If you took a map of northern Europe and stuck a pin in the places where you think mountain bike companies would be based, Bocholt wouldn't even be on that map. Sitting about halfway up Germany, on the Dutch border, the landscape certainly isn't alpine. If you want to find 100m or so of vertical hillside for some trails then you are in for an hours' drive across the border - the area is so flat that they have to head to the Netherlands for altitude.
Yet here in Bocholt is one of Europe's oldest bike companies - Rose Bikes. While they may not be a huge name on the left-hand side of the Atlantic, in Europe they are strong and a growing brand eking out a niche for themselves by offering their customers a pretty unique combination of value and choice. Founded in 1907 theirs is a story of evolution, a company that has continually changed with the times. For decades, they were a traditional local bike shop, yet as the communication revolution in the second half of the Twentieth Century took hold they embraced the new challenges and today they are at the forefront of the direct sales market as both a bike company and an online shop. We visited their headquarters to see how deep the bike shop DNA still runs through the business.
The one part of production that does feel like a factory is the wheel building section. All of Rose's custom wheels are built here in house - they are very proud of the tolerances, claiming their wheels are true to a tolerance of just 0.2mm.
Final assembly is done by a highly trained team. To be allowed to finish a bike unsupervised you need to pass a formal qualification to become a master mechanic, which takes two years of study to attain. While mechanics are studying for the qualification they are allowed to work assembling the bikes, but all of their work is then checked by one of the qualified master mechanics. This is also where customers bikes come when they are sent back for service and repairs. This is where the bike shop DNA is most apparent, with the personalized workstations, the lack of a structured production line and meticulous attention to detail at every stage, it does not feel like mass-production. For the people working here, the experience is clearly very different too - it is about people who understand bikes assembling them for their customer, rather than a series of processes which is what you find in most large scale bike manufacturers.
Rose is certainly a unique company. The fact that as a consumer you can spec your bike precisely how you want it, yet still pay factory prices is a lot to get your head around. As far as we know, there is no other company out there who offer the same kind of flexibility to get your bike specced just how you want it, yet keeping the price competitive with mainstream brands. It is here you can see clearly the bike shop DNA - that is the kind of service you get from your local shop, but on a grander scale. Then seeing the assembly it is clear that they based their ideas on their bike shop roots - from the way the processes run, to the way the people work in their day-to-day jobs. Rose surely must raise some questions from local bike shops who are worried about the rise of direct sales companies, because Rose started from the same point they did but evolved their business as the world changed. And Rose clearly don't see the idea of a brick and mortar shop as defunct - in fact, they still maintain an impressive bike shop near the factory and if their customers want that human relationship they can come to the shop and collect their purchase, try bikes or drop of their kit for service...