie cutter like stamp inside a press capable of tremendous pressure. The cut pieces are then put into molds, then put back into the same press, but this time it’s heated, doubling as an oven to cure the parts into a single piece…not unlike how Argonaut makes their dropout sections.
After cooling, it’s a molded part ready for finishing. The arms are machined in the same machine that makes the pad carriers. At left, you can see blanks fresh out of the mold sitting next one that’s already been machined.
Then it’s polished, waxed and assembled. The UV protection is actually in the resin, so no clear coat is necessary. The side benefit is that you can buff out out small scratches and wax them yourself if you’re that type of person.
Custom color (red and blue shown at bottom) is available on the carbon with an automotive finish and process, but Ted says he hates doing it.
They can make about five sets of Gravitas brakes per day.
THE SCOOP ON GRAVITAS CRANKS
Ted’s being tight lipped on the process for making the very unique Gravitas cranks. They’re already shipping early units, but that’s still considered testing. Ted says he wants to get about 100 sets on the road for at least six months before giving up too many production details.
However, based on comments on recent posts, there were a couple of points we made sure to cover. Namely, shear points and torsional flex from the axle to the pedal spindle. Here’s what Ted had to say on both:
Shear: “There’s sufficient amount of relieving of the corners to prevent sharp stresses where the carbon tubes meet the alloy sections. It would fail elsewhere before it would fail there, but suffice to say it’s engineered to withstand a much higher load than it’s ever going to experience in real world conditions.”
Torsion: “The torsional load is being distributed not through the bonding of the carbon tubes to the alloy, but on the hollow pins that keep the carbon tubes from breaking loose and rotating. They’re engineered specifically for this purpose by a company that specializes in carbon tubes. In order to have the pedal flex the crank arm torsionally, you’d essentially have to bend the top tube in one direction, the bottom in the other direction and twist the middle one.”
With Ted’s blessing (and a smirk), I put all my muscle into trying to bend one and barely (barely!!!) budged it, and I had about three times the length (leverage) to pull on compared to what will be on the cranks…which will have three of them.
Ted: “I’m not saying the design is perfect. And I’m not saying we won’t have any problems in the future. But the great thing is there’s modularity built into the design. If it proves not to be stiff enough, we can simply make the tubes incrementally thicker or larger in diameter, which will have an exponential effect on strength and stiffness.”
And speaking of stiffness, Ted says it’s already stiffer than Rotor’s 3D+ cranks, but he has yet to benchmark it against a couple of others to ensure it’s the stiffest crank on the market. All testing will be done by a third party, and he’ll send us the results as soon as he gets them.
Mmmm… more pictures!
On the left, a spider getting machined down from the blanks, visible in the image on the right before being milled down to almost nothing! From the looks of things, they’re well beyond the vaporware stage.
THE SUBHUMAN PROJECT
With all the work going into the crankset, Ted’s dreams of one day piloting and powering a one-man submersible of his own design have been put on hold. That doesn’t mean he’s stopped thinking about it.
Shown above with the Rumorlets using it as a playground is the first version, which Ted says was too big and too heavy. It was a wet sub, and all supplies were carried in the rear. It’s human powered, using levers pushed by the legs to flap fins on the side, propelling it like a penguin. Filled with water, it was equivalent to 6,000 pounds, which was easily overpowering the pilot with tides and winds.
A metal frame was surrounded by a dense foam to add buoyancy. Inside, a carbon fiber seat looked like little more than a long, bent skateboard deck. This one was so large in order to accommodate a lot of air canisters.
The goal is to cross the Atlantic. At night, he’d bring it up until the top bit was above water, then construct a platform for a small tent.
The 2nd generation is about half the size and much, much lighter. One half of it is shown here (with a proud Ted) on it’s side. It’ll be much more enclosed, with just Ted’s head sticking out. To save weight and size, he’ll use a snorkel and remain just below the surface, coming up periodically, and diving down for short bits of exploration. Like a whale…which he expects to see quite a few of. If things go as planned, work will resume on this project later in the year.
Behind his workshop is a man-made pond that’s 20+ feet deep. Good for swimming in the summer…and testing submersibles.
Other fun contraptions littered the back corner of the office, where all of the Subhuman project seemed to live.
Big thanks to Ted and his crew for showing us around!