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Major design innovations are rare, alternative designs at Eurobike 2024 are hardly in sight. E-bikes ranging from lightweight to heavyset are surpassing muscle-powered bicycles, and the premium positioning through design, innovation, and quality „Made in Germany“ is effective. The shift towards sustainable transportation is gaining momentum: more and more commuters are enjoying the ride on a high-quality bike, as evidenced by the success of the company bike leasing model.

By Martin Krautter

RECO Urban, Advanced Bikes GmbH im Kooperation mit igus GmbH | Photo: Advanced Bikes GmbH

The cycling world seems to enjoy its leading trade fair, the Eurobike 2024 in Frankfurt am Main, in a similar way to how fairground visitors enjoy a break between two roller coaster rides. Economically, the industry is currently struggling. Spectacular sales and revenue records in the years of the pandemic were followed by supply chain crises, sharp drops in demand, and consequently overfilled warehouses. Nevertheless, representatives of industry associations are looking to the future with high motivation and optimism, as they see themselves as part of the mobility transition and therefore on the winning side in the long term.

Designers also like to get involved for such a good cause – although major design innovations are rare. This is because the defining mechanics of the bicycle, such as the frame, wheels, and power transmission, seem largely developed. Alternative designs to the common „diamond“ frame shape, spoked wheels, and chain or belt drives that have been in use for a hundred years often appear forced and disappear as quickly as they emerged. One of the few design-relevant changes in recent years has leaked from racing bikes to everyday bikes: as brakes and gears are increasingly operated hydraulically or electronically, sometimes even wirelessly, lines and cables can be better hidden in handlebars, frames, and forks or even eliminated completely. The result is not so much a completely new appearance, but rather a cleaner, more essential appearance – which, however, also brings disadvantages in terms of maintenance and repair friendliness.

DIEM 10, Orbea | © Eurobike 2024, Photo: Frank Baumhammel

E-Bikes – From Light to Heavy

The most obvious technical change in bicycles, however, is the emergence of electric assistance. Last year, the sales of e-bikes in Germany surpassed those of conventional bicycles for the first time; the revenue share has been ahead for a while due to the higher prices of e-bikes.

In addition to electrified versions of established bicycle types, completely new segments are emerging, such as those with the unfortunate name „SUV-Bike“ – rugged, aggressive monsters equipped to handle all imaginable situations. It is telling that, for example, the German manufacturer Kalkhoff explicitly points out the extra high permissible total weight of its latest models at 170kg: Even with the bulky motor and battery, there are still sufficient reserves for when you want an extra pork knuckle at the beer garden. This is a trend that seems to frighten the environmentally conscious industry itself, as a counter movement this year swiftly introduces the much slimmer „Light-E-Bike“ in versions for the city and off-road. Let’s hope that buyers appreciate this offering.

Much less determined are the constructions of cargo bikes, which encompass a huge spectrum from compact cargo bikes to pedal-operated mini trucks, thus presenting plenty of design challenges. The fact that „Ecomobile“ like the „Onomotion“ with two cubic meters of storage space have long proven to be smart solutions for the „last mile“ of parcel logistics in hundreds of German cities, often gets lost in emotionally heated discussions about lifestyle aspects.

Delite5, Riese & Müller GmbH | © Eurobike 2024

Premium – Made in Germany

The collapse of supply chains during the Corona pandemic highlighted to domestic manufacturers their dependence primarily on Asian suppliers and triggered a trend towards so-called „reshoring,“ which involves bringing production steps back to Germany and Europe. The German bicycle production, which is quite strong in terms of quantities, had increasingly evolved in the past into simply assembling imported components. Especially the construction of frames, still the centerpiece of a bicycle, was economically hardly feasible in this country. However, for example, the e-bike producer Riese & Müller now sources many of its frames from Portugal instead of Taiwan: This fits well with the premium strategy of the manufacturer from Mühltal near Darmstadt, which is expressed in a high sustainability standard as well as in technology, design, and branding.

The fact that the premium positioning through design, innovation, and quality „Made in Germany“ can still be successful is also proven by component and accessory manufacturers like Wilfried Schmidt with its high-quality lamps and SON“Nabendynamos, Trickstuff from Freiburg with lightweight brakes, or Ortlieb with its waterproof panniers, which work just as well in Berlin as in Tierra del Fuego.

Paths to „Reshoring“

New, potentially design-relevant ways of „reshoring“ are being pursued by the brand Advanced in partnership with the plastics specialist Igus in the city bike „Reco Urban“: Here, a plastic frame is used, which is produced in Germany using an injection molding process from a recyclable, fiber-reinforced thermoplastic. The pleasingly smooth design, however, does not reveal the material used – to the layman, the form does not provide any clues as to the material, as the bike could just as easily be made of aluminum or carbon fiber (CFK). Similarly, Möve’s new, elaborate process of bonding the frame of the „Avian“ Light E-Bike from titanium tubes and 3D-printed titanium sleeves does not lead to a revolutionary aesthetic. On the contrary, the appearance remains distinctly classic. In the future, such new, shorter paths between production and target market will open up more opportunities for personalized design.

An Ecosystem With a Lot of Growth Potential

Another field of activity for designers is the entire environment or ecosystem of the bicycle as a means of transportation and sports equipment: with a variety of services and digital offerings such as platforms or apps. Since bicycle technology is ultimately not too complex, the threshold for startups is pleasantly low here – it becomes more challenging in the scaling phase when the chronically bicycle-unfriendly environment in car-dominated Germany has a braking effect: What good is the most comfortable bikesharing app if there are still no bike paths?

What still gives industry representatives confidence are examples of how auto dominance can be countered with its own weapons: such as the successful model of company bike leasing, which now has over 1.9 million participants, sharing its tax basis with the German company car privilege. A win-win story for all involved: more and more commuters enjoy riding a high-quality bike, the specialist trade visibly benefits, and a reputable second-hand market with lease returns is establishing itself. And the potential, according to Kim Lachmann, bicycle market expert at Deloitte, is far from being exhausted.

RECO Urban, Advanced Bikes GmbH in partnership with igus GmbH | Video: Advanced Bikes GmbH

Eurobike Award 2024

The EUROBIKE AWARD ceremony took place on 3 July 2024 in Frankfurt am Main as part of the EUROBIKE exhibition, which has been organised by the German Design Council since 2023. Click here for an overview of this year’s winners.

EUROBIKE 2024 award ceremony | © Eurobike 2024

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