Why one firm is banking on carbon fibre bikes in Europe

Emre Ozgunes, general manager, Carbon Team

Pedro Garcia

There is growing demand from amateur cyclists for more affordable, carbon fibre bike frames.

The material is light and strong, and among other things enthusiasts hope it will improve their speed.

In Portugal, Carbon Team and its investors are betting on this appetite for high-end bikes growing in Europe.

Located in Campia (not far from Oliveira de Frades, a town famous for bikes), a group of investors from Portugal, Germany, and Taiwan launched the firm in 2018.

The company believe manufacturing of hi-tech bicycle components is poised to return to Europe, after decades of supply from firms in China and Taiwan.

Emre Ozgunes joined Carbon Team in 2019, hired as a general manager for the new company after years of experience in the Portuguese bike sector.

Originally from Turkey, he worked as a factory floor employee in a bicycle company in central Portugal, where he learned the trade.

“I always yearned to start a business from scratch”, Mr Ozgunes tells the BBC.

Carbon Team frames

Pedro Garcia

The investors put €8.4m (£7m; $9.2m) into Carbon Team and after three years of product development, production started last year.

Just three people staffed that first production line: Mr Ozgunes, Miguel Oliveira, the company’s production manager, and Filipa Antunes, now technical manager.

By March of this year output had increased – with 30 employees constructing between 8 and 10 frames per day.

Mr Ozgunes hopes that by 2023 they will have almost 200 people on Carbon Team’s payroll, making up to 150 frames per day.

Although it’s a long way off, expansion to this size would make Carbon Team the only company in Europe to mass produce carbon fibre frames. Almost all the frames will be exported.

If demand really takes off, there is land available behind the factory where they could build an additional unit and double maximum capacity to 110,000 frames per year.

There is a wider trend gaining popularity among European industries to relocate key elements of their supply chain closer to home, limiting their dependency on Asian suppliers for parts and raw materials.

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated this trend. Freight prices skyrocketed and lockdowns forced many Asian factories to sporadically suspend their production.

The Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (Conebi) estimates that among all bicycles sold in Europe, 40% of their parts are made on the continent, rising to more than half for electric bikes.

“This is positive, but there is still the need to have more production of components in Europe,” says Manuel Marsilio, general manager of Conebi.

“The supply chain disruptions in the bicycle industry have boosted discussions that started already before the pandemic. Making components closer to where bicycles and e-bikes are assembled has many advantages and the industry is likely to go in that direction,” he adds.

The industry is currently debating how to speed-up this shift – but it will be a slow transition.

The latest Global Bike & Bike Accessories Market report by consultancy firm, PwC, shows that over half of European bicycle manufacturers buy their frames on the international markets.

Marta Baldin, from PwC’s Italian branch and co-author of the study, tells the BBC, that “in the near future, supply from overseas is not expected to decrease or slow down. It is expected that the biggest concentration of imports will still come from Asian markets”.

Presentational grey line

Presentational grey line

Analysts suggest the biggest opportunity for European firms lies at the higher end of the market.

“On quality and innovation, EU producers do not suffer from foreign competition and this is the main reason why niche and high-quality bike products are still manufactured in the EU,” she adds.

And as wages rise for factory workers in Asia, buying from that region is losing some of its economic advantage. Meanwhile, freight costs are increasingly prohibitive, points out Mr Ozgunes.

Volatility on international commodities markets is also helping Carbon Team at the moment.

The price of aluminium, for instance, traditionally the cheaper alternative to carbon fibre, soared to record levels in March before moving lower.

Although carbon fibre prices have risen as well, the increase is currently nowhere near the rise in aluminium prices.

This inflationary trend will likely have an impact on the price of mid-range bicycles too, according to Mr Ozgunes.

Filipa Antunes, Carbon Team's technical manager

Pedro Garcia

On the factory floor, Carbon Team’s employees focus silently on their tasks, all demanding precision. A group of employees applies carbon fibre to moulds. Others, on separate tables, prepare and test the raw material.

In a separate aisle, four large ovens bake the final product, while recently made frames are tested for quality and safety.

Filipa Antunes, Carbon Team’s technical manager, joined in February 2020, one month before the onset of the pandemic.

“Demand for two-wheeled vehicles rose exponentially with the pandemic and luckily many companies built up their capacity,” she says.

She is optimistic and thinks the proposed expansion promises a bright future for her and her company.


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