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A Heart of Metal chat with Max von Senger, founder of Standert.

Hi Max, nice to meet you and happy to have you here for Columbus’ Heart of Metal. Let’s start talking about how Standert was born and when you first discovered Columbus?

Yes, Standert was started in 2012 by myself and my wife Anna. We started it as a bicycle cafe in Berlin and the first Standert frames we made, were made with a Dutch manufacturer, which was Jan Kole back in the day. That was my first touch point with Columbus and very quickly it made me realise that if I wanted to do steel bicycles – which was the idea from the very beginning – then, of course, Columbus would be the name in that area.

Our first ever production was a Chromoly 4130, Taiwanese steel frame, but when visiting Jan’s factory there was a big Columbus flag on the wall and Jan Kole told me all about his history, working with Columbus and the quality of the tubing and, it was pretty straightforward, the idea to also use Columbus tubing for our first performance oriented steel road bike. That must have been in 2014, I think. So it was just the thing for me, you know, to have the sticker on the frame was the seal of quality, for us as a very small beginning business. We never looked back.

Do you have three words you would define Columbus with?

3 words I would say: quality, heritage and aesthetics.

Ok, perfect, thanks. At Standert, you do performance bikes and especially road bikes but also gravel bikes, correct?

Yes, correct. We could say we do drop bar bikes.

A good definition, in fact and is it a new model you are launching or is it the gravel version of a model which already exists?

No, it is actually a model that we have had for years, it’s called the Pfadfinder (literal translation would be Pathfinder, but the German word actually means Scout, as in the cookie selling organisation). It has a bit of history inside our lineup because when we first launched it, it was meant as an almost cyclocross bike, then pretty quickly it became our gravel bike. But in the beginning, as it still does now, there’s quite a limited tyre clearance, just 38mm maximum tyre, so, for gravel, it was clear that the market wanted more.

From the beginning we were using the Columbus Futura gravel fork on it, which of course also has certain measurements with axel to crown and maximum tyre clearance. What we realised then from our customers and from using the product ourselves, that this is actually a really great all road endurance road bike, more than a gravel bike and so this is where it is now in our lineup. We also have the Triebwerk which is a pure road bike, 32 millimetre maximum tyres, also made of Columbus steel. So far until now, all the steel bikes have always been made in Taiwan, also the Columbus steel bikes. While we are now very happy to have found a manufacturing partner, with the help of Columbus, in Europe, in the Czech Republic, this is in general an unchanged product.

We have updated a lot of details but the tube set, and the geometry is identical to the one that we had for years already. Now it’s made in Europe and we can talk more about the details later, but it is very exciting for us from a standpoint of sustainability of course. The tubing is made in Italy, and we used to ship it halfway across the world, have it welded together and then have it shipped back to us, which maybe didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Yes, not new but major updates to the product. And one of them being the nearshoring which is crucially important to us.

And what about the one who cycled from Berlin to the Czech Republic conveying this message of sustainability and nearshoring?

That is pretty much our launch video. It is about this, this journey and visit, seeing the making of the product, as a kind of metaphor.

Next time you must come to Milan.

Actually another plan that we had but didn’t manage to organise yet, when we first started this talk about the production in Czech, we said ok, we should go to Columbus and pick up the tubing and bring it to the factory ourselves. Kind of maybe riding across the Alps… A nice story for sure. And weirdly enough, we have not visited Columbus’ premises yet, believe it or not. We will.

Absolutely, you’re always very welcome to come and visit us and ride here… So sustainability, made in Europe and… would you like to tell us more about some kind of signature details and technical details or geometry that you’ve put into this model.

From the very first time we made this bike, the composition of the tubing has been perfect: everyone loves the bike like that. The right quality of the geometry seems to be really hitting the spot for everyone who’s tried it, so we didn’t change anything there, but of course we did change details to make the frame even better. One big change is that we now have fully integrated cabling. Other features, we now do 3D printed stainless steel dropouts with UDH technology and also for Di2 cables. A really nice drop out. We updated the BB shell a little bit too, for better internal cable routing. Plus a super slick fork and a top tube bag mounting point, to kind of underline the endurance qualities of the bike. So little updates on all ends of the frame that will make it even better than it was.

So, the dropouts are also made in the Czech Republic?

Yeah, it’s funny because it’s printed in the University in Czech. We were looking for a manufacturing partner and one of the owners’ wives from the factory works in the University in that department and they said they can do it for us. A good connection, of course.

That’s good! And what kind of tubing do you use for this model?

It’s a mix. Spirit HSS down and top tube, and Zona seat tube, seat and chain stays.

Why did you choose these exact tube sets? Did you try others before?

I had been reading about the great properties of the D-shape HSS downtube, so this was the first tube I wanted to use for a new model, after having used the bi-oval LIFE DT on our pure road model Triebwerk. We then chose the full mix of tubes adding to the downtube on the recommendation of Columbus for this particular model.

And what can you tell us about the colour scheme?

We use a paint shop in the Netherlands and our manufacturing partner in the Czech Republic is currently setting up their own paint facilities, so in the future we might be able to do it all in one place, which will be better, again for sustainability.

Ok, and do you make custom sizes or only regular sizes?

No, we don’t do custom sizing or paint. That is kind of the thing, we are a little bit in the middle of bespoke and mass production. We have fixed sizes and fixed colours, seven, but there’s a lot of choice for this. We usually have a choice between 3 or up to 4 colourways per release that we do, and then usually we do 2 releases of one design range and then we change it.

How do you sell your bikes, directly, or do you have a distributor or your own shop?

No, it’s all direct. We sell on our website. We have a showroom here in Berlin where you can also buy the bikes. But every bike is hand built in our facilities here in Berlin, so the bikes are built to order. We offer a certain range of configurations. So let’s say three different groupsets, two different wheel sets, two different cockpits. The customer can choose this on the website, but then we build it here in our headquarters. We also sell framesets a lot. To those customers who want to build their own kind of dream bike. We also have a few stores internationally, but this is more out of personal relationships, a very small operation. Sometimes they buy some frames from us, but mostly we do direct sales.

OK, so the lead time would be…

Usually for complete bikes it’s between 6 to 8 weeks and for a frame 2 to 4 weeks. We have a lot of people wondering why they don’t get the frame the next day. We also do a lot of work on the frame before shipping, like reaming, facing, pressing in the headset, etc.

What would you like to add about the very fact of coming to Europe for the production. If you would like to add some details?

We have also been producing our aluminium in Italy for years already so we know the difference between producing in Asia and in Europe, and for us to have a close partnership between European manufacturers, this also means better process in developing the product, times are quicker, we can talk face to face and meet very easily. Maybe it’s a bit of just a feeling but it feels much closer, the relationship.

So which is your main market?

Germany is our main market, and we are concentrating our focus on Europe. Especially Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Benelux are good. Also, the UK has always been a good market for us, then with Brexit it has been a bit of a challenge but now things are normalising. Then the US, Asia, Australia but not core. We’re excited about continuing to develop our steel bikes and we believe there is always a place for steel in the market… There has been a sort of a Renaissance over the last few years, and we love it.

Thanks Max, a pleasure sharing this conversation. Must come and see you in Berlin soon. Maybe riding.