Posted on 11 July 2018
Fahrradmanufaktur literally means "bike maker." The company was started by a consortium of bike stores in Germany called the VSF, the Verbund Selbstverwalteter Fahrradbetriebe, or in English, the Assocation of Self-governed Bicycle Stores. While Fahrradmanufaktur was since bought by Cycle Union in Oldenberg, Germany (where the bikes are produced) the story of how they came to be has special relevance for city cyclists in North America.
Fahrradmanufaktur has a story that is close to our hearts. It represents a grassroots articulation of what a city bike looks like beyond the traditional bikes of Amsterdam or Copenhagen. But, unlike so many other brands out there trying to build "the bike of the future", it's not high concept either. Instead, Fahrradmanufaktur represents a no-nonsense modern, engineered approach to materials and parts with an eye to durability, and above all: versatility.
FROM BERLIN TO TORONTO
Sprawl, hills, and recreation
Big-city city bikes - made in Europe
Germany is not unlike North America in many respects. Unlike cycling countries like Denmark or Holland, German cities are big, sprawled out, and full of hilly topography. And not unlike North America, in Germany bicycles have traditionally been viewed as recreational objects and for transportation, while the automobile has been king.
This situation began to change as far back as the 1980's, when these large, dense cities suffered the kind of choked gridlock we see today in cities like Toronto, Chicago, or New York. Fahrradmanufaktur is a story of grassroots market reponse.
Fahrradmanufaktur began with VSF bicycle retailers in Berlin who began to notice that more and more of their customers were opting to cycle but bike stores couldn't provide these customers with proper city bikes. It's not unlike our own story here at Curbside. As we discovered at Curbside (when we started to import bikes from Europe back in 2006), Dutch bikes can be too heavy for the distance and the hills. Despite this, the Germany bicycle industry - not unlike our own here in North America - continued to ignore small micro markets for the larger sporting market. Like Curbside, these Berlin VSF retailers needed a next-generation city bike that solved more problems than bikes made for smaller, flatter cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen.
German Ordnung meets the city bicycle
VSF: empirical, collective entrepreneurialism
VSF is an organization of bike stores, wholesalers and manufacturers who stand for a responsible approach to human resources and the environment. They strive for fair working conditions, sustainable production, and transparent trade routes. What's not to like about that? They guide product design by certifying bicycles, they hold their own trade show, and they get involved in politics to lobby the government for infrastructure. Today there are over 300 VSF retailers in Germany and many recognizable manufacturers, including brands we import, like Busch & Muller and Hebie.
In 1987, with the growth of city cycling in urban centres, VSF decided to create a certification process to help push the needs of city cyclists into the spotlight. This included repair shop certification, emergency repair service, standardized repair pricing, and promoting the idea of a "no-nonsense" bike, a bike that was truly practical for city cyclists. It was from this certification process that VSF Fahrradmanufaktur was borne, a bike that conformed to the high standards of the VSF organization. The company first began in Berlin, a city not unlike North American cities in terms of size, sprawl, automobile usage and hills.
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 topographically flat, high-proximity lifestyle that is best managed by bike. But, these bikes typically can't move beyond this high proximity for recreational rides, nor can they handle hills - they're simply too heavy.
NEXT GENERATION CITY BIKES
Light, durable, and above all: versatile
The Dutch bike meets the big city: modern materials for distance and hills
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.
First, VSF moved away from heavy tensile steel frames and stainless steel rims to lightweight aluminum frames and aluminum rims. Second, VSF lowered the head-tube and lengthened the top-tube slightly, giving you a sportier position that still remains upright. Third, they worked with German bicycle accessory companies, because the Germans take things like kickstands, lights, and fenders seriously. A typical Fahrradmanufaktur bike will have fenders made by SKS, lights made by AXA, racks made by Tubus, brakes by Magura, hubs by Rohloff, and chain-guards made by Hebie. That beats most of the cheap afterthought accessories that dominate todays made-in-China city bikes.
You might say the Fahrradmanufaktur story sounds a bit like Simcoe, two brands that grew out of bike stores to respond to their customers needs. And, you might also say these needs - a bike that can handle hills and distance - seem very much the same. That's true, but unlike Simcoe, Fahrradmanufaktur is based in Europe and can leverage the wealth of experience and European-made parts that you simply can't find on a bike made in Taiwan. The colours may not be as pretty, but the form is in the function.
LIFE ON TWO WHEELS
From city bikes to touring bikes
Fahrradmanufaktur is also the touring bike leader in Europe
Today Fahraddmanufaktur builds a wide range of city bikes and has also become Europe's premier touring bike brand. City bikes like the S-80 are not unlike Simcoe, built for long distances or hills in the city but less about longer recreational rides for fitness. That's why bikes like the T-100 use similar parts as the S-80 but employs a sportier geometry. As you move up the T-series line the bikes move beyond recreational fitness rides and more into performance touring, but this is accomplished without any compromise to city cycling. That's because these bikes use legendary German-made products like Pinion gearboxes and Rohloff 14-speed internal gear hubs.
That gives Fahrradmanufaktur an edge few companies can compete with. The Dutch are still making their heavy city bikes, the North American options are largely made in the Far East, but Fahrradmanufaktur is a story of bike stores re-inventing the all-weather city bike from the ground up with access to better parts and a larger, more mature market with needs not unlike our own. This is the kind of bike that we can really get behind.
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. But Fahrradmanufaktur is next-level. Fahrradmanufaktur connects cities like Toronto and Berlin with next-generation city bikes designed for large, emerging bicycle cultures - from Germany to the the new world.