Review: DengFu FM086 Open Mold Frame
article & images by Nick Salazar
Dec 2, 2014
Since the very beginning of this site's history, we've had readers asking us to review so-called "open mold" frames. And today, we're finally going to do so. This article is our build of a frame we purchased called the FM086. It is sold variously by HongFu and DengFu, although it's likely that neither of these is the actual factory, both an intermediary trading company. You may have seen it sold under various other 'brand' names, but the truth is that no seller has an exclusive right to call the design their own. That's exactly what 'open mold' means; it's a design usually developed by a carbon factory's in-house engineers, meant to be sold as an OEM frame to anyone who wishes to brand it as their own. Sometimes this is done as a specific business model (that is, the factory is just looking for ways to make use of its capacity and keep its workers busy). Other times open mold frames are produced as a form of advertisement to other manufacturers of the factory's capability. That is, if you're a bike company looking to have your designs produced in carbon, you might want to see a sample of what the factory can do, and open mold frames are one way for them to show that to you without sending a sample from another client's private mold.
In some cases, open mold frames are a bit of an industry scourge; smaller factories looking for business at any cost might attempt a counterfeit copy of another bike, even painting them and branding them as the genuine article. And in some cases, these lines between "independently-designed frame" and "full-on counterfeit" categories may be blurred. But for this article, I'm not interested in the more nefarious side of things, so I'm trying to stay in the former category as much as possible. I also don't want to get into the philosophical implications of open mold sellers essentially profiting off the hard work and R&D of the big brands that actually do the engineering work (i.e., Cervelo, Trek, Specialized, Felt, etc). Those implications certainly exist, and present some real moral questions. But I don't want to get into those with this piece. What I wanted to do was pick a good frame (even if it steals design cues from other market offerings), build it up, and report back to my readers. I'll leave the politics ad philosophy to others.
What's so great about an open mold frame? Primarily, they're cheap. You can get a brand new frameset in the $700 range, and you can get it with whatever kind of paint you want (in my case, I prefer the look of nude carbon, so that's what I bought). Shop around enough, and you can find some decent frames, fairly narrow frontal profiles, and a lack of gimmicks. This is in contrast to years past where every open mold frame on the market had an unbelievably-wide head tube just sucking wind. Some of the newer frames actually look pretty good, and I picked perhaps the best one for this review. If I had to guess, I'd bet this frameset tests a little faster than the P3 Classic, but a little slower than the New P2/P3. That is, somewhere between last-gen and current-gen bikes. It looks very good, but with a couple areas for improvement. We'll get to that later.
The major drawback to open mold frames is their complete lack of brand presence, anywhere. There's no real customer service engine that actually reaches back to the entity responsible for the bike's creation. At best, you're going to be served by some intermediate trading company. For many issues, that might be more than satisfactory, and there's an entire community of people who are decidedly in favor of the open mold experience. But it's certainly possible that you'll wind up with some kind of quality control issue that no one will care to solve. Maybe you receive the wrong paint scheme, or the wrong model all together. Maybe you'll get a bike whose BB shell needs to be re-chased, or a bike that didn't come with a headset. I've purchased several open mold frames in my time, and experienced virtually all of the aforementioned problems at one time or another. Quality, in general, seems to have improved over time, with the subject frame of this article completely free of defects. Honestly, it was a beautiful, flawless frame. I got it with BB30 and no paint, just a glossy clearcoat over nude unidirectional carbon fiber. I also got it without a fork, because it came with a silly behind-the-fork V-brake. So I put on a standard 3T Funda and got to work. Hit the jump for all the build details.