Silca acquires Hirobel, relaunches Frame Clamp repair stand adapter

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Brandon Hirokawa and Marc Bellett invented the Carbon Frame Clamp in 2014 as a way to more gently mount delicate composite frames in repair stands. The adapter clamps in the stand’s jaws as usual, but uses two rubber butterfly yo-yo-shaped discs and a pair of heavy-duty rubber straps to secure the frame instead of the clamp itself. In addition to minimizing the chance of frame damage, the Frame Clamp also accommodates many frames that can’t otherwise be clamped by more conventional means.

The concept was sound — I’m a big fan of the product, in fact — but with a US$250 retail price and minimal funds to get its message out, Hirobel has always been fighting an uphill battle for adoption.

However, Silca owner Josh Poertner also saw the potential, and he’s now announced that Silca has purchased Hirobel.

“Last year, we were working on a bike work stand design and I had designed an articulating clamp with flexible pads, sort of like a windshield wiper,” Poertner said. “After a couple of versions, I realized that it just made more sense and was more stable to hold the bike at the tube junctions using circumferential pressure rather than a linear clamping force, so we scrapped the whole thing and bought the company.”

The Silca/Hirobel Carbon Frame Clamp looks quite basic, but there’s very sound thinking behind its design.

Silca has already refined the product with repositionable machine tool clamp handles (instead of the quick-release levers Hirobel has been using), and 3D-printed end caps in place of the old silicone rubber plugs. The price has also dropped significantly, from US$250 down to US$185, effective immediately. Silca is maintaining US production (aside from the Italy-sourced clamp handles), but with assembly moved from Cleveland to Indianapolis.

According to Poertner, the main draw of the Frame Clamp concept is how it distributes loads over a much larger portion of the frame relative to traditional repair stands, which typically only clamp bikes at the seatpost. Poertner says it’s a simple matter of leverage: by securing the frame at two points that are spaced far apart, as opposed to a narrow clamp that essentially serves as a point load, the bike becomes more stably fixtured while also requiring less force to do so.

Moreover, Poertner claims that even clamping a bike by the seatpost isn’t always a safe way to go, depending on how delicate the frame is, and how much force is required for a particular repair job. Silca has partnered with Portland-based carbon fiber frame repair specialist Ruckus Composites, who supposedly receives about two frames per week with clamp-related damage of some sort.

The soft cradles and wraparound rubber straps accommodate a wide range of frame shapes without creating undue pressure.

“Looking at some of the stuff we’re doing with Ruckus Composites, and looking at some of the failures they’ve seen, even clamping the bike rigidly on a seatpost and knocking a bottom bracket out is a hell of a way to break a seat tube,” Poertner said.

“All the major brands have strict no-clamping rules for their pro mechanics,” he continued. “When you think about it, damage caused by compression damages the inside of the lay-up first; that’s where you get the initial delamination or fiber breakage. The brands see that as a huge risk that you could have a mechanic damaging a bike slowly over time, over and over again. Every one of those bikes gets thrown in the stand and cleaned and adjusted every day. That was a data point that really solidified the Hirobel concept in my head. We all know it’s a problem, we know all the brands say not to do it, and then to hear the pro mechanics say they could be fired for doing it, for me, that was just building the mental picture that [Hirobel] was on to something with this thing.”

Granted, that “no-clamping” rule is specific to race mechanics and the world of professional road racing, but the fact that it exists at all, even in that niche environment, still provides plenty of food for thought.

Either way, where Silca takes the Frame Clamp concept from here is subject to speculation, but it seems safe to say that this subtle refresh on Hirobel’s original design is just an interim update for a more comprehensive redesign in the future. Or perhaps there’s even a complete repair stand in the works? We’ll have to wait and see.

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