"Producing carbon bicycle tube from one single wire has many benefits. Basically, the tube is a one-piece. The wire inside is never cut. Every bike frame, it's made by 200 grams of the resin, and 750 meters of the wire, which means over half-mile of the wire, nothing less."
THE CYCLIST'S DREAM: BIKES TUNED FOR THE RIDER
Gil: Nice. Thank you, Michael. Yes, I think the first question is from some of the people who are watching. Someone asked, "Can carbon bikes one day be as durable as steel during a crash?" I think what you just showed us how the tubes that are built using the robots that Festka is using, how durable they are. Maybe you can speak a little bit about the joints because I think that's something that some people might want to know more in case of the crash, how does the Festka sustain a crash differently than other bikes?
Michael: Yes. This [crash protection] is one of the big advantages of this technology. You can see that this is just a partially-made triangle. This head tube is just glue and will make this process of the connection and the lamination around it again. We can take off the head tube and place the new one on it, replace or we can do it again for the older procedure. We have a brand new frame. This gives a very big advantage, because if something happens, and stuff happens, you can have accidents, and maybe you can even destroy your frame.
In our case, the most common thing is that someone hits a car with the front wheel. You have two possibilities: either nothing happens or you will take off the head tube. In our case, you will take off the head tube in a monocoque frame. There will be a crack here and a crack here. In that case, it's very complicated to do a frame repair. Still, you will be riding with the repaired frame. In that case, we would separate the head tube and give our clients the new one. We would make new joints and return the client the frame in its previous condition.
As you can see here, the tests are quite expensive, so we need to be sure that we really measure the original piece and we can do it again. We can destroy this type of the connection, do the repair again and again. I don't know how many times. This frame was already destroyed.
Gil: Sure. The answer is, from our experience really, that Festka tubes are basically unbreakable and the joints can be reconnected in case of a crash.
Michael: Yes. If I remember correctly, no one until now has destroyed the tubes. Sure, we can do the very stiff connection where we would destroy the tube. We can make the connections stiffer than tube and then it would be the same like in the monocoque. The frame will be correct here. We know that the frames are stable and are safe enough for riding. If they're overloaded in some critical situation, it's better if you remove the headtube and you have a chance to repair it. This repair costs nothing compared to the price for the new frame.
The Perfect Fit
FESTKA bikes are custom made to perfectly fit the cyclist's individual needs. The brand's road bikes are available in 24 standard sizes, featuring race and endurance bike geometries. Each standard geometry can be tuned to further accommodate the riders bio-mechanics and riding style.
Custom geometry is available upon request, based on needs arising during the bike fit process. Before placing your FESTKA order, we recommend inquiring with us about our bike fit services.
During the bike-fit process our bike fitter will recommend the perfect bike geometry for you.
Gil: Oh, that's amazing. We would love to ask you a few questions about Festka because we all know that Festka is making amazing bikes that are quite incredible. Once you see them in person, it's very difficult to think about any other bike in the same way. Obviously, there're many other amazing steal bikes. There are other carbon bikes that are maybe more aero, but there is really nothing that’s so spectacularly built with so much craftsmanship in carbon. I wanted to know what made you and Andre decide to start a bike company, how did you meet, how did Festka come to life?
Michael: This is nice story. Basically, it happened during my birthday. 10 years ago when I started celebrating my 30thbirthday, my family called me to tell me that they wanted to give me a bike as a birthday gift and Andre was the first who was at that party. It was just me and him and he heard that phone call with my parents. He immediately asked me which brand I would go buy. That he meant that he was curious if it would be-- I don't know, a Pinarello or Trek.
He was surprised with my answer. I said, "Okay, I think that I will go somewhere to check what the steel tubes are right now on the market and I will find a welder who will make them for me, et cetera." He was really surprised with that opportunity. Basically, there was a no vision to do the frame factory or bike factory. We just wanted to buy for ourselves. Honestly, I didn't need the bike at the time, so we wanted to enjoy the search. I'm an explorer. I was living in Italy, so I know the language, I know the scene over there, so we moved there and we try to find someone who could build the bike for us.
There was a very big surprise that these frame builders told me, "Hey, man. When you were a rider, you were such a nice guy and now you are such a big deal because I was pushing them to deliver me the really nice bike. They said everyone asked them, “Why do you need such a bike?" When he was the rider, he was okay with our product and say, "In that time, my bike was your business car and today I'm looking for something that says something [makes a statement] about me. If I park my bike in front of the pub, everyone who goes around need to know that someone inside is someone who really knows something about the bike or he cares about his bike."
It was so complicated to find someone who could do this bike for us. A little bit later, we figured out that the trouble is that no single company owns all the important aspects of production. Everyone was missing something; maybe they produced a nice frame but they didn't have a designer or good painter et cetera. During this diligence, we fell in love with the possibility of having a perfect frame and basically step-by-step we decided to try it on our own and this is how Festka was developed. Now, yes, I’m co-owner of a bike company.
Gil: Well, the Festkas still all look like you build them for yourself.
Michael: Not really all of them, not really all of them. There are so many builds that definitely do not represent my taste but it's okay. This was also one of the key things, which we learned from our traveling and the searching for the frame builder because we saw it that the frame builders are very often one-man shows. Even if they have a lot of deputies, a lot of employees, they are one-man show and they are very limited with their style and mindset. Since the beginning, we have created bikes that our clients love.
We are here to deliver to them what they want and what they need. It doesn't matter if I like it or not. If you like it, I am happy. If you like your bike, you ride on your bike and this is what does make me happy. If I can go on Strava and to see how our riders have more and more miles than I have, this is what makes me happy.
Max: I think he just answered one of our questions there.
Gil: Yes, a little bit. I think one of the interesting things I think more historically that happened in the 10 years around the time where Festka was built and you started to touch upon it, I think 10 years ago there were still lots of legendary bike brands out there with Italian names mostly that made their frames in Europe and controlled a bit more of their engineering. It seemed that over the past decade, when Festka was started, a lot of these brands began to be outsourced more and more to Asia, be it their manufacturing and then even their engineering.
Around the same time, Festka was born and some other bespoke brands. Do you think that was a reaction to brands founded in the past where the founders died or just got a bit old? Basically, those brands were bought out, became labels for frames that were designed and made by others. Do you think that was a reaction what Festka was doing and other makers, or what?
Michael: I don't know. I think that cycling always came or some trends came along the way. I think it was in the ‘90s when I became to be a rider, all my bias was custom-made. Then when we go over the year 2000, there was the fashion of the hit reforming aluminum bikes and, et cetera. Mainly the possibilities for the big producers to move production to China. This was really a change to business. The bike was available online and just try to remember what the brands was represented on the Tour De France 20 years ago and what brands are there today, and that cycling has developed a lot.
We just want to keep alive the possibility to have a custom frame because this was something I dreamed of when I was an 18-year old guy. When I was a junior, the frame builders made the custom bike for me and I was really proud on my bike. I didn't care about the name on it. I knew that I had a best tube and that the bike was done for me. This was the best thing and no brand can beat that. Then I became a pro in 2000 and I received the standard sized bikes. I had options: six sizes and I needed to choose one.
From that perspective, I had more options when I was a junior than when I was a pro racer. There was two-- It was a really big challenge for me to develop with the frames which would have these unlimited options like I was used to it in the ‘90s and to work with the best material. Back to your question about these big brands, I think that by the year 2010 the big companies or the Italian companies were already in China before. They started to move there around the year 2000.
After 10 years, they started to also use the Asian engineers or Asian designers. In the beginning, they needed to send engineers to China and they were carefully watched the production. They taught them how to produce the bikes. Today the Chinese production is on very high level. You just need to call them and tell them what you want and they are able to deliver the product, which is great for the big producers, but somehow the cycling industry lost something. I will be more than happy if the Festka can represent the opposite, if we can offer something that these big brands can’t.
Max: Michael perhaps the most recognizable element or quality of the Festka bikes are the jaw-dropping paint jobs. I was wondering if you can share some details about how Festka's creative team approaches the various paint scheme designs and your artist collaborations.
Michael: Yes, this is funny that people think that Festka is about design. I think that Festka is mainly about the R&D. Since 2016, we are, for example, part of the European Space Agency which is the NASA of the EU. It's this connection that lifts our research and development to a completely different level. We have a lot of cooperation and we do research on the deep level.
I think that the Festka bikes are mainly about quality. I always say that to do either good paint or bad paint costs the same. I don't see a reason to do ugly bikes. I appreciate that the people like them and I think this was an important part of our strategy. Every bike, there are maybe two or three bike designs, has a different designer. All the designs are done in house.
We study the trends. We talk with people, we follow cycling communities across the globe and we try to deliver each year current styles from Festka. If people like it, it shows us that we are headed in the right direction. There is a lot of work that goes into it. Every year we mix own colors around so that we can have about 30 proprietary colors. It took us seven months of work to create this palette. We need to study a lot of different industries such as the fashion industry.
Then basically it's the same thing like fashion. The designers like Gucci or Prada, they dictate the style of the coming year and then other companies follow them. We would be more than happy one day to be a company who really sets the trends in the cycling business.
Gil: I think you already do, but there is something really-- you touched about the R&D a little bit, and I think there is something that a lot of people or outside of the cycling industry are not always really aware of in a brand like Festka because the paint job of course is very recognizable, it's easy to see. For a lot of companies, this is the strategy. I remember when we worked with a brand that has a premium sub brand that is there to give the illusion that the bikes are made in a special workshop.
The customers don't really know that really this is exactly the same bike made using the same process, in the same ways as all the other bikes from the brand that cost 30% less. I remember one of the things shocked me was when this brand would train its sales representatives, they would openly explain to them that the only difference between the two bikes is the customer. For a lot of the big brands, the paint job is the strategy, and the paint job is where a lot of time is invested in providing value and not really the R&D.
In Festka, it's such a different process in the way that the bikes are developed for the rider from finding the right geometry to helping to find the bike that is correct in terms of the stiffness and in terms of the process of build that is right for that rider. Do you want to touch upon this, because this is really what makes the difference? I like the label or the paint job.
Michael: Even road bikes or raw carbon bikes I hope will look nice. Everything that we do needs to have some purpose. You will never see anything on our bikes that doesn't serve a purpose. We always use round shaped tubes, or they are almost rounded, because this is the best shape for the frame. I know that they are less aerodynamic, but who needs them? This year showed us that you can win the Tour de France on the same construction or same two profiles frame.
These aerodynamic claims are perfect for marketing but definitely not for riding. The riding experience is number one for us. We never change or almost never change the shape of the tube. We keep it the same but we're really working with the carbon, with the design when we create the design of the tubes, to be better and better and better. I think that the one which is our entry level is a good example.
The first generation in 2014, the weight was just 1,600 grams [3.5 pounds], which is double the normal frames we make today. Today’s frames look the same but they are around 850 grams. They are stiffer, they are more comfortable but the people who own the first editions of these bikes are still very happy with these frames. How do we know this? This reality is important for us, as people very often say, "I will never buy the bike from you because you can't afford the R&D."
Yes, we know it. When we launched the company, we were really thinking about that. We spread our R&D across a university and we found the big partners, like a big company. This shows a bit about how our R&D looks. I have a tube that has carbon threaded inside and it really works, which is a unique technology. You can't find it in our frames, but it's here and we did this together with an optical company. It's a huge multi-billion dollar company.
Together with them, with their R&D, just the development of this cost like more than our annual R&D budget. With the European Space Agency, we work on several programs, again, which are far behind of the needs of the bike company. This frame is from one project what we did with the Czech Technical University and you can see that there are 63 gauges on it and we can measure the deformation of the frame. There is a one very, specific element, which is optical cable. This optical cable goes in the middle of the structure of the material so we can also measure what happened in the joint, in the middle of the material.
If we apply the eight channels that are like that, we have the small backpack with the energy source and the small computer, and we can measure what's happened with the frame during the ride. We do a lot of testing where we test from pro racers to beginners. We ride this bike on different surfaces and we measure this data. We know what kind of the stress goes to the frame from the tarmac and from various conditions. It was a big surprise for me that the people the least experience create the highest peak [of stress] on the bike versus the pro racers. The reason is that they don't know how to handle the bike in the right way.
This is mainly my work and we don't want to be in a competition about who creates the most aerodynamic bike. We still think about the stiffness, which means performance with the bike that translates your energy and reacts immediately, and that also delivers you comfort because you want to enjoy your ride. These two key elements you want to have from your bike, nothing else. A good looking bike is also important because, as I mentioned, if you like your bike, you ride more often. This is all about why would you have the most ionic bike if it's still in your garage and you don't ride it.
The last thing is the position of the rider on the bike. Again, people care about certain elements or some elastomers inside the frames. The best comfort you can get from your bike is your position. If you are in a good position, then the bike is comfortable. It's more important than some small elements somewhere on your frame.
FESTKA BIKES RIDE QUALITY ARE THE RESULT OF CUTTING EDGE ENGINEERING AND CRAFTMANSHIP
Gil: Yes, this is so accurate. I think it's really amazing what you mentioned because everybody who rode the Festkas that we have here was really shocked by both the quick responsiveness and the ride feel. Until you ride it, it's really impossible to explain just how it feels like nothing else. It really doesn't feel like any other bike on the market in how it reacts. The power transfer is incredible. On the Spectre, it's been quite insane. The bike almost leaves you in shock by how it rides. Just because we only have 15 more minutes before the pop up starts, you mentioned the Czech national track team: is that the only team Festka sponsors?
Do you want to tell us a little bit about the team? I noticed that somebody broke, I think, the record for a Czech rider in the Czech Republic on a Festka recently. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Michael: Yes. This was the one doctor who broke the one-hour record in a senior category. Definitely good things, but it was a customer, and we did the bike for him. We supply the Czech national team on the track because I was a track rider as well. We support one of the teams where I spent a very nice time during my career. We don't sponsor any team in the Tour de France. This is what mainly changed in the professional cycling in the past years. Today, if we want to have a team in the Tour de France, it's not about the quality of the frame, it's mainly about the money. The bike producers need to deliver the team 200 bikes and €10 million and our production capacity today is quite limited. For the next year, we have 300 slots, so we are really, really niche because [large manufacturers such as] Giant, I think they produce around 7 million bikes per year. Every year, we produce less than these guys do per day, so there is basically today no reason for us to try to be in the Tour de France.
The Tour de France today is the same thing as Formula 1. The typical sports cars are not represented in this race. I think that we can agree that the Honda or Renault are not the typical representative of sport cars. They have money. They need this competition for the massive brand awareness that these races can deliver them, and this is the same thing with the Tour de France. We are more than happy to support some individuals who are incredible. People need to pay for our frames.
Basically, if anyone wants something for free, because behind every frame, it's a lot of work. Really, it's a lot of work. If I were to produce the bike for $200, which is the normal cost for production somewhere in China, it would be a different story, but the 200 bucks doesn’t cover costs. Even the shortest tube for the bottom bracket costs more than $200.
Gil: I think for people this is something that is a bit of an industry secret. Some of the most famous brands that sponsor teams in the Tour de France don’t make the bike themselves. They never had a factory or produced a bike. What customers are paying for many times is the sponsorship that these brands offer for marketing purposes. That's where it's really amazing to me, that the Festka frame only cost as much as a frame that is marketed as a high-end frame. It's really built in Asia, just like any other frame to the same standards of much cheaper frame and cost, probably for the brand, a fraction of what a Festka costs to produce.
Michael: Maybe the interesting thing is that there are very often many people, [customers], as quite a significant number of our production units go to China. China is for us like number three in market size.
People often ask me if I am not afraid that they will make a copy of our bikes. No, because if they want to make a copy of our bikes, they need to invest the money in production in China that will be almost the same as we have here. If they want to use such an expensive wire as what we use, if they want to take care about these details, they will have almost the same production costs as us. The production cost of our frame is very, very high.
Our frames have various prices. All these prices always respect the production cost, which is the uniqueness because in mass production bikes, the production cost is [only slightly] different between the lowest frame and the highest frame. It's almost nothing because they are all made in the same way, so it doesn't matter if you produce the entry-level or the highest model, so they always cost almost the same. There is like a few dollars’ difference in the process, which is different than between our frames. If you buy our One, the basic One, it has a different carbon, different way [to manufacture] and different hours than what we need to manufacture a Scalatore, for example. I hope to always offer a fair deal.
Gil: Sure. My last question before Max will conclude his questions is, to me, Festka is really something special, especially when I see some of the paint jobs, because my family originally moved to Israel from the Czech Republic. We always had these beautiful crystals and porcelains, and silverware that were made beautifully in the Czech Republic in the past. When I see Festka, there's so much [craftsmanship and] artisanship in the build process that really brings [back] memories. When we look today at a lot of the countries in the Eastern Bloc, we see a lot of people who want to emigrate to Germany or to go somewhere else. What made you and Andre decide to have such a great ambition to make the best bikes in the world in the Czech Republic in 2010, at the time that nobody thought about making premium products like Festka did?
Michael: Definitely we were thinking at the time the Czech Republic is the best address for the company like this. As I mentioned I was living in Italy so I can't imagine starting a business over there. When we were searching for the bike and for the technology at the beginning, all the time the best possible technology or the craftmanship, we found it here because here we have a very deep history especially with the technical university. It is so funny that so many brands talk about aerodynamics.
The basics of aerodynamics were established at the Czech University. Maybe you know that the speed of sound the name is Mach 1. Mach is one of the most common Czech names. Professor Mach developed the basics of aerodynamics, the light graph. In the end it was put on the market by Mr. Dupont, but that was developed here before World War II. Contact lenses, and so many other things were fundamentally established here like thick welding for example. It was developed by Czechs almost 200 years ago.
On that base, to build the company [here] is just the evolution of these engineers. It's so, so nice and we can really feel it. Honestly, I don't know where to go into Europe to find a better carbon manufacturer than here in the Czech Republic. As you mentioned the glass and the other craft. Yes, it's here. Swarovski was born in the Czech Republic as well and then they moved to Austria because the founder wanted to help people escape in World War II. The historical roots are here and it helped us build a good product. I can't imagine doing such a high-end product in a different place. I can imagine moving myself to somewhere where there is the sea and better than here but I need to stay here if I want to manufacture bikes like these.
Gil: I think we just have time for one more question and it's about the future and your future plans. Can you share a bit about Festka's plans for 2021 and beyond, and where your company is heading?
Michael: I think that for the next year, we'll change a little bit the way how we sell a bike. There will be less spots for the really full, custom bikes. It will be more exquisite to get to full custom Festka, but it will give us space to do something that we call the signature design. We really want to push the original design of the Festka because we've been working on it for two years and we want to escape a little bit from the pool of [custom] producer.
Still, we will be more than happy to make the whole frames based on whole geometry, based on whole sizes, but from the design. We will invest a lot of time doing our design. We won't offer our very nice collection of designs [that] we think that are cool today. Actually, right now we're in the process of working on the new models. They will be available very soon and the other small upgrades. I hope that this COVID situation will allow us to travel a little bit and to be again in touch with our cycling community.
We're looking forward to the next year and for the new stories with our customers. I can't easily return to the beginning. The reason why I wanted to build a bike like Festka for myself is because I believe that every rider is different, with a different body and a different soul. He[/she] deserves to have a perfect bike that fits to your body and to your soul. I hope that 2021 will bring us 300 customers where everyone will receive a bike that fits his/her body and soul.
Gil: Thank you so much Michael. We're waiting for the bikes for our customers in 2021 who’ve already put in orders. It takes a while to make a Festka so you have to do it early.