Czech town bikes gear up after first wave of success

Officials in Brussels will soon be riding the streets of the European capital on Czech bikes. The Prague-based company Citybikes has recently won a tender to provide their electric bikes to the European Parliament. The company, which was established exactly ten years ago, is popular mainly for its retro-style city bikes and its owners have a large share in promoting cycling in Prague.

Photo: CitybikesPhoto: Citybikes When I met with one of the company’s founders, Martin Říha, I first asked him how he got the idea to establish the company:

“I got the idea back in 2002, when I was studying at the university. There was a big flood in Prague and metro and trams were not running, so I had to use my bike as means of transport, and I discovered it was really nice. And it was also very cheap and fast.”

How long did it take you to actually establish the company?

“We established the company in 2006 and we spent the next four years with the initial preparations. So this year we are celebrating our ten-year anniversary.”

At the beginning you were selling bikes by other manufacturers and only a few years later you decided to produce your own bikes…

“That’s right. At the very beginning we were just reselling bikes, as a distributor for certain brands, but it wasn’t easy to work as a distributor in the Czech Republic, because the market is very small. We had to invest quite a lot in the marketing and we lost a brand at least two times. So we decided to invest into our future and to set up a new brand and production of our own bikes.

“At the very beginning we started with retro bikes or city bikes in retro style, then we have electric bikes and last year we started to produce tourist bikes as well.”

“We believe in the custom made products and I can confirm that they are really successful.”

Is Prague with its hilly terrain and cobbled streets even suitable for city bikes? Isn’t it more suitable for mountain bikes?

“Yes, mountain bikes are very popular in the Czech Republic. People use it for road biking, city biking and trekking. But I think it is overused. Our goal was to offer bikes for let’s say 25 kilometre tracks where you can wear standard clothes instead of a sports tool intended for hundreds of kilometres.”

I guess back that in 2002, when you started your business, city bikes were still a novelty in Prague. Would you say that the situation has changed over the ten years?

“It changed a lot. After ten years there is a lot of cycle paths in Prague and what is even more important, the mutual respect between car drivers and cyclist is much better than it used to be.”

Can you describe the bikes that you produce? What kind of features do they have?

“We have bikes in three categories: retro bikes, electric bikes and trekking bikes, which can be used both in the city and for long trips outside the city.

“The main feature of our bikes is that you can build them through our online configurator: you can choose the height of the frame, the colour of the frame, equipment, various components, so it is a tailor made and I would say this is its main feature.”

Photo: Official Facebook page of CitybikesPhoto: Official Facebook page of Citybikes Which of these bikes are currently the most popular ones?

“Definitely our retro bikes.”

Would you say that the fact that customers can have their bikes tailor made to their needs one of the reasons why people choose your company over the others?

“I would say this is definitely a big advantage, because custom made products are our future. If you look at the automotive industry is the future it is common that you can choose from the colour, engine output, gears and so on. So we believe in the custom made products and after two or three years, I can confirm that they are really successful.”

Who would you say are your typical customers?

“It depends on the segment. In retro bikes, it is mostly girls and women up to 45 year of age, in electric bikes it is both men and women between the ages of 50 and 65.”

You have recently landed a significant order from the European Parliament to provide bicycles to officials in Brussels. Would you say it is a breakthrough for your company?

“The fact is that we received an order for 25 electric bikes and the budget for this order is 60,000 euros. It is a very nice reference and a very nice project but we definitely have to earn more this year.”

“We are working on a prototype of a new folding bike and we would like to have it ready for this season.”

Have you ever tried to provide your bicycles to Czech authorities as well?

“We have tried several times and I can mention one tender, for the Czech Post. We didn’t succeed and I would say that the main reason was that they didn’t really know what they needed. I don’t know if it works now but I haven’t seen any post bike in the streets of Prague, so maybe it was just a pilot project and they decided to cancel it. But we definitely tried.

It is the beginning of February, not exactly a cycling season, so what do you do these days?

“We have a service and production, so we are preparing for the season. We are currently working on the order for Brussels and we also have a big contract for Rekola.

“It is a company which offers a mobile phone application, which enables you to rent a bike anywhere in Prague. You can see their pink bikes all around the city. They need at least 200 bikes for next season so what we do is rebuilding and repairing bikes for them.”

You have also been cooperating with the Automat Initiative, which is promoting cycling in the city. Would you say that the conditions for cyclists have improved over the years?

“We have been a traditional partner of Automat for many years and I would say that the situation is much better than it used to be. Of course there are still things that could be improved but as I have already said, the mutual respect between drivers and cyclists is definitely better than it used to be.”

Photo: Tomáš AdamecPhoto: Tomáš Adamec Do you cycle in Prague on a regular basis?

“Of course I do, but not as frequently as I would like to.”

Are your planning to introduce any new line of product in the near future?

“We are working on a prototype of a new folding bike and hopefully it will be in our on-line configurator in about two months.”

Who is it intended for?

“The folding bike is mainly for people living in the cities and for commuters who use train or bus, so that they can carry their bike with them.

“It is also for people living in small flats, because parking a big bike in a flat is quite complicated and it is much easier if you can fold it. So we are working on it and we would like to be ready for this season.”

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