From The Top: Karl Nicolai on Gearboxes, Geometry, & How His Company Found Its Niche

May 8, 2020
by Brian Park  



Very few brands out there are as polarizing as Nicolai. They're a niche, cult brand, and they make no apologies about not being for everyone, but they've also been on the right side of a lot of current trends around alloy bikes, geometry, and eMTBs. Through it all, they've just gone about their business. We sat down with Karl Nicolai, the founder and owner of his namesake brand, to talk about the past, present, and future.





Thanks for taking the time today Karl. How are you and your team doing in this very, very weird time?


Karl Nicolai: We are in the countryside of Germany so we aren’t affected as much as others. The company is still running and we are still producing bikes, but no customers and vendors are allowed to visit. Everything is on a lower level, but we are really in a fortunate situation here.

Have you guys implemented new protocols within your facility?


Karl Nicolai: Yeah, absolutely. We have contact restrictions here in Germany, where basically everybody is forced to keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters. Our factory is pretty big, and we are only 20 people, so this can easily be done. Then you have some... the normal stuff, like washing the hands, and be careful when sneezing, and even when somebody is a little bit ill, I send him home. A little bit of carefulness, but hopefully here in Germany the numbers go down, and hopefully in the beginning of May everything goes even more back to normal.

Our bike shops are re-opening starting next week, that was the government decision yesterday, which is really good.

To get things started, let's jump way back. For those that aren't familiar, what is the origin story of Nicolai? How long have you been working on this?


Karl Nicolai: Nicolai is my last name, and I started to race enduro and motocross races when I was 18, 19 years old. Then I studied mechanical engineering at university, and it was always my dream to design two wheelers, in general. I loved BMX, I loved motocross. It was always my dream to design such stuff.

A young Kalle on a motorcycle.
The Kramer motorcycle.

Then in 1990, I was at the university, and there was no email or social media. I had to use a fax machine for communication. I was reading Motocross Action magazine, and there was a little company called AMP Research in Laguna Beach. They designed advanced offroad motorcycles, and I just gave Horst Leitner a call, a phone call. He said to me, "Yeah, you can come by, but if you do not work in a proper manner, I'll fire you in one week." He gave me the risk, but I moved over to the US in '91. Then he said to me, "Oh, now today we are not designing motorcycles, we are focusing on designing mountain bikes." I was, yeah, why not? Laguna Beach is also a pretty nice place to go on a ride, and so I discovered mountain biking.

Then I discovered all the fun of it, and we designed the very early suspensions for Specialized, Rocky Mountain, Mongoose, and the “Horst link” and that was really fun in those days. That was my early start, an employee of AMP.

Horst and Kalle in 1991.

Then I went back to Germany to finish my studies, but I constantly worked on designs, even while I was at university. At a certain moment, I got in touch with Bob Margevicius, he was the former CEO of Mongoose, and he made an offer to me to design a brand new downhill bike for the Mongoose World Cup team, for Brian Lopes and Leigh Donovan. I did that at the end of '94, beginning of '95. That bike was pretty successful, and Brian and Leigh, they won both the NORBA Championship in the US, and Leigh won the World Championship in Kirchzarten in that day, that was '95.

Suddenly I was kind of famous, just within the scene. Mongoose asked, “hey Karl…”—btw. I designed my own shock absorber for this bike: Mongoose asked me, “can you deliver quantity? Can you deliver a thousand pieces? When you come from university, you think you can do everything?” So I said yes, I can make a thousand pieces, no problem.

Brian Lopes Mongoose with Nicola designed trombone shock.
Brian Lopes' Mongoose with Nicolai's "trombone" shock.

At university, you learn how you let other people work, so I was looking for a bicycle factory. I found one in Italy, but they were also not able to produce this bike, because a certain quality was needed. At that moment, I had to make the decision, do I go bankrupt? How do I create a thousand bikes? We decided to build up our own little garage factory to produce these bikes for Mongoose, from 1995 to 1996 It was a huge quantity, so I invested in a welding machine, lathe, milling machine, and we made these bikes, and we made them in quality. We delivered all the bikes and after that order we said, that is no fun at all to deliver to other people, let's do our own bicycle brand and our own mountain bike factory.

Nicolai's frame production in a garage in 1997.

That was the start of Nicolai Bicycles, in August '95. I'm very proud, now we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year, in 2020. Due to that virus, it's hanging in the sky if we can do a big party or not, but we are very proud that we survived 25 years.

What were you doing with Horst at AMP? Were you welding, or were you engineering?


Karl Nicolai: Basically, in such a little company, you do everything. There was no computer, no CAD design. I did all the drawings and engineering by hand, then I built all the prototypes. From A to Z, I did everything on these bikes. For me, it was very inspiring, because when you come from a German university, you just learn how complicated things are, and with the time with Horst I learned, oh, you just have to start and make it happen, and then things will work out. The mixture in between theoretical knowledge from university and that American/California spirit, we built a company that was a good mixture for Nicolai too. I learned from both sides.

What did you go to school for? Engineering?


Karl Nicolai: Yes, mechanical engineering. Aerospace engineering, so very theoretical, lots of calculations. I never worked for a company. I finished university, and we made Nicolai Bicycles. I said, we just do it. If I fail, I can get a job later. That was a good decision that day.

Kalle Nicolai in ~1993.

How close are you now, would you say, to your original vision, 25 years later? Is it what you imagined?


Karl Nicolai: No, I could not imagine that we would get this big. The core identity, our first vision was, let's build the bikes with a quality and craftsmanship that we would like to see, and how we would want to ride. This is what never changed. We now have all the best CNC machinery, and welding technology. We have all the tools available that we didn’t have in the beginning, but the core and soul is still the same. We want to deliver the consumer the best mechanical solution.

What's your favourite machine?


Karl Nicolai: We invested in a DMG NTX1000 machine last year. It has a turning center, and it's combined with a milling center, so you can make very weird parts. You can mill them, and you can turn them. As we are very addicted to gearbox designs, this machine brought us, in the last 12 months, into a position to make the a brand new product that will be presented in a few months, whenever it is ready and tested...
An NTX-1000 turn and mill centre.

Let's talk a little bit about domestic German manufacturing, doing it all in-house. Why did you go down that road?


Karl Nicolai: First of all, we started small and we are still small. We are a boutique manufacturer, and we want to stay that way. If you buy a Nicolai, it’s like buying a handmade shoe, or a tailor-made suit. This is what you get. A normal Nicolai customer has three bikes, and he wants that number four. This is when he comes to us. Our target as a team, our goal, our vision to deliver the “state of the art” product with the highest craftsmanship quality brings us to the need that we do it in house.

Aluminium storage.

On the other hand, we are a family. All these 20 people working together with me, they are friends. For me, it's enough to steer that company in a way that we keep it a certain size. Keep our numbers in the black and not the red. Because all these guys, they have today families, wives, kids. I have a certain responsibility there. That's the target, not big growth. I feel almost alone in this. In the bicycle business I have seen many companies dying because they have the wrong vision, or the wrong target. They want to be the biggest, or make the most money . This is not our target. We want to build the best quality products, and deliver the best design, and best mechanical solution.

Nicolai's staff in 2020.

There are certainly brands that rely on aggressive growth targets to stay viable, and when something happens like coronavirus, or someone gets a forecast wrong, and they don't hit those targets, it can be a huge problem.


Karl Nicolai: I'm the only shareholder within Nicolai. There are no other shareholders, so it's all up to me what we do and where we steer, the left side or right side. This is a very, very nice situation. On the other hand, “comfort is a drug” and it's really important to kick our own ass every Monday as a team to stay ahead of the pack, and to work hard to discover the next cutting edge of the technology, or manufacturing, etc.

We should probably talk about carbon. You guys make zero carbon bikes, right?


Karl Nicolai: Yes.

Why not?


Karl Nicolai: We always say, we were sustainable before the word was hip. I really don't like carbon products, because they have a really bad impact on the environment. You cannot recycle this product and make new bicycle frames out of it. Bicycle products should also always be, in a certain way, better for the world than the solutions of yesterday. This is why, on the other hand, we re-prove every day that you can be on the track, on an aluminum bike, with the same speed and safety as with a carbon bike. You do not have a disadvantage when you have a Nicolai bike under your ass.

Photo Luka Gorjup
Photo: Nicolai/Luka Gorjup

Alloy is seeing a resurgence right now. Weight seems to be less important to riders than in the past, and manufacturers are finding ways to do more with alloy. Plus, domestic manufacturing is more attractive than ever. You mentioned recycling; do you guys have a program in place for recycling your bikes?


Karl Nicolai: Yes. You can see it on our YouTube page. Starting with the box, how we deliver our product to the consumer. This box is reusable and there's no junk and plastic in there that you need to throw away every time. You can use it many times, send the bike back to us for service, and we send it back to you. It's a Nicolai bike box. This is a little start. On the other hand, there are not many people who throw their Nicolai in the trash can. We have customers with 15 year old bikes that send them back to us for service, bearing service, or a new paint job.

We strive for everything that we do in our factory to become part of a circular economy, where the product can be recycled more and more times.

So if someone accidentally backs their car up over a Nicolai, god forbid, you guys would recycle the frame?


Karl Nicolai: Yes absolutely. We have a recycling channel for aluminum, one for steel, one for plastic, and so on.

So no carbon bike from you ever, that's just not something you're interested in?


Karl Nicolai: No. On the technology side, we would be able to do it, but it's not our nature, it's not our genetic code, so we don't do it.

Before Nicolai you were in mechanical engineering school, doing aerospace engineering. Did you have any business experience before you started the business?


Karl Nicolai: Nothing. I learned everything while we went forward. I had no clue about supply chain, balance sheets or tax reports. We had to learn everything. Everything that you want to learn, you are able to. You have a tax advisor, you hire talented skilled people and act like team, then the work itself will teach you everything. So these business skills shall not be overrated. It’s important that you always have new inspirations, new ideas, what is the next chapter, what is the next cutting edge product? This was more important than the business side. On the other hand, at the end of the week and the end of the month, you need to be able to pay your people and pay your bills. This takes a certain discipline and this is not much fun.

How did you get the original funding to make that initial investment? It sounded like a pretty large startup cost.


Karl Nicolai: It wasn’t too much. It's 25 years ago, so I think the NDA has expired. That early times was Mongoose, they paid me 50 percent up front on the frames I had to deliver, so with that prepayment we purchased two welding machines, and a used lathe, and a used milling machine, so it was like a $15,000 investment, those early days.

Wow. Then you hired a couple of people, and went to work?


Karl Nicolai: No, we did it with friends. I had two friends, they lost their jobs, so I hired them. I said hey, we're going to deliver the frames, then you get your money. We started in a double garage in my parents' house. I had an oversea container in front of my mother’s private house, and we wore thick jackets since we were welding when it was icy outside. This is a recommendation I can give to all startup businesses - just use what you have, do what you can, and then things will grow. Don't go to the bank and take big loans.

From those early days to now, how have your designs evolved? Original Nicolai bikes are not that similar to what you guys are making now.


Karl Nicolai: The Horst link was developed in '91. I worked with Horst Leitner and learned from him. You can still find [that suspension design] on every single Nicolai bike. In the early days, like 15 years ago, I had a license contract with Specialized, so I was always allowed to use it. It's still state of the art. Four bar linkage with a Horst link works perfectly, especially in combination with modern shocks. We work a lot with EXT shocks from Italy. It’s like the suspension today is from another planet.

The design process, to answer your question more precisely, is we're always riding, engineering, riding, engineering. I always try to use the most modern equipment, so we used “computer aided design” (CAD) from the very beginning.

The most difficult part in the beginning was getting all the tubes and aluminum. That was kind of a big investment. I had to go to the bank in that time to get the right tubes, and sometimes I had to buy tubes for two years and longer, so big amounts. Then we welded the product. We’ve also always had World Cup teams, local teams, and national teams. Most important for the development is that you have a good team around you with different opinions, different types of riders. We test the product, and then we confirm that they are good or bad, and then we move it forward to the market.

This is kind of like, I would like to say 30 percent of the product development is what is in my head, another 30 percent is the influence of people around me, racers, etc, and another 30 percent is that we listen to the market and we listen to end consumers. What we don't do at all is looking at different companies, what they do, and try to mimic that. You can easily look at all our products over the years, we never mimic or copy or clone other designs, because of the sake of it.

2002 Nicola Nucleon ST
The 2002 Nicolai Nucleon ST.
Nicolai G1
The 2020 Nicolai G1.

Over the years Nicolai designs have gotten less…


Karl Nicolai: Wild.

Yeah. The designs used to be super ornate monster bikes, crazy tanks, and now they're more “normal”? Or is it just my perspective that has changed?


Karl Nicolai: No no, this is really interesting. You are absolutely right. From 2003 to 2007/8, that was a really wild phase. We did everything what we dreamed of, even if it was sometimes the wrong direction. We built tanks, not bikes. The funny thing is, people loved it. People still love those products today, but they have them more like in a museum instead of for daily rides...

As a final target, we had to make fast and pretty bikes that work well. This is why the designs moved to be more sophisticated, lightweight, and simple. This is how I would describe our products today. Today we use much more FEM calculations on the aluminum to make the products as lightweight as possible. I would say 15 years ago, nobody cared, we used metal and welded it.

Photo by Saskia Duggon
Chris Porter in 2017. He's since been doing more with GeoMetron and EXT suspension. Photo by Saskia Dugon.

How did you get connected with Chris Porter, and how has he influenced your guys' work?


Karl Nicolai: A bike designer named Marcel Lauxtermann worked for me a few years ago Then he moved to Barcelona, to a carbon bike manufacturer, and then he moved to Chris Porter. We are very close, so that Chris Porter in the UK became part of the “Nicolai family.” We loved his ideas, and tested his ideas, and proved them well. The geometry became part of our technology, and also he's now using 100 percent our products, with a different sticker, selling it under the GeoMetron logo. I don't see a problem with that. He takes care of the UK, we take care about the rest of Europe. We are good friends, and playing ping pong with ideas constantly.

Right. What does the split look like with GeoMetron versus Nicolai? It's a bit of a unique business and branding setup.


Karl Nicolai: He is using 100 percent Nicolai products, and I allow him to put his own sticker on it, the GeoMetron sticker. He is very keen to adjust each shock absorber setup specifically for the consumer, as we at Nicolai are using standard EXT setups for the shock. The frame, it's absolutely the same.

Really? Totally the same?


Karl Nicolai: Totally the same. You can see on the GeoMetron, that's still the CNC milled Nicolai logo in the head tube. There is no difference. We do not want differences there. You say that's a unique setup. Yes, it's a unique setup, because we both are not interested in maximizing our profit. We are friends, and the most important for us is that our both companies, and the people who we deal and work with every day, have a good life.

When there is transparency it becomes not as big of a problem. Yeah, it's different, nobody's doing it that way, you are correct, but it's that way for historical reasons. Chris did Fox and Nicolai distribution before, and then Fox wanted to be independent in the UK. I'm very happy that he made the decision to focus on some of our products for the UK.

He was helping me with designing the perfect geometry, because if you want to design a really good product, you have to put your own ego low, low, low. You need to be able to listen to what other people do and think. The quench of all of it makes the best product.

He was the one that brought a lot of geometry ideas to you, right?


Karl Nicolai: Right. Right. Every day a lot of people come to me with new ideas. Nine of 10 will not be used. A really long time ago, I think in '11 or '12, we did our first comparison tests. It was very surprising that the differences were easy to notice. The difference was so simple that we all scratched our head, why is nobody doing it? The answer was, everybody is doing the same thing as yesterday because it's a risk to change. Nevertheless, the final G1-frame product includes not just the ideas of Chris Porter or Kalle Nicolai, like I said it is a blend of good and tested ideas from the UK and Germany.

If you have an organization, and you have your product, and the products are selling well, it's always a risk to change something. Normally the upper management is pressing the engineers and designers to do something that is not so different from the past. This is why the changes of the bikes are going so slowly. We are in the situation that we can take that risk.

I like that many other companies are sticking to old stuff, because this gives us the opportunity to stand out. Even with our limited resources.

Do you think you guys are sort of that logical conclusion of geometry and design, or do you think that there's another wave coming in the next little bit?


Karl Nicolai: There are more logical conclusions... and we've already started working on them. The whole geometry of each frame size is a function of your own body’s measurement. The rear end should grow with the sizes, the same way the reach grows with the sizes, and so on and on. Also, other areas of improvement are in forks. For historical reasons, today forks have certain kind of fork rakes and offsets. Changing these offsets leads to big tooling costs, and so everything is taken as given, and things are really moving super slow here.

Chris is shaking things up in that area and he offers different triple crown fork crown clamps for Fox forks, for example, to overcome the problem that normally if you go with a slacker head angle, you have also to reduce the fork offset to get the best out of it. Unfortunately, we cannot change too much of these. We can just give recommendation to fork manufacturers.

I feel like Chris has actually influenced the fork manufacturers by doing what he's done, because with the new releases from Fox this spring, the 40 has quite a few different offset options.


Karl Nicolai: Yeah. I have to study the drawings.

Was there ever a moment where you thought the whole thing had failed? An individual challenge at Nicolai, a project that bombed, a bike that broke on the World Cup, or you thought, oh my god, this is the end?


Karl Nicolai: I think that I have a certain instinct, and I smell if things are starting to go down. We started in a barn building, 25 years ago, and we’ve grown to 20 employees. This is not a big company and I made many mistakes along the way. After a failure, you take it as a lesson and carry on.

It may be a little selfish, but I always see very clearly in front of me what is the next natural evolution. For example, we built the first electric mountain bike in 2010. I also have many patents on motor technologies and I sold them to an important motor company today. As you know, I came from the motocross area, and I always had the dream, how can I ride a mountain bike for a really long time, even in the Alps, without the need of an oxygen tent after hours of climbing? We started that very early. We did not make it as a growth program or profit program. We always built a small line of electric mountain bikes.

As a small company, we always need to do this little bit extra, otherwise we will die in one or two years. In 2018 we moved the company to a bigger place, we reduced the staff, we invested in more CNC machines, we made everything more lean, we invested heavily in the development of electric mountain bikes, and we were able to produce them in quantity, etc. We worked hard on our brand image to get away from the idea that Nicolai is just crazy guys from Germany welding together tank-type-frames.

The biggest challenge for me was: how can the Nicolai brand be fresh after 25 years? I'm still working on that. Hopefully you can see it from the outside, that we have an identity, we want to always be the handcrafted, best mechanical solution company, but we also need to be a company of the 21st century. You have to kick your own ass every Monday.

So you gambled on eMTB stuff, and it seems to be paying off. What percentage of sales is e-bike versus regular bike now?


Karl Nicolai: 50 percent. And it's growing. I think next year it will be 60 or 70. And we didn’t gamble, we knew it… Always!

Nicolai EBOXX E14
Nicolai EBOXX E14.

Wow, 50% is huge. Even though you only do one e-bike model?


Karl Nicolai: One core model in different specifications, configurations. Also one is, we call it the Explorer model. It's basically the SUV, where the “office-manager” can go 20 miles to work every morning. He can go on the ride back home through the woods. I think the market today needs different answers. We need to do some crossover. Why do you need to go with a car to work, and with a car back, and then take your bike and go on a mountain bike ride? Why not mix things?

It's far away from downhill racing, or enduro racing, but I play on the fact that people today are intelligent enough to understand that we are able to build fast enduro bicycles, but also some kind of e-bikes for special purposes. I'm not afraid to go with different ways.

Nicolai Saturn 14 ST
Nicolai Saturn 14 ST.

Before I start trying to wheedle some new product info out of you, I want to touch on marketing. I have a story about the Nicolai Saturn 14 ST.

In your marketing launch email, at some point in the middle of the message, you're telling people, the press, about the bike: this is the current version, this is what we're changing, this is this and that. The thing that was changed on this particular model was the suffix "ST." Your message went:

“ST is the suffix for Super Trail. Nicolai connoisseurs may be surprised and associate ST, the ST suffix, more with the meaning of super travel, which is a previous model we've done. We're aware of the danger of confusion, but unfortunately we have not come up with anything better. Our core competence and drive is engineering, frame construction, and finish, not marketing.”

That might be my favorite marketing email of all time. “Yeah, we suck at this, sorry for the confusion.” Tell me about that.


Karl Nicolai: This is a good example of how we always try to let people feel that they can connect with us. I mean, you can not touch a company like Specialized, Trek, or whatever. These are big organizations, but if you buy a Nicolai, you are part of the family. You can take your phone and you dial the number, and you get the right guy on the phone, and we are accessible. We are the real people doing these products, and we are transparent. We don't do marketing, we just tell what we do.

People just like to see what is behind always, this is why we just tell it how it is. Even if some day we produce 10,000 bikes per year, we will be still the same.

How many bikes do you produce right now, per year?


Karl Nicolai: Not too much, just 1200.

Would you do things differently in the marketing side if you did have the budget? Would you field a World Cup team? Or big expensive videos?


Karl Nicolai: If you take that budget, and if you do these things, then you have to be able to please the market. Then I need capacity. We are not scalable, this is a problem. This is really the pain. If you do a boutique, handmade production, everything in-house, then you are not scalable. I only have three welders, and all that they can do is weld. We do just that amount of marketing that we sell everything that we produce. That is the key behind it.

If I had millions for marketing, I need the same millions to scale up and clone the welders somehow, or go to China production. This is not our core and spirit. We could invest in a big World Cup team, but then it would be a hobby. I could have a millionaire come from outside, paying for my hobby, but we wouldn’t be able to deliver more bikes. The lead time would grow.

Well, let's bring things full circle and jump back to you a little bit. Where, as a person, do you draw inspiration?


Karl Nicolai: Difficult question. I like to absorb technology in general. I'm interested in all kinds of technology, but I'm always interested in the core, and what is behind the curtain, and diving deep down to the ground to understand what is really happening. I would never go to a press release of a Tesla truck or something, because there is nothing, you do not learn something there. I love to look behind the curtain, I love to visit other companies, I love to learn more about manufacturing technologies, I read books about it.

Doing good design is like a painting. When you look at famous artists like Picasso or Richter when they make a really good painting, you can look at it and you will still like it after years and years. I do designs, and discard them again and again. Sometimes designs take a really long time. I’ve been working on a new gearbox technology for mountain bikes for 10 years, and I am not done yet. We’ve tested and tried and trashed. Now at the moment we may come back to a very simple solution soon. This is how life is.

I'm always playing. If I want to see a technology, then I go away for three days, and then I just dive into that. I'm in the fortunate situation that I can do that. This desk here is at my old barn building. I do not even have a desk in my factory. I want to stay alone, and I want to be able to focus on what I do.

I asked what you did outside of cycling, and your answer was that you spend all your time learning about technology to think about cycling. [laughs]


Karl Nicolai: Yeah. On some days I ride motocross, or go to ride the EBOXX [eMTB] in the woods. As you might know, I also have a second company. We do a lot of design together with Gates Carbon Drive. Gates is a US company, and we are always using Gates Carbon Drive products, also on mountain bikes. My second passion besides bikes is the drivetrain technology. Sometimes I travel to the US, I visit Gates, and try to get inspiration from all sides.

Outside of Nicolai, who inspires you in the business world? Is there a company that you try and model Nicolai after? Is there somebody outside of the bike world that you think is a good path to follow?

Karl on any Sunday.

Karl Nicolai: No. I was always looking at other companies. I was looking for the magic stick to do something, and to be successful. The only thing I found out is that the real successful companies are all hard workers, and focused, and disciplined. Four percent is the muse, and 96 percent is hard work. This is what I learned from many other different companies. There is no magic stick.

When you say, it’s so cool I get to design bikes, yeah it is, but it's only four percent. It's 96 percent of hard work, and figuring out how to finance the purchase department, how to source the front forks in time for building the bikes, and is the final little bolt at the production line at the right time?

The only advice I can give to everybody who is starting new is, don't look for the quick solution, there is no quick solution.

Where does Nicolai go from here? What does that success look like going forward?


Karl Nicolai: We will always work with the brightest heads when it comes to suspension, geometry, manufacturing and material science, because we want the fastest products. We want to build the fastest and most exciting and safest products for the trail. We will keep the focus on adding great solutions for the whole drivetrain, because we still believe that the derailleur works well today but when it comes to very harsh conditions and electrification, then it's a pain. We will continue to develop gearbox products on human powered and electrified bikes.

My personal goal for the next 10 years is to bring these products to life. And if I invent them, if we test them and they are good, then I'm most happy. I'm not interested in the biggest commercial success.The creation of things gives me the greatest pleasure. If some company would like to come and use the same technology, they are all welcome. I'm always keen for the next technology step.

For me, what gives me satisfaction is to do designs in various directions. You may not know but I’ve designed cargo bikes with tilting mechanisms. I’ve designed electric motorcycles. I actually designed an electric motorcycle last year. I'm designing so much stuff that nobody knows about. I'm designing products for many companies, and I sign an NDA, and nobody will ever know that this design is coming from the Nicolai team.

I'm very proud to say, if you come to me with an idea, I think there is no company faster on the planet earth able to bring an idea to reality, compared to Nicolai. We are super fast, because we can do everything in-house, and we have great engineers. My 10 year goal is really to lead, constantly lead that kind of skill. This is really so much fun. You cannot see it from the outside, it's more an inside thing.

So for you it's less about a commercial goal or a product goal, and more about an organizational goal—if you can get faster at that turnaround, if you can be more precise, if you can deliver more technology...


Karl Nicolai: Maybe I'm selfish. I don't care what people think or how successful I am, or how successful the company looks from the outside. I don't care. We know that we are successful, and we do not have to show it to the world every day and every moment. Everybody is welcome to visit the company and get a tour around. The only kind of marketing we want to do is show that we are performing.

What else can you tell me about your upcoming products?


Karl Nicolai: I want to give you a little bit of input on our new gearbox bike. Gearbox bikes in the past were pretty heavy, and the weight penalty and the penalty on efficiency always made it so that these bikes were not useful in every situation. We were always looking for the gearbox mountain bike that was able to beat the derailleur bike. You put the two bikes together, and our goal is to design a bike that is around one and a half pounds heavier [750g], but not more.

We are on our way. I won’t tell you the details yet, but we’re testing at the moment and we are quite happy with the results. We will launch it as soon as soon as we are ready.

There's no outside shareholder or something giving us pressure to release it to a certain date. We are very happy to be in a situation where we can develop a product, even without the need to be successful with it on the commercial side. We just want to prove something for our own sake. This is really what the gearbox product is about, I want to prove it to me. And to the world, yes, but it's mainly... it's not driven by money, it's driven by the desperate curiosity to make it better.

If you can come to market with a viable gearbox that addresses some of the problems with gearboxes, then it seems like the commercial side would take care of itself.


Karl Nicolai: This is what we always noticed, if you come up with the right product and there's a certain vacuum in the market, then things will take care of themselves.

Thanks for sitting down with us today Karl. Excited to see what the future holds for Nicolai.




136 Comments

  • 169 0
 Man, what a great article. I always found Nicolai interesting as a company. There was so much I didn't know; after reading this article, I have a profound respect for Karl's history, vision, and how he operates. Respect.
  • 22 0
 What a great article! This makes me want to start a business (preferably in the 90s). It also makes me want to give Nicolai my money!
  • 17 23
flag faul (May 8, 2020 at 5:46) (Below Threshold)
 @Warburrito: Yes but don't take advice from someone who is successful at first try. No one knows how lucky he has been. Survivor's bias.
I myself wouldn't be able to follow the "don't go to the bank" advice... Sorry, I don't have mom's garage to make something.
  • 34 9
 @faul: you've already lost,then

Lesson one. No one cares, work harder.
  • 14 2
 My only 2 bikes are Nicolais, both bought since last August . My favorite bikes ever! Kalle's story and attitude makes them even more valuable too me. Too bad about Waki, he'll still be pissy about SOMETHING in the article, just because..
  • 15 6
 @scary1: I didn'l lost, no. I hav my own path to success. Only way to lose is not to play.
  • 11 1
 One of the best and most inspiring interviews I've read on PB. Well done @brianpark. Really makes me wish I'd ponied up for one of their enduro tandems a couple years ago.
  • 2 0
 @faul: I actually did have a small construction business in my late 20s. It paid my bills when I was young and single, but once I got married the constant travel (mostly govt jobs) and crazy hours wasnt a good fit. It was fun while it lasted, but steady paychecks and hours are a comfort I enjoy in this part of my life. Now that my kids are a little older I am working towards establishing a steady side hussle, but only to supplement my income.

I respect those that have the guts to go all in on their business ventures. It seems like Karl has approached his with a great attitude, flexibility, and determination. Well done!
  • 8 0
 As a mechanical engineer..... I think I have a man crush on Mr Nicolai. Great read, thanks Pinkbike.
  • 7 0
 @kcy4130: As a mechie in aerospace, he does things the way I would do them. I also love the lack of marketing bullshit along with the EXTENSIVE data sheets available on the website.
  • 12 1
 @faul: Not sure why you get neg proped. It seems many people think in black and white and don't get the infinity of greys in between.
Saying that he may have had a certain amount of luck doesn't diminish his abilities, skills, work. But he may still have had a certain amount of luck.

Cognitive bias are very real and tough for oneself to notice (or it wouldn't be a cognitive bias).
I'd say one would be that people tend to attribute their success to themselves, and their failure to the universe (when all in all it's just total random from birth to end, whether nature (genetic) or nurture (education, social environment)).
It's not rare that successful people are arrogant ("why pay taxes for losers/wankers/unemployed ? This is my success, my work, my money" but working hard isn't inate, you learn it, and you work hard when you find meaning in what you do, but if you live in an environment that doesn't present you with any meaning worth striving for ?).
And people who had failures before success are often much more humble in their success as they've seen both sides of the coin.

Also, lessons can be learned from both success and failure.
Also success is relative. And some "succeed" by using others.
  • 5 9
flag scary1 (May 8, 2020 at 17:52) (Below Threshold)
 @Will-narayan: So, because this is an article and not a biography or a triumph over hardship story his efforts get reduced to "mommys garage" privilege and luck? You cant tell by his answers that hes not one to complain and dwell on difficulties?
Luck is bullshit. It dosent exist. You play the cards you're given...or you dont..and complain about the ones in your hand while the guy next to you is grateful to realize he even has a card to play.
  • 4 0
 Fascinated by the connection with Horst Leitner.
  • 10 0
 @scary1: Did you see the moment he gave an advice: "don't go to the bank". It's in the article. And it's 100% stupid advice. He could do it that way only because he had mom's garage. And friends taking risks with him. Going to the bank is a mandatory step for many people, and it can help, not only because money, but because there is often precious services that comes from the bank (who likes to makes sure it will have it's money back)
I never questioned his hard work, talent or anything. Only his bad advice. There is thousands of smart people working hard ,that fail, for any smart people working hard, who succeed. If you think only talent and hard work makes you succeed, I have bad news.
  • 5 0
 @scary1: Luck does exist. Being born to a middle class family in Germany with supportive parents and good health is not the same thing as starting out in South Sudan, in poverty with malaria.
  • 2 0
 @scary1: No no, don't worry, I totally can. This is a difference of interpretation.
To you, it seems that Faul mentionning luck or the garage reduces Nicolai's efforts down to this.
To me, it doesn't. It's an additional element which is present in Nicolai's story but not in Faul's story, but it doesn't reduces the efforts of Nicolai.
Luck may be 1% of your success, but a chain is as strong as the weakest of its links and if the luck link fails...

I had typed a long message talking about genetics and stuff but Faul sums it up much quicker than me (I wasn't given the "summary" card at birth :p).

"Luck is bullshit. It dosent exist. You play the cards you're given..."
Well then luck exists, right from the start in the cards you're given or not.
Cuz' if you have shit cards, whether you complain or not, you play a shit game your whole life ?
Trying to get new cards (whether it's a garage or human skill) is not easy.
  • 26 0
 @faul: understand you point ; 100% ; But when I say "do not go to the bank " this mean : Use all the resources you have first , even if they are : "help of friends" , "mum´s garage" and a "60h working week for yourself" and then you go to the bank in order to get the money for the last missing piece of the puzzle to make your business successful. Or to say it with the words of Arthur Ashe: "Start where you are - Use what you have - Do what you can" . I have seen other startup businesses and they had too much borrowed money in the beginning and then they went dry while the production was starting and then they were not able to cross the finish line.

Cheers , Kalle ....PS.: and yeah ... you need luck ... and you need happiness , because happiness attracts luck
  • 3 2
 @Konyp: its still not luck. Good fortune to an outside observer, yes.
Luck, is saying the universe is somehow picking and choosing perceived good and bad things to happen to you.
At 15 i ran a way from home
At 16bi got my ged.
At 19 i was homeless and eating out of garbage cans. At 25 i had had 27 jobs and got fired for the last time and started working for myself harder than many/most people are unwilling to work. At 50 I still build custom furniture, by myself, from my home studio,that i also built.
Ive been married for 26 years, have 4 dogs, and 2 great grown sons moving on with creating their own lives.
Please point out the "luck" and carefully pick it free from the "deliberate choices" and the " bust my ass 7 days a week part.
Its all work, talent ,skill, personality characteristics and how to combine them all to create what you want as best you can.
Please , dont denigrate someones success by calling the them lucky and wiping out the effort.
Ive met more "lucky" people that grew up with money that have no idea how to put in effort because they didnt need to. They spend years and years trying to undo their luck if they ever can,and are rarely happy because they weren't allowed to struggle. You can have your luck, im going back to work.
  • 3 0
 @scary1: I never said that luck comes from the universe choosing winners or that having luck denigrates anybody's accomplishments. As far as we know the universe is random, every particle decay and creation a flip of the coin. The DNA composition occurring at conception is mostly random, so are many things that shape us, including disease and accidents. Being born with more intelligence, beauty or tenacity then most is a good roll of the dice, nothing to be ashamed or proud of.
I applaud your hard work, character and happy family, but please do not denigrate people who do not have them. Very few things in life are a conscious choice, not everyone is like you.
  • 4 5
 @scary1: Am I disappointing you or something? Big Grin What can I tell you? That I secretly love Nicolais but the main difference between you and me is that I don’t believe that I own the best bike out there? That if @Faul tells me Antidote’s kinematics are non optimal and my Cane Creek is crap (read: EXT or nothing) that I won’t care while you and @mondbiker feel the need to tirelesslyreiterate that Nicolais are the best bikes out there in every damn respect? At least you are still quite normal unlike those idiots at Hope brake fanboi club.

So no, Antidote or Yeti or Nicolais aren’t the best bikes. No bike is. Hope brake fanboi club and Hardcore Hardtail club are the tighest idiots on this site. I prefere to hear about Corona being just another flu, than a bunch of sissies who cannot get over the fact that someone may not like the stuff they like.
  • 4 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Ta Daaah! Here you are!
Little late,but okay...i think thats your way of not looking desperate to respond but...
Never said Nicolais are the best bike for everyone on everything. I still bitch about lack of water bottle mounts every chance i get...Ask Kalle and Porter...and Aston.
But, i do love pointing out their clear advantages to anyone who will here it.
Ive already got 2 people and a 3rd in planning to buy a G1 after i had them ride mine.
Its hardly a religous awakening, but,hot damn its fun to be excited about a bike after 25 years of bikes that just work up to the edges of common sense geometry.
Its a bit porky and I get prematurely thirsty in the desert environment. Theres my commplaints.
Ive had tens of thousands of dollars worth of bikes. Turns out, geometry and bike balance is way underated . Next time, quit draggin.
  • 2 2
 @Konyp: I have those things because I made them happen. Wake up,then more things become a conscious choice. Not trying to tear you down , but realize, the harder you work, the better choices you make, the "luckier" you get.
  • 3 0
 @scary1: I have worked hard all my life and most people would call me "successful". I have also seen enough shit to climb down from my high horse and not fall for survivorship bias.
  • 1 0
 @Warburrito: Why wait until the 90s?
  • 3 1
 @scary1: *luck made you make them happen.

I don't know if I should post this, who cares :
At 16, shit happened between my parents and it lasted for years. Maybe I should have run away, but I somehow took care of my younger bro (parentification) and lost track of my life in the process. 30yo, major existential crisis out of the blue, felt like I went past 15 years of my life, almost wanted to die. Nothing mattered anymore. You don't control it, it's all down to chemical reactions in the brain. Then felt like some kind of rebirth. I woke up. I felt powerful. Self-aware. In control of my life. Built confidence. Learnt to swim at 30, and other things, I was striving. Then some shit happened again (tough mourning), it destroyed the dynamic which was still fragile and again I felt like nothing was worth it anymore. Took several years to overcome. Kinda changed my mind with working. Always doing my best. During that time I dived into psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science to understand all the shit happening to me and that's when I learnt about neurodiversity, and how ADD obviously affects me moderately (enough to cause shit in my life but not enough to be noticed earlier), and more or less all my familly as it's mostly genetic (families are ruined by this, with many addictions, violence, suicide), and everything started to make sense. Then I realized the guy I was working for had been lying to me and manipulating me for 10 years. Totally fake person (again that's some genetic/psychatric shit, he's kinda alone in his mind so totally selfish but faking kindness). 10 years of my professionnal life suddenly down the drain. It voids any meaning to the word "work". I quit. Tried working as a freelance. Got contacts, sent quotes... nothing came back. Mostly curious and fishy people (very nice of Mongoose to pay 50% upfront btw. I was asking 30% of 1000-1500€ quotes and got pretty much nothing).
Now I have a new job -stroke of luck as I didn't even apply !- and while I'm closing on 40 I'm somehow trying to build what most "white educated male" like me get at 25-30, but I don't even know if it's worth it anymore. Struggles take a toll on you overtime.
Well in a way you're right, luck doesn't seem to exist much in my life. But I'm healthy, educated, have a job. Life is shit but it's ok.
I've seen both sides of the coin and surprisingly the edge feels more stable.
  • 1 2
 @Konyp: most people wouldnt define my life as "successful"
I do. I did it. Its my definition of success. Im happy busting my ass in this tiny little shop on the back of my house because ive been observant enough in working with very rich people,that most of them are miserable and are spending most of their life maintaining a facade.
Frankly, im sick of arguing about this.
Be happy. Dont. I dont care.
I get real sick of f***ing whining and crying about peoples lot in life when they dont realize how much ability we have to change it.
Enough! Quit finding excuses that make you comfortable and get uncomfortable.
JUST DO SOMETHING
  • 2 0
 @Will-narayan: i could list all the shit that happened in my life but why? What does it do.
If you learned something from all of those things,GOOD. Most people refuse to learn and move on to the next thing. We sit and dwell, and stir and moan. It useless if you dont grow from that stuff.
And define your own successes. We gotta quit comparing our lives to whatever "star" that pretends to be someone else for a living and just find that thing that rarely feels like work .
I hope you can work it through. It is hard, but what else is there but trying again?
  • 3 0
 @Will-narayan: A very interesting read is "Succes and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy" by Robert H. Frank. It put's the whole "self made man" myth somewhat in perspective. The book is filled with great insights about success in general and a good read in these quarantine days.
  • 1 2
 @scary1: Translated I meant: I do respect your choice and opinion after all. And I do like Nicolais. And I do think geometry is overrated because we never speak about the purpose and goals. And long and slack is not good for everything, for everyone, everywhere. Not saying you said it. I find it hard enough to style with my Antidote which is way too short by your standards. Most bikes are not limiting me on downhills. You seem to treat geometry like lifter treats shoes or belt. I treat geometry as steroids. Both approaches as well as other have their place.
  • 2 0
 @scary1: Oh I've learned. A lot. About me, my family, human, emotions, psychology, genetics, it was fascinating. It even feels a bit weird. Being so aware of the "shortcomings" of the human brain, 99% of things don't really matter anymore.
What I meant with my story is that up to 30 y.o., my life was in autopilot and there was nothing I could do. Looking back, there was a feeling of not fitting in, a bit like autism. And this defined my life, both as nature (my genetic) and nurture (the education from my parents).
I think you don't decide to wake up, it happens or not, through the parents ideally, through meeting someone that inspires you, through some bad times even (if not too bad), whatever, the earlier, the better, but you don't command it. And when it doesn't happen, you're in the bandwagon of life. And there are so many people who don't wake up.
And as I said I even had that wake up call, but it didn't work much, I could not build on it, what I did kind of backlash because of "toxic" people (like my boss).
And I could go on and on about neurodiversity and how some people are emotion-blind, self-awareness-blind (!), alterity-blind, and how these invisible difficulties shape/twist their lives. For instance up to 40% of inmates supposedly have ADHD to some degree. It may not even be a disorder, just that society is adapted to a certain kind of humans (=a certain kind of brain) but puts aside all those that are more or less different. And for all of those, to quote the Bloodhound Gang, game of life is like playing poker with Unno cards, sometimes a joker.
I agree with you on the success thing. Success as it's "defined" in our society is so empty. Whoever is happy doing his own stuff with friends and family around without taking advantage of somebody else is successful. Building bikes, growing tomatoes, whatever.
  • 1 0
 @Will-narayan: Nice, glad you were able to internalize and process all that stuff in your life. I think doing so, drastically improves ones chances of deriving meaning and satisfaction out of life.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: All ive really noticed from a former downhillers pov, is how much more stable and less sketchy/safer feeling the bike is at full tilt. I find it much harder to push the edge on this bike as previous ones. I routinely meet or go faster than strava(i know,i know) times 8 years ago, up and down, without ever having to get that feeling that i just escaped carnage . Thats it, thats all.
Im not a jibber and i guess i still have a racer mindset. It is a much more stable and safer bike and i guess, at 50 the G1makes it seem like im getting away with something rather than worrying about the next surgery.
  • 2 1
 @Will-narayan: I am no stranger to psychology, Alan Watts and many personal transformationional amd transcendental experiences but there are a few damn problems with waking up. For starters: woke people. Almost Every damn vegan is woke, funky IT companies like Google or Spotify are full of woke people. Most greenie leftists are woke. In my experience the waking up is like birth of a star - a lot of material has been floating around (ideas, thoughts, concepts) and it was swirling around getting closer and closer until it finally flares up and starts its own life. The problem is... there’s billions of stars in one of billions galaxies, so after all this idea and you as a galaxy as unique as you are... are not that special after all. Yes there’s plenty of matter flying around that will never form anything more meaningful but... why would you care?

There are more problems about it. With help of psychedelics you may experience plenty of awakenings within a very short time. In some instances even one of the biggest gems: experience of death. And the following rebirth.

We are nurtured at all times. We are feeding ourselves with actual food but also information coming from our environment, from people around, stuff we read, and then we have behavior patterns. Every dramatic change of environment inevitably leads to waking up. Consequently, one can wake up but if they stay in same environment it is likely to not be anything more than a new way of experiencing the world. A kind of entertainment, new lenses to glasses through which we view the world. Every star, every waking up is ultimately subject to the void. Many of us know how staring too lomg into the void ends up... In my case, lack of awareness is a blessing.

When I observe people learning to jump bikes, see my own development there is a rather clear pattern. Those who are too aware, cannot leave the gravity of fear. Ability to deal with fear, managing the risk, and sheer luck, will decide your ability to get good at jumping. Because whatever you do, you are oiling some groove. Folks who have a vision and drive to get good, to experiment, who are slightly impaired with spotting risks and are lucky enough to run away with minor injuries - they are best in this game. You have to be a bit stupid. Now this quality would be terrible for an accountant or structural engineer. And I am not sure you can have it all.

Being able to figure out suspension system, having intuitive understanding of bike geometry guarantees no success in having an own bike business. Look at bloody Sick Bicycles Smile
  • 2 1
 @scary1: For you it’s geo. For me it is amount fo travel. I live in a place where 120 seems most reasonable. So I run 160. If I lived in big mountains, where going at full tilt happens on almost every ride: I’d have a climbable DH bike. 200 rear, 200 front and DH casings but dropper, shock lock out and enduro drivetrain. It means that in such case, my geo would end up very close to your G1. I deeply believe in everything coming together: geo, suspension, tires, brakes, cockpit. One can’t just have a DH geo on a 140 bike. You’ll just end up ramming into stuff with no platform to look where to go. We all have different priorities and different things that make us more or less comfident.
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Soo...now youre shitting on my G13.LOL!
Just rode it this am and rammed into alot of stuff and managed to keep my head up.
Glad i didnt read this before, or i surely would have questioned why this 63° ha is so fun to have
  • 3 1
 @scary1: I am not shitting on your bike. Please... I expressed my own preferences as a mean of polite discussion... but if you like to argue I return the favor and say that I have a strange feeling you like to be shat on so that you can defend yourself Big Grin
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: jeezus dude. Lighten up a little bit.
I realize humor doesn't translate,but for someone with humor, you dont get it very often.
Peace out
  • 2 0
 @kingbike2: That really struck me too. I raced on AMP forks way back!
  • 2 1
 @scary1: ok ok... I want to ride your bike and drink your beer Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: I dont drink..so..
  • 1 1
 @scary1: ok... any "enthenogens"?
  • 1 0
 @nicolaibicycles:
Thanks you for your answer.
The fact than you saw others do the other way and fail, in my eyes, gives much more weight to your advice, than "I dit it that way so it's the way", as it seems to be in the article.
Still, I myself will go to the bank. Because it's that way or I can put my "expensive" (for me, pocket money for many others) prototypes and the whole folder with my years of evening work, in the bin. As I have no other way to make a product I can sell than to find money and invest in tools and a workshop. But it's 2020, I may try kickstarter before going to the bank, to taste the market. It's a way to follow your advice, halfway, isn't it?
  • 1 1
 @faul: you have to remember that this business is mainly checks and balances, then marketing and warranty. Nobody really cares how good the bike is. Nicolai is niche. The problem with niches is that nobody knows they exist until they do. At this point in time, you are offering just another kind of song. You are starting just another band. make sure you play some good music. Nobody really cares how much you practice and tune your guitar. So you better work on your flavor rather than some kinematics. Sure you can have them, cool. It's just that nobody cares. And if you think there are folks who care and you will reach just them... pfff...
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: sometimes i spray laquer without a mask
  • 1 0
 @ridestuff: yeah, a friend had an Amp on his Rocky Mountain Pipeline, I think 2 inches of travel? He snapped it on a drop on Fromme. Those were the days...
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: Ok, well I was more talking about what is called "individuation" in psychoanalysis (though I don't like psychoanalysis much as it makes a lot of (not so right) interpretation of genetic traits) but somehow I can connect to what you said. It seems that some people (as it seemed to be the case for me up to 30) don't "individuate" themselves. They're not "incarnate", they're like some kind of drone to some degree. They do what parents say, get a job, get money, get a family, buy stuff, sleep, but all of this not self-aware, just because that's the main guidelines of our society (and reproduction drive, we're just monkeys after all).
And as you say, a lot of people wake up but only partialy, because when it happens the "starter" is usually in teenage years but many won't get nurtured with the necessary perspective to grasp the importance as well as the insignificance of it, they'll get fed with the values (or lack thereof) of society and the result is quite often a self-entitled a*shole. As you say, they woke up, they're their very own star, but don't realise they're one among billions.
What I think is that when you realise that even if you woke up you don't have much power over your own "destiny", you stop being an individual trying to shine more than the other billions, you get along with the idea that you're one among billions, and you then realise that you have a bit more "power" (over adversity) by collectively creating "systems" that help provide guidance (I probably sound like a hippie or a leftist, but maybe I am ? I don't know :p also it's difficult to explain such intricate subject, moreover in english).
But I think it's "apropos" with the issues humanity's facing.

And I totally agree about the bike thing. Even for a lame-ass step my mind imagines the infinity of ways it could go wrong and break my neck, and I need a really progressive learning curve. I'm much better at drawing bikes than riding them.

Oh and talking about Sick, I wouldn't be surprised if one or both of them had AD(H)D (the denial, impulsiveness, spendings, etc).
And Trump may as well. Its get discreet overtime and the IQ isn't affected, but the behavioural shortcomings (lack of alterity, empathy) get engraved in childhood/teenage and only get worse.
That's one more reason why according to me these brain particularities are totally up there among global warming and energetic resources as the most important things humanity should care about.
  • 1 0
 @NinetySixBikes: Ok, it indeed seems to be quite like what I'm thinking. Though I gotta say I'm not much of a reader. My mind often drifts away in the middle of the page and when I reach the bottom I realize my eyes have read the words but my mind was totally out there, and I have to read it again :p
  • 43 0
 "we both are not interested in maximizing our profit. We are friends, and the most important for us is that our both companies, and the people who we deal and work with every day, have a good life."

Some companies could really learn from this.
  • 11 0
 Some companies should kick out 'investors' that are just there for the money.
  • 10 1
 I'm all in favor of that. But in fairness, those big companies make it possible for people to go out and buy trailworthy bikes at really reasonable price points.
  • 5 1
 @g-42: but they are also the companies that make you believe you need a new bike every year.
  • 4 2
 @g-42: Reasonable ? Or unreasonable ? A few decades ago taylor made was pretty much the norm, you'd probably save months (years ?) to buy a bike you'd keep years, if not decades. And you would repare it over and over.
These "reasonable" prices may be a mirage made possible thanks to cheap energy and cheap labor.
Without cheap energy, the bike would be locally produced, and if +5000€/$ is the price for the bike builder to make a decent living in the same country you live in (=same cost of life), then this might be the "right" price.

I mean, nowadays you have bid brands mass producing overseas, and boutique brands producing locally.
The "middle" would be moderate series production locally at an average price, but this has disapeared.
  • 24 0
 Another incredible interview - This and the Formula one were super interesting. More of this content please!
  • 20 0
 Proud owner of two Nicolai bikes!

www.pinkbike.com/u/jahrastafari/album/Nicolai-ION-16

www.pinkbike.com/u/jahrastafari/album/Nicolai-ION-ST

For me, as a mechanical engineer, the engineering and craftmanship on those bikes is really an inspiration! I love to sit in the couch at my garage, drinking a beer at the end of a working day and just contemplating those beautiful welds and machined parts!
I think the world would be much better without big brands owned by investors who's only concern is profit growing. This is also the kind of mindset I like in Nicolai and also the idea of trying new stuff without the fear to fail!
Looking forward to see the new gearbox.
  • 2 0
 I will buy a Nicolai as my next bike. Almost did 6 months ago but saved some money and wanted to try dime new geo. Bought a Banshee Titan. Great bike. But Nicolai will be choice going forward. Great article.
  • 3 0
 I bought a mk1 g16 second hand (as I had a load of good non boost parts and didywant to start a full build) but have convinced a friend to buy a g1. Lots of small changes that definitely make the frame a lot better for a lot of different people. So flexible with all the different flip chips, mutators and shock travel options
  • 1 1
 @mattvanders: Do not understand how manufacturers get away which not offering all sorts of adjustment a lot of people will not change any thing, but nice to have the option?
Would be funny to know if have having travel adjustment makes you a better rider or worse?
  • 2 0
 @aljoburr: I get that nicolai only offer a couple of different frames and that by having all the different adjusters built in the bike can be built up to the riders required. Bigger brand would rather set you 2 or more bikes to do the same job. I’ve always played around with frame set up (angle headsets, longer forks, chainstays flip chips, bb flipchips, shock lengths) but that was over a number of different bike. The g1 allows that on one bike. I know my set up would not work for the next guy. The top pros do get custom parts for their race rigs to suit them and the track they are racing on, why can’t I have the same built in to the frame for my riding.
  • 2 0
 Noice! I wanted the Ion ST so bad! ended up with a 20, and will get another soon

www.pinkbike.com/photo/14913086
  • 22 0
 Finally something real.
Not like “We were kings, but now we just china frames reseller”

two Nicolais in stable, 3rd one in plane depends of this china virus.
  • 1 0
 agree, just wish the picture of the guy manualing the Nicolai was real hahahaha. #longchainstaysicantmanual
  • 20 0
 Yes, bring on the gearboxes.
  • 11 0
 As en engineer, this really sticks: "it's not driven by money, it's driven by the desperate curiosity to make it better." Great interview - I couldn't stop reading it. I don't really need a new frame, do I?
  • 4 0
 yeah you do
  • 10 0
 Damn, he said that commercial side was not his priority but that's a pretty good teaser here! Really curious what technological choices he made for his gearbox bike, that sounds promising!
  • 8 0
 Yip. And he said they are not good at marketing. This is the best marketing piece I've read in a very long time. Karl seems like a genius.
My question: will some of that rub off on me if I buy a bike?
I am definitely interested in getting one after reading this. Legend
  • 8 0
 I have bough a used Nicolai frame after owning a couple of other bikes that I purchased new and the 2-year old frame was an order of magnitude better (alignment, lack of play, fit of bearings etc.) than what I had before. Customer service is also on another level - when I needed spare parts, I wrote an email and 2 days later I had everything I needed on my doorstep. I do not see myself buying anything else besides Nicolai.
  • 4 0
 They are already showing an electronically shifting Rohloff 14 speed hub on their website that uses an electronic cut out to speed shifts in combination with the Bosch power unit and a Gates belt drive. Those are some REALLY trick components.If that thing shifts well any slight drag or weight penalty is more than offset by the motor and clean integration. This bike has to be on anyone's short list for a new e-bike.
  • 2 0
 if you think thats cool, check this out:

revonte.com

CV transmission + ebike motor
  • 1 1
 @hamncheez: CV efficency sucks losses of at least 20%, that is almost as inefficient as cars?
  • 1 0
 @aljoburr: it's not a belt
  • 1 0
 @hamncheez: What is it then?
  • 1 0
 @aljoburr: read the website. It's the same thing as the Toyota synergy drive. It's basically a backwards differential with two electric motors, one in each input
  • 2 0
 @hamncheez: Thank you very much for mentioning us! We appreciate it.
  • 4 0
 I have a Nicolai G1.
Had it for just over a year. I can't see me ever selling it or finding another bike more desirable.
It's truly a super bike. Beautiful, high tech, fast AF, tough, fun and highly adjustable and adaptable.
#1
  • 1 0
 Had 2 over the years 2005 and 2008. Helius cc with coil shock and then a Helius Fr with coil. You gotta look after the bushes as they seize up . Pre narrow wide single chain ring, Always had problems getting the chain stuck between the lower linkage . Even with a chain tensioner.
  • 2 0
 @flyingfox49: they all use sealed bearings instead of bushings now. My 2016 helius ac is all bearings. Think that was the year they changed. The ac is a brilliant trail bike imo.
  • 1 0
 My fr had roller needle bearings on all pivots £90 a set with axles that had worn out after a few years and needed another set after I sold it on. And the cc had Ignus bushings on the rear chain stay pivots that you had to keep tightening up as they wore. Not great. Plus at the time you had to have a 25 mm deep cup headset fitted for warranty , which took some pushing in . Other than that not a bad bike at the time . But hopefully they ve improved.@mikelee:
  • 7 0
 That’s easily one of the best interviews I have read on PB. Thanks for the great content!
  • 7 0
 Respect! I hope to be the proud owner of a G1 before 2021!
  • 5 0
 It's at the top of my list as well.
  • 3 0
 Have a G13 from Geometron. Theirs and Nicolai's approach and friendliness is what I put my money down on. The fact that the bike is amazing and still looks and feels as good as the day I bought it is a bonus that I fully expected.
  • 4 0
 Can we please have a new ufo st now? The perfect platform for mullet from trail to super enduro, it's time Karl. It's there, ready for rebirth.
  • 6 0
 I was like “WhoTF is Karl Nicolai?”. Oh, it’s Kalle Wink great stuff!
  • 4 0
 Cool. Awesome Bikes. Did an internship there as a pupil in 2007(?). Stil have a voucher towards a frame I hppe. Still can't afford it tough?! Big Grin
  • 2 0
 I'm in for a gravel bike and have recently been in touch with Nicolai about the Argon CX. I confirm the contact is super personal, competent, transparent, and honest, and this, in addition of course to great products and sustainability, really is a big, big argument in favour of Nicolai. But I've been a fan since 1995...
  • 6 0
 Please lwt the new gearbox bike have a trigger shifter
  • 3 0
 Unbelievable! I just noticed, that its just a 1-hour-ride by car for me, to give them a visit. Thats an even shorter ride than to the next serious Bike-Dealer. lol. Guess my next hardtail will be a nicolai.
  • 3 1
 Would have thought that an e-bike with gear box would a wise move?
Strange that still trying to sell acoustic bikes with gear boxes that are less efficient than Derailleur,
but a gear box on an e-bikes efficiency does not matter that much?
  • 3 2
 >> acoustic bikes

ha - is that a new one? had not heard it before!

So if I go ride in utah at the rampage site, or a WC track does that make it an "accoustic cover"?
  • 5 0
 I can't help it but the Nicolai aesthetic makes me think of Rammstein. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
  • 15 0
 Ackchyually, both are industrial metal
  • 1 0
 @vitality: Rammstein is just blaring, they're in for the show. Nicolai is completely the opposite...
  • 5 0
 Man, I never thought I would want an E-bike, until I cast my eyes upon that EBOXX...
  • 2 0
 I've owned 3 different Nicolai bikes—each one an absolute work of art and prime example of precision engineering. The UFO DS is still my favorite of all-time. There's nothing quite like throwing your leg over one. I'm very much looking forward to owning another one day.

Thanks for the great read.
  • 2 0
 Thatd be the dream quiver. One Nicolai ebike with the bosch gen4 and gearbox and another light weight one with the fazua and gearbox. Pop the fazua system out when you just want an acoustic bike. 33lb acoustic w fazua removed, 42lb fazua and 52lb cx gen4
  • 2 0
 Wow, that was awesome.

I know Nicolai because everybody in MTB world knows Nicolai but from now on he's on my hero list.I love that he uses alu and true Horst Link instead of single pivot mutations. Two major quality things without corpo bullshit. I'm still not convince about the looks Smile but I happily sacrifice that for ride quality especially that they're a lot of very nice touches throught the frame.

Another inspiring thing is his company philosophy: why don't need to go so big and we happy with it. It's really awesome and I'll admit that I'm jelaous about that Wink It's cool to see normal people without unsoppable need to conquer the world in therm of quantity.

For now I'll wait for frame with 157 hub and maybe option for 2x like Knolly does.

Good work Nicolai Wink
  • 2 0
 I still remember a trip to Europe and going into a bike shop. I saw a G-Boxx Nicolai on the sales floor and thought I’d died I couldn’t believe it. Perhaps some day I will own one
  • 1 0
 I still ride and enjoy a 26" model from 2011, and still love to look at it's honest form-function beauty;
I will definitely keep it and give it to my son when he's big enough to ride (and buy the upcoming gearbox model in the meanwhile) ;D
  • 2 0
 I would love it if they brought a little bit of crazy back.
Still, Nicolaï remain up there as one of the moost droolworthy bike brands ever. 2MXTB with monsters remains a favorite.
  • 1 0
 Cool article. I'm a little curious about his gearbox comments. A Zerode Taniwha is about 35 lbs, with a burly build. A ripmo af is about the same. The reviews all complain about gripshifts, shifting under load and slop in engagement. No one except Mike Levy seems to fuss about the weight, but he's been anti gearbox for at least a decade. It seems like an electronic trigger shifter and reducing the engagement in the gearbox would be more pressing concerns if you were trying to fix the perceived issues with the current gearbox offerings. Personally, I think the complainers about the pinion execution are generally people who have ridden derailleur bikes for so long that they can't retrain themselves, because the benefits drastically outweigh any negatives in my point of view.
  • 1 0
 I've been on the brink of buying a Nicolai several times, never quite got there, but this interview will probably tip the scale next time. That and the ominous new gearbox-bike they're currently testing- hope my wallet will agree... . Meanwhile, glad to see that this kind of business model and mindset is still viable; Germany has lost a lot of it and that just isn't healthy. Thumbs up for Kalle and his staff!
  • 1 0
 I have a real soft sport for the organically grown, engineer owned companies. Knolly is another I admire, although perhaps slightly less that Nicolai with their in-house manufacture. I have an Argon GLF, and for a hardtail that thing is unreal.
  • 4 0
 Keep making cool stuff Karl.
  • 4 0
 No higher quality attention to detail manufacturer out there.
  • 2 0
 Brillant article ! Amazing brand ! This guy is very inspiring... Reading this interview just after the mavic case is refreshing.
  • 2 0
 I've got the MBA magazine with the Leigh Donovan worlds bike in it somewhere
  • 3 0
 Great interview, very inspiring read.
  • 2 0
 I am a fan since the beginning, more big alloy! The ebike looks impressive, but I am afraid not in my price range (9200EUR).
  • 2 0
 Gotta say, while I wouldn't mind spending 5-6000 on a handmade bike, the rate at which the electric/electronic stuff progresses would make me think twice about spending 7-8-9000 on an e-bike.
If at least you could use it to replace your car without constantly fearing that someone stills it.
I wonder if that gps tracker works.
  • 4 0
 Best made bikes around.
  • 2 0
 That G1 reminds of the 601 from Liteville! Both burly looking bikes if I may say so!
  • 4 0
 best logo in mtb!
  • 3 0
 Sold all my bikes and bought a G1. I’m happy with just one great bike.
  • 1 0
 Man those NTX-1000's are awesome machine tools. really embody the 1-op complete idea, not cheap though at around $500-600k depending on options.
  • 2 0
 'Don't need more bikes in my collection......... BUT, want a Nicolai in my collection.
  • 2 0
 For me, the best! Big Nicolai!
  • 1 0
 Really looking forward to that gearbox ebike. Won't buy another one till then.
  • 1 0
 i just have one question, why "made in germany" replaced with "crafted by Nicolai"??
  • 2 0
 They change what is on the chainstay randomly, sometimes it´s made in germany, sometimes made by nicolai people or crafted by nicolai.
  • 1 0
 The picture of the e-bike "Nicolai EBOXX E14" has 29 and 27.5 in the back no?
  • 2 0
 Is hydroforming too expensive for a company that size?
  • 11 0
 Hydroforming is for people who care more about looks than function i.e. not Nicolai.
  • 1 0
 hydroforming is too expensive for any company outside Asia, I guess. Extra tools, extra heat treatment, marginal gains.
  • 3 1
 Hydroforming is overrated anyway.
  • 3 0
 I think the reason is that you can't hydro-form 7020-T6 Aluminium which they use. 7020 Aluminium is a much stronger then the usual 6061 which most other company's use. You get a lighter and stiffer frame but the the 7020 is simply to stiff to hydro-form.
  • 1 0
 @badkar: can you anneal 7000 series first, then hydroform it and then T6 it?
  • 1 0
 Please tell me there's a 160mm+ travel G1 with a new and improved Pinion style Gbox!!
  • 1 0
 Great piece. Thanks for this. Can’t wait for the upcoming lighter gearbox. Need a sibling to my Argon. ????
  • 1 0
 you don't have to make the i an evil umlaut. he's not that bad
  • 1 0
 My brain just has me trained from writing Florian Nicolaï's name all the time.
  • 2 0
 Legend!
  • 1 0
 really good interview, now I have a clear view in the story of Nicolai
  • 1 0
 Awesome story, no idea he worked for Horst at AMP!
  • 1 0
 got a G1 frameset with EXT Storia V3 XL for sale Smile

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