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We’ve now seen 3D-printed frame parts, cleats, computer mounts, and power meters. Printed cycling parts and accessories show no signs of slowing down. That trend has continued as Metron, an additive manufacturing specialist with a long history in cycling, has now announced the world’s first commercially-available 3D-printed stem through its new cycling components wing Mythos.
Metron Additive Manufacturing specialises in 3D printing with a long history in innovative cycling components and is led by Dimitris Katsanis. If Metron and Katsanis sound familiar it might be the brand’s work in developing custom components for British Cycling, Team Sky, Pinarello, and Bradley Wiggins’ hour record ride in 2015. As recently as February this year Metron was involved in the development of Verve Cycling’s £4,470 3D-printed titanium power meter. Now the brand has turned its attention to making 3D printing components commercially available with a stem the first part out of the printer.
Mythos claims the Elix stem provides increased “usable stiffness” delivering a stem that both performs to its best and “looks its best”. Mythos points to 3D printing as the key factor, allowing the option to reinforce specific areas, decrease weight in others and create a “contemporary design”. The lattice-like design is certainly unique, but as the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so we are going to park the aesthetics discussion for a moment and move on to more pressing questions about a 3D stem.
How is it made?
So, how is a 3D stem made and is it safe?
Most are likely aware of how additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it is more commonly known, works. In short, the 3D printing process layers and melts powdered material to build a structure layer by layer. The process allows manufacturers to design and print more complex designs than is otherwise possible with traditional manufacturing processes. Mythos explains using 3D printing for its stem manufacturing gives the company the ability to eliminate areas of high stress with small local reinforcements and reduce weight in other areas by removing any non-essential material.
Titanium has so far been the go-to material for 3D printing cycling “stuff”, but Metron has opted to use scalmalloy in the Elix stem. Scalmalloy is a 3D printing-specific material made from scandium, aluminium, and magnesium, developed by engineers at Airbus.
Additive manufacturing, scandium, aerospace, if you are thinking this all sounds expensive, you’d be right. The Elix stem will be available soon at Mtyhos.bike for the cool price of £500.
As for being an actual stem, the Mythos is available in lengths ranging from 100-130mm with a +/-8 degree rise. With a claimed weight starting from 150 grams, the Mythos is unlikely to get the weight weenies too excited. Although, the stem is compatible with FSA ACR internal cable routing and might prove to be amongst the lightest stems offering such compatibility. While the lattice design is plenty airy, it’s pretty safe to say it has not been designed with aerodynamics in mind.
Is it safe?
As far as bike components go, the stem is one of the single most critical components on any bike. A failure here is unlikely to end well. It’s unsurprising that most riders’ initial reaction might be to question the wisdom/strength/safety of a 3D-printed stem. Mythos has no such concerns, pointing to Metron’s vast experience in 3D printing and bike components and explaining it was extensive testing that brought Mythos to the final stem design.
Mythos described the design and testing process, explaining it used “a manual topology optimisation method we switched between FEA (Finite Element Analysis) simulations and CAD software to identify load paths and therefore areas that needed more or less material, and then made those changes iteratively.”
Once the final design was decided upon, Mythos started testing prototypes for each size. These fatigue tests used the test methods outlined in the ISO 4210 test standard. It’s far from the brand’s first foray into stem design, having created the TT cockpit many Ineos riders are using over the past several seasons.
But it is the first commercially available, and presumably, at least somewhat mass-produced, 3D-printed stem for general public use.
It’s also full of holes. It might be fair to assume some riders might require a bit more convincing than with a more traditional stem design. Mythos recognises as much and has tested the stem with riders around the world on road, gravel, and in the Italian fixed gear cup series and points to a similar sentiment when carbon fibre was first used in component construction.
That said, as with all 3D printing, the potential for an individual print fault may still exist. Australian brand Bastion uses test sticks in each print to test for tensile strength and bad layers. We have asked Mythos if they are using any similar testing procedures.
That leads us to the obvious question. Why do we need a 3D-printed stem? A stem is hardly the most performance-altering component and it seems Metron agrees, suggesting the Mythos 3D stem “exists to drive further innovation in the wider cycling community.” A lofty and admirable goal for any stem but, as Mythos sees it, the 3D-printed stem could be just the first in a long list of new components. The Mythos is undeniably distinctive, eye-catching, and if this week’s CyclingTips podcast is anything to go by, a real conversation starter.
If a stem is possible then components with genuine performance advantages such as aero handlebars could presumably soon be on the horizon for Mythos. Beyond individual components, it seems reasonable to assume custom stem lengths or bar shapes for the masses could be the next logical step. Furthermore, without the need for any part-specific tooling, 3D printing components means manufacturers could create one-off products and prototypes in days rather than months.
Clearly, 3D printing is far from new technology in the cycling world. Many brands, including Metron, have already produced all manner of components and accessories. That said, a standalone semi-mass produced stem does seem like a step beyond where we have been previously. Only time will tell whether the Mythos Elix shifts the trajectory of cycling tech firmly in the direction of more additive manufacturing.