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We don’t actually sell bikes to our customers. The customer comes to us with an idea, and we turn that idea into reality.

ROTOR BIKES GmbH was founded in 1996 as a nonprofit association called Generator Radsport e.V. The company has sold about 8,000 bikes to date. Throughout its history, the goal has remained the same: to build individual bikes tailored precisely to customers’ needs and personalities. Ease, fun, and attention to detail are the top priorities during the intricate and time-consuming planning and production process. We caught up with Sebastian Billhardt, the managing director of Leipzig-based ROTOR.


How did you end up ROTOR?

I bought the company as a retail manager. It was a ready-made company, with a location and interior furnishings. ROTOR had already existed for 18 years at the time. I had had a ROTOR bike made for me in 2006 myself. A good friend of mine apprenticed here, and he told me there were plans to sell and asked if I might be interested. No sooner said than done! A lot has happened in the meantime. We’ve moved twice and have become more independent. Years ago, we were still having our frames built in the Czech Republic, and we bought them and then adapted them to meet our customers’ requirements. We were actually individualizing mass-produced frames. And then we started to think, maybe it would make sense for us to build our own frames ourselves. After all, prices and delivery times had both shot up. We started small, but then after just a short time things were going so well that it wasn’t long before we found a property near Dresden. It has about 600 square meters of production space, and right now we are making our own frames there with a team of four employees. 

We are now even building frames for different companies, too. We don’t just deal with end customers. We’re also doing something for the industry.


What makes your bikes so special?

Basically, we plan for the bike’s entire life cycle. We use steel because it doesn’t age, unlike aluminum. If we talk to the customer beforehand about what the bike should be able to do, then our goal in making the bike is for it to live up to those wishes for the whole lifespan. 

Many of our customers are happy to keep using their ROTOR bike for four, five, or even six years. Customers have us make bikes for them to travel the world. A ROTOR bike from Leipzig has been to every continent on the globe. Our slogan is, From around the corner to around the world. We’ve heard stories of people meeting in the middle of Asia, one coming from the east and the other from the west, and they immediately speak German to each other because they can see from each other’s bikes that they’ve been to Leipzig.


What is your team like?

The youngest person on the team is 20 years old. He actually only ended up stumbling into the job because he was looking for an internship and couldn’t find a better option. The oldest one is Andre, who is about 45 and decided to retrain doing this. Before that, he worked in a foundry. We have a little bit of everything, from young people to those with established families. The one thing we do think is unfortunate is that we only have one woman as part of our team so far. We’d like to see a bit more gender balance if possible.

All of us are crazy about bikes. Most of us came from other fields entirely and ended up doing this and just stuck with it. Our apprentice started out wanting to study industrial design, but he liked working with us better. In addition to his apprenticeship, he is a unicyclist and second ranked in the world in street unicycling. Our head mechanic has been tinkering around with bikes since he was 15. Our new apprentice in the shop originally trained as a gas and water installation technician, and now he’s on his second apprenticeship with us. We also have a job changer who does our bookkeeping. And then there’s Lizzy, a ten-month-old Golden Retriever mix, who is also a huge help. As for me, I studied sports and media, so we really do have a bit of everything. Ultimately, our team is made up of people who haven’t had a traditional career, and that’s what makes us who we are.


How has the pandemic affected the bike industry in general, and ROTOR specifically?

Coronavirus itself was a real boon to bikes. Bike industry manufacturers are moving closer and closer together. A regional focus is the key. Price is often secondary. A lot of companies buy ROTOR bike frames because ROTOR puts a lot of work into production. We handle the design and construction, and then the tubes can be selected individually and we build the frame by hand.

Which bikes are most in demand at your end?

In the past year, definitely the traditional trekking bike. One company is currently ordering a lot of mountain bike frames from us. Gravel, so bikes with fat tires, has also been more of a thing for a couple years now. And this year we’ve already sold a relatively large volume of racing bikes. Of course, we also make a lot of touring bikes. We’re one of the few companies that specialize in those.

Do you view Saxony as a great state for biking?

There are a lot of small companies and independent shops that have something to do with bikes in Saxony. There’s more and more networking and dialogue taking place here. Another thing about Saxony is that we especially benefit from being so close together. We love Leipzig and couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Even in the past, Leipzig was known as the “gateway to the world” for its many trade fairs. We follow the same ethos with our bikes.

Aside from people’s feet, a bike is the means of transportation that offers the most freedom. At the end of the day, you can easily take it along anywhere. You just can't get more freedom than with a bike.


What would you like to see in the future, for ROTOR and the bike industry in Saxony?

I’d love to make ROTOR into a center of competence. My vision would be for anyone who wants to work with bikes in Saxony or in Central Germany generally to connect with the team at Rotor. I always want to leave my door open. Anyone who has an idea or wants to try something out is welcome to stop by. But I also think we could get involved with awesome nonprofit and charitable projects here, aside from just bike-related things. We want to be as transparent as possible and also engage in dialogue among manufacturers. 

We’re not your traditional bike shop. You won’t find a price tag on any of the bikes you see here. The bikes here belong to our customers, who have brought them to us for repairs, or they are our exhibition pieces or finished bikes. The office is messy but welcoming, with an antique clock in the middle that used to belong to my grandfather. I’m working on repairing it. We’re the kind of company where things are always up close and personal, with that human touch.


ROTOR Leipzig

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