Roll on: the story of the Babbel bikes
Gregory Simon in his natural habitat – Photo by James Lane for Babbel.com
One sunny Wednesday morning in March, Gregory Simon was getting ready for work. He showered, dressed, threw back a cup of coffee and left.
A couple of hours later he arrived in the office, looking rather frazzled.
“My bike just got nicked!”
Gregory grew up riding around the hills of Annecy in the French Alps. He always rode to work, preferring to brave the Berlin weather rather than be stuck in traffic in a car. He was very attached to his bike.
Anyone who has ever had a bike stolen knows how incredibly frustrating it is, but on this occasion the thieves’ timing was oddly perfect. That day an order was placed for over seventy new Babbel bikes.
Putting it all together: Michael Grünke works on the prototype. Photo by whitebox
In an era increasingly focused on sustainability, giving employees bikes might seem like a natural idea, but very few companies do it.
“We wanted to give our employees something they would want to use every day, a really top-quality bike,” says Markus Witte, Babbel’s CEO. “Berlin is a great city for cycling and this fits in with our philosophy of encouraging people to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
An estimated average of 500,000 people ride bikes in Berlin each day, using 620km of bike paths and accounting for over 13% of all traffic.
A keen cyclist himself, Markus worked with design agency whitebox to develop a bike that would cater to people who just wanted to commute, as well as those who wanted to go on longer rides.
“A bike presents its own unique challenges,” says designer Maya de Silva. “You have to take into account the point of view of the rider as well as the observer. How big do things have to be so that they work from a distance? That was quite a new thing.”
Designs for both male and female bike frame. Image by whitebox
“Markus gave us free reign. Of course the branding was important, but he was generally very open to our design ideas. The first step was to choose the bike: we researched the different manufacturers, and whether we wanted an aluminium or a steel frame.”
Ultimately the decision was made to go with a lighter aluminium frame, the Müsing Twinroad, fitted with a Shimano Alfine 8 Speed Internal Hub.
People could then specify the size and type of frame they wanted, as well as the handlebar style (curved or straight).
The bikes are custom-made in Germany. A technician will service all the bikes for free every two weeks at the Babbel offices – hopefully ensuring that they, and their riders, have a long and happy life.