“My 1972 Line Seeker CF bike.
Pretty much the first CF bikes ever sold in the market, and this particular one was number 22 of a small batch hand built at home by the engineer who designed it (Larry Blake). If the bike looks familiar, it was the direct pre-cursor of the Exxon Graftek. The Engineer who built this Line Seeker, sold the design to Exxon for them to build and market it (with later modifications) as their bike.”
“I used to work for Graftek from 1976 to 1979 in the R&D group, including some work on the bikes.”
“Our facility was located in South Plainfield, NJ, and that was where the bikes were first built until the facility was closed down in 1978. Towards the end of production in NJ, I was the painter of choice for those. I had good experience painting cars as a hobby, and they were not having good luck with the finish coming out of the electrostatic paint room, which was also used for the fishing rods and golf clubs.”
“We were using DuPont Imron clear coat on the tennis rackets, so they asked me to try a few bikes and see how they came out. The polyurethane turned out to have a great “wet” look, but that ended up getting me into the painting business once a week rather then R&D work.”
“The Graftek carbon fiber tubes were actually an aluminum-carbon fiber hybrid. The epoxy impregnated pre-preg was cut and rolled onto the tubes in the proper fiber orientation to the individual tubes best intent. Because the aluminum tube could carry the “torque”, the fibers could be at a 10 to 15° angle to provide maximum stiffness. This Al-CF sandwich was wrapped with Tedlar tape under tension to compress the composite, then the tubes were put into an oven for curing. The tubes were then unwrapped after full cure, and run through a wet sanding station to provide a smooth surface.”
“The lugs and dropouts were made on site, brazed together. They were then send out to a plater for polishing. Upon returning, the inside of the lugs / dropouts were bead blasted. Both the ends of the corresponding tubes, the lugs and dropouts were coated with epoxy, then assembled in a holding fixture. The entire fixture would then go back into the oven for curing. A little cleanup followed, and they were ready for paint and decals.”
“I can’t remember if they were making forks at the facility at that time, but one of the projects we were working on was carbon fiber covered forks. They were not true C-F as in terms of the tubes, but were covered to look like they were. I do not believe any of those make it into production.*”
“The South Plainfield site closed at the end of 1978 due to union issues there in NJ. Sporting goods got broken up between CA and FL.”
* Editor’s note: These frames were actually shipped (at some point late in the production) with chromed forks made with Columbus steel tubing, Haden cast crowns, that were wrapped in the top section with a thin carbon fiber fabric layer. At the time, those of us who sold these, considered the carbon wrap to be mostly cosmetic, carrying the “carbon theme” forward for marketing purposes.
“The very earliest Exxon Graftek’s (…including all pre-production Exxon-Cool Gear official team bikes from 1976) actually incorporated a modified version of the Campagnolo 1010 rear dropout (…see attached photograph for comparative differences) as well as distinctive stainless steel lugs that were rendered in unpolished matte finish form.”
“However, by the time the frameset made it into full fledged production in 1977, the folks at Exxon Graftek had designed their own dropouts to go along with the rest of the proprietary lugset, which in turn, were then provisioned in highly polished stainless steel form excepting the bottom bracket shell itself which was chrome plated ferrous metal.”
“Also for whatever it may be worth, whereas early examples of Exxon Graftek bicycles were offered having a fully chromed front fork, mid way through 1977 they announced an ‘optional’ carbon fiber front fork which was to ultimately be made available for purchase at extra cost coincident to model year 1978 in late 1977 (…Exxon-Cool Gear team bikes in the latter half of 1977 actually had their standard all chrome front fork painted black excepting its crown and dropouts so as to mimic the forthcoming carbonized version…)”