The Green Ferrari

A bike is more than just two tires and a metal frame: in his quest to develop the perfect e-bike, Armin Oberhollenzer fashioned a truly noble steed, the Leaos.

  • December 2018

  • Reading time: 7'

    Reading time: 7'

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The Green Ferrari

A bike is more than just two tires and a metal frame: in his quest to develop the perfect e-bike, Armin Oberhollenzer fashioned a truly noble steed, the Leaos.

This is not your grandfather’s bike, this is the future: light pedalling is all that’s needed and in no time you’re zipping comfortably along. What is this sorcery? Its name is Leaos and calling it a bike is a casual insult, one that reduces this noble vehicle down to its function rather than celebrating its sophisticated function.

I cycle every day, which I realise is a privilege. From home to work and back I prefer to cycle fast. My rickety old bike, which I primarily use for shopping trips, has years of service under its belt as a child taxi, a rental for countless friends and acquaintances, and really has very little in common with the vehicle upon which I now sit.

Today, I’m not so much biking as flying. Light as a feather, I conquer the city of Bolzano/Bozen.

I cruise along the Talferwiesen meadows and let the morning air in Bolzano tickle my nose. I’m travelling fast and yet very little effort is required. "I think and breathe deeply. Green meadows rush by and I hear the murmur of coffee houses on the Talfer Promenade as I fly past Runkelstein Castle.

Even before I speak with Armin Oberhollenzer, one thing becomes immediately clear: this feeling must be the source of all his enthusiasm.

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From marketing to craftsmanship

Armin welcomes me to where his luxury e-bikes are assembled in the south of Bolzano. "Feels like a Ferrari," I say. Armin laughs and nods with a knowing smile. My test drive is at an end and he’s been waiting for me outside his garage. I'm happy to speak to an old acquaintance. 

Cycling in South Tyrol

500 km of cycling routes network South Tyrol from Resia/Reschen to San Candido/Innichen and from Brennero/Brenner down to Salorno/Salurn. 22 rental stations are available along the cycling routes. At Südtirol Rad there are e-bikes for hire in addition to the satisfying feeling that comes from travelling “green.”

Armin is a sportsman: a ski tourer, climber, snowboarder and a cyclist too, of course. That's how I first met him when I enrolled at the University of Salzburg twenty years ago.

So I’m not actually all that surprised when I find out that he’s been doing his own thing these past four years. I'm even less surprised that it concerns two wheels. If I recall correctly, Armin once travelled by bike from his hometown in the Pustertal valley up to Salzburg. 

”When I ride a bike it's for sport. But if I use an e-bike in the city, it's a means of transportation, not a piece of sporting equipment.” Armin Oberhollenzer, Leaos Developer

Armin knows how markets tick and how to speak to customers. His many years of work in the field of marketing, not to mention his cooperation with large companies, have paid off. So too have his ambitious goals. The fact that he’s the type to cycle to Salzburg mirrors his willingness to go his own way.

"My goal was to stir up the bicycle market, revolutionize it," he says. "I wanted to do more than just design a new e-bike, I wanted to design a new bike," the 43-year-old explains. I know what Armin means. The bike’s good looks really stood out during my bicycle journey around Bolzano. And the feeling of comfort I experienced is unique. The deep bike mount is inviting, pedalling is smooth and there were no annoying brake cables in my way. Plus, I received more than one admiring glance on my borrowed white Leaos. "Wow, now that’s what I call a bike," I heard a kid exclaim as I flashed by.

LEAOS stands for "Lifestyle E-Bike Armin Oberhollenzer Südtirol." To date, Armin Oberhollenzer and his company have produced circa 280 bikes in the past three years. A new bike costs between 5,000 and 10,000 euros, depending on the equipment. The latest model in production should be cheaper and cost around 3,500 euros.

Artfully tailored to customers' needs

In addition to my white test bike, various Leaos models are lined up here in Armin's creative space. Though they are all different, their sophisticated design is a common thread. There are red and black Leaos models in addition to ones with real wood inlays. All are designed for city biking.

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Francesco Sommacal, a young Italian industrial designer and carbon specialist from Formula Three, is responsible for the design. Optics are important to Armin, but there's more to it than that. "The bikes have to be suitable for everyday, that’s decisive. There are too many designer products you can’t really use." 

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The pleasant smell of leather rises to my nose. Small wonder: The saddle and handles of the Leaos are made of leather. I also perceive a slightly metallic smell and have Armin explain it to me. "This is due to the carbon machining that we also do here," explains the company founder. In this workshop, there’s no trace of the bike-oil smell of my childhood. Nevertheless, an image comes to mind: As a 5-year-old, I clean my bike, oil it and then proudly do a few small laps. I smile as I emerge from my daydream. I take a quick glance at Armin's weathered hands. "He can do it," I think to myself.

Your very own Leaos

Which accessories are you interested in? Walnut or rosewood, larch or stone pine? The choice is yours: The Ferrari of bikes can be completely tailored to personal tastes. "We’re able to meet the most diverse colour wishes in addition to laser graphic elements, e.g. into wood. Implementing customer wishes is crucial for us," says Armin. The Leaos team has already integrated leather processing and even Swarovski crystal beads. The delivery time for your very own custom Leaos is about three to four weeks.

Leaos stands for Lifestyle - E-Bike - Armin - Oberhollenzer - Südtirol. For Armin, conveying a certain lifestyle is key. Leaos also reminds me of Armin’s passion for Asia. Am I right? "Yes, the Asian lifestyle, I like it," laughs the father of two, "the logo should also reflect that." I'm gazing at the little Buddha on the e-bike. The figure isn’t brooding: instead its living in the here and now. For Armin, attributes such as lightness and calm are decisive for him in life and in business. "When I climb, or go into the mountains, I recharge my batteries and completely switch off. The same thing happens when I ride my bike."

My childhood memories continue flooding in. For me, having a bike has always meant being independent, being free. I stuck stickers on my yellow kids’ bicycle and decorated it with colourful ribbons. I personalised it, as Armin would say. The end result was something I was proud of. Maybe this is what I like best about Leaos, which is an extremely well thought-out, comprehensive package. The pedals come from an innovative Berlin-based company: Schindelhauer Bikes. Meanwhile, the wooden bags were specially designed for Leaos by the South Tyrolean company Embawo and can be easily attached to the bike with a click system. "Cool," I say to Armin. His hands rest on the worktable as he talks about his vision: "My long term goal is to have my bikes fully equipped by local South Tyrolean craftsmen. At the moment, however, I am purchasing the various Leaos elements from top companies at home and abroad."

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Good camouflage, clear lines

While we talk, a bike is assembled in the background and a bicycle frame is clamped onto a worktable. It's hard to believe what this will soon become. At the core of every Leaos Bike is an electric heart, which isn’t perhaps readily apparent. The internal components of all the e-bikes I have seen so far, namely the motor and battery, are integrated into a carbon frame. So too are the chain and light. "I chose carbon because it is very flexible, stable, and uniquely malleable. It’s also a sophisticated looking material," explains Armin. A highly specialised company from Venice performs the carbon precision work.

All Leaos parts are assembled here in Bolzano. As I consider this fact, I watch two fitters busy at work. They proceed carefully and with great concentration. Cables and screws are stored in boxes of various sizes and are within easy reach. Aluminium shelves are raised to the ceiling in the workshop. "Do you assemble yourself?" I ask Armin. He nods. After all, he explains, only those who know all areas of their company can pass on good instructions to employees. For him, there are no compromises.

Weathered hands, the product of hard work.

Following the sun and zero emissions

Another of Armin’s goals is to address customers "who haven't even thought about buying an e-bike yet. The path from A to B becomes an experience, the positive environmental aspect is a collateral effect." Besides, Armin's looking to the sun: Leaos Solar was added to the range two years ago.

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I run my fingers over the colourfully shimmering solar panels. It’s simply ingenious. With an average use of up to 20 kilometres per day, the Leaos Solar is completely self-sufficient, he explains. "But what if this isn’t enough?" I ask him. "The solar energy and the current charge level of the battery can be monitored on the display," says Armin "But if the solar power is close to zero, it can easily be connected to a conventional power source to quickly charge the battery." 

Thinking about purchasing an E-bike?

Three tips from Armin:

- Think about what you need the e-bike for. For short or long distances? For the city area or for tours.
- Pump the brakes! "Good brakes are essential and are often underestimated," explains Armin.
- Better to dig deeper into your pocket. Cheap e-bikes for 1,000 euros may seem tempting, but the performance drops off quickly. "Cheap e-bikes are often equipped with Chinese no-name battery cells. These become empty quickly and then the power supply drops rapidly. It's no fun e-biking when that happens."

Leaos bikes are a convincing product. 280 bikes have been sold since 2015. In the future it will be 500 - per year. But for people to change their minds and switch from cars to bikes, it will take more than cool design and green technology. Armin knows that and he says: "Political conditions are the missing element here, that is quite clear." The Pustertal valley resident, however, wants to set an example. He and his crew will soon be launching an all-new bike. "We want to make it affordable for more people. We're working towards offering a mid-range model.”

We end the meeting with a firm handshake as I say goodbye to Armin. In Oslo, Norway, he tells me, the change from car to bike is financially supported. The cycling infrastructure there is being consistently expanded and car traffic in the Norwegian capital is to be reduced by 20 percent as of 2019.

Pensively, I look at my weathered city bike waiting patiently in front of Armin's workshop. I climb into the saddle. My bike answers with a metallic groan. We all need to work together to change minds about transportation, but luckily there are some people out there thinking about the future. That’s the kind of guy Armin is.

Text: Valentina Casale
German editors: Ursula Lüfter, Katja Schroffenegger
Photos: Ivo Corrà
Video: Frabiato Film

Bolzano, the Bicycle Queen

Cycling is more popular than ever in South Tyrol's capital city. Bolzano/Bozen is the queen of the Italian cities when it comes to cycling.

A third of the daily distances travelled by Bolzano residents are by bike. Bolzano's bicycle network is about 50 kilometres long and extends in all directions throughout the province. Locals and tourists are increasingly making use of e-bikes, which can be hired from Südtirol Rad. What’s more: train and bike are an ideal combination in South Tyrol because biking and train travel go hand in hand. When you arrive to the station, you’ll be glad to have your bike. Naturally, Armin agrees: "South Tyrol is a role model for the whole of Italy."