25 years of FLYER: from niche product to mass product
Kurt Schär, former CEO of FLYER, looks back on the rise of the FLYER e-bike.
Following in the footsteps of the FLYER pioneers, we make our way to the depths of Canton Lucerne where Kurt Schär welcomes us to “Sunnsite” (sunny side), the homely and traditional farmhouse that serves as his holiday residence above the village of Luthern. In contrast to the farmhouse, the company has not always enjoyed sunny days and the former CEO and owner of what used to Biketec AG (FLYER AG today) talks us through what were eventful times.
“I first rode an electric bicycle in 1997”, explains Kurt Schär. “I was testing the FLYER Classic in Langenthal and thought it was really cool.” In the year 2000, Kurt Schär was looking for a new professional challenge and saw a job advertisement for BKTech, the company producing FLYER e-bikes at the time. He seized the opportunity and soon rose through the ranks to become CEO during a very turbulent period that saw the company grappling with financial challenges.
In autumn 2001, the financial pressure became too great for BKTech and Kurt Schär was forced to initiate a debt restructuring moratorium, although he remained convinced of the e-bike as a product. “I realised that the e-bike as a product was a future market”, remembers Kurt Schär. With his business partner Hans Furrer, Kurt Schär developed a product that was ready to embark on a triumphal march: an e-bike that would allow easy and comfortable cycling and make independent mobility possible (again) – the FLYER C Series.
Together with two further partners, the men acquired the assets, founded the company Biketec AG in Kirchberg (canton Bern), and found a strong technology partner in Panasonic. The FLYER C Series was launched onto the market in 2003. Ridiculed by many as a “bike for grandmothers”, the C Series offered comfortable cycling combined with a classic design, bringing with it the long-awaited change of fortune.
From this point onwards, things improved rapidly. Year on year, the company Biketec AG recorded growth rates of more than 100%, was almost the only player on the market in its pioneering role, and achieved the switch from innovative start-up to international SME. The tight-knit team worked day and night at times, spending weekends at trade fairs, organising and offering numerous test rides, developing new FLYER series, and looking for marketing partners. One of these partners was the “Herzroute” (Heart Route). After a chance encounter between Kurt Schär and Paul Hasler, the creator of the “Herzroute”, the two men reached the conclusion that an e-bike is the perfect means of transport for the route with its great differences in altitude. Since then, thousands of people have enjoyed extensive e-bikes tours across Switzerland.
The rapid growth meant that, over the years, the production site in Kirchberg (canton Bern) reached its limits. “We had to change something, so we looked at various locations and finally decided on a new building in Huttwil”, explains Kurt Schär. The new FLYER factory celebrated its opening in 2009. “It was extraordinary to see about 20,000 visitors walking around the new factory”, continues Kurt Schär. The same year saw testing of the first e-mountainbike with full suspension, which laid the foundation for a further transformation of the sector.
Although FLYER was already enjoying success in Germany, the euro shock and a report by “Stiftung Warentest” left their mark just four years later. Kurt Schär decided it was time to look for investors and a new CEO for the novel challenges, and then withdrew completely from the company. However, as a pioneer in the sector, he has remained fascinated by e-bikes. Kurt Schär is now the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Herzroute AG and is still excited to ride his FLYER e-bike in the area around “Sunnsite”.