Dating back to the early 19th century, bicycles have become a whole lot more sophisticated since a rider first balanced himself on two wheels. The 21st century has seen unprecedented application of technology to bikes, in designing, building, and using them. As they continue to get lighter and more aerodynamic without sacrificing strength, we have to ask, who are the visionaries making waves in the world of cycling innovation? We happen to know one fine man who fits this description. Allow us to introduce Karlheinz Nicolai of NICOLAI bikes.
Known better as Kalle, he has made a name for himself as an early adopter of new technologies and an advocate for making advancements in the way we ride. At the NICOLAI headquarters, located in a remote area of northern Germany, they are continually testing new ideas, operating under the belief that if you can dream it, you can make it. It is in this tranquil environment that our innovator is able to develop, test, and produce some of the best bike frames in the world. With a focus on craftsmanship, excellent welding, and little details, these bikes are made 100 percent in Germany and no shortcuts are taken.
Committed to expanding the horizons of what is possible, twenty years ago Kalle decided it was time to realize his dream of starting his own bike company. What began as three guys in a garage has since developed into one of the most respected bike companies in Germany. Now a team of 25 people, the formula has stayed the same – each frame is handmade, ensuring that every single one is unique and customized. Allowing maximal customer input, everything from the size to individual part color can be adjusted on the basis of individual preference.
With an open door policy, Kalle and his crew at NICOLAI welcome visitors to the factory and are happy to share their bicycle-making knowledge with anyone willing to make the trek. Working closely as a team, they all pride themselves on a commitment to authenticity, stating that what keeps their customers coming back is the fact that they recognize the “realness” of NICOLAI products. A growing rarity in the manufacturing sector, NICOLAI is one of the few remaining companies that performs everything from turning, milling, welding, and grinding, to straightening, heat treating, coating, and assembly in a single place. From A to Z, everything from early calculations to final testing happens on site.
What this integrated approach means is that they can rapidly transfer the results of their riding tests into new bikes and are able to adjust products on individual basis for their customers. Tubes are hand-cut, shock levers, cables, and other details are milled on site by their CNC machines. While developing, they use the feedback of their team riders and customers as well as their own experiences as active bikers. Their goal is simply defined: the best function, the best resistance and the best reliability to make good bikes even better.
Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not. Kalle clearly understands that to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted. It is this imaginative approach to bike manufacturing that sets him and his team apart. With an ability to envision that which is not, they stride proudly forward into new frontiers of bicycle technology. At the end of the day, he realizes that it’s about putting the simple elements together properly that ultimately results in a product that is greater than the sum of its parts. What do you think has been the most significant innovation in bicycle technology? Do you know a true innovator or someone with an interesting cycling story? Share it here.