It´s most probably every professional biker´s dream to have their own signature bike. A bike which perfectly combines riding style and personality, a machine which draws on years of professional riding experience.
Almost to the day one year ago I approached Bergamont Switzerland with the idea of creating my own signature bike. Somewhat unsurprisingly the idea was met with raised eyebrows and the question: “What would need to be different between the signature model and your current bikes?” Good question!
“Let´s build the ultimate trail bike, one which descends perfectly. It has to include all my long-term sponsors and partners and bring together all my personal requirements and years of experience. A bike dedicated to people who ride and live MTB like me. Every descent should feel like a race run on a perfect bike. Each individual component lends itself to the overall harmony of the bike; a bike which combines simplicity with cutting edge bicycle technology.
My passionate ‚pitch’ obviously nailed it: “We´re on board”, was the spontaneous but conditional reply, “and you can handle everything yourself”.
At this time I already had my own small agency up and running. Together with Marika Nygren I organised events like the Greenhouse Race and we realised first projects around graphic design and communication. Marika is a professional graphics designer and I am familiar with bikes. With more than 20 years of experience in the bicycle industry, this should be a walk in the park - at least that´s what I thought.
Immediately we began with a draft-marketing concept and a more detailed description of the project. We agreed with @BergamontBicycles
on a limited edition of 30 bikes, dedicated to the Swiss market. My sponsors were also excited about the project from the beginning and motivated to jump on board.
The original concept included all my sponsors, planning accessories, protection, clothing and gadgets. When I asked my helmet sponsor whether it would be cool to produce helmets with the same design and colours we´d be using for the bike, I was welcomed with open arms: “Cool! For a special make-up we just need to produce 500.” I got similar answers regarding glasses, watch and clothing. So the idea pretty quickly became unfeasible and we purely focused on the bike from that moment on.
The decision for the right frame was not a big deal. As Bergamont introduced the full-carbon version of the full-suspension trail bike Contrail at the time we went into planning. I had ridden that bike already the season before and it is my absolute favourite bike. Equipped with the right components it’s a real rocket!
We kicked-off with design, artwork and colour concept of the frame. How cool is that – my own signature bike?
But after realising that the options were limitless, it became almost impossible to decide on one bike. I spent nights in front of the computer searching for bike images. On the one hand the bike was supposed to reflect my own style, on the other hand it should also fit into the overall Contrail line-up. One thing though was clear right from the beginning; my bike would be called the “Contrail_AK” (AK being my initials).
The design itself gradually took shape. We had frequent exchanges with Bergamont HQ in Hamburg, Germany. Peter, one of the product managers, told us what in general was possible and how data had to be prepared for production in Asia. For example in Asia companies work with different colour codes. We learned which parts were to be varnished and where stickers would go. After a few skype sessions and a bunch of emails the design prototype was finished and I nervously pressed ‘send’.
As we started to work on the specification, “Tommy T”, the Contrail frame designer, filled us in on kinetics. Now we were getting down to the nitty-gritty details of the bike. In total I was co-ordinating with at least 20 companies, making sure I left nothing out. When you think about all the pieces that go into a bike, it’s pretty easy to forget something.
Of particular interest to me was the definition of the proper suspension setup. Together with Stéphane, the engineer of my long-term partner SR Suntour, we first went to the laboratory and afterwards hit the trail. The rear shock needed to be specially tuned to the bike and the target customer. I can honestly say that I learned a lot about low and high-speed compression, and how such intricacies dramatically influence performance.
After all the decisions had been made the final specification agreed on, it was time to get started on the marketing and communication side of things. We opted for a booklet, flyer, poster, small event setup and a video. In the meantime the release date had been fixed and so we were all desperately waiting to see the first bike. Together with Hoshi Yoshida I selected a cool location for cool footage. As we had to order OEM parts with a lead time of six months, this shouldn´t be a problem I thought.
Wrong! One of the custom varnished pieces had other plans and didn´t want to show up on time. We postponed the shooting time and time again. In the end there were only eight days left to the release at the beginning of May, coincidentally and rather neatly, 12 months on from the start. I wanted to come back to the place where it all began not only with a concept but a bike! After a few nightshifts on the computer and some express orders with the printer we managed to finalize everything (ok almost everything) in time for the event.
In the meantime I have ridden my new bike a few times and I am proud to say that everything fits perfectly together. The result is simply mind-blowing and exactly what I had been dreaming of.
I want to thank all the people who contributed to the story of the Bergamont Contrail_AK – an amazingly good product! The green light from Bergamont to handle everything by myself took me and my agency on a tour of discovery. Over a whole year I learnt so much about how to bring an idea to fruition. I prefer to spend my time on the bike, but with this experience I feel a bit more part of the mountainbike industry.
I’m excited to see what comes next!