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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

August 7, 2009
A few years back, while heading down to Switzerland for the annual winter Six Days of Zurich race, I caught wind of a new bike company that had been making noise in the Little Big City. From all accounts it was a small, seat-of-their-pants operation, with no local showroom to speak of and an assortment of custom road, city, and fixed-gear bikes roaming the city in the hands of friends and those local riders who had caught on early. Not long after first hearing the Gorilla name, I came in contact with Thomas Schreier, the friendly but business-like faceman for the company, who kindly invited me over to his house for dinner and a conversation about his fledgling bike company.

LAS: First off, give me a rundown of Gorilla's history - how things got started, and why.

Thomas Schreier: Gorilla officially started [summer 2007] when my two partners, Wälde and Stéphane, joined the company. Before that start, I traded Italian vintage bicycles and parts, traveled around Italy and visited many frame builders there, and had frames made with some of them. That time was dedicated to field research: thousands of kilometers on Italian highways, nights in Motels, and bad meals along the road; imagine bad food in Italy! During these trips the plan for my own bicycle brand was developed. I felt it was time to do my own thing, in Italy.

Another couple of years passed until I met the two frame builders we are working with now. [The renowned frame builder Giovanni Pelizzoli, who also uses the handle Ciöcc, crafts Gorilla's steel bikes.] The research continues, in those workshops. They play a very important role in the Gorilla project. They are big supporters of the Gorilla Bicycle.


How is the Gorilla operation run?

Stéphane is taking care of graphics; Wälde composes and builds up bikes, he is responsible for production; I am doing the marketing. We have a showroom in Bern; one in Berlin, with the Keirin boys; Hub Jub online in the UK; soon Paris; and guys from Sweden and Hong Kong contacted us as well.

Initially you had two showrooms in Switzerland - Basel and Geneva - but none in Zurich. Was there a reason for that?

In Zurich we opened a temporary showroom from mid-July until the end of the year, together with some other guys from the local bike scene who were organizing the international Bicycle Film Festival in Zurich.

The reason for this sequence is that we were waiting for an opportunity for a showroom in our hometown. Shop rentals in Zurich are astronomically high.

White lightning.


What's the Italian connection? Do they just make the best frames, or were there other considerations in outsourcing the fabrication? Why not build the frames in Switzerland?

First: a productive frame building industry, as we still find it in Italy, does not exist in Switzerland anymore. Second: sourcing in Italy is more fun, and also more difficult; they are unreliable on a very professional level.

I don't think the Italians make the best frames - 'the best' as a concept in the field of craftsmanship does not exist. Every craftsman has got his own language; his work has that particular character.

There were a couple, and still are a few, really good frame builders in Italy, with a lot of experience and expertise, and with a no-bullshit approach to the frame and the bicycle. The framebuilding is their craft and their trade. The craft and the trade here are connected to these personalities; the experience is real, it is this person in front of you that knows how to do this, not some representative or technician. Some of these guys are monuments, legends, and there is a lot of cycling history connected to their names; victories, defeat.

I am not too informed about the production costs in China, I only know they are very competitive, which might be very interesting from a number of points of view. But it has got nothing to do with who we are, with what we care for, with what we like and regard as desirable.

That is why we source in Europe. Italy has one of the most restrictive legislations in terms of employment rights. An employee basically has tenure, so an employer thinks about it three times before engaging someone. This inevitably leads to problems in productivity. So they are happy about someone like us small guys, who step in, require production capacities, are innovative, flexible, enthusiastic, appreciative when something is achieved.

Schreier in his element.


Do you have any long-term growth plans or marketing strategies for the business? How do you go about generating interest in your brand?

We would love to be able to all live from this business one day. That's the growth plan. I would love to have a comfortable office, a cool show room, a guy who takes care of the IT (I like that the least) and more time for my family. The only marketing strategy I know about is making beautiful and good bikes to get around on, in and out of town, for people who appreciate our products and sourcing philosophy. There is so much of the same Asian product on the market with different names on it. We do something that stands out--especially with a creative mind in the workshop like Wälde; for me, he is a genius in bicycle composing, he has got a unique understanding of bicycle aesthetics.

So far the Gorilla is spread in various forums and blogs. We also sponsored the X-Days here in Zurich, and the 2008 Cycle Messenger World Championships in Toronto. We have friends all over the globe; they do their own stories, write about Gorilla, and ride their Gorillas. Like Pierre in Paris - he and his wife Corinne are very active supporters of Gorilla. Corinne makes the best portraits ever, and Pierre is unfailing when it comes to bicycles and photography. We met them when Pierre bought his first Gorilla, and today they are our friends.

Barry Forde's track bike.


We also want to prove our capabilities in a professional sports environment and test our material under professional conditions. We sponsor Barry Forde, and we are in the phase of testing frames. His legs crack every frame if he wants to, and the main goal there is to make the stiffest possible frame for his track sprints.

Early rides gathered in the stable.


Are there companies that you admire, either in the bike industry or not, that you consider emulating aspects of with Gorilla?

There are so many cool companies that produce fantastic stuff. Here in Switzerland I can spontaneously say that I admire Ricola; they are authorized to claim that they make the best lollies in Switzerland. They contracted farmers growing the herbs in their gardens and their fields; they recently built their architecturally most attractive new offices and the dryery, where the herbs dry in the fresh Swiss breeze. They do sustainable business without big furore. Closer to Gorilla is Freitag; I do not know the Freitag brothers personally, although we not only live in the same city, but also bake the same cultural cake. Wälde, when he worked at Veloblitz, was their model for their messenger bag campaign. What they achieved I find absolutely admirable. Great idea, great implementation. A dream come true role model enterprise made in Switzerland.


What is the cycling community like in Zurich?

Huge and growing. The bicycle is becoming the number-one means of transportation, although it is not at Dutch levels yet. In the meantime the roads are constantly jammed by cars. I find we have an incredible density in bike and repair shops and the people we know are sort of connected to their bikes on a personal level.

The city is maybe to small for a big courier scene, but the ones we have are very active and ride some cool bikes. Some of them are supporters of Gorilla too.

The extended family.


What is your personal bike, and how's it set up?

It is one of the first Gorilla sample frames we made with the frame builder who makes all our steel road bicycle frames. The frame is in Columbus Genius tubing, adorned with a Centaur group, nothing fancy. I love it, although it is a little bit to long for my short arms.

My two partners ride fixed gear Gorillas. Stéphane rides a Zengang around Geneva, Wälde rides a Hattara sometimes and is testing the bikes he configures. We made a very good working messenger machine just recently. At the moment he is waiting for the first sample frames of the freestyle Gorillas to arrive.


What do you do when you're not working on Gorilla - any other jobs or activities that keep you busy?

I had a job that paid the bills until September; from then on Gorilla became my full time occupation. Any other time I spend with my wife and the kids - painting, bike riding, cooking, eating with friends and family.

---

In March of this year the Gorilla group moved into a new office and showroom on the south side of Zurich. Since then the company has been busy building frames, sponsoring various bike-related events and polo teams, and hatching plans for further domination. To get a glimpse of their beautiful bikes, check out the company's official website, and to see them in action click over to their video page on the Vimeo site. In the meantime, for those heading to Basel for today's start of the TriCMC, look for Gorilla bikes on the streets and courses, as well as a Hattara frame on offer for the winner of the TriCMC main race.

SEE ALSO: www.gorillabicycles.com

--
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other articles by Eric J Herboth.

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