From the outside the flat-roofed building at Ludwigsburg’s industrial area couldn’t appear less harmless. There is little noise coming up from the basement. The windowless walls are sound insulate, access controls and a strict ban on photography make for discretion. In these premises, the future of the bicycle is tested: Manufacturers from all over the world send their latest developments to have them tortured here by sophisticated machines. What persists has chances, what yields is eliminated. The website does not provide any information on the numerous clients and the test pieces do neither show any brands. “Everything masked, everything closed”, confirms Dirk Zedler. “The fact that we are so discreet is the secret of our success.”
Zedler-Institut für Fahrradtechnik und -Sicherheit is among the worldwide leading test companies for bicycles, a parented loss adjusting agency delivers expert reports after accidents or technical failure. The graduate engineer’s group of companies originated from the work as expert witness. The test stands going far beyond the standards are Zedler’s capital developed by himself.
“We push the development”, says the boss about the collaboration of his team of 24. The 54-old is however not only expert for the potentials of the two-wheeler. His competence also feeds on a collection of more than 300 representatives of the past, from the draisine to the hyper modern 5-kg-construct.
“Until the 30ies, everything we know to date, existed already in these years”, says Zedler: Spokes, gear hubs, lighting. Saddles with centre recess, recumbent bikes, models made of bamboo. “From 1935 to 1985 there has been virtually no development at all. The only thing that the cycle industry had achieved was the development of the folding bike in the 70ies. Mountain biking and triathlon in the 80ies and 90ies coming from the US were for Zedler the first trends bringing an image improvement. The Tour de France became a mega event and experienced the development of new technologies. The bicycle set off into an era as sports equipment on the one hand and as lifestyle accessory on the other hand.
As regards the large-scale use of carbon, the cycle industry has even overtaken the car industry, says Zedler. “I don’t expect any crazy leaps forward any more. The bicycles will not lose so much weight any more.” According to his prediction, the bicycle will recall its roots instead and become means of mass transport again.
For many years now, the number of bicycle sales per year in Germany are constant at around four millions. The share of e-bikes increases however. Their users use them much more often than the users of conventional bicycles. These people no longer buy a hobby, but mobility again, as it was the case right at the beginning, explains Zedler. But everyone who buys mobility by paying two and a half thousand Euro in the average, would also expect mobility. “Right now this challenge is the most important development”, says Zedler, “to provide the bicycle with a high degree of availability, usability and customer-friendliness on all levels”. The fact that big companies like Bosch are back again on the e-bike market is for Zedler an indication that the development in the bicycle industry may progress in much bigger steps than in the past three decades.
A historical ride in Mannheim
Karl Drais invented his draisine as alternative means of transport, as the feed prices for horses became too high. On June 12, 1817 he had made his first historical ride in Mannheim. From the expert’s point of view, the bicycle's triumphal march started with the running machine of the Baden tinkerer.
Author: Jens Schmitz