Jan Ullrich looks beyond life as a pro

Tech report, May 31, 2006

He's popular, so why not leverage that for some financial gain? Monday afternoon saw the presentation of the "Jan Ullrich Collection" -- a line of bike frames for everyone from "ambitious hobby cyclists to pros," according to Ullrich. But mainly for everyone with more than a few Euros in their pockets - the frames range from €1,395 to €2,995. Susan Westemeyer was at the launch to find out what makes the new Kaiserbikes tick.

One evening last fall, Jan, Tobi and Ralf came up with the idea of building and selling their own bikes. High-tech bikes that promise high performance, for everyone from ambitious recreational cyclists to pros.

Well, those three guys were Jan Ullrich, Tobias Steinhauser and Ralf Weggenmann, so given their rather extensive contacts in the cycling world it's no surprise that they pulled it off. Monday afternoon in Bad Saulgau, Germany, they presented the Jan Ullrich Bike line to the public for the first time.

Actually, what's on offer is not whole bikes, but just frames. There are three models, ranging in price from €1,395 to €2,995 for a frame only. All three models are hand-made in Italy, but none of the trio was prepared to say where or by whom. The two more expensive models will be totally hand-tailored to the customer's measurements.

Ullrich sees no conflict between this collection and his contractual obligations to T-Mobile sponsor Giant Bicycles. He will continue to ride the sponsor's bike.

"That my name is on the bikes is fully okay and allowed," he said. "We have our sponsors, but if I could put a bike together for myself, then it would be one like this."

Why did the German star decide to go into the bike-making biz? "I wanted to find a way to share my passion with the public," he said. And what makes them so special? "The colors, the designs, all the extras that we have that the others don't."

The three models are each named for a different aspect of Ullrich's career. The first is the 'Campione', which is to commemorate his 1993 amateur world championship. This frame is made from aluminium, but has a carbon seatstays because "only aluminium is absolutely out."

Portions of the frame are not painted but "have the aluminium color, so that you can see that it is aluminium." This frame, which has a claimed weight of 1380 grams, is "recommended for everyone", or at least "those who like to ride aluminium." It costs €1395.

In 2000, Ullrich won both a gold medal and a silver medal at the Summer Olympics -- another career high point. So the next bike is the 'Olymp', or "the performance frame with lightness and dynamic." It is made entirely from carbon, and like its cheaper brother, has a section left unpainted. It is available in six sizes, costs €1895. Given the International Olympic Committee's often enthusiastic protection of its trademarks it will be interesting to see if Ullrich can get away with even that abbreviated name.

If his Tour de France win is Ullrich's ultimate career highlight, then the 'Grand Tour' frame is "the ultimate highlight" of this collection. Again entirely made of carbon, each frame will be personally hand finished specifically for the customer. It is to be "the ultimate symbiosis of highest performance, athleticism and elegance," according to Jan, Tobi and Ralf, the frame alone will cost €2,995. Ullrich said it's, "our high -end product, and the best. I would like to ride it in the Tour de France." He can't do that, though - the complete Grand Tour bike on show at the launch weighed just 5.89 kg. As Steinhauser said, "it's too light for the UCI. Jan couldn't ride it without lead weights."

And there is still at least one more to come -- a limited edition to be presented at the Eurobike show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the end of August. It will be a very limited edition according to Ullrich, of perhaps as few as ten frames and it will be "something very special. It's exactly what I would ride myself if I didn't have sponsor obligations."

The trio expect (or hope) to sell 400 to 600 frames a year. Steinhauser and Weggenmann are the two business partners (Ullrich is not financially involved), and are also responsible for the technical developments. Ullrich supplied the design ideas.

More information is available at www.janullrich-bikes.de (in German).

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