You’d be hard pressed to find a more bike crazy country than the Netherlands. Not only are bicycle paths ubiquitous, but there’s more than one bicycle for every single person in the country.
And while the Netherlands has a rich history of bicycle manufacturing, more and more companies are mass-producing their frames in China and Taiwan. But this isn’t the case for the Epo. Created by Bob Schiller as his graduate product for Design Academy Eindhoven, the Epo is a city bike designed to be affordably built in the Netherlands at scale, using the same techniques that European car manufacturers have been relying on for decades to keep costs down.
If you look at how a bike frame is made, much of it is done by bending metal and then welding it together, all of which requires a lot of manpower. The Epo is different: instead of a frame made up of metal tubes which each have to be precisely bent into shape and welded together, the Epo frame has been designed so it can simply be stamped out of metal and spot welded together.
“I was really inspired by the European car industry when coming up with my design,” Schiller tells me. “They have kept production in Europe by adapting themselves to techniques that lend themselves easily towards automation. The frame of my bike is made in exactly the same way, saving on labor costs and making the production of affordable bikes possible in the Netherlands again.”
Why should Dutch people care where their bike is made? In Schilling’s mind, part of it is simply national pride: it’s a shame that a nation so known for its bicycles buys most of their velocipedes from foreign manufacturers.
There’s also a real market for an affordable city bike. Bike theft is a serious problem in the Netherlands: over half a million people have to replace their stolen bikes every year. And replacing a stolen bike in the Netherlands is very expensive; the average bicycle in Holland costs over $1,200, according to the country’s National Bureau of Cyclists. An Epo, on the other hand, could be bought for roughly a quarter of that, significantly cutting back on the financial trauma of having your bike stolen.
The Epo is not in production just yet. Although the Epo will be much more affordable in the long run to produce than other designs, Schiller admits that the upfront investment in molds to press the sheet metal will be high. He’s currently looking for investors, and looking into crowd funding to bring the Epo to market. If everything goes well, Schiller says we can look for a renaissance in affordable Dutch bike design to begin in earnest sometime in 2015.