“We’ll always meet again,” is often echoed negatively, but for Haibike encountering old acquaintances can actually herald the auspicious start of a new era.
It’s a chilly morning in Munich with blue skies. The sun is glaring down and flooding the brand-new Haibike Design Center with light. I’m standing in a large concrete-ceilinged, white-walled room which resonates with the hint of start-up fever. They’re still waiting for the final red wall to be painted black and for sound insulation to be fixed onto the ceiling, explains Alex Thusbass, who’s clad in jeans, a white shirt, and black glasses.
This tall man from Bavaria with a charismatic smile is the brains behind Haibike’s ePerformance range, a responsibility he’s had since it was first launched in 2010. A strong advocate for the potential of e-mobility – both in the urban and off-road environment – Alex and his team have cemented Haibike’s position as the market leader in the world of e-bikes despite initial overarching derision, criticism, and skepticism.
In 2016 more than 45% of our readers declared Haibike the best brand within the ePerformance industry, a figure that any traditional mountain bike manufacturer can only dream of. But now Haibike doesn’t just have to defend their prominence – they also have to build upon it. This is where the Haibike Design Center Munich will play a decisive role.
The key to success: the staff
In his unmistakable Bavarian dialect, Alex introduces me to his two new colleagues, Benjamin Turck and Piers Spencer-Philips, over a cup of coffee. As a trio they’ve known each other for years, having stayed in contact after previously working together at a design agency.
Benjamin then moved to Germany’s area of Franconia, where he held a leading position within the Adidas Innovation team. Piers headed even further away, moving to California via Italy, before arriving to Austria where he then took over the design of KTM and Husqvarna models. Faced with the opportunity to join this new design team, he bid goodbye to one of the leading Bavarian motorbike companies in favour of Haibike. Over the years the three designers have stayed close – largely due to their shared love for cycling. Now their ties are even stronger as they unite over the huge potential in the ePerformance world and their opportunity to shape the industry.
The Design Center Munich – a start-up with masses of experience
The Design Center Munich is a space that’s strongly reminiscent of a super-hip start-up, and could just as easily be housed in a trendy former industrial building in Berlin. The small but perfectly formed team’s work methods are also pretty similar to that of a start-up – team members focus on doing what they do best, but without limiting themselves to one specific core task. Take Piers, for example, who has been running the successful Derestricted blog for years and is now a veritable social media expert. He’s not just responsible for designing the colour concepts for the new bikes, but he’s also in charge of communication on Haibike’s social media channels.
Then there’s Benjamin, whose previous role revolved around materials and surfaces, rendering him the ideal person to take care of Haibike’s product development and designs. As Alex knows the E-MTB industry better than anyone, he’s the man at the helm of strategy and marketing tasks.
The brand’s DNA
In terms of strategy, there are questions of brand identity, design language, and the target market. E-bikes have long since moved on from being purely for older riders, and if Haibike are anything to go by, then these bikes aren’t just your classic designs, but brand-new forms of travel with new potential. This is visible in their designs, and Alex waxes lyrical about visible integration when it comes to the topic of motor-battery integration. In his view, E-MTBs shouldn’t hide what they are – so why disguise the motor? Moreover, there’s the definition of standard design elements such as Haibike’s typical kinked toptube, the skid plate motor protector, and the clean look – all elements that should render the Haibike brand recognizable to all.
Munich as the centre for design
There were multiple reasons for choosing the capital of Bavaria as the location for the Design Center – although they’re quick to deny that Oktoberfest was one of them! “The whole team feels at home here, we’ve got a good network, and the mountains are really close,” explains Alex. The three are in regular contact with Haibike’s HQ in Schweinfurt via Skype, and they attend meetings at either of the locations with the team of bike developers and the management too.
During my visit, Susanne Puello, the CEO of the Winora Group who own Haibike, was also at the Design Center, ticking off some important decisions in a quick and non-bureaucratic fashion. “Close contact between the designers and the development team is crucial during the entire process of developing an E-MTB, and we’re really happy that we are able to work so well with the guys in Schweinfurt,” continues Alex. But the distance from the HQ helps too, as the intimate team in Munich have their desired space in which they can work productively and creatively.
At EUROBIKE 2011 the team at Haibike were ridiculed for their e-engagement, but times are changing and Haibike are beginning to encounter those early skeptics and critics as direct competitors in the rapidly growing and increasingly competitive world of e-performance. The Design Center Munich is the ideal response, acting as start-up 2.0, and serving as a hotbed of ideas led by a highly qualified team. Their clear direction isn’t just defining the Schweinfurt-based company’s designs, but also the entire future of our sport. We can rest assured that the future is set to be exciting, and the question of what we’ll be riding in the next few years is already being tackled masterfully by this team.
Words & Photos: Christoph Bayer