E-MTB brand Thok has gained a significant following in Italy and is hoping to grow in the UK. Daniel Blackham attended the Thok Tribe event to learn more about the company
This piece first appeared in the July edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Italy is synonymous with sleek designs and iconic brands. It’s not hard to see why the likes of Ferrari, Ducati or Vespa have developed a cult-like following both inside and outside their respective homeland, and in cycling Pinarello, Bianchi, Campagnolo, and Colnago are among the many to have garnered a fanbase beyond the Bel Paese (Italian for beautiful country).
One of those fast-emerging brands is Thok, an e-MTB brand founded by former BMX world champion and World Cup downhill competitor Stefano Migliorini, and Livio Suppo, who enjoyed a successful career in MotoGP with Honda and Ducati for more than 25 years.
I recently attended one of the brand’s unique Tribe events, which saw more than 400 Thok owners descend on the trails of Castiliogne Della Pescaia in May.
Founded by coincidence
The foundations of starting an e-bike brand often start in a boardroom or on the floor of a manufacturing warehouse. For Thok, it was Suppo’s kitchen.
“I was the crazy one to have the idea to develop an e-bike company,” said Suppo. “I met Stefano [Migliorini] through coincidence.”
“I had an e-mountain bike, one of the first ones in 2015, with a 120mm front fork and Stefano at the time was working for Marzocchi.
“A friend of mine gave me a fork as a present and Stefano brought the fork to my house and I started speaking to him about the idea to develop a bicycle company and everything really started in my kitchen.
“And then it was necessary to find the right people who have the financial power to do it.”
The idea became a reality thanks to the meeting with Giuseppe Bernocco and Sebastiano Astegiano, two Piedmont entrepreneurs who head up industrial specialists TCN Group.
The founders worked with industrial designer Luca Burzio to develop the first bike’s geometry.
From there, Suppo utilised his MotoGP contact book to enlist the help of celebrated designer Aldo Drudi and Paolo Picchi, head of 3D Style at DrudiPerformance, to help define the style and graphics.
The result of these partnerships was the MIG Limited Edition, limited to only 20 units and dedicated to Toni Bou, 32-time trial world champion, who helped to develop the bike.
Why a Thok?
With e-bike sales continuing to rise, specifically in the e-MTB sector, why should consumers choose Thok over some of the industry giants?
“I remember when I told my boss at Ducati, Filippo Preziosi, that I want to create a bicycle company,” said Suppo.
“He asked me ‘why should somebody buy your bicycle instead of another brand?’
“And at that time I was like, ‘why’?
“Now, after six years, I think I know why. Because we are smaller, we are not as famous as the big brands, but we are different.”
One of the key elements that makes Thok unique is its annual Tribe event which sees Thokers, the brand’s nickname for its customers, come together.
The first event in 2017 saw around 70 attendees. Six years later and it has grown more than sixfold with the Tribe now requiring two campsites to house the 440 riders who attended the fifth edition this May.
“Ever since Thok was founded, we have always paid special attention to our customers,” said Migliorini.
“Throughout the year we organise many events to ride together, and the Tribe is when we try to bring them all together. Being together is a pleasant experience, but it’s also an opportunity to collect information, feedback, suggestions.
“No market research can describe the needs of e-mtb enthusiasts in such detail quite like the Thok Tribe.”
The question of ‘why?’ is also relevant for retailers and IBDs when considering what brands to stock. Thok believes it offers a number of benefits to its dealer partners over the competition.
One of those is the brand’s decision not to produce a new model each year.
Ambrogio Grillo, Thok sales manager, said: “As a consumer, we want to buy something that lasts longer. So we are not running any model years.
“So we’re not building bikes and changing colours and specs just to push people to buy the new one.”
Grillo referred to the TK01, which was introduced in September 2020: “A Thoker that bought the bike in 2020 is still proud to be riding the bikes today and this is a very, very strong part of our philosophy.”
“Our dealers are also happy to work with us because we are not a yearly production and trying to put the bikes in the shop. We are managing the stocks.”
Although Thok has a direct-to-consumer arm, it does not run significant discounts on its products.
This maintains a level of trust with its customers that they will not be seeing their bike at a heavy discount only a couple of months after they bought it
Grillo added: “Same price all over Europe. We are controlling the price, so from both the B2B and B2C side, the prices are clear.”
Earlier this year, the Italian company released its first carbon fibre enduro bike – the Gram and is already in the prototyping phase of its next all-mountain model, but not in a traditional way.
Thok has created its latest full suspension prototype using a 3D metal printer, or selective laser melting (SLM), in what is believed to be an industry first.
To enable the brand to test geometry and components quicker, it has looked to a company in the aerospace industry to make its latest aluminium prototype.
The process required about four weeks of work, without counting the design phase, and included a leap from the first Rapid Prototyped plastic model, which had a merely aesthetic purpose, to a fully functioning model that was tested on the ground, without prototype moulds and/or numerous CNC machined pieces being necessary.
“These are the first bikes that are rapid prototyped, fully suspended, in alloy, in the world,” said Migliorini.
“It’s a very important step that Thok has made.
“I’m very proud to say we printed our frame with this technology coming from aerospace.”
Thok is now handling its own distribution in the UK. Any retailers interested in Thok can contact Stefano Melis via firstname.lastname@example.org