‘Max was studying industrial design here in Berlin and working part-time as a messenger. He wanted a bike that would do it all in the city. Responsive yet durable, classic looking but still modern. And when he couldn’t find what he was looking for he decided to design his own frame to be fabricated in steel. Really focusing on the basic needs that the bike had to fulfill.’
I’m speaking to Benedict Herzberg, Standert’s head of marketing and PR, and the Max in question is the company’s founder and CEO, Max von Senger und Etterlin. Back in 2012 and following this fruitless search for a new bike – clearly necessity can be the mother of invention – Standert opened their first shop with a vision of offering a range of cycling products alongside sales of coffee, soup and ice cream.
Whilst ice cream isn’t now available the range of Standert bikes has steadily grown to encompass race, urban and cross. ‘Models,’ suggests Benedict, ‘that reference industry trends but in essence we’re still building bikes that we want to ride. We might be influenced by external factors such as the current popularity of the gravel scene but then we build a gravel bike how we would imagine it.’
With this discussion of identity, I’m prompted to satisfy my curiosity regarding the brand name following a rather puzzling response from typing Standert into Google Translate. Benedict laughs as he explains the derivation: ‘It’s a slang word. Used to describe something that can be common but is still awesome. The Berlin version of Hell Yeah.’
An interesting play on words considering the Mitte location of their original shop. Back in 2012 an up and coming region of the city, Benedict now describes it as the centre of hipness with a lot of young people and families making it their home. And with the opening of a second showroom in rapidly developing Kreuzberg, the decision has now been made to split the models on display with Mitte retaining the urban bikes and Kreuzberg showcasing the performance range.
‘You have to work hard at keeping a brand alive. People go into business with a lot of passion but it can all too easily become just a job. You need to keep that flame burning and that’s what we want to do with our bikes. A cursory look at their clean lines might give you the impression that our designs are very simple but actually they’re not. Definitely more Standert than standard [smiles].’
‘It’s important to be authentic,’ continues Benedict, ‘and in terms of how we communicate to our customer base I feel people appreciate honesty in marketing; that we’re not selling our bikes based on claims we can’t substantiate. Basically, when someone walks into our showroom we’re not going to pretend that our bikes have been tested in a wind tunnel and they’re zero zero point two milliseconds faster over 40 km. But you will ride our bike faster because you’ll love it.’
With this talk of communication and brand ethos, it’s fair to say that the Standert shop has always been a hub for Berlin-based cyclists; the increasingly fluid international workforce often using the shop rides as a way of making social inroads when first relocating to the city. And with many finding their way to the rides through Instagram or Strava, Benedict was amused to hear from a group of visiting Australians that the Thursday Feierabendrunde is known globally as a very fast shop ride.
‘We do get pros showing up,’ he confirms, ‘and as we give out sprint and GC points it is competitive. But everybody knows that we stick to the rules of the road and it’s still loads of fun; individuals giving it a go just to see how long they can last.’
A competitive edge mirrored in the company’s sponsoring of a factory racing team; Benedict explaining how their aluminium Kreissäge race bike was completely developed with input from Team Standert. So much so that although the first iteration was only available as a 1x model, subsequent feedback suggesting that the ability to add a second chain ring would be welcomed led directly to a design rethink.
‘It’s important not to think you have all the knowledge as there’s always people better than you at something. It’s like the assumption that a product has to be manufactured in Europe to be any good. Our lugged steel-framed urban bikes are made in Taiwan because you simply can’t do it better for the quantities we’re ordering. Contrast that with our aluminium race bikes that are hand-welded in Italy and you can see our approach. We build the bikes where we get the best quality.’
This theme of assumptions that Benedict discovered applies equally to Standert the company; people tending to think they’re a lot bigger than they actually are when the reality is only 10 individuals in addition to the showroom staff.
‘We want to grow but in a very organic way. If we get too big too fast then there’s a danger we might lose control of the process. That attention to detail and focus on quality that’s at the core of what we do. And we’re very much rooted in Berlin so we know that our bikes resonate within this setting. Max and I grew up here and so much of what influences the Standert design language comes from the city in the form of art, design and architecture.’
‘There’s naturally a certain price for quality,’ Benedict continues, ‘so it’s not a cheap product that we’re selling. But what our customers have in common is a desire to ride a cool bike and not just something off the shelf. Performance is important but they have a certain look in mind. A product that represents their individual style and that isn’t mass produced. Not a status symbol but a statement nonetheless.’
With a disc version of the Kreissäge and a stainless steel Erdgeschoss just two from a series of exciting model launches planned for the coming year, Benedict suggests that this will enable Standert to reach the sweet spot in their model range.
‘We don’t have it written down but the goal is to be a mainstream player offering bike designs that you can’t get elsewhere. But because people know who’s behind Standert and it’s easy to relate to the brand, when you think about growth it’s important to consider how that intimacy can be maintained. How you can keep that spirit alive and still grow.’
There’s a slight pause as Benedict considers his previous statement before qualifying it further.
‘Not niche or mainstream. But on the border between the two maybe [smiles].’
All images with kind permission of Standert