A Leuven-based company, Rein4CED, has just patented an ultra-durable carbon bike frame that is virtually unbreakable.
While carbon fibre has long been favoured by manufacturers of performance bicycles for its low weight and rigidity, the material can be fragile. In particular, after a crash or shock it can develop micro-cracks, difficult to detect but potentially catastrophic if the bicycle continues to be ridden.
However, a collaboration between a Belgian engineer and a manufacturing team has led to a novel way to strengthen carbon-based parts by inserting small amounts of steel fibres at specific points.
“The steel fibres are unique in the sense that rather than what you have with carbon – that breaks are quite brittle, like glass – this is more like metal in that you get a dent rather than a dramatic snap,” Dr. Michaël Callens, CEO & Co-founder REIN4CED, told The Brussels Times.
“The way we manufacture bicycle frames is also quite different. While in many countries it’s done by hand, we managed to make it into an automated process. That allows us to do the manufacturing in Europe, even here in Leuven.”
A mountain biking revolution
The bicycle frames made with the new material end up being around the same weight as conventional ones but are significantly more durable.
“The first frames on the market right now are in mountain biking and downhill mountain biking. Here, people sometimes fear for the durability that an aluminium frame offers," Callens explains.
“We’ve already had interest from the car and aerospace industries because of the advantages to such a material. In cars, making them more lightweight makes sense, especially as vehicles become electric. With aeroplanes, it is obviously better to have a wing take a dent than crack.”
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Cycling saw a boom during the pandemic, as more and more people took to streets that were less congested with the usual car traffic. In such a climate, Rein4CED had no trouble finding investors.
“We raised €12 million. One reason for doing that is that we have quite a series of job openings. We have a really clear strategy to grow and build a team in Leuven and so people who are passionate or interested should get in touch.”