FAIRMAT sporting goods

7 Sporting Goods where Carbon Fiber is making the winning difference

Carbon fiber or carbon fiber composite has a handful (think giant hands) of sporting goods applications so far. Even so, it is undoubtedly the material believed to be outdoing ‘nature’ in terms of athletic performance.

Human limits can only be pushed so far, but material science seems to go far and above.  


This article explores the use of carbon fiber in a range of sports and their equipment, as detailed below: 

Introduction

In the 1800s, bicycles began as simple structures of two wooden wagon wheels joined by a beam. As years passed, a tube replaced the beam, and spokes lightened the wheels.

Many materials later, in 1992, material innovation led to a breakthrough. A bike frame (eventually used by the then-Olympic champion) was built from carbon fiber composite.

This marks the bicycle’s evolution from being a wooden heavyweight champion to a marvel of lightness and strength, all thanks to carbon fiber. Most sports equipment has followed a similar trajectory. 

This leap in sports technology has stirred discussions around “technological doping,” a term indicating the use of equipment that potentially boosts player performance unfairly.

The transition from traditional wood to advanced composites reflects both a natural evolution in sports and a conscious choice made by players every day.


Sporting brands have rightfully earned investments by creating equipment for those passionate about sports. Simultaneously, regulations are also adapting to keep pace with these technological advancements.

With the limitations of traditional materials overcome by advanced composites, it’s fascinating to witness the consequent changes in sports. Let’s see what exactly changed. 

Carbon Fiber Composite (CFRP) Sporting Goods Properties and Advantages

Picture a player with a racket, a golf club, or a hockey stick. It’s safe to assume that they’d want this equipment to enhance their performance, hold up for a few months, feel easy and comfortable, not be too heavy, be endorsed by their favorite athletes, and perhaps have graphics of their choice.  

A lot of the features above are likely a result of the properties of its material.

Advanced composites replaced conventional ones because they offered more effective and relevant properties. Physical (shape, size, etc.) and mechanical (hardness, elasticity, durability, etc.) properties being the most relevant to sports equipment and athletic performance. 

Carbon fiber composites (CFRPs) are advanced polymer composites where carbon fibers of varying grades (fiber counts) are reinforced in a resin matrix similar to brick and mortar, where bricks are the building blocks and mortar the binding agent. The strength of the resulting material is the result of these two components combined and is greater than either on its own.

Listed below are some of the important carbon fiber composite properties:

  • Sporting goods made from carbon fiber show high specific strength (strength-to-weight ratio) and specific modulus (stiffness-to-weight ratio), about 4 and 3 times, respectively, compared to wood. With that, we have sporting goods with the necessary stiffness (resistance to deformation) but at the lightest possible weight. 
  • CFRPs give designers the freedom to curate user-specific equipment for players of each level. 
  • Carbon fiber sports equipment may also be designed for players’ safety and to avoid injuries. 
  • The stiffness of carbon fiber composites, when optimal, allows for maximum energy return (power generation) and control, which athletes appreciate most. 
  • CFRPs are also fatigue and corrosion-resistant and have a low coefficient of thermal expansion, making them ideal for outdoor and intensive use. 

However, not all sports equipment intends to use carbon fiber material the same way and bring forth the same properties.

Let’s look into how this versatile material conveniently applies itself to different sporting equipment with great success.

Applications of Carbon Fiber Composites in Sporting Goods 

Statistics show that carbon fiber demand for use in sport and leisure was estimated at 15 kt in 2020. According to another report, ‘Carbon Fiber in Sports Equipment Market’ size was valued at USD 330 million in 2021 and is expected to reach USD 529.76 million in 2030. 

The fiber-reinforced composite can be designed as a plate, sheet, or in tubular structures for diverse sports applications: 

  • Multi-layered composite plate-like structures: Skis, surfboards, windsurf, table tennis boards, etc. 
  • Woven composite sheet (flat) structures: Helmets, golf club heads, boat hulls, racket surfaces, etc.
  • Tubular composite structures: Racket shafts for tennis, badminton, fishing rods, hockey sticks, golf clubs, baseball bats, cricket bats, pole shafts, etc. 

(Note: In many applications listed below, carbon fiber composite is more commonly referred to as ‘graphite.’ But depending on the sport vertical, it might be a valid reference or not. An easy way to understand their differences is to think of carbon fiber as a bunch of ribbons, hence fibers of graphite. Generally speaking, carbon fiber is a preferred strength material, and graphite is more economical.)

1 – Carbon Fiber Golf Clubs

  • Carbon fiber golf clubs are believed to lower the weight of golf clubs by 10 to 40%. 
  • A golf club has 3 distinct parts: a shaft, club head, and grip. 
  • The club’s shaft is usually made of steel or graphite (in golf terminology, carbon fiber composite is often used interchangeably with graphite.) 
  • Most drivers, fairway woods, and hybrids (types of clubs) have ​carbon fiber composite shafts. Irons (also a type of club) use steel shafts, and they are heavier than carbon fiber. 
  • Carbon fiber composite is becoming increasingly popular for use in golf club heads, too. A carbon blade in the club’s head offers a bigger sweet spot, making it more forgiving for off-center hits, in turn increasing precision and overall stability during the swing
  • Unlike steel, which is strong in all directions, carbon fiber has directional strength. It can help designers localize strength on the club without adding much weight. 
  • Carbon composite is also a popular golf club choice, because of its versatility, as it gives more options to freely design the club to user specifications.
carbon fiber golf club

2 – Carbon Composite Hockey Sticks

  • Traditionally, hockey sticks made use of wood, which was replaced by materials like aluminum, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and aramid (or Kevlar) composites. 
  • As of today, fiberglass and carbon fiber composites are predominantly used to manufacture hockey sticks. The latter is preferred over fiberglass for its energy return properties in addition to lightweight and stiffness. 
  • Carbon fiber composite in hockey sticks can be easily designed for important hockey stick specifications like varying bends and flexes.

Read more about recycled carbon fiber in hockey sticks.

Carbon fiber hockey stick

3 – Carbon Fiber Composite Rackets

Racket sports are very similar and different from each other. Some use walls, while some use boards. 

But carbon fiber has made its way into almost all kinds of rackets and their parts, like the frame, the surface, and even the shaft in some. 

3A. Carbon Fiber Badminton Racket:

  • The Badminton racket’s frame and shaft generally make use of metals (aluminum or steel), graphite, or carbon fiber composite materials.
  • Low-end rackets are made of steel or aluminum and are suitable for recreational use. 
  • Carbon fiber badminton rackets tend to be preferred by intermediate and professional players. 
  • Carbon badminton rackets have medium to stiff flex and are medium to lightweight. 
  • They allow for greater control and precision in the shots without sacrificing too much power. They are more forgiving than metal badminton rackets
  • Undeniably, carbon fiber’s high tensile strength allows players to play with higher string tension without causing fatigue
  • Carbon frames also tend to be aerodynamically efficient, enhancing player’s agility. 

3B. Carbon Tennis Racket: 

  • The high-end, high-performance tennis rackets are made of graphite or composite materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, or fiberglass. 
  • They offer the power and control that cannot be expected of the low-end tennis rackets usually available in aluminum material. 
  • Graphite provides better shock absorption than carbon fiber in tennis rackets because of its higher flexibility
  • On the other hand, carbon fiber has a higher stiffness and can generate more power. 
  • Carbon fiber rackets are also more durable and last longer than graphite or metal rackets. 
  • Both graphite and carbon fiber composite allow for better maneuverability and a variety of spins on account of their lightweight. 
  • A study also mentions that carbon fiber composites prolong the gut and ball contact time, resulting in greater tennis ball speed. 
carbon fiber racket

3C. CFRP Padel Racket: 

  • Padel is a racket sport that originated in Mexico and is rapidly gaining popularity in the European continent. 
  • A typical Padel racket has a perforated face, a frame, a core, and a handle. It doesn’t have a string bed like other common racket sports. 
  • The face and frame of a Padel racket are usually made up of high-strength fiberglass or carbon fiber composite materials. 
  • Carbon fiber Padel rackets are preferred over fiberglass for their performance characteristics and durability.  

Learn more about Padel rackets.

3D. Carbon Pickleball Paddle:

  • Like Padel in Europe, Pickleball is currently one of the fastest-growing sports and has a huge following in the US. 
  • Pickleball paddles (rackets) consist of a solid surface (or face) covering a polymer core. 
  • Wood, graphite, fiberglass, and carbon fiber are the common surface material choices in Pickleball paddles. 
  • Most high-end Pickleball paddles leverage carbon fiber to enhance performance. 
  • Noise level is also an essential factor in Pickleball. It largely depends on the core material, but graphite and carbon fiber surfaces are considered quiet. 

Learn more about Pickleball rackets.

Both the upcoming racket sports, Padel and Pickleball, are living proof of how sports have democratized. Modern sports are not limited to athletes and elites anymore — but are accessible to all ages and experience levels. 

Apart from the racket sports listed above, carbon fiber composites are also used in squash, racquetball, and beach tennis rackets, among others.

This growing trend explains how new and advanced materials are being readily adopted.

4 – Carbon Fiber Composite Skis and Snowboards

  • Skis and snowboards are meant to plow through the snow, have appropriate responsiveness, and reduce skier fatigue. 
  • Carbon fiber composite in skis has only been around since the 2000s.
  • Unlike sports equipment that requires an “impact” surface to strike a ball or hit the puck, a carbon fiber’s energy return properties are of little use in skis or snowboards. 
  • In fact, energy return without sufficient vibration damping makes the ski equipment chatter downhill. 
  • But carbon fiber in ski equipment is getting its place on the shelves for its significant weight savings. 
  • The ski and snowboard construction follows that of a sandwich, where material sheets are layered atop each other. 
  • Composite mid-layers enclose a structural wooden core. The mid-layers are enveloped further by the top and base layers. 
  • Most low- and mid-range skis have a fiberglass mid-layer composition. 
  • Fiberglass is now being replaced with carbon fiber to increase stiffness and reduce weight, in part, at least. 
  • Most high-end ski and snowboard equipment today includes some other supporting materials, often fiberglass, in addition to carbon laminates.

5 – Carbon Fiber Plate Shoes

  • Carbon shoes or carbon-plated shoes are popular among runners. 
  • Stiff shoe plates or orthotic insoles were originally introduced for injury prevention and foot support. Nike introduced carbon plates to athletic footwear, and they’ve been everywhere ever since. 
  • Carbon plates (or soles) are often compared to a spring because of their energy absorption and return properties. 
  • A full-length carbon plate with optimal longitudinal bending stiffness (ability to resist deformation) can significantly improve running efficiency and reduce runner fatigue. 
  • In addition to their performance characteristics, carbon fiber plates also support and keep the feet stable in the long term, even for occasional runners.  
  • Apart from that, carbon plates last much longer than the existing alternative insole technology options. 

Read about 7 benefits of Carbon Fibre Insoles.

6 – Carbon Fiber Water Sports Equipment

  • A wide range of water sports equipment uses carbon fiber, such as surfboards, water skis, kayaks and canoes, rowing shells and oars, stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), wakeboards and water skis, swimfins, sailing boats, etc.  
  • The list above is not exhaustive, and carbon fiber can be used across those applications for its different properties. Properties like resistance to bending forces of the waves are helpful in surfboards. 
  • Carbon fiber’s lightweight provides speed, efficiency, and maneuverability when used in the hulls, masts, and sails of competitive sailing boats.
  • Diving fins could benefit from improved efficiency resulting from the optimal flexibility and rigidity of carbon fiber. And even stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) can be made much more responsive by carbon fiber composite. 
Carbon fiber surf board

7 – Carbon Composite Bikes

  • Carbon fiber bike frames entered the scene in the 1980s and were quickly adapted into other components of bikes. 
  • Currently, apart from carbon fiber, other commonly used bike materials are aluminum alloy, steel, and titanium. Compared to metals, carbon fiber bikes offer better performance, such as improved aerodynamics and more extended fatigue life. 
  • Bike manufacturers particularly enjoy the ‘layup’ possibility of carbon fiber composite, with which they are able to curate designs specific to the type of use. 
  • Most carbon fiber frames are designed to be optimally light and stiff, impact-tolerant, durable, corrosion-resistant, and to be able to withstand high compression loads. 
  • It is believed that a carbon fiber bike can make a rider go 0.5 km/hr faster for the same energy output. 
  • Also, carbon fiber bike frames can be made about 20-30% lighter, stiffer, and more aerodynamic than other metal materials. 
Carbon fiber bike

In conclusion, carbon fiber composites have revolutionized the world of sporting goods, offering unparalleled advantages in strength, weight, and performance. 

Evolving from simple wooden structures to advanced carbon fiber frames to rackets, golf clubs, and water sports equipment benefitting from its exceptional properties, carbon fiber has undeniably set a new standard in sports technology. 

Its impact extends beyond just enhancing athletic performance; it reflects the ever-evolving relationship between material science and sports, driving athletes to reach new heights of excellence. 

As the sports world continues to embrace these innovations, carbon fiber stands as a reminder of the limitless possibilities of human ingenuity and the relentless pursuit of perfection in sports.

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