With more people living in cities and the growing realisation that urban pollution created by cars is contributing to climate change, cycling seems to be an inarguable part of the solution. That is, if you can convince the motorist crawling through congested city traffic to switch to two wheels.
That is not a likely prospect, when you remember that cycling has always been a non-polluting method of transport since the first bike was ridden in nineteenth century Europe, and yet most cities are unpleasant to cycle in. So to change the perception of cycling, maybe the bike needs to change.
This was very much the view of Jens Martin Skibsted twenty years ago when he founded Biomega. Although the basic design of the bike must qualify as one of the best in human history, the modern cycle has become a kind of moving carrier of components. The simplicity of two wheels, a frame and a couple of pedals has, over time, been overcome by wires, gadgetry and complicated, often ugly construction.
Jens Martin was a partner at Scandinavian design group KiBiSi, along with renowned architect Bjarke Ingels and designer Lars Holme Larsen. KiBiSi set about removing all the extraneous details, stripping back the bike to its simplest, sleekest functional form. However, the overriding intention was more than aesthetic. Biomega was not just designing bikes, it was designing alternatives to cars. And in so doing the brand was going head-to-head with the internal combustion engine, rather than other bike builders.
Biomega's CEO today, Kenneth Dalsgaard, joined the company because he felt that it was a way of him making a real difference for the sake of the next generation, which includes his own children. "The battleground is the city. This is where the congestion and pollution are, and it's where we have to get people out of their cars and onto bikes. This is why Biomega's strategy is to focus on one city at a time. Cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam are leading the way, which has encouraged Hamburg and Munich to invest in the infrastructure, which is key. But that's just the beginning."
Biomega's decision to eventually start making electric bikes was a conscious attempt to sell to motorists and, once again, it saw design transforming the status quo. Until this point, electric bikes were clumsy-looking machines with visible batteries and bloated frameworks. The Biomega OKO, by way of contrast, was a sleek, carbon-fibre work of art. Wiring was hidden. Even the battery lived out of sight within the frame. The mudguards weren't afterthoughts but designed as part of the silhouette. Unnecessary features had been totally removed in what Kenneth Dalsgaard refers to as an integrated design.
"Not many car owners know the brand of gearbox or brakes fitted to their car. You buy a BMW or an Audi and that's that. But with a bike, the opposite is true. So what Biomega set out to do is to sell you an integrated product, all designed as one. It's very much a Danish approach to design. Just like B&O, LEGO or ECCO. We all place a high value on design, quality and simplicity. And our products are made to last. For example, the normal lifespan of a bike is four to five years, whereas a carbon fibre Biomega is fit for fifteen or twenty."
The battle to capture the hearts and minds of motorists has only just begun and there is a long way to go, but it all depends on something that will resonate with every fan of ECCO, the ST.1 wearing Biomega CEO being one of them: trying is the moment of truth. "Getting people to buy a Biomega is exactly the same process as when I first tried on the ECCO boots I wear every winter. Once you try the product, you suddenly understand what the difference is. Everyone who tries a Biomega also comes back smiling."