Original article was published on The Verge – Transportation Posts
Arevo is not a well-known name in the cycling world. But the Silicon Valley-based company is using its expertise in composites manufacturing and 3D printing to produce the “world’s first” 3D-printed unibody electric bike. (It’s not really the first, but more on that in a bit.)
Two models are being released today under Arevo’s newly created Superstrata brand. The Superstrata Terra is a lightweight analog that can be custom-built for a variety of riding styles. And the Superstrata Ion is a Class 1 e-bike with a rear-hub 250W motor, a 252Wh battery, and an estimated 60 miles of range.
The frame is unibody thermoplastic carbon fiber, meaning it’s manufactured as one single continuous piece rather than welded together from a dozen or so pieces like most bike frames. Superstrata says the use of thermoplastic materials makes it extremely impact-resistant yet remarkably lightweight. The frame weight of the Terra is 2.8 lbs (depending on the size), while the Ion clocks in at 24.2 lbs.
But the absence of a downtube really places the Superstrata in a class of its own. The only other bike you could possibly compare it to is Byar Bicycle’s shaft-driven Volta e-bike with its floating saddle and missing crosstube. And the Superstrata’s mag-style cast wheels echo zippy moped-like e-bikes by Juiced and others.
3D printing can be costly and labor-intensive, but Superstrata CEO Sonny Vu says it makes for a stronger, more durable bike frame as well as a more bespoke design that is sure to appeal to customers who are willing to pay extra for a custom fit. Customers can send in their measurements, and Superstrata will 3D-print the bike down to the spokes. Each frame takes about 10 hours to create, and the company claims it can create up to 250,000 unique combinations.
“There’s no glue, no joints, no seams or anything like that,” Vu told The Verge. “And so you get a lot more strength.”
Vu will readily admit to not being a “bike guy.” For insight into how to design a great-looking bike, he turned to Bill Stephens, who has been creating cycle designs at StudioWest Concepts for decades, including high-end carbon-fiber bike frames for Schwinn, Raleigh, Diamond, and Yeti. Together, they came up with the idea for Superstrata, which Vu says will be a “soup-to-nuts” direct-to-consumer brand that he hopes shows off Arevo’s 3D-printing chops.
Not everything about Superstrata’s supply chain is finalized. Vu is still negotiating with various battery and motor makers to find the best deal for the bike’s drivetrain. And the company’s bikes will be available for preorder on Indiegogo, suggesting this is all just an experiment that could collapse if enough sales fail to materialize. Crowdfunding for product launches, especially complicated products like e-bikes, is a lot harder than it sounds. Crowdfunded gadgets are sometimes delayed for months or years, and in some cases, they never ship at all. If the company decides to abandon the project, bike owners could be left in the lurch when it comes to maintenance and repair.
“To be completely honest with you, we’re literally building the bike as we’re riding it,” Vu said. “There’s something exceptional about that.”
Carbon fiber bikes are nothing new, but they’re usually made out of dozens of pieces and can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000. Superstrata will start at $2,799 for the Terra and $3,999 for the Ion. (Preorders can be had for $1,799.) The company is launching its preorder in July and will start delivering bikes later this year.
This isn’t Arevo’s first stab at 3D-printing bikes. The company introduced a prototype 3D-printed bike in 2018 called Emery One as an “exploratory project,” of which it only sold a few units, a spokesperson said. The frame looks almost identical to the Superstrata, which makes sense considering Stephens consulted on the Emery as well. Superstrata is “like five versions iterated since then,” Vu said.
But Arevo is much more serious about Superstrata — to the point where Vu doesn’t care whether he covers his costs on the project. This is more about demonstrating Arevo’s 3D-printing chops.
“We don’t really care about margin that much,” he said. “This is about almost a market demonstration of the tech.”
If the Superstrata is successful, Vu expects the legacy bike manufacturers to eventually come calling, eventually setting Superstrata to become a major supplier to the industry and 3D-printing to become an accepted manufacturing process in the cycling world.
“Rather than knocking on the doors of these big bike companies and begging them to make stuff for them, screw that,” Vu said. “Let’s just ship a product that people love. And if the big bike companies want us to make carbon fiber frames for them? We’ll totally do it.”