Most of the recent developments are not new
“Until the 30ies, everything we know to date, existed already in these years: Spokes, gear hubs, lighting. Saddles with centre recess, recumbent bikes, models made of bamboo. “What we’ve got here is an 80 years old tandem with lockable suspension fork and drum brakes, i.e. everything a modern mountain bike has today, as well”, says Zedler. “Outside we have a full-suspension bike from the 1890ies. Such things were reinvented later on.”
What major automotive companies have and the bicycle industry has not is a complete development archive; it is only by looking back on some developments that you recognize precursors. That has to do with the history of the bicycle and with three major impediments: the International Cycling Union, the war and the motor.
Karl Drais invented his draisine as alternative means of transport, as the feed prices for horses became too high. The bicycle turned, however, not into a mass vehicle until the industrialisation. Legions of workers had to reach the new production plants; industrialisation itself permitted the production at a respectively high piece number. The purchase was expensive and big companies invested accordingly into development. Very soon the popular cycling sport established itself as most innovation-friendly area. But there not all new developments were approved. “The International Cycling Union impedes a lot of progress”, says Zedler, “because people typically cycle on what cycle pros cycle on.” However, in the 40ies the development broke down, because the industry focussed their capacities on motors and military equipment for the World War. What followed was the triumphal procession of cars and motorcycles and the decline of the bicycle into the vehicle of the poor.
“Between 1935 and 1985 there has been virtually no development”, says Zedler attesting the components originating from these days a continuously decreasing quality. “The only thing the bicycle industry managed was the development of the folding bike in the 70ies” – a desperate adaption to the car boot, that is to say the final capitulation.
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 overdeveloped sports equipment on the one hand and as fashion lifestyle accessory on the other hand.
Zedler, who won prizes for a particularly bicycle-friendly working environment in Baden-Wuerttemberg and nationwide, is happy to state that in terms of carbon mass usage the bicycle industry had outrun the automotive industry. “I do not expect any crazy leaps forward”, he comments on the state-of-the-art technology. “There will be not very much weight reduction any more.” According to his prediction, the bicycle will recall its roots and become means of mass transport again. That could cause significant revolutions.
Bicycles are no longer a hobby, but mobility
For many years now, there are around four millions of bicycles sold in Germany every year. The share of e-bikes increases consistently. Their users use them much more frequently than the users of normal bicycles. They also spend a lot more for them.
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, also expects mobility. Thinly spread specialist workshops, hyper sensitive special parts, long repair times. Nothing of all this goes along with reliability what for example commuters need. “Right now this is the most important development”, says Zedler. “To provide the bicycle with a high degree of availability and customer-friendliness on all levels”.
The fact that car-oriented corporations, like Bosch, want to be involved again in the development of the e-bike, which has been the special field of creative minds to date. For Zedler this is an indication that the progress might realize in much more higher jumps than in the past three decades. And meanwhile, it is not about making the existing technology more robust. Besides the developments in electronics, Zedler expects quantum leaps in the field of digitisation, from the service instruction via communication with the manufacturer to the smart search for bicycle stands and the incorporation into traffic management systems. “The bicycle returns to where it had been already”, says Zedler. “It turns into mobility again. Hereby the bicycle industry will reinvent themselves.”
Author: Jens Schmitz
Photos: Jens Schmitz