Munich When competitors developed the first GPS devices at the turn of the millennium, they did not really believe in the new technology at the bicycle speedometer manufacturer Sigma Sport. The e-bike boom was also underestimated in the early years. “If a company is fat, you become sluggish in the decisions,” says Sigmar CEO Robin Schendel, “it had to be worse for us.“
Today, the family business, which also develops bicycle lighting and pulse watches, benefits from the bicycle boom in the corona pandemic. With a completely revised product range, the family-owned company wants to survive and continue to grow alongside its global competitors Garmin and Wahoo.
Sigma’s approach: technically sophisticated, but easy-to-use cycling computers for recreational cyclists. “We are all about the weekend bike enthusiast who finds his moments of happiness on the bike – and they can certainly be sporty,” says Robin Schendel, whose father founded the company in 1982.
Son Robin now believes he has found his place alongside the industry giants. “We don’t copy Garmin or Wahoo, but have our very own idea of an easy-to-use, yet fully equipped bike computer,” says Robin Schendel.
The Sigma Rox 11 is rather the size of a bicycle speedometer – but offers complete GPS navigation. With such devices suitable for everyday use, Sigma wants to keep up with big players such as Wahoo and Garmin.
Sigma’s positioning is lower than that of Wahoo and Garmin, which rely on a more performance-oriented, data-fixed clientele. Their navigation devices start at a few hundred euros and are slowly approaching the 1000 euro mark in the high-end area. Sigma offers a simple speedometer for 20 euros, the cheapest GPS devices for 60 euros, and the most expensive devices cost around 300 euros.
When Klaus Peter Schendel founded the segment of digital speedometers at the beginning of the 80s, navigation was not yet an issue. He initially put about 300 pieces of his “Cyclecoach” on the market for a good 100 marks. Many in the industry were skeptical at first. After all, the cyclecoach cost ten times more than traditional speedos. The breakthrough came with a trade fair appearance in the USA and a major order from coaching legend Wolfram Lindner, who ordered 200 copies for the cycling national squad of the GDR.
The market has also grown significantly since then because cycling has become more and more popular. During the lockdowns in the pandemic, there was then another significant boost. Last year, sales of bicycles and e-bikes in Germany rose slightly to 6.6 billion euros, according to the industry association ZIV. For comparison: in 2018, sales were only a good three billion euros.
Including spare parts and accessories, the industry now has a turnover of more than ten billion euros per year. Without the shortage of components, dealers could have sold significantly more wheels. Tacho pioneer Sigma is also benefiting from the development, with sales of around 38 million euros last year.
Connected devices for everyday mountain bikers
Even in the booming e-bike segment, the company has now found its position after initial difficulties. The wheels with electric motor support are usually already equipped with light and computer, unlike gravel and road bikes. For specialists like Sigma, this can take away the basis of the business model with bike computers and lamps.
But according to Schendel, the trend is now moving away from the included computer on the handlebars, especially with the highly demanded e-mountain bikes. “The cockpit is getting freer again, which creates space for us.” Sigma’s bike computers can connect to the e-bike and display, for example, the battery level, support level and range. Some bicycle manufacturers also supply the company directly.
In addition, the demand for lighting is increasing, because e-mountain bikes are usually delivered without light. “The average price has increased,” Schendel also says. Because the devices are becoming more technically sophisticated. One model, for example, shows the driver at the front light whether the rear light is on, offers an automatic mode that adjusts the light up or down according to ambient brightness and has a separate brake light at the rear.
Has the hype subsided again?
However, the very big bike hype from the pandemic may have already passed its peak. Robin Schendel gets this right on his doorstep. During his mountain bike laps in the Palatinate Forest, it was high on the trails during the lockdowns. “Now it’s back to normal a little bit,” he says. But the industry is consolidating at a higher level. Global developments – from overcrowded inner cities to climate change – have benefited the bicycle industry. “In the medium term, everything speaks in favor of the bicycle.“
The two-wheeler Industry Association ZIV is also convinced: “The Russian war against Ukraine will additionally motivate many people to get on their bikes more often due to the resulting energy shortage and rising mobility costs.“ High demand is also to be expected for the next few years.
Sigma wants to continue to assert itself among the big players with new technological developments. The company can finance its own developments and thus remain independent, emphasizes Schendel.
That this was successful is also due to the successful generational transition. Father Klaus Peter Schendel had laid the foundation with his invention of the bike computer. Robin Schendel, who took over the management more and more consistently from 2016, then enforced his own ideas in a weak phase of the company.
But in the meantime, he also benefits greatly from the tips of his three sons, all mountain bikers. The eldest – nine years old – had only recently discovered a small error in the programming during a joint trip.