Factory Tour: Predator Cycles’ Carbon Repair, Frame and Component Workshop

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber workshop for bicycle frames repairs and component manufacturing

Predator Cycles first came to our attention at NAHBS last year thanks to their gargantuan The Major one-piece carbon fiber road bike stem and handlebar. So, when some extra time presented itself at LAX, founder Aram Goganian picked me up for a quick tour and legit burrito (thanks man!).

Predator Cycles is a small carbon repair shop that also makes frames and the aforementioned bar/stem combo. A mountain bike version of it debuted recently, too.

Aram got into carbon fiber working on parts for cars around 2003-4 at the end of high school. He continued messing with composites, but only for his work with another company. When his noncompete ran out in 2010, he immediately sold all remaining alloy tubes, parts and tools and switched Predator to 100% carbon fiber. While he says it may not have been the best short term business move, it’s paid off now with a booming carbon repair business…

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber workshop for bicycle frames repairs and component manufacturing

The shop’s pretty small, with a good portion of it dedicated to office space, bike storage and a basic fit setup. All the carbon repair and building is done in the back.

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber workshop for bicycle frames repairs and component manufacturing

A homebrewed vacuum system keeps dust at bay. While there’s a lot of stuff laying around and the system ain’t much to look at, there was less of a dust film here than in some major brands’ factories we’ve seen. DIY FTW!

Predator Cycles factory tour - original alloy and steel frames

Aram started building bikes when he was 14 after wondering aloud how hard it could be to make a TT bike and someone suggested he try. It was, he admits, a hot mess of tig welded aluminum. It’s been reprinted and fixed up a bit since, but it’s still rideable 13 years later.

Predator Cycles factory tour - original alloy and steel frames

Several of his early frames still hang on the wall, along with a few other prizes like a purple Zipp triathlon frame. Now, though, it’s all carbon.

Predator Cycles factory tour - raw carbon fiber and kevlar

For complete bikes, some of their tubes are made by ENVE, the others are made custom in house on their own mandrels. They’re getting their mandrels coated in Teflon to make the tubes easier to remove, which should reduce errors and waste, and they’re starting to make headtubes and bottom brackets in house, too.

Predator Cycles factory tour - aero tube prototype

And they’re working on an aero tubeset, which is being developed for a new frame that’ll be their first bike that’s made with tubes and parts made 100% in house.

The goal is a complete monocoque frame with seatmast will be under 800g for the track version. A TT road version will be slightly heavier because of the added cable stops and such. It’s still in development, but price (keeping in mind it’s full custom) will be around $10,000 to $12,000. Aram says it should produce a “13 pound track frame bike that’s stiffer than God Almighty. Why? Because we can. And because it’ll be cool.”

They’ll also offer a tube to tube version that won’t be quite so expensive…closer to their $3,995 price tag for a full custom road bike frame.

Predator Cycles factory tour - raw carbon fiber and kevlar

Carbon spools are high mod (pink) and ultra high (92) in the foreground, standard mod in the background. The UHM is used when they make their own tubes, but has to be “comforted” with standard mod to make it practical for use. Aram says it’s like glass, very stiff and strong, but one good impact and it’ll shatter. So, it’s mainly used where there’s a lot of static load, like at the bottom bracket and headtube.

Predator Cycles factory tour - raw carbon fiber and kevlar

Colored Kevlar is an upgrade option for The Majors. Aram says it’s a $150 up charge not only because of material costs but also because it’s really, really hard to cut and work with.

Predator Cycles factory tour - raw carbon fiber and kevlar

They’re working on their own full carbon and carbon/Kevlar dropouts and will have disc brake placements outside the rear triangle. Aram Goganian says putting them inside the rear triangle as shown on the ‘cross bike prototype further down creates a lot of fit and clearance issues with all the custom angles and geometries they deal with.

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber bicycle repair

The bulk of his business is carbon repairs. Part of that is actually repairing bikes that the owner wants to keep, like the ones shown immediately below. The Cannondale in this box came off a roof rack at 70mph then got hit by another car. They’ll be putting it back together and raced by Daniel Ramsey to show how well their repaired bikes hold up. More on that in a minute…

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber bicycle repair

Smaller frame cracks and dings are more common. Carbon repairs start at $180, and small cracks go from their up to about $300. Cracks that go all the way around are about $350, and pieces missing from the frame begin around $400 and go up from there. A form on their website will let you submit photos and give you an estimate via email. Repairs usually take about two to three weeks. They’ll do wheel repairs, too, as long as its not on the braking surface.

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber bicycle repair

Depending on the repair, up to 80% of the paint may need to be removed. Once it’s all fixed up, they’ll send it to one of three different places for paint.

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber bicycle repair

Even when not covered in paint, a fresh clear coat makes it hard to tell anything ever happened.

Predator Cycles factory tour - repaired carbon fiber road bikes

The other part of the repair business is a round about way of team support. If a frame’s owner is ready to just get a new one, Aram will take the old frame, refurbish it and put it under a racer. The Orbea repair (above) had a small crack in the downtube near the BB.

Predator Cycles factory tour - repaired carbon fiber road bikes

This Cannondale had a completely smashed seatstay.

Predator Cycles factory tour - repaired carbon fiber road bikes

Aram is a big supporter of racing, sponsoring a full team with travel support and much more, including bikes. He’s got Emile Abraham, Cody O’Reilly, Kirk Carlson and Cesar Grajales racing Carbon Repair frames. And “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez is racing on The Major handlebars.

Predator Cycles factory tour - repaired carbon fiber road bikes

A glossy coat of paint makes it look just like new, and if it can hold up to those guys’ efforts, his repairs can most likely handle anything you or I are like to pump out.

Predator Cycles factory tour - The Major one-piece carbon fiber handlebar and stem combo

The Major handlebars start off with an FSA OS99 stem with the bolt heads at the face cut off. Handlebar is placed and set into position, then fixed into a jig and the remaining front portion of the stem is cut off. Depending on stem length, about 1.5″ to 2″ of stem is left sticking out from the steerer tube clamp. Next, a 3/32″ layer of fiberglass is wrapped and bonded around the alloy stem. This is to insulate the carbon and alloy from interacting with each other. The two materials can trade electrons, which will cause delamination, so this sets it up for solid, long term durability. Then a Kevlar structure is built to connect the bar and stem stub. This gives it really good impact strength and kills vibration. Originally, it was a full carbon fiber build, but riders said it was too stiff and transmitted to much vibration, causing hands to go numb occasionally. The Kevlar fixed that while only adding about 15 grams. Aram likens the material to steel – it’s strong and has a lively feel, but it needs something else to make it ride right.

Predator Cycles factory tour - The Major one-piece carbon fiber handlebar and stem combo

So, after the Kevlar, it’s wrapped in carbon to make it stiff and snappy. At this point, it looks like a “T” and the handlebar and stem are one piece. It’s then vacuum cured for 24 hours, at which point is it’s a rideable unit. But it’s not done yet.

Lastly, they put foam forms on and wrap the large triangular gussett on it to make it insanely stiff. It’s between three and six layers of full carbon fiber, sometimes with a quasi-aesthetic carbon Kevlar outer layer, depending on the customer’s riding style and preferences (and budget, as mentioned). Once it’s vacuum cured, the internal forms are dissolved, leaving a hollow section. Then it’s heat cured at 180° for six hours, which discolors the resin a bit, so it’s then given a final cosmetic layer.

Predator Cycles factory tour - The Major one-piece carbon fiber handlebar and stem combo

The work with dry carbon fiber only, using a wet layup when they add the resin. This is done rather than prepreg because prepreg would require much hotter cure temperatures, which could damage the already cured carbon handlebar. Frame repairs are air cured only because any additional heat could weaken the frame and crack or yellow the clearcoat.

Predator Cycles factory tour - The Major one-piece carbon fiber handlebar and stem combo

The mountain bike Major doesn’t get the same massive triangle box section, but keeps with the FSA base parts.

Predator Cycles factory tour - The Major one-piece carbon fiber handlebar and stem combo

Predator Cycles factory tour - The Major one-piece carbon fiber aero handlebars

The Aerodinamico is their TT version for triathletes and time trialists. At $999.95, it’s on the high end of what a carbon aero bar and extensions set would cost, but it’s built full custom just for you.

Predator Cycles factory tour - The Major one-piece carbon fiber aero handlebars

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber frame pump holsters

Before we get to the custom frames, it’s worth showing a few other goodies. Seems everyone that knows how to work with carbon fiber likes to tinker with it and make simple things out of carbon. Like frame pump holders…

Predator Cycles factory tour - carbon fiber espresso cups

…and espresso cups and saucers.

Predator Cycles factory tour - disc brake cyclocross bike prototype

Aram had built a disc brake version of their road bike in 2012, but this cyclocross prototype took on a few design cues specifically for the grass, mud and snow.

Predator Cycles factory tour - disc brake cyclocross bike prototype

A small cutaway gets the rear tire up close for snappy handling. May not allow for as much compliance, but that can always be built into the seat mast, right? Up front is a tapered head tube with ENVE’s CX disc fork.

Predator Cycles factory tour - disc brake cyclocross bike prototype

Any of their frames can be made for mechanical or Di2 routing, and this one’s ISP (integrated seat post, aka ‘seat mast’) was made to hold Shimano’s internal seat post battery.

Predator Cycles factory tour - disc brake cyclocross bike prototype

Lower set seatstays without a brake bridge should provide a bit more compliance, but the shorter overall length should help with lateral stiffness.

Predator Cycles factory tour - disc brake cyclocross bike prototype

Predator Cycles factory tour - disc brake cyclocross bike prototype

Huge thanks to Aram for showing me around and saving me from waiting around the airport between trips! Keep up the good work.

PredatorCycling.com

Comments

Collin - 01/02/14 - 4:21pm

I’m pretty sure the quote: “13 pound track frame that’s stiffer than God Almighty. Why? Because we can. And because it’ll be cool.” was quoted wrong. I would think that a track frame costing 10K would weigh a little less than 13lbs. I think that should be BIKE not frame.

drider - 01/02/14 - 4:35pm

Agreed w/Collin, my $1000 aluminum track bike with decent-but-nothing-special parts selection just barely clears 15lb; the entire bike with tubs glued on.

1Pro - 01/02/14 - 5:28pm

to a 2200 watt world class match sprinter, 13lb is a light bike.

can someone from predator qualify HM and UHM claims with real modulus values? the bike industry is long on claims of UH and VH and all that when often they are talking about sub 45 MSI material.

velorider - 01/02/14 - 5:44pm

I should call my garage a factory and offer tours.

DowningK - 01/02/14 - 6:40pm

Great writeup. Aram is a good guy and the carbon repair is fantastic. This is a good bunch of dudes

Ventruck - 01/02/14 - 7:32pm

I first took noticed of their bars under Rahsaan Bahati. Cool piece but pricey stuff, as is with most that is custom.

Dan - 01/02/14 - 7:41pm

There surely is a typo in the article. There would never be a frame that weighs 13 pounds (for a track or road bike).
As for the carbon repair that Predator does, they are the best in the business. I have had 3 repairs done by them and all of the repairs have been perfect! I have put over 30,000 miles over the past 3 years on my repaired bicycles.

ginsu - 01/02/14 - 7:46pm

I hope the carbon is stored in a climate controlled refrigerated chamber, because it will have very negative consequences it if not. That’s how we’ve gotten tons of free prepreg for our racecar at my University…of course, we don’t care because we aren’t selling the car to anybody.

Dan - 01/02/14 - 8:07pm

Hey Ginsu, why would carbon need to be in a climate controlled environment? Is it unstable at normal ambient temperatures?
Should I not ride my bike if it’s too cold or hot?
I have never seen carbon in any sort of refrigerator. I’m assuming that formula 1 cars that have hot engines running and they have carbon fiber rotors which heat up to thousands of degrees should be kept in a fridge too.
Please elaborate.

greg - 01/02/14 - 8:07pm

ginsu,
it’s dry fiber. it’s stated in the article that they dont use prepreg, so no need to refrigerate.

mudrock - 01/02/14 - 9:02pm

Man you guys get worked up over typos. He obviously isn’t making 13 lb. frames.

LD - 01/02/14 - 9:50pm

the whole one piece handlebars/stem setup is soooooo redundant. I can get amazing one piece setups with warranty and testing for less than a 100$. Sometimes custom is so unnecessary.

Tyler Benedict - 01/02/14 - 10:13pm

Ginsu – Greg’s correct, it’s dry carbon, so no need to keep it cool.

Dan – prepreg does need to be refrigerated because at room temp, the resin that’s pre-impregnated (hence the name) will start to cure. The heat they’re subjected to in the presses cure it much faster, and the pressure from the press (or vacuum bagging in this case) simply squeezes out excess resin to save weight and ensures there’s no air bubbles in between carbon layers, which can become weak spots.

All – Yes, the track BIKE will be 13 pounds, not the frame. We’ve also got a pair of The Major road bars in, just not enough time on them yet for a full write up. We did learn they’re tough enough for cyclocross, though! Stay tuned…

Tim A - 01/02/14 - 10:30pm

I know that not everyone needs to be super organized, but am I the only to cringe at the sight of (customers’?) frames underfoot and the vacuum curing of bar/stem combos on the floor? Given the kind of money that’s being spent, a few hooks and some tidy bench space would be a little more reassuring.

Steve - 01/02/14 - 11:29pm

This guy is a fabricator, not an engineer. Keep that in mind when drinking from one of his carbon fiber espresso cups, or riding an “insanely stiff” Predator handlebar.

ginsu - 01/02/14 - 11:42pm

Thanks for the responses guys…learning more every day.

@Dan, actually yes carbon materials are very temperature sensitive because of the epoxy filler. You do lose frame stiffness when left out in the sun in hot environments as the epoxy resin of typical composite laminates begins to soften around 200 degrees. F1 uses a high-temp carbon fiber near exhaust ducting:

“These new composite materials, marketed under the PyroSic® and PyroKarb™ names, are based on proprietary glass-ceramic matrix systems reinforced with silicon carbide or carbon fibers. Thanks to the use of advanced inorganic polymers, they are processed at low temperatures with the same techniques and tooling as those used for conventional carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). Yet, they also offer a much improved resistance to heat and fire, as they retain good mechanical properties at temperatures for which CFRP cannot even be considered (typically, up to 1000°C/1800°F).”

Did some research and you guys are right about dry carbon vs. prepreg storage:

“Prepregs should be stored as received in a cool dry place or in a refrigerator. After removal from refrigerator storage, prepreg should be allowed to reach room temperature before opening the polyethylene bag, thus preventing condensation (a full reel in its packaging can take up to 48 hours). Typically prepregs have a guaranteed shelf life at – 18 ºC of 12 months. Tack life at 23 ºC depends on the matrix, and is clearly defined on the relevant Product Data Sheet.”

Kyle - 01/04/14 - 4:54am

I certainly appreciate the work and effort that this skilled gentlemen puts into his frames and components.

In terms of actual end product, I don’t think they can be as refined as what others companies are offering that have access to more advanced deigning and facilitates.

compositepro - 01/04/14 - 6:56am

im not sure wether your pulling your information from one of the forums but i can tell you from experience main engine bay covers were nothing fancy we used epoxies and BMI which will sit quite happily at 450deg c all day long in fact in the early days we also used ablatives which would burn off ,spray coatings such as zircotec as thermal barriers are now routinely sprayed in high temperature areas with frontside temperatures of over 1200 degrees c and backside temperatures ranging from ambient to slightly elevated

Pyromerals product was experimented with for actual exhaust headers ,theres a reason
inconel exhausts are common ,they are lighter and more fatigue heat resistant

mike creed - 01/04/14 - 10:56am

Aram has made me a few bikes. And they were great! It’s been cool to watch him and his business grow.

Veganpotter - 01/04/14 - 9:06pm

I’m sorry but the craftsmanship really looks terrible on the bars you make. I’ve seen your repairs first hand and they rival Calfee which says a lot but the handlebars look junky and the fact that you’re basically just gluing a bar to an FSA stem shows just that. A Calfee bar is built to a higher standard. It really looks like these parts are assembled with as much resin as needed to get the carbon to hold together. Yes…I have seen multiple Predator bikes in person as well as the bar/stem combo. Your bikes are a 7/10 but at least your repairs at a 10/10.

Dr. Badtouch - 01/08/14 - 2:51pm

@Tyler – Sorry, but you have your terminology confused: Dry carbon IS prepreg sheet. The term “dry” actually refers to the process, not the material. As in “there’s no additional wetting of the material with epoxy during layup.” Dry fiber is the more accurate term for the raw material.

Dr. Badtouch - 01/08/14 - 2:54pm

Also, what’s with that horrible tumor in front of the drive-side dropout on the cross bike?

bike pro - 01/08/14 - 4:03pm

Looks like a bunch or resin mashed together. Almost like cutting a bar and stem and wrapping with duct tape and calling it your new bar/stem combo, which is pretty much what this guy is doing. This guy is doing what any local fabricating shop can do just wrapping carbon fiber and resin together and saying your bike is fixed. It might not break but I would like to know how much your bike gained weight when it is fixed?

With the cost of the repairs I would rather just save my money and by new engineered bike, without all the resin/carbon/aluminum mash up.

pappap - 02/22/14 - 10:31am

I have known Aram since before he started Predator so I have seen the whole process evolve. Calling Aram a fabricator is true, but it leaves out a great deal, as he is a brilliant inventor, and a talented designer. Aram is all about functionality, so if you haven’t ridden it or tested it by actual use, you should, you may be surprised – I was! Aram’s mantra pretty much sums it up “think lighter, think stronger, think faster, think Aram”

barry fyfe - 11/07/14 - 6:33pm

If you look at the process he is not using prepreg. Also there is no such thing as a legal sub 15lb track bike per UCI & USAcyling. They repaired my frame which worked out well but no the best quality as it cracked a month later. Nice guys good article Im pretty sure there last jobs were baristas at starbucks.

Barry Fyfe - 11/07/14 - 8:25pm

I too know the owner and have owned three of his bikes, 2 were aluminum which he was not the fabricator they were built by someone else and one carbon. Aram does have some ideas however both aluminum frames broke fairly quick and the backwards aero-tube felt like it pushed wind, my carbon bike was light but the geometry was off and we had to file the dropout to make the wheel straight. The carbon frame rode decent and cracked twice which they fixed at a minimal price which was nice but the repair craftsmanship was lacking. The nice thing about Aram is he hires other kids his age and for many this is there first job, but this is a double edged sword because it shows in there work. For the money most out of the box bikes are better designed

Aram should have stayed in school to get a degree in engineering or at least hire an engineer. IMHO the lack of real world experience shines through mostly in there repairs and the bars, when they inspected my frame they tapped on the whole frame with a coin looking for cracks, this is bush league and again the lack of real world experience shows. There are many ways to inspect carbon and tapping is none of them.

If you are looking for a custom frame that is light and rides ok there frames work fine but they are on the same price level as Parlee & Alchemy. What you do get is a personal relationship with the builder. There repairs are nothing more then a surfboard repair along with all the other repair companies in the LA area. IMHO this repair industry is lacking knowledge and experience, most of the LA carbon repair company’s are bush league and not much better then a DIY. Coming from aerospace for 20 years a glorified surfboard repair is all you get with most of these company’s.

BTW-they do not use pre-preg, all of there work is wet lay up.(like a surfboard)

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