Here at TheBikeDads.com we have tried a lot of quality kids bikes and one of our absolute favorite kids‘ bike companies is WOOM bikes. The weight, craftsmanship and attention to detail is outstanding.
We spoke with WOOM co-founders Christian Bezdeka and Marcus Ihlenfeld from Vienna, Austria, along with the North American WOOM USA distributor Mathias Ihlenfeld from Austin, Texas.
How did you get involved in the Kids Bike Industry?
Christian: As a lifelong bike enthusiast and a designer in the bike industry, I immediately started thinking about bikes for children when my wife was pregnant. I looked at what was available on the bike market for children, and nothing really met my expectations. I started dreaming and drawing. My first idea was to build bikes in five different sizes. Having a lightweight bike with good quality material and components was really important to me. I began building the first prototypes, and friends and family approached me with interest in buying them. During this time, I met Marcus who coincidentally was also looking for quality bikes for his children. He loved the concept, quality, and design, and we immediately joined forces. His marketing and business expertise helped us bring the bikes to market and build the business. He and I built the first batch of 70 production bikes in his garage in Vienna and immediately sold them in a few days.
Mathias: When my son Luca turned 1 year old, my brother Marcus sent me a red WOOM 1 for his birthday. As a proud parent, I posted photos and showed it to some of my friends who also had children. They all loved the design and concept, and soon they started to ask how they could buy WOOM bikes for their children. I spoke to Christian and Marcus about offering bikes in the U.S., and they loved the idea of bringing WOOM here.
The rest is history.
What is the story behind your brand?
Christian: We created WOOM with the desire to offer high-quality and lightweight bikes for children of all ages. We set out to focus all of our time and energy on designing a complete line up of bikes for children. We start with our WOOM 1 balance bike – the perfect companion for the first encounter with two wheels. This balance bike teaches children balance and coordination without having to worry about the pedals. WOOM 2 is our first 14” pedal bike for children ages 3 and up, followed by our 16” WOOM 3. We start offering 8-speed gearing for our 20” model WOOM4 through WOOM5 to our 26” WOOM 6. Sustainability was also an important component of our brand. We offer a fair and simple exchange program—we call it Upcycling—that reimburses customers 40 percent of the original purchase price if they return their old bike when buying a new one, and we use those upcycled bikes to help nonprofits and cycling camps teach more children to ride.
Marcus: Our first bikes went into production in 2013, and we started to offer them across Europe fairly quickly. Soon after, we entered the North American, Taiwanese, and Korean markets, and we just announced that we’re entering the Russian market. So though our brand has had a relatively short history, we’ve expanded very rapidly and successfully—you’ll find kids in Vienna, Berlin, Zuerich, Toronto, New York City, Moscow, Seoul, Taipei all on WOOM bikes. That’s something that makes us very happy.
What have been some of the challenges in designing and manufacturing kids bikes or products?
Christian: Here is a big challenge for you: How do you design a bike, ensuring that it has the best geometry and ride characteristics, when you cannot ride that bike and test it yourself? When you compare it to adult bikes, this is very difficult for a designer. We used a scientific approach based on statistical data and a good amount of research. We also spend a significant amount of time designing and developing the right geometries. Not all of the sizes have the same features since beginner riders need a different geometry compared to intermediate or more advanced riders. For example, the WOOM 2, which is typically the first pedal bike for a beginning rider, has many design elements that make it easier for a rider to transition from balance bike to “big kid” bike: features like a flat seat angle, short cranks, and low bottom bracket. The fact that the bike is light enough to easily maneuver and allows young riders to put their feet on the ground without losing their balance…this gives riders a sense of confidence and control that makes the process of learning much easier.
What advancement in Kids bikes get you excited?
Mathias: It’s great to see so many companies and blogs paying attention to children and family mobility. There are a lot of great review sites dedicated just to this topic, and it’s easier to find new products and innovations. I love to read blogs like this one and see products I’ve never heard of before. I also get pretty excited by the momentum of the outdoor movement in the U.S. as a whole. Parents and communities and organizations are getting more and more engaged with promoting an active lifestyle for children, and we love to be part of that and encourage kids to ride bikes.
I love the Austin community, and we constantly look for ways to help out. We offer bikes and helmets during the weekly kids’ laps at the Thursday-night Driveway criterium race series. It’s amazing to see the youngest of riders on their balance bikes participate in that, not to mention how excited their parents get. WOOM also supports Austin’s Junior Bike League, where young riders are coached by experienced adults to improve bike skills and handling. We sponsor cyclocross and mountain bike youth races, work with nonprofit organizations, partner with cycling camps, and offer free bikes and helmets for cycling classes. We’re also starting to partner with local schools. Recently we donated a WOOM 2 bike and a stationary mini trainer to a local Montessori school for children to learn about bikes in the classroom. The school just got back to us and was thrilled with the response from both students and teachers. They now want to have a WOOM bike in each classroom by year end.
For me, it’s pretty exciting to see the growing awareness among parents for the value of lighter and higher quality bikes. More and more parents understand and appreciate the importance of a lightweight bike and how it directly impacts their child’s enjoyment of cycling. We focus all of our attention and efforts on bikes for children, and it’s exciting to see that parents and kids both love our products.
(Yes that is a whole lot of carbon)
What went into the decision to go through web based distribution rather than the traditional bike shop model?
Marcus: The reason was actually quite simple: We started off with such a low volume that it pretty much forced us to go directly to the customer without dealers. In Europe, we now also have a good network of retailers offering our bikes.
Mathias: We started offering WOOM bikes in the U.S. through online retail, as well, since our volume was initially pretty low and offering bikes directly to consumers was a model that had worked well in Europe. We underestimated the demand and the way word would travel, however. Parents told other parents, photos of our products were posted on social media, people in the cycling community had their kids out riding at races and events… We soon had bikes like the WOOM 2 and WOOM 3 on back order.
We recently started to offer our bikes through select retailers in the U.S. who approached us, and we love the result there, too. We’ll continue to look for bike shop partners who share the same passion and have the same appreciation for this segment of the market.
How have you overcome customer service issues being a web based bike business?
Mathias: Customer service is very important for all of us at WOOM. When we brought WOOM to the U.S., we knew that having a great product would be key, but having excellent customer service is equally if not more important. Our team in Austin manages the final assembly, quality inspection, and shipping, as well as customer service. When you call us at WOOM, you talk to one of our team members or to me. If you have questions assembling a new bike, for example, we’re available by phone or email to help. I love it when my customers are happy, and I really enjoy helping them find the right bike for their children. We are proud of our bikes, our attention to detail, and our quality.
When you purchase a bike from us online you can’t try it out before you buy it, but we offer a no questions asked 30-day satisfaction guaranteed program. For example, if the bike is too large or too small, or if the customer just doesn’t like it, they can return it within 30 days of the original purchase date. We pay for return shipping and reimburse the original purchase price including shipping.
What’s the future of your company?
Christian: Where do I start? Only three years ago, Marcus and I built the first production bikes in a garage in Vienna. Less than two years ago, Mathias operated the U.S. distribution out of a garage in Austin. And now our biggest challenge is having enough bikes in stock to ship to our customers. (We’re working very hard to make more bikes available for the remainder of this and next year.) Kids love riding our bikes, and the word is spreading fast with parents.
Mathias: Once we come back from Eurobike, we’ll have several major product announcements here in the U.S. One is the introduction of SRAM 2spd Automatix option for our WOOM 3 (16”) model, available this October. I will definitely ask for one of TheBikeDads test riders to take it for a spin. We have another major announcement coming very soon, but I can’t tell you all of the secrets just yet. There’s going to be a lot more coming from WOOM.
What advice do you have to parents when they are shopping for a new bike/seat/trailer?Mathias: Avoid buying cheap and/or poorly made bikes, helmets, or trailers. If kids don’t have fun cycling, they won’t want to do it, and good equipment can make the difference between loving and hating the experience. I hear this a lot from customers who had previously purchased bikes that were heavy or not well designed. Imagine if someone asked you to ride for the very first time and you could barely lift your bike or couldn’t stop it from tipping over. Many times our customers find that our bikes make it significantly easier for their kids to learn to ride.
I think another tip would be to do your research and read independent review sites. Your site, for instance, is doing a great job reviewing products and comparing bikes and accessories.
Marcus: The bike reviews in the U.S. are pretty cool. We actually don’t have as many review and comparison sites in Europe. For example, when you look at Twowheelingtots.com, I see an amazing resource and knowledge base for parents in North America. I wish we had something similar in Europe. My advice to parents would be to speak with other parents and get their advice. We encourage parents to write reviews on our website to share their experiences and their success stories.
How have you maintained balance as a parent, businessperson and as a cyclist?
Mathias: It’s not easy to keep a balance between all three. I think riding has taken a bit of a back seat. I try to be home early enough to spend time with my family. I think I’ll speak for all of us: WOOM is our passion, and we all love what we do. It’s fun and very rewarding. We have a great team at WOOM, and our families are 100 percent supportive of the business. Everyone is chipping in and helping out. Many WOOM employees ride bikes to and from work, and some race as well. This year has been a bit busy and has reduced my time in the saddle. I am still riding but not nearly as much as I used to. When it’s not too hot in Austin, I try to ride with my 4-year-old through the neighborhood or go on family bike rides on the weekends. My plan is to ride bikes to and from pre-K when school starts.
Can you share a story or moment of how rad it is to be a bike dad/mom?
Mathias: My daughter Sofia is 19 months old now, and we just got her a balance bike (a pink WOOM1). It’s so much fun to see my 4-year-old son Luca trying to teach her and encourage her to ride on the bike. I can’t wait for both to ride together in our neighborhood.
I think one of the most memorable moments was when my son started to ride his WOOM 2 for the first time. I was racing a MTB race here in Austin, and we sponsored the kids’ lap activities as well. We brought our lineup of demo bikes, and Luca was riding his WOOM 1 but saw his older friend riding his pedal bike. We had practiced before on the WOOM 2, and after a few minutes of helping him with the WOOM 2, he took off after his friend. My parents were visiting from Germany and saw their grandson ride his bike for the first time. It was a great moment, and we all still talk about it now.