Home to the top biking city in the nation – Minneapolis -, it should come as no surprise that Minnesota’s “startup capital of the north” would spur a few cycle-centric companies. Blazing the trail in new bike tech is Berd Spokes, a SciTech startup and the last feature in this week’s startup spotlight series.

Since 2015, Berd Spokes has made it its mission to improve age-old cycling products through advancements in modern material science and engineering. The startup was founded by three bike enthusiasts who wanted to address the weight vs. strength conundrum faced in competitive cycling.

The problem
A speed cyclist wants their bike to be as lightweight as possible, but the bike – and its components – also needs to be as strong as possible, to best support the cyclist and minimize road-wear and rider fatigue.

The solution
The Berd Spokes solution occurs where you might expect, in the wheel spokes. High caliber engineers Charlie Spanjers, Kyle Olson and Brad Guertin developed their PolyLight™ spokes by utilizing ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWP). The result is a stronger than steel bike spoke that they say is the “lightest in the world.”

Here are the spokes in action, as explained by Berd Spokes’s Co-Founder, Charlie Spanjers, Ph.D.


In 2016, Berd Spokes became a MN Cup finalist and division winner. Since then, the startup and its team has expanded, bringing on summer intern Katherine Wortman-Otto, who they were able to hire with support from the SciTech Internship program.

A helping hand and curious mind
Wortman-Otto is a master’s degree student studying chemistry and mathematics at Lewis University in Illinois. During her time at Berd Spokes, she helped the team design and manufacture an automated process for producing their bicycle spokes.

Her roles included:

  • Designing and fabricating automation equipment
  • Performing experiments to test design parameters
  • Using materials science principles to improve product performance

“Research had taught me that there is no such thing as good and bad data,” Wortman-Otto said. “There is just data. The only disservice you can do to yourself and your project is by not running an experiment or not thinking about the experiment that you are going to run.

“We have to always remember that we are embarking on a journey that no one else has ever taken. It’s not about repeating what has already been done; it’s about creating something new to help change the world.”

Get Involved:
Learn more about the SciTech Internship Program, apply online and create your own meaningful internships that support your company and Minnesota’s growing STEM workforce.