Kalkhoff: The All-Round Bikes from Germany
They are bikes for the happy medium. Bikes with the Kalkhoff logo on the downtube. Not specialists like racing bikes or mountain bikes. Instead, then as now, faithful souls for commuters and biking adventurers. The traditional German brand has experienced ups and downs in its history and is currently right on top again with the e-bike boom.
Start-up in 1919
Heinrich Kalkhoff was a true young entrepreneur. At just sixteen years old and hampered by numerous bicycle defects as a rural postman, he began to trade in bicycle parts at his parents’ house in Cloppenburg in 1919. The teenager probably never dreamed that this small start-up would become the biggest bicycle manufacturer in Germany with over 500,000 bikes sold every year. However, he laid the foundations for the company’s success back then with his motivation: in 1920, he traded in bicycles, in 1923, he started producing frames with two employees.
All Points Set for Growth
Kalkhoff very quickly ceased needing to earn his living as a postman. Because it took less than ten years to go from the first complete bicycle to come out of the factory in Cloppenburg (1927) to producing 250,000 bicycles. Located around 70 kilometres from Bremen, the Kalkhoff works were one of the most important employers in the region. With the outbreak of the Second World War, bicycle production was put on hold in favour of armaments.
Boom and Bust
A while passed before bikes were made in Cloppenburg again. Having produced lorry trailers and kitchen stoves in the post-war period, it was 1950 before attention turned to the company’s original product again. When it did, it was much more intensive. The trend in cycling gave Kalkhoff wings: at peak times, 1,200 employees manufactured almost all attachments (handlebars, seat posts, wheels, frames, sprockets) and up to 5,000 frames every day directly in Cloppenburg. The five millionth bike rolled off the line in 1972, the year that Heinrich Kalkhoff died. In 1986, the company was driven into insolvency with as much determination as it had previously been grown.
The existence of further potential in the Kalkhoff brand was proved by Derby Cycle. The originally American company secured the brand rights for itself in 1988 and continued production at the Cloppenburg site. Following a management buy-out a few years later, Derby rapidly merged with Kalkhoff. Today, Heinrich Kalkhoff is called the founder of Derby Cycle – Germany’s biggest selling bike manufacturer and the third-largest manufacturer in Europe. And that is probably fully justified: because anyone who rides a Kalkhoff bicycle nowadays is using an everyday bike “Made in Germany” – exactly like the one the former rural postman wanted.
Derby Cycle currently produces 2,800 bicycles every day, one fifth of them with an electric drive unit. The main focus of attention is on commuter and e-bikes. For other disciplines, Derby has well-known brands such as Focus, Rixe, Raleigh and Univega in its portfolio.
The history of the bicycle in the north-west of Germany is currently the topic of the exhibition “Fahrtwind!” in the Cloppenburg museum village. By the end of the year, around 200 exhibits will be displayed there ranging from 1869 to the futuristic bike with pulse-controlled electric motor. The name Kalkhoff is also evident here: the basic stock of exhibition pieces comes from the private collection of Gaby and Kalle Kalkhoff, while Derby Cycles supported their acquisition together with the town of Cloppenburg.