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Arris brings thermoplastic technology to spokes and components

Published April 30, 2024

A version of this article ran in the April issue of BRAIN. This has been updated with information about the company's latest investors, announced April 30.

MONTEREY, Calif. (BRAIN) — Thermoplastic might be the word of the year, or the decade, in the industry, with several companies in and out of the industry bringing the technology to the bike world. Compared to the more common thermoset layup carbon fiber used in the industry, thermoplastic fabrication promises to be more efficient, with less waste and lower environmental impact. The resulting products can include complex, precise shapes with no post-process machining, sanding or finishing required. The resulting products can be more resistant to impact or notch damage and they can be co-molded with metal parts, electronics or finishing films. Thermoplastic products and factory scraps also sometimes can be recycled. 

GT and Ross experimented with thermoplastic frames as early as the 1990s, and today several companies, including Utah’s CSS, offer lightweight thermoplastic rims (CSS sells under its own brand, Forge+Bond, and to customers including Chris King, Bontrager and Revel). Guerrilla Gravity, a Colorado brand that shut down last year, produced thermoplastic frames and rims. In our December issue and online BRAIN wrote about 9T Labs, a Swiss company that offers additive molding technology that includes thermoplastics. 9T said it is working with several brands it could not name on frame components and other products that could hit the market this year. 

Now a California tech startup, already active in several industries, is targeting the bike industry with similar technology.

Founded in 2017, Arris supplies companies in the automotive, aerospace and electronics industry. This spring, the Brooks running shoe company is launching a high-performance shoe with a carbon plate in its midsole made by Arris. Arris makes all its own materials in-house, allowing it to control quality and applications it couldn’t do with standard materials, the company said.

In cycling, Arris representatives said they were working with several partners they declined to name, with at least one composite component set to be released publicly this year. 

Arris also publicly launched its MTO thermoplastic spokes in February, although they are not available to consumers yet. MTO is an acronym for “Made To Outperform.”

Carbon fiber spokes have been launched before and they are of course, in various configurations, relatively common on the market today, with complete wheels from Mavic, Cadex, Spinergy, Syncros, Lightweight, Magene, ICAN, Hunt and others. Berd also offers rope-like spokes made of Dyneema that can be laced into standard rims and hubs. 

What makes the MTO spokes different is the thermoplastic construction, which produces a thin, aero-shaped spoke that Arris claims is lighter and stronger than metal spokes while also offering an efficient, low-waste production process and a design that allows the spokes to be laced into standard rims and hubs. 

For those with very long memories, the design is superficially similar to EDO’s Fiber Flight carbon spokes from the 1990s. Fiber Flight spokes were a bit bulkier than most metal spokes and had female threads on each end to accept stainless j-hooks at the hub end and short threaded spoke ends at the nipple. While light, the Fiber Flight spokes were prone to breakage due to side loads or impacts. They were not on the market long, although some reports say Mavic made use of the EDO technology in some later carbon-spoked wheels. 

Arris’ MTO spokes can save several hundred grams on a wheelset while being at least as durable as metal spokes, said Bert Mannhalter, Arris’s vice president of R&D. 

“In the cycling world, especially on the mountain bike side of things, there is a real risk aversion that some people have with composite products. Some people think composites are going to spontaneously combust if they contact something,” said Mannhalter, who joined Arris in 2019. Mannhalter has worked in several bike shops as a mechanic, and also has experience as a bike messenger in Japan; he has a master’s degree in materials engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines. 

“We’re trying to demonstrate the product’s durability. It has passed several elevated temperature tests, including ISO tests of complete wheels where the spokes maintain tension at 80 degrees Celsius (176 degrees Fahrenheit). I’ve been riding mine hard for a couple months now and some of our partners have done fatigue testing where they run them for millions of kilometers on drums.” 

Mannhalter said connecting the metal ends to the composite middle part of the spoke is Arris’ “special sauce.”

“That was most of the technical challenge (in developing the spokes),” he said.  

On a company video, Erick Davidson, Arris’ chief engineer, says “attaching the end fittings is the real trick … A lot of calculations and a lot of development went into that … it’s not an easy problem to solve and it looks like we nailed it.”

Arris’ CEO and cofounder, Riley Reese, was also a co-founder of Arevo, a California company that famously raised $7 million on the Indiegogo crowd-funding platform to produce 3D-printed bicycle frames. (Reese left Arevo in 2017, the year Arris was founded. But Arevo continues to develop products in the bike industry, announcing a thermoplastic prototyping technology with Revel Bikes last year.)

Since its launch, Arris has closed on more than $160 million in funding from several venture capital firms, including the Robert Bosch Venture Capital fund. In addition to its headquarters in Berkeley, used for R&D and production, Arris now has a facility in Taiwan for higher volume production to service regional customers. 

New investment announced

On April 30, Arris announced a new, $34 million funding round from new and returning investors including the Bosch venture fund and Youngone, the majority owner of Scott Sports. The other investors in this round include Vertex Exploratory Fund, ST Engineering, NEA, XN, Taiwania Capital, Zebra Technologies, Standard Industries, Modern Venture Partners (MVP), and Alumni Ventures Group (AVG).

"Arris' dedication to hard work, innovation, and sustainability aligns with our foundational principles — we take pride in our reputation as a continuous pioneer, and Arris is on a similar path," said Rae Eun Sung, Group Vice Chairman and CEO of Youngone Holdings. "We see the expansive potential in cutting-edge composites and look to Arris for novel product differentiation."

Elizabeth Griffin-Isabelle, Arris’ vice president of marketing, said Arris will be a part of brand marketing in partnership with its customers once the products are released. She said Arris has discussed exclusive arrangements with wheel brands that use the MTO spokes but nothing is determined yet. 

“That (exclusivity) has come up and we’re really proud that we have something that is generating those kinds of conversations but that is not something we are speaking to at the moment,” she said. 

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