Belgian new ‘composite bicycle frame’ start-up gets big contract
The start-up Rein4ced, which specializes in the automated production of composite bicycle frames, will build frames for the bicycle giant Accell Group. Every year, the Dutch Accell Group sells more than 1 million bikes. The best-known brands in its portfolio are Batavus, Koga, Raleigh, Lapierre, and Ghost.
For five years, Rein4ced worked on a new production process to make bicycle frames based on new composite material. The carbon fibers are woven with fine steel fibers to reinforce the result. The material is as light and stiff as carbon, but more solid, less brittle, and less vulnerable to cracks. Perfect for racing and mountain bikes, where weight and impact resistance is essential.
This year, the mountain bike brand Ghost launches a new model with a frame that Rein4ced developed and will manufacture in its Leuven factory. “We will start with one model, but Accell wants to work with us for other models and brands as well,” says Michael Callens, CEO and founder of Rein4ced in the newspaper De Tijd.
“We are in final testing and fine-tuning of the production process to see where we can save material on the frame.” The new Ghost model should be in stores by mid-2020, so it will be ready for the mountain biking race at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. “It would be great if a professional rides it, but we will see,” says Callens.
Automated manufacturing plant
Callens, a material scientist, laid the foundation of the company during his Ph.D. at KU Leuven. He worked for the research group that developed the material for Samsonite’s lightweight suitcases.
With the financial support of, among others, Innovation Fund (with Solvay and Total), Rein4ced set up a robotized manufacturing plant. There, it can make 20.000 bicycle frames a year. The plant is the first of its kind in the world, and prying eyes are not welcome. “We have found the holy grail of the bicycle industry. That’s very disruptive,” Callens said earlier.
Reclaiming jobs from Asia
Rein4ced is said to be in talks with many major bicycle brands. Callens doesn’t want to mention names, but it would be brands like Trek, Specialized, and Giant. Rein4ced has 20 employees and 15 vacancies for engineers, technicians, and operators.
“We get jobs back from Asia, where all carbon frames are made,” says Rein4ced. Callens also looks beyond the Leuven plant. We haven’t finished investing yet. “We want to jump further and expand our lead.” The Leuven production capacity of 20.000 bicycle frames is small considering the possible sales. In Europe alone, one and a half million carbon bicycles are sold annually.
Replacing half a million of these with Rein4ced frames is realistic, Callens believes. Their technical properties are attractive, and there are advantages in terms of logistics. European orders for carbon frames encounter months of waiting because they are produced in Asia. In the growing e-commerce, short delivery times are increasingly important. “We want to deliver ‘just in time’ over time,” concludes Callens.