Electra Bicycle Company started in 1993 and has become the leading lifestyle bicycle brand in North America. It's been more than 20 years since our start, so we decided to take a little trip down memory lane. We talked to Josh, Electra's longest standing employee, about the early days of the company.
Above image: The founders of Electra Bicycle Company: Benno Baenziger (left) and Jean-François "Jeano" Erforth (right) in front of the first Electra office in Leucadia, a neighborhood in Encinitas, CA.
Q: Tell us a little bit about how and where Electra got its start.
Josh: Electra was started by Benno Baenziger and Jeano Erforth. Jeano was in Germany, and Benno was in Encinitas. In the 90's, Jeano and his brother were selling comics, but the economy wasn't great for that kind of business. They saw someone on the streets selling large chunks of the Berlin Wall, and they realized that they could do that, too. So they did, creating postcards that held small chunks of the wall using bubblegrams... similar to Matchbox car packaging. He later applied for a permit to be on both sides of the border and set up a station at the first bus stop. Needless to say, Jeano sold a lot of postcards.
Above image: A postcard with a chip of the Berlin Wall in a bubblegram.
Benno was in California working as a graphic artist for Bob Haro, but felt his entrepreneurial senses tingling and wanted to start his own business. He met Jeano through his girlfriend at the time, when Jeano was visiting the San Diego area. As the two became friends, Benno asked Jeano if he'd be interested in something up together, and they settled on creating a clothing line. Using a couple cruiser bikes as props in their shop, customers asked if the bikes were for sale. That's when Benno said, "I'm a graphic designer, and people like bikes. We can do that!" In 1993, Electra Bicycle Company started, and the Leucadia office opened in 1994.
Q: How many employees did Electra start out with?
Josh: There were 3 employees: Jeano, Benno and Sandra. Sandra helped with project management, sales and marketing. It was a small team. I started in 2002. The office was a simple building with a courtyard. I recently drove by the old building. It's now two stores: a pho restaurant and a bread company. The old showroom is where the pho restaurant is now.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories at Electra?
Josh: I definitely have a few... I really enjoyed going to the product photo shoots in LA. We did the lifestyle shoots in Downtown and North County San Diego. It was cool, but I'm glad that it is a lot less stress-oriented today. I also liked travelling with Benno to Taiwan. My most favorite memory is probably when we went to this handlebar maker to create the Ticino handlebar. They spent TWO AND A HALF HOURS going back and forth just on the angle of the Ticino bars. It was the slightest change, but Benno knew that it would make a big difference for the rider. This was in a small backyard workshop in Asia.
Q: How were the bikes designed?
Josh: Everyone kind of had a say in the process. Benno was the creative one, and Jeano was more of the business one. They worked together from 1993 to 2007. In 2003, Benno designed the Townie. It was when recumbent bikes were a big thing. He took the idea of the relaxed seat position and combined it with a regular bike. The result was the Townie. He also brought back the classic two-tone paint job. Since then, different people have come and gone, working on the Electra lineup, but we always focus on style and comfort.
Q: What makes Electra a different kind of bike brand?
Answer: A lot of things. We have our patented Flat Foot Technology, which refers to ergonomic riding position created by a unique frame geometry. We also offer a really wide range of bikes with internal gear hubs... maybe even the leader in the industry. People don't realize that this is great because it's low maintenance. Our bikes look great and are fun to ride, too. That's why we're still here.