Technology’s job is to make life easier and while it doesn’t always fulfil this remit, in the case of Storck Raddar’s range of Pedelec electric assist bikes it absolutely does. For the uninitiated, e-bikes use an electric motor to offer power assistance when cycling – especially useful when cycling on gradients, accelerating away from traffic or just looking to have some fun. ‘It just leaves you with a huge smile on your face,’ explains Ian. After accepting a redundancy package from Scott in 2009, Ian took a sabbatical and began exploring a range of different options for his next career move. ‘I realised the electric bike market was quite young in the UK and thought 'Okay, maybe there’s an opportunity here.''
Ian discovered that, while the UK market was fairly well supplied with lower-priced electric bikes, a gap existed for the distribution of a higher-end model. ‘I’d known about the German brand Storck for quite a while,’ he explains. ‘Markus Storck has always had a very good reputation for building high-end, premium brand, functional road and mountain bikes. He’d carved a very strong niche, won loads of awards for bike design, patented lots of really cool features and had designed some pedelec electric assist bikes for his existing commuting style bike.’ Rather than go to an ‘off-the-shelf’ e-bike manufacturer and use one of their motor-drive systems for a Storck e-bike, Markus designed his own system, taking a motor originally used in electric wheelchairs, re-tweaking it and switching production from the Far East to Switzerland to ensure ultra efficiency and reliability. He named the range ‘Raddar’, with the power assistance controlled by a simple thumb throttle on the bike’s handle bar. The system uses a unique, patented torque sensor to deliver the power which measures your pedalling effort and adds power to match automatically. Ian describes the Raddar system experience as ‘like a big hand giving you this great big, smooth push when you want it.’
I had to try it for myself and Ian was only too happy to let me loose on the Storck Raddar Multitask. Favoured by commuters, the Multitask comes with a hefty £2,899 price tag that might raise a few eyebrows initially but after taking one out for a short test ride I can see how it justifies the premium. The bike felt like a quality commuting bike, not too heavy and very comfortable, but the power assistance has to be tried to be appreciated. A simple thumb throttle controls the seamless assistance, turn it up for fluid, instant power and the obligatory silly grin, all of which is delivered silently from the battery pack fitted on the bike’s down tube. ‘It’s great fun riding these bikes; people think “Oh, it’s cheating” but it’s just such good fun. If you want to get a workout on the bike you can, but at the same time if you’ve got a hill in the way and want to have a bit of fun and race to the top, you can. It’s a great alternative, you don’t have to have the assistance on all the time.’
Speaking with Ian, his passion for the Storck brand and Raddar product is obvious and his track record in the industry – growing the Scott Sports brand from virtually nothing in the UK to a subsidiary with a gross turnover of £14 million – meant Markus Storck needed little convincing to let Ian develop sales and distribution exclusively for Storck Raddar in the UK. Along with his son Trevor, Ian set up Storck Raddar UK Ltd in 2010 and the pair have set about showcasing the product to specialist e-bike shops across the country in a bid to build the type of dealer network that made Scott so distinguished in biking circles and supply the British public with the best quality e-bike on the market. ‘Initially we had some great reactions but the barrier was the high pricing point. Because it’s a better quality product and nobody had come in with that type of price point before, shops were unsure whether the market could withstand it.’ With most e-bikes in the UK market retailing at no more than £1,800, Ian and Trevor have had to work hard to convince potential dealers of Storck Raddar’s potential, but the results are beginning to show.
‘Thinking outside the box’ is a phrase Ian repeats during the hour or so he spends chatting and showing me around Storck Raddar’s modern concept store close to Metrocentre, on the banks of the Tyne, and I get the impression he is relishing the freedom managing his own company has afforded him. Storck Raddar UK has benefited from not having to worry about corporate demands such as those that came with his role at Scott – a company he admits, was run like a Swiss watch. ‘We can be so much more creative now. You’re encouraged to be creative working for a corporate company but there’s a limit. Here we can be as creative as we like because it’s a new style of business, “Let’s try this, let’s try that and see what works.” Scott Sports has a fantastic pedigree and background but now we can start thinking outside the box a lot more and use those ideas for a long term future.’ Long term, Ian would like to work more closely with local people and has lots of ideas for how his business can help people in Gateshead and the North East. ‘I really want to work more with communities, put something back in locally, show people what the bikes are all about and build the business up that way.’
Markus Storck travelled to the region in November to officially open the Storck Raddar showroom which represented a big step for Ian and the company. Now they have a base from which to build the brand in the UK and showcase Storck products to prospective customers. Split over two levels, the store has a fully equipped workshop on the ground level and upstairs there’s a bright, modern showroom and coffee bar with views down the river. Alongside the e-bikes, models from the rest of the Storck range, such as the racing and mountain bikes, are displayed like works of art for customers to view. ‘This is the kind of environment a customer can visit comfortably and we’ll make sure they get exactly the right bike they want, the right frame they want – we build the road and mountain bikes to the level they want and most importantly we’ll make sure they actually fit the bike properly and are comfortable on it.’ Ian and Trevor will spend as much time as it takes with anyone who purchases a Storck bike to make sure it’s the perfect fit.
‘We’re not trying to compete against other bike shops, we’ve got to complement them and offer something slightly different.’ Where the large chains of bike outlets will push whatever product they’ve got in stock, often with little regard for quality or consideration for customers’ individual needs, Ian and Trevor are keen to create a relationship-based business. ‘It’s a longer haul to do this but that’s what I want to do.’
With the emphasis on complementing the e-bike market rather than drawing business away from other pedelec assist manufacturers and stockists, Storck Raddar have created a business plan that is very much focused around plugging the gap that exists at the top-end of the market and supplying customers with the best e-bikes available. Ian estimates the UK is three to four years behind the rest of the European market in terms of e-bikes so, in a bid to speed up growth in the UK, Storck Raddar have formed a coalition with three other electric bike suppliers called E4. ‘We formed this group with the view to doing road shows around the country where customers can try four different styles of e-bike and tap into our experience.’
The fact that other European countries e-bike sales dwarf Britain’s is doubtless helped by the UK’s lacklustre cycling culture. In places like Amsterdam, 40 percent of all commutes are made by bike, often on dedicated cycle paths away from traffic, while Britain’s commuters rely heavily on cars, buses and trains with brave cyclists protected by nothing more than a dotted white line on the main roads. Persuading potential customers to invest in a Storck Raddar bike would be easier for Ian and Trevor if Britain’s attitude to cycling was more European. ‘That on its own is a bit of a challenge,’ Ian admits but he does believe that things are changing for the better in the North East and the rest of the country. ‘Every time you pick up a newspaper, every time you see the news, there’s so many people campaigning to make cycling more accessible – not just in Newcastle but across the UK.’ Local councils in the North East are conscious of the need to provide more sustainable transport, and with petrol prices rising to astronomical levels, bikes are an obvious solution. ‘I’m sure this will happen in the UK. Already there’s government and lottery funding in place, there’s some fantastic cycle paths and trails where you can cycle away from traffic and a huge amount of things going on to help people enjoy cycling a whole lot more.’
Ian likes to lead by example and puts the Storck Raddar range to the test on his commute home, which is only a short ride up the bank in nearby Whickham. He has lived in the region for many years now, having moved from Kings Lynn in the late 70s after leaving his job as a motor vehicle technician at Jaguar to pursue a career as a DJ in the North East. After hosting a specialist music programme on Metro Radio his passion for mountain biking slowly began to take hold. He began combining his radio job with some part time sales work for a surfwear company which eventually led to him taking a full time sales role with Marin Mountain Bikes. After building up some industry experience the opportunity with Scott arose and the rest is history. ‘It’s been a quite varied career and I’ve just settled here – I love it. The North East is the coolest place in the whole of the country – without a shadow of a doubt. The people are unbelievably homely, friendly and passionate.’
‘I love this business. It’s great having Trevor, my son, involved too – having a younger generation to spark off is fantastic. I’m very, very happy, we’ve got a great opportunity here.’ If you get the opportunity to try a Storck Raddar bike I suggest you take it, you won’t be disappointed.