BikeBiz quizzes both the chief engineer and graphic designer at brand famed for its 'beach bikes'

Electra: design inspiration, going mainstream and electric bikes

Electra, best known for its domination of the beach cruiser market sprung a surprise at Eurobike – a venture into ‘everyday’ bikes. Mark Sutton quizzes chief bike designer Mark Pippin and creative director Robin Vallaire about the brand’s future plans…

Where does the inspiration for each bike’s graphics come from?
Vallaire: Everything. Design and fashion magazines, books, music, movies, blogs, Tumblr, color trends, cars, clothes, shoes, illustration. The smallest thing can spark an idea.

Where does ‘flatfoot’ technology come from and what does it offer the rider?
Pippin: Our Flat Foot Technology offers riders a confidence-inspiring ride. The ability to have a pretty normal leg extension and comfortable riding position, while offering the confidence is a great benefit to many riders. To other riders, this more relaxed position puts them in a more upright position to see the world around them and not to be staring at the front hub of the bicycle.

Electra is traditionally a ‘beach cruiser’ brand – but is it really true that coastal towns see the most sales?
Pippin: There is no doubt that the lifestyle and attitude of coastal communities are a magnet for our products. This is true for our coaster brake models for sure. But, our multi-speed product can be at home in many towns and cities in the world. It’s nice to have the ocean as a background for cruising, but just about any neighborhood will do also.

Are there any particular territories where Electra sells well? How important is the UK to the brand?
Pippin: We do good business in a number of markets in Europe, but Germany, where we have our European base, is the best at this time. We feel very positive about our prospects in the UK with bringing in Surf Sales and their team. We have aggressive growth plans set for the UK market and believe that it can take a leading position in the region.

Prior to the paintwork, how important is attention to detail during the manufacturing stages?
Pippin: We take painstaking care in making sure the underlying engineering and materials offer a durable product, as well as a long lasting finish. Our suppliers take more time to make sure that any part to be painted is defect-free, so the paint looks the best it can.

The brand is diversifying, introducing more mainstream designs for the ‘everyday’ rider – how did this come about?
Pippin: Our introduction of the Verse is about as mainstream as we plan on getting. The fitness/trekking/transport segment is still a casual rider category, which is where we are focused. We felt that this category was lacking style and fashion.
Most of the bikes are grey, or black in colour and are effectively 700c MTB bikes. We wanted to blend the Electra styles and colours, but with a different take on the segment.

Will the brand remain urban, or could we see an off-road or electric Electra?

Pippin: I think you will see some new products in the electric category in the future. We have been watching this segment for a while now and are waiting for the ‘mad scientist’ stage to draw to a close. We may miss some sales by not being a pioneer in the category, but we will also miss all the pitfalls of it also. Once the technology is truly mature, we can enter the category with a natural connection.

Fashion accessories have become increasingly important to the brand – what can the dealer now get hold of to complement bike sales?
Pippin: We have a wide variety of items available. Retailers of our bikes can get hold of bells, fenders, racks, baskets, liners, bags, saddles and grips, to name a few. We are also expanding into lifestyle clothing and accessories to bring the brand to more consumers.

Some designs seem to be themed – owls and Indian styling for example – how do you decide which theme to roll with next?
Vallaire: It’s throwing a bunch of ideas and tears on a wall and weeding out what will translate the best on a bike. Each concept evolves through different stages and forms before we actually see it on a bike and it’s thinking of all the details, such as the perfect colour combinations, saddle and grips that complete the concept.

Are the finishing touches, such as customised saddles, all manufactured in house?
Pippin: We work with a variety of suppliers to make the parts and accessories for the bikes. Our factories cannot possibly be experts in all the disciplines of bicycle manufacturing, so we leave that to the experts in their specialised fields. We focus our efforts on creativity and design on the core product.

What are your aspirations for the brand in the coming years?
Pippin: To be in the Tour de France! Not really, Just to continue to grow and develop products that inspire people, as well as get them on bikes.

In the coming year, which shows will we see the brand exhibit at?
Pippin: We will of course continue to support the major international fairs, Eurobike and Interbike, as well as regional events through our local distributors.

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