Passion brings suffering and at a closer look the one goes hand in glove with the other one. Dirk Zedler knows this only too well. The man is a passionate cyclist. His horse is the iron horse and his mission the conviction that tomorrow’s mobility should be less determined by four-wheel horse power giants and more by feather light high-tech machines. The suffering lies in the fact that people do not easily get used to other habits. Revolutions take their time in these latitudes. "It's progressing slowly", says Zedler. "But I'm persistent." Such a sentence from him is rather a promise than a threat. The engineer is 50 years old; two thirds of it he has been dealing with bicycles and their technical potential. The effects of the two-wheel matter and him are like salt water. The more you drink of it, the thirstier you become. "The pedelec brings joy of movement and of nature back to many people."
It’s early in the afternoon. The man of the house is sitting in his office in front of a wall with three road bikes hanging there. They have served him well and stand for the evolution of the bicycle which is still becoming lighter due to more technology. The oldest one was bought by him in 1985 and used for his first triathlon. It has been a long time. At that time, no one could imagine that bikes would be electrified, hills would shrink and a nationwide renowned Ludwigsburg bicycle fetishist would make an annual turnover of one million euro.
This is what could be called a story of success. His story has a message. Dirk Zedler’s message is that you must believe in a thing, even if no one else does. When he started in 1993 his own business, he visited the Centre of Commerce and Industry in Stuttgart. "Hello, I would like to become an officially appointed and sworn expert for bicycles", he said. "Who needs that?", was the reply of his opponent. In the automotive region one couldn’t even imagine the great deal of potential for a velophile future.
As a triathlete he was familiar with difficult terrain and so he kept on pedalling. Week by week. Day by day. Until they accepted him. The little money he earned in the beginning, the more he worked. The hours that count are the hours that are not counted. Most of his student friends had already found regular jobs and monthly payments from their employers. He only had this dream.
It had ripened more by accident. After having finished school and the army, Zedler took up his automotive engineering studies in Karlsruhe where the professors were cycling through the city in their suits. He follows suit and buys a rusty cycle with which he travels all distances. At some point, he is asked whether he wanted to take part in a triathlon. He starts screwing. As an autodidact he fiddles about his sports equipment and builds the first disc wheels made of glass fibre.
Such a hobby costs money. The student earns the money by starting a job in a cycle shop in Ludwigsburg where a friend of him was working. In the period between the winter and summer semesters when no courses take place Zedler cycles 85 kilometres from Karlsruhe to the baroque city, works in the shop over the day and rides back in the evening. Learning by doing.
The rest is quickly told. After finishing his studies he starts as managing director in the cycle shop, realizes however soon that selling is not his true vocation. Dirk Zedler takes the decision to become a bicycle expert. The competition is manageable; there are only two colleagues in Germany. It’s not easy being a pioneer. During the first years he is sponsored by his parents. The first courts contact the expert and commission him with the settlement of claims. Regardless whether it is about light carbon frames or heavy seat posts, bicycle wear or material fatigue. The engineer has a close look. Zedler builds up an enormous archive. He collects thousands of price lists and catalogues and is able to describe nearly every bicycle model of the past 30 years in terms of add-on parts and prices. More and more assurances rely on his advice. The more expensive the bicycles are, the more often clever cyclists try to get a new model by calling upon their household insurance. The model details not always comply with reality.
A bicycle magazine engages him as experienced workshop columnist, manufacturers order comprehensible user manuals. His customers are not only German ones, but more and more from beyond German borders. The technical documentation for new models is written by the master with his team in 24 languages. In 2001 he employs the first staff member and develops a third mainstay, which costs a lot of money, but will turn out to be an important part of his dream: Zedler provides anticipative certainty, by testing the strength and safety of frames, saddles, bottom brackets or handlebars prior to their market introduction in his sound-insulated laboratory. For this purpose he develops own testing systems which he also sells to manufacturers.
Seated in a leather chair in front of the desk all this is hardly imaginable. The head of the company has enough of words. Now he wants to show us around and suggests a tour through the house, where he employs 15 staff members including some engineers. You can ride a bike or live for bikes. At this point it becomes clear that both is possible. Zedler opens showcases with bicycle forks which didn’t keep what they promised and shows through rooms where the story of the pedal-assisted mobility is conserved. An original Diamant Tour de France road bike has its place in the company-own museum beside the first full-suspension model dated 1890. "In those days the bicycle was the motor of the industrialisation," says the professional. 120 years later history repeats itself and the good old bike will become again motor of a high-technology called electric mobility.
Each tour comes to an end at some point. The bicycle expert returns into his office where work is piling up. His judgement is requested, his order books are full. He has more and more to deal with e-bikes which are tested in his house. Some people just fit their old bike with a new battery. Zedler can only advise against such a thing. Motor and battery modify the structure. And the entire cycle sector. In 2009 150,000 e-bikes were sold in Germany. In 2012 400,000. The pioneer finds that great. "The pedelec brings joy of movement and of nature back to many people."
The entrepreneur shows the visitor to the door. Outside the door there are covered and illuminated bicycle stands. The staff members are allowed to test all models and to have their private bikes repaired whenever necessary in the company. There are showers, towels and shampoo made available by the boss as well as drinks. This has brought him the title "Baden Wurttemberg’s most bicycle friendly employer". It goes without saying that he takes the bike to the office even in winter. To go to important appointments in the city he takes the e-bike, which is more relaxed. Today, the bicycle has the same tax rights as cars, he states at the end. Who would have thought it a few years ago? "Things are slowly changing", says Dirk Zedler who has always believed in it.
Author: Michael Ohnewald