BIKESMITH Work stopped at the headquarters of Koga, the high-end-bicycle manufacturer, during the sprint event at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The Netherlands-based company had sponsored star cyclist Theo Bos, and even watching on TV, managing director Wouter Jager, 48, knew his boy was struggling.
"We could see he lost valuable time because of the pedal and frame," recalls Jager. "The last 50 m were unstable." Not all that unstable, to be sure, but enough to cost him the gold medal by milliseconds. Next time around, Jager vowed, Bos would close that gap.
Koga has been working to make good on that promise ever since. After studying videos of the race, Jager enlisted the help of the country's National Aerospace Laboratory and TNO, a Dutch research institute, as well as companies that make aerodynamic clothing, bike coatings and wheels. The result? The so-called half-million-euro bike--a blend of science and design that uses carbon technology to increase the frame's stiffness without a significant increase in weight.
Koga claims the frame is 130% stiffer than Bos' last bike and accounts for the world champion's near perfect record over the past couple of years. The company has tried to pick up speed in other ways too, from altering Bos' riding position to using compressive clothing that supports his muscles and improves aerodynamics.
"Bicycles are still two wheels, a chain and handlebars," notes Jager on the challenges of innovating a product that has essentially been around for more than 100 years. Still, the company is hoping Bos and his teammates--who have similar bikes--will prove that even so venerable a contraption can be made new. If all goes well, consumers will be able to purchase a version of the bike for themselves for a mere 4,000 euros (a bit more than $6,100)--wheels not included.