Storck Bicycle GmbH
Storck Bicycle GmbH

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One Off

The giant plywood patch, replacing what used to be a window, was something of a sear on the otherwise beautiful, giant glass cube that is the Storck building in Idstein, Germany. Just two days prior, Storck had put on display for the first time a 10,000 dollar Storck Aero 2 time trial machine equipped with Shimano Di2 electronic derailleurs, the bike that had created a stir at Interbike last fall. This Aero 2, sporting a unique blue white paint job, had not lasted 24 hours in the display before somebody had smashed through the window and absconded with it.

But Markus Storck, boy-like genius designer and owner of more than 40 patents, is not particularly concerned. The bike is so distinctive in its unique design, its one-off paint job, and its rarity, that he figures he ll get it back soon. The bike is cool. Its integrated stem and aero bar appear to continue the top tube, extending seamlessly forward in a straight line from it, making it fast, stylish and, evidently, tempting to a thief. Especially unique are the brakes; the brake cables enter holes in the sides of the fork crown and seatstays, hooking together the two little carbon cantilever arms integrated into the inner walls of the fork blades and seatstays. The fork, with brakes included, weighs only 310 grams. Storck, the son of bike shop owners, says bicycles are his life. "I was born in the bike industry," he said. "And I will die in the bike industry."

The Storck family goes way back with bicycles. Markus Storck s great grandfather was a member of a cycling club starting in 1876, five of his great uncles were professional cyclists on the Opel team in the 1920s, and his father raced in the 1950s while working as a rep for various bike brands. In 1969, Storck s parents opened a bike shop in Frankfurt, and by the age of six, Markus was selling bikes in the shop and riding on a cycling club. By age 13, he was doing well in races, riding on Storck-branded lugged steel frames and wearing Storck jerseys. When he was 16, his parents were granted permission to train their son in sales and retail management within their own shop (many jobs in Germany, including retail, require state controlled training), and he had already begun developing bike products.

Still, Storck might have remained largely anonymous to consumers but for a decision by Trek in 1995. Thanks to his friendship with American soldiers stationed in the area, Storck spoke English well, and he began importing Trek and Cannondale bikes with his father in the early 1980s, at the outset of the mountain bike boom. Unable to negotiate distribution for Specialized, he nonetheless received a large commission for setting up that brand s German distribution, with which he started his own company. He ran his distribution company at night, after working all day in the shop, and within two years, his sales surpassed those of his parents shop. In 1988, he left his parents business and founded Bike-tech Trading in Germany and then Bike Tech AG in Switzerland. Among the many brands he carried, he sold over 20 percent of Kleins production and, along with Gary Klein, pioneered the brands trademark smooth double-pass welds. Over the years, Storck also launched and sold a number of his own bike brands, sourcing production in Asia.

In 1990, after being denied favorable booth space at the Cologne bike show two years prior, Storck founded the Eurobike show in Friedrichshafen along with partner Erich Reiss. The first show was in 1991 with 268 exhibitors. lt has now grown to be at least as important as Interbike, with more than a thousand exhibitors and more than a million square feet of exhibition space spread over 13 halls. Reiss still directs it. Bike-tech was humming along until Trek purchased Klein Bicycles in 1995. Trek abruptly terminated Storcks distribution contract, offering him a paltry 30,000 dollars for the work he had done building the business, a sum that Storck refused. Storcks annual sales of Klein products alone was over three million dollars, and he obtained an injunction against Trek on the eve of the Eurobike show, preventing it from displaying or distributing Klein bicycles in Germany. This resulted in a quickand more lucrative settlement from Treks Dick Burke, and served as the impetus for Storck to launch his own brand and be free from the whims of other companies. Immediate fruit of this was Bart Brentjens winning the 1996 Atlanta Olympics on what would become the Storck Rebel hardtail, born out of Storcks cooperation with Hercules, Concorde and American Eagle (whose brand the bike carried).

With the financial assistance of some good friends, Storck began production of aluminum frames made under the "Storck USA" brand by Kinesis in Portland, Oregon, who had hired Kleins chief welder and head of production. Initial sales were slow and costs were high, and by 1999, still hurting from the loss of Klein sales and weathering a period of global financial doldrums and tight credit from banks, Storck had hit a cash flow bind. He owed over a million dollars that he could not pay, and, on a whim, entered the 31 Innovation Challenge design competition run by 3i, a major venture capital firm. It carried a first prize of a million dollars, and he entered a carbon full suspension mountain bike frame he dubbed the "Organic." Up against stiff competition from big design firms outside of the bike industry, it was a major accomplishment to simply make the final round of 30, but he ended up winning the grand prize and paying off his debt. "Tough times make you strong," was Storcks comment upon pulling it off. This would be the first of many major design contests Storck would win.

Like his bikes, Storcks building oozes elegance and stunning design. The clean, open spaces are brightly lit by sunshine pouring in through the huge windows that constitute the three entire sides of the building. The sparse, understated, modern decoration complements the brand. Storck cant look at something as simple as a pen without pondering improvements in its design. "To develop something on a daily basis for me is normal," he says, "whether its in the shower, at a restaurant, or just about anywhere."

He credits a near-death experience over the holidays in 2006 as a major creative boost. Vacationing on a remote island in Thailand, he got food poisoning, lost consciousness and couldnt speak. After a harrowing transfer to a hospital on the other side of the island in the middle of the night - involving a truck breakdown and a ride through the jungle on a police motorcycle - the problem was misdiagnosed. On top of that, the Valium injection he was given left him paralyzed. A three hour drive followed by a ferry ride and more driving got them to the hospital in Phuket during which Storcks wife, Helena, kept him alive with oxygen after receiving instructions over the phone from a doctor friend in Germany.

The experience left Storck feeling compelled to follow his passions and create products that people love. He has paten ted ideas ranging from carbon-fiber leaf springs, to piezo-electric valves that open and close a damper in a shock, to computer mounting systems, to integrated headsets, to crank and grip designs. His broad interests have resulted in a remarkably wide product range encompassing road, mountain, time trial, urban mobility, hybrid and motorized e-bikes. His constant smile and youthful demeanor suggest that it agrees with him.

The hard thing for many people to get their head around is how one guy with a small company can be such a sharp businessman, have invented so many things, started one of the worlds biggest bike shows, won myriad design awards, and regularly won every bicycle- and fork performance test (as well as comfort tests, stiffness-to-weight tests, etc). One key is how organized he is in his personal life. Helena, who saved his life in Thailand, is his bedrock, and that provides him with a platform from which he can explore his restless, creative side. Storck does indulge in fast cars, however, relishing in driving them at over 30 kph.

Among his more recent innovations, Storck has carried the integrated carbon cantilever brakes of the Aero 2 time trial bike forward into the new Fascenario 0.6 road bike, which, equipped with Shimano Di2, weighs a mere 5.5 kilograms, almost three pounds under the UCI-mandated weight limit. Lending stiffness without much weight to the package are the Storck Power Arms cranks, which have a 30mm aluminum spindle and an 86mm-wide shell that Storck claims preceded both BB30 and BB86.

The Fascenario 0.7 had already won Tour Magazines bike tests for stiffness, stiffness-to-weight, and comfort index more than once, but Storck could not stop there, saying, "The 0.7 was groundbreaking, but the 0.6 is revolutionary." Hes a restless man, and he took more weight out of the bike while adding yet more torsional and lateral stiffness. One secret to the advances is the vacuum void controlled (VVC) carbon molding process he pioneered in 2007 with his Stiletto fork and Power Arms crankset. VVC reduces the resin content in the frame by a third over the standard bladder method, resulting in reduced weight, enhanced durability by reducing the brittleness of the structure.

Storcks advanced in-house testing lab allows him to monitor and continue improving his high quality standards. Despite having constantly set industry standards for low bike weight, his bikes are well known for durability. Good testing is also integral to his being able to make all Storck tubes and carbon layups proportional to rider size. His investment in his own test lab as well as in the test labs of his Asian partners has paid off many times over. And while all of his bikes are built in Asia, his German employees check every single frame on an alignment table before assembling it.

Most of Storcks high-end bikes have rear-entry dropouts, including mountain bikes, which have the disc brake on the chainstay in order to accommodate them. Storck believes so strongly in the design, which he claims is stiffer, lighter and stronger than front-entry or vertical dropouts, that he does not limit them to just aero bikes. Contrary to popular belief, it is no harder to get the wheel in or out of rear-entry dropouts than standard dropouts, once you practice it. It simply requires a little extra leftward movement of the wheel to get the dropout nut past the chain, and videos on Storcks Web site show how. The agonizing wheel changes we saw in team time trials in the Tour de France when aero bikes with rear-entry dropouts first appeared in the pro peloton were simply the result of mechanics who had not practiced enough.

Storck is not just interested in the lightest, fastest, most expensive bikes, however. The Absolutist 1.0, for instance, is a relatively affordable bike with a 1,050-gram unidirectional-carbon frame and Ultegra components. His Multiroad, Multitask and Multitask Comfort bikes demonstrate his affinity for getting everyone out on bikes. And the Raddar Multiroad and Raddar Multitask e-bikes, which add power smoothly and seamlessly to the riders efforts, carry that idea further. Markus Storck is a man driven to make things better - a man who embodies the spirit of innovation.