Riese and Müller is a German bike company focused on building bikes geared specifically toward meeting the needs of unique sets of users. In recent years, it has taken its divergent bicycle designs and re-imagined them as electric bikes, resulting in a transformative lineup of hyper-functional vehicles that are finding traction with a new generation of customers.
Commuting and bicycling around town, to work and to school, is becoming increasingly popular around the world, but the human-centric approach Riese and Müller is taking takes the traditional model and turns it on its head. I spoke with Riese and Müller CEO Dr. Sandra Wolf about the company and came to realize that sometimes, seeing things from another angle is all it takes for a new vision for personal mobility to snap firmly into place.
At Riese and Müller, that vision starts and ends with people. Sandra shared that, as a cyclist, she leads the Riese and Müller team to create new designs that fill unmet needs of the world’s people. They design bikes that are fully adjustable, so that any member of a family can adjust a few quick things and hit the road. Better yet, many Riese and Müller bikes allow the kids to just hop in, making bicycling with little ones – or a load of groceries – an easy task that requires no additional equipment.
Riese and Müller’s designs sprung up out of necessity. When the founders started the company 25 years ago, “folding bikes were cheap and not durable. You couldn’t ride more than 2 miles and even that was not a good riding experience.” As a result, they developed the original folding bike which lives on today as the Birdy folding bike. It is the only bike in the R&M lineup that was not electrified, as it serves a specific function in the lineup as a lightweight manual bike.
The rest of the Riese and Müller lineup has been electrified through and through. “I’m keen to bring this mobility topic to the people because I think it can really change people’s lives,” Sandra shared. “If more bikes would be in the world, it would kind of change things positively.” Electrification amplifies the ability for bikes to meet the needs of even more people by lowering the bar in terms of the physical fitness level that’s required to ride longer distances.
After playing with electrification option, the team realized that while ebikes are bikes, “you can’t just put a motor on a normal bike because the frame must be different, you must fit it for higher speed.” Sandra shared that the motor and batteries must be fully integrated into the bike to ensure it maintains that perfect fit and feel for the rider.
Oftentimes, a new bike design comes from a need that isn’t addressed by current products. Sandra shared that, “If something is missing in the mobility chain, we are looking for new concepts.” From there, the Riese and Müller team takes the concept and works on a variety of solutions. “We are looking at these mobility problems and try to make it better.” They design the solution around the problem, seeking to achieve the ‘perfect riding experience’.
Riese and Müller’s uniquely human-centric designs are built with the highest quality craftsmanship with the highest quality components. Much like Germany’s renowned automobiles, Sandra shared that the company’s customers seem to love the well-engineered and high quality products it builds. The pride the Riese and Müller team takes in the products they build coated every word Sanda uttered. “All of our bikes have the highest quality of everything.” It’s clear that she is a passionate cyclist and passionate about people. The work the team at Riese and Müller does sits at the intersection of those two passions.
As the world learns more about Riese and Müller’s products and the high quality it brings to the table, it is seeing sales volumes going up and to the right. Managing the growth of the company culture is as important to Sandra, if not more important, than their ability to make more bikes. “We don’t focus on expanding just to take more market share, but to fill gaps in the needs of the customer.”
Sandra is keenly aware of how the rapid expansion of a company has a significant impact on company culture and is actively working to manage that growth as a top priority. She opened up about it, sharing that,
“My personal challenge is that – we are growing very fast – that means the number of bikes and the number of employees. My personal wish is that we can keep the culture we have very strong and even as we deliver more numbers, that we never get into the position where we have to deliver more and more bikes, but that we stay with our mission to change mobility. We want to keep our people on board and to ensure that they also like the brand. Basically what I do every day is to onboard people to keep the culture, to keep the high standards, to keep the quality and not lose that.”
The Intelligent Electric Bike
Sandra is already seeing the shift towards the community she aspires to bring to cities happening all across Europe. Because many of Riese and Müller’s bikes are built to be used by most members of a family, they also make great bikes to share. “A cargo bike is unisex and easily adjustable. It can be shared in a family. You can give it to your 17-year old son or your father when he’s visiting.” It’s worth noting that Riese and Müller bikes are not cheap. Like in the US$4,000-10,000 price range. Building a high quality product with sufficient utility to allow it to be used by most members of a family makes them expensive, and Riese and Müller isn’t shy about that.
That same durability and flexibility is what makes them great as a bike-sharing platform. In Europe, they do sharing a bit differently than we do in the states. Bike-sharing here in the US is typically comprised of rows of bikes that are as cheap as can possibly be produced. They are the ultimate balance of cost to build versus cost to maintain, played out at scale in a real-time experiment. That goes double for China where bikes are so cheap that they were literally tossed around at nearly every street corner in Shenzhen, with piles of them in the bushes all over town.
In Europe, sharing is a much more communal process. In Switzerland, they have a bike-sharing platform using Riese and Müller bikes that can be rented on an hourly basis or leased. “They already have it in every Swiss city and every tiny Swiss village.” That means just about anyone can use their bikes even if they can’t afford to buy one.
“Switzerland is very tiny and people live very close in the neighborhood. With sharing, people are actually sharing within the neighborhood.” They aren’t doing it for profit, but just to help each other get through the day. The bike enables that sharing at a whole new level because of the extra utility it brings to the table and the flexible configurations that allow riders of different sizes to use a single bike.
Sandra shared that Riese and Müller sees a future beyond the current paradigm where all modes of transportation are connected. They believe that Riese and Müller’s bikes as they exist today have a place in that future. “I think it’s a bike but what we are already working on is connectivity.” Users will have an option to use a bike, a train, a car and it will be a much more integrated, seamless experience.
“It’s not just about connecting the rider to their bike but connecting vehicle to vehicle,” she shared. That is evolving within the company into what they call the car to X concept where people may take a car to the train station, or to the bus stop or to the car sharing depot or, of course, to a bike. These forms of transportation will be connected to each other and to the rider/driver/passenger, making for a much more seamless, integrated experience. That solution doesn’t exist today but it’s the vision that keeps the team at Riese and Müller working to create it.
Sandra closed with a touching bit about the company, relating that, “my personal wish is that we can keep the company culture strong.” She’s focused on keeping the company strong so it can continue to create beautiful bikes that bring more people into the world of ebiking. “If you’re ebike addicted already, you need to have a Riese and Müller to go long distances and to ride comfortably.”
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