Christoph Fraundorfer started having back problems from cycling and figured out that it was due to the geometry of his bicycle. As an architect and furniture designer he is accustomed to solving problems. So he developed a prototype – made of wood – and managed to mass produce custom-made bicycles. And all for a reasonable price. My Esel, the name of his start-up, has been very well received and there are already 400 bicycles from his workshop out and about on the streets since 2019.
Christoph Fraundorfer in an interview with Innovation Origins:
How did you come up with the idea for My Esel?
I’m actually from Linz but lived in Vienna for ten years during my studies. Cycling was the most efficient form of mobility in the city. But it gave me back problems even though I’m really quite sporty. Cycling is supposed to be pretty healthy. But only if the geometry is right and the kinematic, biometric process results in an optimal power transmission.
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(Note: Biometrics is the application of mathematical methods for the quantitative registration, planning and evaluation of tests involving, for example, physical measurements of the body).
I observed how other people ride their bikes and noticed that only a few people manage to have ideal posture on their bikes.
What problem does My Esel resolve and why is that important?
For me, a bicycle symbolizes sustainable mobility. Plus I have always appreciated intelligent design. The brilliance behind My Esel lies in its ability to adapt to the individual body measurements of a customer. Customization results in the best bicycle imaginable.
Our bicycle is designed to combine individual adjustments with serial production yet still be affordable. This is made possible with composite wood panels from which we use a CNC (computer numeric control) machine to carve out the frame’s shape.
Wood is an unusual material for a bicycle?
It seems to be the case at first glance. The very first bikes were also made of wood – just like aeroplanes. Wood replaced steel and aluminium for the most part only ever since the Industrial Revolution, as this made mass production cheaper. Wood is still used in ski manufacture today. Every ski has a wooden core that makes it both stiff and robust – and absorbs vibrations and shocks better than other materials. An advantage that we also use in My Esel.
We have managed to construct the wooden frame in a cost-effective way. With CNC, production can be more automated and is therefore more economical. In addition, the technology also facilitates production on site. We are in direct competition with Asian manufacturers and are able to compete price-wise. Our e-bike costs €3490. This is the entry level price for premium e-bikes. Yet we have local added value and also produce lower CO2 emissions than those generated during shipment from Asian manufacturers.
What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome?
It was pretty difficult to get through the initial 2 ½ years financially before we were ready for series production.
We designed a biometric software program that required ISO certification. We worked together with experts from the Orthopaedic Hospital Speising (in Vienna) and evaluated thousands of data sets to be sure that we were using the correct physical data. Now anyone can configure their perfect bike in just a few minutes – and online. There are only three pieces of data that need to be filled in – body height, shoe size and the length of the lower leg. This is all you need for the average cyclist. It should be kept simple so that there are no measurement errors and discrepancies on the part of the customer. This sort of thing has never been done like this before.
The wooden frame was also a challenge – not just in technical terms, but also in economic terms. But My Esel has been very well received thanks to its sustainable and regional production, and we received several grants as well. Although at the moment we are financing ourselves exclusively through sales.
Photo: With My Esel, I was the first person ever on a wooden bike to win a bronze medal at the WUCA 24h European Championship in 2019 .
What have been the most wonderful occasions so far?
When the first prototypes arrive, everything that has been dreamt up over the past two years will become reality. It’s the feeling that you’ve made it. Even satisfied My Esel customers make me happy and let me know that I have supporters out there.
How difficult was it to get funding for My Esel?
We raised capital in 2018 through four partners who contributed smart money and who know how to set up a large manufacturing facility. They originally got to know My Esel as customers and are passionate about the product.
What do you want to accomplish in the coming year?
We will launch a GPS system in the spring and will be the first brand to install a GPS tracker inside the bicycle frame. The GPS signal passes through wood, that’s not the case with aluminium and carbon. This means that My Esel can be tracked if it is stolen and also recovered by the police.
What makes your bicycle better than or different from other gear out there?
There is nothing quite like it. Production is regional and therefore sustainable and fair. The wood absorbs shock more effectively with the same amount of stability – and it is custom made too. This makes cycling more fun and you don’t have to pedal as hard.
Find the link to the My Esel video here.
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