Posted on 11 July 2018
It has been remarked at Curbside that we've become a bit famous for importing bikes that are tough to pronounce. There's Achielle (ash-eel), Babboe (babboo), and now there's Fahrradmanufaktur - a whole new ball game! Germans have this habit of smashing long words together and Fahrradmanufaktur literally means "bike maker." We've just been calling it "Fahrrad," which means bike. And if there was any bike that best represented the word "bike" - the archetype of that word! - it would be Fahrradmanufaktur. Hands down... let us tell you why.
A VERY GERMAN SORT OF STORY
Regulation! Certification! Collaboration!
The story goes back to Berlin in the late 80's. Like Toronto now, Berlin was experiencing a grass-roots renaissance in city biking. And, like Copenhagen back in the 70's and Toronto today, this wasn't driven by an industry or by government, but by people getting on their bikes and finding a bike to be the most sensible and lovely way to breeze through gridlock. Now, every cyclist require a bike store and every bike store requires bikes - and therein lay the problem. Like Toronto today, there were only a few bike stores in Berlin really excited about the city bike market. Unfortunately, like Toronto, most bike shops in Berlin were run by dudes obsessed with highly specialized performance bikes. But, the real problem is that these same kind of guys were the same kind of guys designing bikes - leaving an entire market of city cyclists (and the few dedicated stores) out in the cold. Like Curbside, these stores tried Dutch bikes but found that these weren't always the best for sprawled out cities (Berlin is sprawled) or hills.
The story now takes a very (stereotypical) German twist. Whereas in North America a young start-up may seize the day and start a city bike company founded on good fashion sense and more hubris than technical knowledge, this is not the case here. No, instead a number of bike stores in 1987 formed a foundation, the VSF or, the Verbund Selbstverwalteter Fahrradbetriebe (those words!). This roughly translates to the "Assocation of Self-governed Bicycle Stores," and the goal was to create a set of standards for city bikes that would push the bike industry in Germany to focus on city bikes while providing ground-level guidance to what that bike should look like. Today the VSF has over 300 certified retailers, hold their own trade show, get involved in politics to lobby for infrastructure and certify many best-in-class German manufacturers, including brands we import, like Busch & Muller, Supernova, Tubus, Racktime and Hebie.
These certifying standards became what is now know as the Straßenverkehrszulassungsordnung (by now we are truly apologizing), or StVZO for short. These regulations dictated what a city bike is, and thus, how it is different from a recreational bike. For instance, according to StVZO, a city bike must have an internal gear hub, because they are low maintenance (we agree!), or, a city bike must have dynamo lighting to ensure constant, battery-free safety (smart!). And, the list goes on, including fenders, racks, and etc, etc.. But for all of that effort the original problem remained; the bike industry didn't respond or care. That's when the VSF, armed with data, ground-level experience and empirical-testing decided to become a bike manufacturer. Or better: a fahrradmanufaktur!
FROM AMSTERDAM TO BERLIN - PART 1
A material difference.
Now, the difference between Germany and Holland needs to be noted. In Holland, a city bike is a heavy, rather un-evolved tool that has always worked for the short-burst rides that occur over a topographically flat environment. These bikes tend to work anywhere people live a high-proximity radius (generally 7.5km by Dutch studies) that is best managed by bike. The problem is that these bikes generally aren't any good if that 7.5km radius has hills, or if you want to ride beyond the 7.5km radius - like a longer commute, or perhaps a long ride just for fun. The bike that VSF designed kept many of the practical features that are essential to a Dutch bike: internal gears, lighting systems, quality racks, fenders and kickstands but they made a lot of changes too. The first real change was in materials, the second was in geometry, or perhaps better: ride quality.
The materials found on a Dutch bike is what make it so heavy. The frames are generally made of hi-tensile steel and so are most of the parts - from the rack to the fenders to the chain guard. Hi-tensile steel is known for its harsh ride quality, it's heaviness, and for its strength. But, for over four decades the bike industry has moved to cro-moly steel, a steel that naturally absorbs road vibration, is significantly lighter than high-tensile steel, and stronger too. Most of the Fahrradmanufaktur bikes we carry are made of cro-moly tubing - that's because these bikes aren't just designed for city riding but also longer rides where a jarring frame can really be noticed. The one exception is the T-50, which is made of aluminum. This is a bike more primed for city riding and (not necessarily) less recreational riding. The aluminum frame is 30% lighter than steel and best of all, it can't rust. But, if you're going for a longer ride on a gravel path the cro-moly bikes feel better. And, if you're not - the T-50 is an phenomenal city bike for the money - everything including a dynamo light for $999 (read more on how this was made possible below). In any case, the lesson to be learned here is: Fahrradmanufaktur set out to make city bike frames lighter and more versatile, and that they accomplished!
This same approach to materials also applied to parts. It is well known in the bike industry that Germans make the best parts. Part of this is because these companies want StVZO certification, so there's always a race to be better. So, it's not just a case of Fahrradmanufaktur using lighter racks, fenders or kickstands, it's the outstanding quality and function of these items. Whereas a Chinese-made bike uses a lot of Chinese-made parts, a German-made bike like Fahrradmanufaktur uses a lot of European and German StVZO certified parts. And, because these German-made parts aren't near Chinese supply chain, a Fahrradmanufaktur has parts that no Chinese-made bike (which is most of the market) can remotely compete with. If you know your bikes you'll know that SKS (Germany) makes the lightest and most unbreakable fenders; that Tubus and Racktime (both Germany) make the lightest and strongest racks; that Hebie (Germany) makes the lightest and most functional chain guards; that Spanninga (Netherlands) AXA and B&M (both Germany) make the best lights; that Pletcher (Switzerland) makes kickstands that actually work and don't break; and the list goes on right down to the comfortable saddle (Italy) and the grips (Finland). It's a real basket of perfection. The net result: the most evolved city bike on the market in terms of quality, function, and weight. Yes, we realize we're gushing :)
FROM AMSTERDAM TO BERLIN - PART TWO
Big city, big city geometry
The second thing Fahrradmanufaktur focussed on was ride quality. We mentioned before that a Dutch bike tends to rather un-evolved, and that's true. Part of this is materials - as shown above - but it's really the geometry that's archaic. Don't get us wrong, the writer here owns a Dutch bike, it's a charming form of archaic, perhaps even sublime - but it's not made for hills or distance. People like Dutch bikes because they're upright, but a lot of this could just be a rebound relationship from their old bike which wasn't. Fahrradmanufaktur might argue that a Dutch bike is too upright, that the hips aren't even slightly tilted over the cranks for power or over the handlebar for steering control. Certainly for longer rides, they have a point.
But, there's other things that make a Dutch bike archaic in geometry. One is the long wheelbase that privileges stability over manoeuvrability - manoeuvrability being a key aspect of safety in a city that lacks the bike lanes of Holland. The other is the very slack seat and head tube angles that make the bike feel sloppy when climbing - but then Dutch bikes were never really meant to climb.
A Fahrradmanufaktur bike represents a global re-think on what a city bike geometry should be. Because a Fahrradmanufaktur is designed to multi-task short-burst city cycling and longer commutes (or long, lovely days out) the geometry had to remain upright for safety but required a touch of sportiness to optimize the bodies position over the bike - both in terms of power and handling. If you compare a Fahrradmanufaktur to a Dutch bike you'll see the head tube (where the front forks and handlebar go into) is quite a bit shorter than a Dutch bike. This keeps you upright, but not too upright. Moreover, you might notice the top tube of the bike is a bit longer, this gives you a ever-so-slight (we mean slight) bit of lean, so that your hips are rocked over the cranks a wee bit. And, since Berlin in the 80's had the same amount of bike lanes we have today in Toronto (not a lot) the bike had to be both equally agile and stable. To this end, Fahrradmanufaktur shortened the wheelbase - again, only just a bit - and made the front centre (cranks to front fork) shorter than a recreational bike to accommodate the tight-cornering of a city, and the rear-centre (cranks to rear wheel axle) a bit longer than a recreational bike to build length (and also to displace all the weight you might carry in your basket or pannier bags). The end result? A no-compromise city bike that is equally at home on the potholed streets of Toronto as it is on the gravel path between Elora and Forks of the Credit.
CLOSER TO CANADA
We're just doing our duty. Wait? No duties?
We're proud to be the first store to carry Fahrradmanufaktur in North America. As many of our customers know, we started with Dutch bikes, moved to cheaper bikes like Pure City made in the Far East, and found a middle ground by developing Toronto's own Simcoe (now since past, a long story). But Fahrradmanufaktur is next-level. Fahrradmanufaktur connects larger bicycle cultures like Toronto and Berlin with next-generation city bikes designed for hills and sprawl while creating a no-compromise solution that multi-tasks recreational rides and city rides without having to own two bikes.
Now, why - you might ask - does the pricing seem so reasonable? You could buy a high-tensile steel Chinese-made Linus 3-speed bike at a local retailer for $899 or a cro-moly German-made Fahrradmanufaktur T-50 7-speed bike for $999 - not only equipped with a basket of best-in-class German parts, but also including a battery-free dynamo lighting system! The answer is: duties.
While we won't express our political sympathies we do have Stephen Harper to thank for creating CETA, or, the Canadian European Trade Agreement. CETA is a free-trade agreement between Europe and Canada for goods made in those countries. And, Fahrradmanufaktur is made in Germany, in the old Hanseatic town of Oldenberg. Most people don't realize that bikes are heavily dutied, up to 13% - and because of CETA we have the chance to truly offer our customers the benefits of this agreement.
Because it puts the bike in bike
So, why Fahrradmanufaktur? Because if any bike was to represent what a bike should be, it's these guys. While we only currently carry a small smattering of bikes from Fahrradmanufaktur, we are excited to start importing their touring bikes as well - long considered the best in Europe. And, while we'd love to see a Canadian produce a bike like Fahrradmanufaktur, we're thrilled that Fahrradmanufaktur is tied into the Canadian European Trade Agreement, it's something we believe in just as much. So, if you need a no-compromise city bike that is truly the best-of-the-best, and a bike that you can take camping or out of the city, Fahrradmanufaktur is top of the game in comfort, quality, performance and weight. Now, we just need to figure out how to say Fahrradmanufaktur correctly.
We're working on it!