Innovation & Development: from an E-Bike to a children’s taxi.
01.04.2023 | Interview
Our product developers are closer to the creation of Riese & Müller bikes than anyone else. Verena Kuck and Dominik Mahr explain in an interview why designing Cargo Bikes is a special challenge and how they find out whether an idea is really good.
Hello Verena and Dominik – as product developers, you are closer to the creation of our bikes than anyone else. How do you design an E-Bike to carry children?
Dominik: That’s a really big question. First and foremost: there’s more than one way. Each product is different, so we need to approach every product differently. Cargo Bikes, in particular, are very complex vehicles with emphasis on functional needs. After all, we need to consider not just the rider but the passengers, too. We also need to consider factors like the weight and dimensions of the bike – with a focus on saving space. Our aim is always to develop a product that is as clean, straightforward and, above all, well designed as possible, regardless of the exacting requirements.
What is the starting point for a new concept?
Dominik: There might be new or changed needs, new community requirements, or even a specific objective that we want to achieve as a brand. The experience we have gained in developing our existing models helps us to respond to this.
We can solve some emerging needs with new accessories for existing models. Or maybe we already had a good idea or approach for another model that we can carry over. Sometimes this approach leads to a concept for a completely new model. The concept then continues to be honed and refined by different factors in the process of achieve the finished product. This way, we end up with a strong and clear design.
What about feedback from users?
Verena: Experience from the cycling community helps us to progress. We filter and prioritise feedback we receive from multiple channels.
Another important question is also how easy is it to implement an improvement? If the work involved is not excessive, we also implement changes that may not be at the top of the priority list but might increase comfort or simply be a good fit for the character of the bike.
„It depends on the living situation.”
We have six models in our range for transporting children – which is the best?
Verena: (Laughs.) All of them! No, seriously. We deliberately offer a large range of models that cover a very broad range of uses with individual accessories. It is really entirely up to the customer and their lifestyle which bike ends up on the short-list. Is the bike to be used to transport children from A to B – and if so, how many? How tall is the rider? How much space is available to park the bike? The list of questions is as extensive and wide-ranging and people’s own lifestyles.
Are children also involved in the development process and asked for their opinion?
Dominik: Of course! Children are an integral part of the development process. My own children, aged two and five, or our founder and chief developer Markus Riese’s children, who are a bit older, get involved. We cover the entire range of ages with company employees’ children alone. From a certain point on, we also utilise the prototypes in everyday family life. This, in turn, provides valuable insights, which can significantly shape the ongoing development process.
Verena: And then there’s Liesel. Liesel is a dog who belongs to a colleague in Purchasing, who is also responsible for dog accessories for our Transporter Cargo Bike.
Little, furry test-passengers aside – how do you find out which ideas work?
Verena: At an advanced stage, we hand over the prototypes to our test rider, who trials them on various use scenarios and meticulously documents the results. He draws on his wealth of experience with all kinds of bikes to fine-tune the models, particularly with regard to their handling.
Dominik: Exactly. That is really pretty much at the end of the development process. Basically, there are very different types of ideas. Here’s a simple example: a fabric component is to be fixed by a magnet to a box. We create a prototype and go out on a windy day. This way, we can see very quickly whether it holds or whether we might need to switch over to a hook-and-loop or snap fastener.
„The resistance of our materials is generally an extremely important issue.”
Speaking of materials: what role do they play on our bikes? What are the requirements and how do you select them?
Verena: The materials shape the character of the bike and the quality experience. One basic requirement is the absence of toxins. Coatings, for instance, need to be fluorocarbon-free. We are also always working to reduce potential hazards.
The resistance of our materials is generally an extremely important issue. I can’t think of any other product that stands out in the weather longer than a Cargo Bike. With many bikes, we’re talking about 365 days out in the wind and weather and exposed to UV radiation.
That’s why we directly expose new materials to the wind and weather. That way, we can gain important empirical data through comparisons in long-term tests. With other materials, we design our own wear machines that specifically stress our patterns and give us a good idea of how a fabric works in everyday life.
The sustainability of our materials is a major issue and a personal concern of mine. Where we can, we use recycled materials and aim for resource-conserving processes, such as low water consumption during dying. We are also gradually introducing the principle of circular design at the moment.
You can read more about the topic of circular design in our Responsibility Report.