New brand ARC8 is the brainchild of mechanical engineer Jonas Mueller, who has teamed up with long-time friend Serafin Pazdera. So far, so good. But the way Mueller arrived at his two-model starting line-up is a little different from the norm.
Mueller’s CV is strong, being part of fellow Swiss brand BMC for six and a half years and the man behind the Alpen Challenge, Trail Fox, Speed Fox, 4 Stroke, BMC GF01 and part of the team behind the TM01.
After that he worked at Santa Cruz on the long-travel 29er Hightower. So, when he got in touch about the new ARC8 venture we wanted to find out more.
Finding the resources
Initially, Jonas and Serafin didn’t have the resources to start a new brand, or the resources required to enable the three-plus years of development behind the new Escapee road bike, not forgetting the 120–140mm travel Essential they are launching with.
In order to proceed, Jonas consulted with some key manufacturers in Taiwan (where he’s lived for the past four years) to create mountain and road frames using his expertise and engineering knowledge.
Jonas tells us: “I designed frames in conjunction with a particular carbon factory, we wanted to take the idea of an ‘open’ frame [a frame design any company can buy and brand, often seen on direct-to-market, or shop-branded machines] and elevate it to a higher level than the average.”
Jonas also developed a new stem design and collaborated on a headset that gives the advantages of one-piece aero integration and full internal routing, but without the complexity seen on some proprietary systems. FSA also introduced a similar, but more complex, off-the-peg solution.
The design routes the cables under and through the stem and into channels running either side of the headset. Jonas says his solution allows for more freedom in cable lengths, no binding and less aggressive cable angles that can affect shift performance.
Surprisingly, his integrated design also features on ARC8’s upcoming hard-tail mountain bike. On the 120/140mm bike, it’s a variation on this design (the short stem doesn’t work so well with this sort of routing) and combines a special headset with a new sharp-looking carbon stem that’s both stronger and lighter than anything previously seen.
Integration and standards
When it comes to integration and standards Jonas says he’d prefer his solutions on things like integration to make compatibility better across the bike world.
It’s apparent Jonas is often frustrated by standards changing all the time: “If it’s accepted that a frame’s production life is three or four years, I don’t think it’s right it can become obsolete just through changing standards for no real benefit.”
Across the board on ARC8’s bikes Jonas has stuck to the dependable BSA standard (something his ex-paymasters at Santa Cruz have also stuck to).
Alongside the two launch bikes Jonas showed us his prototype carbon hardtail, a true monocoque frame (it is moulded completely in one-piece, a rare thing indeed) and a new 160mm-travel enduro 29er chassis.
ARC8 Escapee first impressions
With production frames finalised Jonas was able to get a 60cm Escapee frameset built in time for my arrival in Taiwan, so I’ve been able to get a few miles in on the bike.
At first glance the Escapee looks quite traditional — there are no dropped stays, the triangles are fairly conventional (it’s not a super compact design), but it’s only when you look at the tube shapes and the junctions between them that you see a lot of complexity in the design.
Jonas explains, “I wanted to ‘tune’ the bike aerodynamically using truncated air foil shapes and shaping the junctions and profiles, but I didn’t want to compromise mechanical performance such as weight or stiffness at the expense of aero.
“We’ve hit a mark where the aero advantages haven’t compromised the mechanical potential by more than 5% overall.”
In non-engineering speak that means the frameset is smooth and slippery but still tips the scales at 780g for the frame and 350g for the fork.
When Jonas joins me on a ride, you can see our bikes look similar, but his is less evolved, with some repairs and modifications to carbon sections where he’s been on the development path, even things like a cracked headset top cone — it’s not a final product just a 3D-printed mock-up.
A versatile bike
Jonas was looking to make a versatile road bike, with geometry somewhere between a full-on race bike and an endurance bike.
The geometry on the 60cm I’m riding (which is closer to the traditional 58cm I usually ride) has a pretty aggressive 580mm stack and a reasonable reach of 405mm.
The low stack is due to the integration of the headset into the frame, and the frame is designed to work in conjunction with the top cone of the headset, which is available in three different heights — the lowest adds 8mm, the tallest 47mm, which along with aero-shaped spacers means masses of front-end adjustment.
My rim-braked model uses the direct-mount standard. Jonas says he’s been pretty flexible with the positioning to max out the tyre clearances. He thinks it’s important that a modern road bike has clearance for more comfortable bigger volume tyres, so the Escapee will accept all 30c tyres and many 32s.
On the road the Escapee is a well-judged design, smooth yet stiff and with nimble handling too.
My test bike weighs 6.7kg, which is impressive seeing as the build is a slight mish-mash (it’s a production chassis, but not a production bike). The build features Jonas’ stem design with an alloy bar up front, a 185g ARC8 carbon seatpost (in a standard round 27.2) topped with a mid-range cro-mo railed San Marco Mode saddle.
Onza’s 28c Lavin tyres wrap around a development set of carbon wheels, which Jonas is also involved with. Jonas says the rims are around 400g in this 40+mm deep guise and are built onto DT Swiss 350 hubs with J-bend spokes, and he puts the all-up weight around 1,550g a pair.
The groupset is a last-generation Campagnolo Super-Record set-up with a 50/34 chainset and an 11-28 cassette. So, you could certainly build a lighter machine fairly easily.
The Escapee has a great pick up, flows in the corners with a smooth stable feel, yet feels nimble thanks to the super-short 402mm chainstays and that ‘tucked in’ rear-wheel design.
This chassis offers a smart piece of design, which combines road smoothing compliance with rock-solid stiffness when sprinting.
Before deciding on an overall score I want to get my hands on a full production bike, on home soil and thankfully one should be shipping our way by the time you read this.
The frameset kit is priced at 1,820CHF, but early birds get a 300CHF discount, and you can find more info’ on the Escapee and Essential at ARC8
ARC8 Escapee specifications
Weight: 6.7kg (60cm)
Frame: ARC8 carbon
Fork: ARC8 carbon
Wheels: ARC8 prototype
Tyres: Onza Lavin 28c
Stem: ARC8 ICH
Seatpost: ARC8 SP carbon 15mm setback
Saddle: Selle San Marco Mode cromo
Gears: Campagnolo Super Record 11spd
Brakes: Campagnolo Super Record direct mount rim brake