Happiness on Two Wheels: Schindelhauer Bikes

A visit to Schindelhauer Bikes in Berlin – and a conversation about pure, consistent ideas and how to credibly evolve them into the e-bike.
Text Matthias Mederer
Photo Schindelhauer Bikes

A cup of coffee to get things started. The Schindelhauer name adorns the front of the package of roasted beans. “I don’t want to name any names, but some people around here are pretty crazy about coffee,” says Stephan Zehren with a wry smile. He makes a cup of coffee like a professional barista. The idea for the Schindelhauer roast came about through the contact with a local coffee roaster. “Sales are still a bit slow,” Zehren laughs, adding that Schindelhauer isn’t looking to enter the coffee business anyway. But he’s happy about the collaboration with the local roaster from next door. Zehren sits down next to the others at a heavy wooden table. The others, that’s Manuel Holstein, Jörg Schindelhauer and Martin Schellhase. Together with Stephan Zehren, they founded the company ten years ago.

It’s June 2019. On the third floor of the office building in Berlin-Kreuzberg, the early summer is making itself felt with all its might. From here, it’s just a stone’s throw to the Spree and the Ostbahnhof is just five minutes away by bike. At the wooden table where the four founders have just taken their seats, everything that concerns the company is discussed: new product developments, strategic decisions, changes to existing models, marketing, sales, service – whatever happens to need clarification at the moment. It all seems very relaxed here. The four men are dressed casually, in keeping with the temperatures, each in a shirt and shorts, and some of them even like to wander barefoot through the office. But that’s just a first, fleeting impression. Because in addition to the scent of freshly brewed coffee, the air is thick with concentration. Whatever topics need to be discussed here, they do it with the same sense of purpose with which they have grown their company these past ten years.

“We regularly meet to talk about the developments on the market, to discuss trends, technologies and policy decisions affecting urban mobility,” explains Jörg Schindelhauer. “These meetings are always held on the basis of preliminary research that I send to the others in advance as a sort of memo.” That not only sounds thorough – it also corresponds to the company’s basic philosophy, its DNA. “We really are quite product-focused, always looking for new and exciting innovations,” Manuel Holstein confirms. They demand that of themselves. After all, Schindelhauer bikes are positioned in the higher­-priced segment. It should be noted that none of the four is interested in just generating attention. “We simply want to build robust, long-lasting, low-maintenance bikes,” says Manuel Holstein. It certainly helps that they all enjoy technically sensible details. It is one of the many things they have in common. “Technical nerds,” as Holstein says.

Schindelhauer Bikes got off the ground at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg. In 2012 the company moved to Berlin-Kreuzberg, to one of the hippest cities in the world – a bicycle city. Schindelhauer gives whole new meaning to the word “street cred” – everyone at the office rides their bike to work almost all year round. The reasons for moving to Berlin were, for the most part, of a personal nature. Just think quality of life. “Simple things like the lunch options,” says Zehren, who reflexively casts a glance at the clock. It’s only shortly after eleven.

Of course – and here they all agree once more – Berlin is an inspiring place to work.

“We regularly meet to talk about the developments on the market, to discuss trends, technologies and policy decisions affecting urban mobility"

Jörg Schindelhauer

“You live right on the pulse of the times,” says Manuel Holstein. This especially helps to better channel and evaluate different trends. To say nothing of recognizing these trends in time. In the end, a Schindelhauer bike is a bike for the city. And the four founders are always the first test riders. How many kilometers do they ride a year? They can’t put that in numbers. Certainly around 5,000. “Try more.”

At Schindelhauer Bikes, they aren’t concerned with short-lived trends. On the contrary. “I would even describe myself as somewhat anti-consumerist,” Jörg Schindelhauer admits, without immediately wanting to ring in a new era. Choosing things consciously and with sustainable intentions – that’s what it’s all about. “And leaving out what you don’t really need!” A radical approach. And one that the founders have pursued from the beginning. That includes the toothed belt drive, because of its wear resistance, and the single-speed model – a bike without gears, the preferred means of transport for the city that is regularly evolved in the form of new models. “Simple, reduced, sporty,” is how they put it succinctly.

Choosing things consciously and with sustainable intentions – that’s what it’s all about.

Manuel Holstein

Is this a modern understanding of luxury? A few quick glances are exchanged across the table, but basically they all agree on this issue. It’s always about quality. “When we started with the Viktor and Siegfried models, our goal was to have a purchase price below 1,000 euros,” says Schindelhauer. But: “We didn’t make it.” In the end, when all the components had been assembled, the selling price amounted to 1,090 euros. “We wanted and want to achieve a certain level of quality, and we won’t settle for any less. That has a lot to do with credibility. If you take cheaper bicycles apart, you realize very quickly where quality was sacrificed in the individual components. These parts quickly break, and the customer is constantly annoyed with his product. We simply don’t want that.” And nothing about this uncompromising attitude has changed to this day. Though the product range itself has clearly grown.

When you’re in your late thirties, you look at things a little more reflectively than you did ten years ago, they say. Suddenly, the bigger context also matters. Things like urban mobility, how it can be implemented in a practical, effective and sustainable way – and how to manage the balancing act between rational thinking and a sense of fun. Stephan Zehren, a graduate in industrial design, explains it this way: “In the beginning our philosophy was: ‘Mudguards on a Schindelhauer? No way! Forget about it!’ Or a luggage rack. That wasn’t even an issue. But at some point, it became relevant because we realized that the customers were adding these things themselves. So we questioned our attitude and thought: there must also be an attractive way to design the mudguards . . .”

“It’s just fun to get people on a bike!"

Stephan Zehren

Since we’re talking about urban mobility and aesthetics, it seems only natural to ask about electric bikes. Jörg Schindelhauer is the first to answer: “I believe as you get older you get a bit more flexible in your thinking. For me – and I think for all of us – this means we’ve understood that we shouldn’t be building bicycles only for ourselves, but that we should listen very carefully to what our customers and our dealers have to say. But no matter what we develop and build, it is important for us to remain true to our style. With the e-bike, we’ve already spent many years looking at this technology and have repeatedly found that we were unable to develop any solution that suited our needs with the technical means available at that time. Then we tried it again.” Martin Schellhase adds: “It has to be said that the components for an e-bike have shrunk significantly in recent years. Just look at the motors. Only recently, they were these huge, blocky things. In the meantime, however, they have become so compact that we said, ‘Okay, now we can aesthetically integrate all the necessary components into our design language.’ And things will get even better in the future.” At Schindelhauer, everyone is very open about the topic of e-bikes. Stephan Zehren admits that the first model, which is now on the market, is quite large in size. “We would prefer to completely hide the fact that it is an e-bike. We have now come up with a solution where you can see that it is an e-bike, but people can say it is a very good and beautiful achievement. It was a long process in which many ideas were rejected.” Martin Schellhase sums it up like this: “We don’t do anything that doesn’t fit Schindelhauer.”

This inevitably raises the question as to which no-gos there actually are. Suddenly a lively discussion develops. And before long the conversation moves away from what is not allowed to revolve around a much more central theme: “It’s just fun to get people on a bike,” Zehren says.

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