Composites are found in products used in 7 of the 10 most popular outdoor sports and recreational activities. Glass- and carbon-reinforced composites (alone or in hybrids with other fibers) continue to replace wood and metal in skis, fishing rods, bowling balls, tennis racquets, spars/shafts for kayak paddles, windsurfing masts and boards, hockey sticks, kites and bicycle handlebars, as well as in niche applications, such as fairings for recumbent bikes. Market research firm Lucintel (Las Colinas, Texas) estimates that the global sporting goods industry, at retail, is worth $5 trillion and brings in $110 billion per year in the U.S. alone.
Although carbon fiber has a strong position in this segment — sporting goods manufacturers capitalize on carbon fiber for performance and cosmetics in an ever greater variety of applications — Lucintel maintains that use of carbon fiber in the worldwide sporting goods market could see its lowest growth rate during the next five years, in terms of dollar shipment. That said, this market is expected to reach $3.0 billion in 2018 from $1.8 billion in 2013. Notably, The sporting goods segment in China, which is projected by Lucintel in Growth Opportunities in China Carbon Fiber Market 2013-2018 to reach $408 million by 2018, and will consume more carbon fiber (51 percent of the total) than China’s aerospace and industrial segments combined.
Among the many applications, two are recent standouts. Ottobock HealthCare (Berlin Germany and Salt Lake City, Utah) uses Cytec Industrial Materials’ (formerly Umeco, Heanor, Derbyshire, U.K.) VTM264 unidirectional carbon fiber-reinforced epoxy resin prepregs to manufacture prosthetic limbs (blades) for use by amputee runners around the world. Woven prepreg is being used for the upper section of the prosthetic, and unidirectional prepreg is being used to manufacture the blade section.
And for more two decades, carbon fiber has been the choice for lightweight bike frames in the bicycle-racing world. But carbon composites also migrated into the consumer market. Kestrel USA (Philadelphia, Pa.) minted first-ever production carbon fiber bike frame (1986) and first all-carbon mountain bike frame in 1988. In 2004, the company unveiled a new version of its Talon SL road bike. At $3,699, it wasn’t cheap, but its frame weighs in at an astonishingly low 2.4 lb, light even by carbon fiber standards. Belgium-based Museeuw Bikes has combined carbon fiber and flax in its MF -5 frame. And the Lamiflex Group (Bergamo, Italy) was contacted in 2009 by the Milan, Italy-based design house Luca Schieppati to help develop the carbon composite Ciclotte, a striking stationary exercise bicycle. Trek, Cannondale, and many other well-known names offer carbon fiber bikes. In 2012, automaker Audi (Reifnitz, Austria) got into the act, launching the Audi e-bike Wörthersee. The prototype cycle combines an electric drive (capable of 50 mph/80 kmh) and a carbon fiber frame. In 2013, Kemo Bikes (Zug, Switzerland) showcased a new range of road bikes at the Eurobike show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, for the first time. The top-of-the-line frame, model KE-R8 5KS, is built using TeXtreme Spread Tow carbon fabrics, supplied by Oxeon AB (Borås, Sweden). By using spread-two technology, Kemo has produced a frame that reportedly weighs just 759g. And Grenchen, Switzerland-based Bicycle Manufacturing Co. produces a carbon fiber frame with a uniquely high level of automation and process control, the impec, using a unique radial braiding technology, developed by August Herzog Maschinenfabrik GmbH & Co. KG (Oldenburg, Germany).