The Alternative to the Mass Market
Text: Benjamin Hiller
Seek and you shall find. This almost esoteric phrase fits like no other on many levels to “Die Gabelstapler”. South of Innsbruck, hidden deep in a tributary of the Inn valley, far awary from busy towns and surrounded by woods there is a slightly different mountain bike workshop, founded by Igor Mlinar and Michael Mösserer. After you have found the spot, which is little known even among the locals, an old and repeatedly destroyed carbide factory from the 19th century, you get welcomed first by Jimmy Hendrix, the dog of the crew and official “receptionist”. The whole area is – not only visually but also by the technical aspect – a counter-proposal to the conventional stores in Innsbruck. “Support your locals” is the main slogan from Igor and. Accordingly, they work with local bicycle dealers to make their expertise available and thus counter the knockdown rates and impersonality of online shops. The customer base from “Die Gabelstapler” is therefore an average of the Austrian Society: From penny pincher who digs up his “closet-skeletons” to professional athletes in the various teams such as the mountain bike club GAMS or the SlowMotion team.
“A central theme of our company philosophy is to fight the flat rate ideology, since each bike and its owner is an individual and we also have the desire to preserve existing components while overhauling the bike”
One and a half year ago Igor and Michael realized their: “We can not say exactly how long it took from the initial idea to try something new until the company was founded. Vague wishes to start up something on our own existed for a long time, “says Michael, who, like Igor, has worked in workshops for bicycle wholesaler since years. “A central theme of our company philosophy is to fight the flat rate ideology, since each bike and its owner is an individual and we also have the desire to preserve existing components while overhauling the bike” Michael tries to put into workds the idea behind the project. But at second glance there is much more behind this passion.
Already the interior of the workshop as well as the, with a wood stove downright anti-modern-looking office, exudes enthusiasm for the creative and the creation of unique pieces. Consequently even the necessary special tools for custom orders are manufactured on site or modified to have the greatest possible freedom during the production. Especially customers who want “upcycling”, meaning to bring their old mountain bike to its former glory, are welcomed: Because it is also about the idea that the old is not simply thrown away – as is unfortunately common in today’s consumer society.
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After Igor manages to diverge himself from the permanent ringing office phone, he goes into the details: “As Michael had said earlier we do not offer all inclusive packages and also do not ask for money if you just want a first-hand diagnosis of your bike. If someone comes in with his bike we first take a close look at it. Then we try to do the repairs or modifications with our existing stockpile. Whereby we place a high value on maintaining the individuality of the mountain bike, even if sometimes everything is completely dismantled.” Igor’s life story has certainly helped to develop this kind of mentality. He originally comes from the field of electrical engineering, but had also to make a living as a cab driver or at the sausage stand. Until about 10 years ago he read an ad from a large Austrian bike wholesale, which was looking for a mechanic for service and warranty repairs of suspension forks and dampers, brake systems and full suspension mountain bikes. Thus the way as a mechanic was set and when he met Michael the thoughts of independence were quickly brought into the conversations.
“The customer who has found the way to us knows exactly what he wants. This eliminates the wheat from the chaff, because we do not have things like bike helmets or cycling socks on offer”
As it can be felt by the remoteness of the workshop it is clear that they do not work on mass or quantity here: “The customer who has found the way to us knows exactly what he wants. This eliminates the wheat from the chaff, because we do not have things like bike helmets or cycling socks on offer” says Igor, and adds, laughing, that otherwise there is for everybody a first class coffee or a cold beer waiting upon arrival. “We are also one of the few shops in the whole of Austria which offers, regardless of brands, fork and shock service and tuning for mountain bikes. We do not want that the customer will be enchanted by a chic shop (and must pay in accordance with the charge for the costs of upholding the operations of such posh business) but recognizes that it is about handicraft and that our dedication flows into every single bike. “
“But we would not start over again such a project”
Even if they try to preserve the romanticism from the founding days Michael and Igor have sometimes fierce debates. Especially during the first two winters it was hard to endure the dream of independence without constant doubts: The profit was minimal and in addition to the rent for the factory site they had to finance their own livelihood. But to take up a loan or borrow money was for them a no-go. Nowadays both see the future much more positive, since an ever-increasing and positive feedback as well as a growing customer base makes things a lot easier. “But we would not start over again such a project” says Michael, though the next steps are already set: “We will soon expand our workshop to include a showroom, as our unique location is well received by the people and we want to present our projects in a professional way. Furthermore we are always on the hunt for technical finesse and complex equipment to perfect our service.”
When you find yourself, together with the “Gabelstapler” team rider Matthias Zauner, gathered around the fire barrel in the evening, overhead the clear starry sky, and in your hand a cold beer while philosophizing on perfectionism in bike building, you can feel the unique fascination of the project in each fibre of your body. And even Jimmy Hendrix then seem to be fully satisfied with the follies of his masters.
Visit Die Gabelstapler on their webpage: http://www.die-gabelstapler.com
Follow Benjamin Hiller on Twitter: @BenjaminHiller