Amateur bikers are increasingly demanding more cheap carbon fiber bike frames.
The material is light and sturdy, and fans expect that it will boost their speed, among other things.
Carbon Team and its backers in Portugal are counting on Europe’s expanding demand for high-end bicycles.
A group of investors from Portugal, Germany, and Taiwan founded the company in Campia (not far from Oliveira de Frades, a bike-friendly town) in 2018.
After decades of sourcing high-tech bicycle components from China and Taiwan, the company believes that production will return to Europe.
Emre Ozgunes was hired as the new company’s general manager in 2019, following years of expertise in the Portuguese bike industry.
He acquired the art as a manufacturing floor laborer in a bicycle firm in central Portugal, where he was originally from Turkey.
Carbon Team was funded with €8.4 million (£7 million; $9.2 million) by investors, and production began last year following three years of product development.
Mr Ozgunes, Miguel Oliveira, the company’s production manager, and Filipa Antunes, now technical manager, were the only three persons who worked on that first production line.
By March of this year, output had climbed to 30 employees building 8 to 10 frames per day.
Mr Ozgunes estimates that by 2023, Carbon Team will employ nearly 200 people, producing up to 150 frames every day.
Although it’s a long way off, Carbon Team’s development to this scale would make it the only company in Europe that mass produces carbon fiber frames.
Nearly every frame will be exported.
If demand increases significantly, property behind the facility could be used to build an additional unit, bringing total capacity to 110,000 frames per year.
A broader trend among European firms is to bring critical sections of their supply chain closer to home, reducing their reliance on Asian suppliers for parts and raw materials.
This trend was accelerated by the Covid-19 epidemic.
Freight prices increased, forcing many Asian manufacturers to halt output on a periodic basis.
According to the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (Conebi), 40% of all bicycle parts marketed in Europe are created on the continent, with electric bikes accounting for more than half.
“This is encouraging, but more component manufacture in Europe is still required,” says Manuel Marsilio, Conebi’s general manager.
“The supply chain interruptions in the bicycle business have revived debates that began before the outbreak.
Bringing components closer to the point of manufacture for bicycles and e-bikes has various advantages, and the industry is likely to follow suit “he adds.
The industry is actively debating how to accelerate this change, but it will be slow.
Over half of European bicycle makers acquire their frames on international markets, according to PwC’s latest Global Bike & Bike Accessories Market research.
According to Marta Baldin of PwC’s Italian division and co-author of the study, “Supply from outside is not projected to halt or diminish in the near future.
The largest concentration of imports is projected to continue to come from Asian markets “,
According to analysts, the best chance for European companies is at the top end of the market.
“EU producers do not face international competition in terms of quality and innovation, which is the fundamental reason why niche and high-quality bike products are still created in the EU,” she adds.
And, when manufacturing workers’ wages grow in Asia, purchasing from that region loses part of its economic edge.
Meanwhile, as Mr Ozgunes points out, freight costs are becoming increasingly expensive.
Volatility on international commodity markets is currently benefitting Carbon Team.
Aluminium, for example, which has typically been a cheaper alternative to carbon fiber, reached new highs in March before falling.
Although carbon fiber prices have risen, they are still far behind those of aluminum.
According to Mr Ozgunes, this inflationary trend would undoubtedly affect the price of mid-range bicycles as well.
Employees of Carbon Team concentrate discreetly on their responsibilities on the production floor, which all require precision.
Carbon fiber is applied to molds by a group of employees.
Others prepare and test the raw material on different tables.
Four big ovens bake the finished product in a separate aisle, while newly built frames are inspected for quality and safety.
Filipa Antunes, Carbon Team’s technical manager, joined one month before the epidemic began in February 2020.
“With the epidemic, demand for two-wheeled cars increased tremendously, and fortunately, many companies beefed up their capacity,” she explains.
She is upbeat and believes the anticipated expansion will provide her and her firm a bright future.