Cornelia Krebs took on the role of senior product manager at woom at the start of 2021.
woom released a bike with automatic gear hub before – why did the concept suddenly disappear from the product range?
That's right – there was a 16″ woom ORIGINAL bike with SRAM Automatix 2-speed hub gearing between 2016 and 2018. But SRAM stopped producing its gear hubs in 2018, so we couldn't get hold of that component anymore and we had to discontinue that particular model.
It has to be said, though, that the woom ORIGINAL bike with the SRAM hub was really popular and it still sells well on marketplace platforms for second-hand products. We kept getting feedback from within the woom community that people were keen for us to release another bike with automatic gear hub.
And now we have the woom ORIGINAL 3 AUTOMAGIC! So what makes this bike so special?
The woom ORIGINAL 3 AUTOMAGIC is a 16″ children's bike with 2-speed automatic shifting. The way its hub gearing works is nothing like what we're used to with a conventional chain transmission. Plus, the gears are tucked away safely inside the rear wheel hub.
What makes this internal gearing really special is that it shifts automatically. Once a child reaches a speed of around 11 km/h, the centrifugal force mechanism inside the hub works its magic and the bike shifts from first to second gear. You can't even tell from the outside that the gears have changed.
As soon as the child's pace drops below 11 km/h, the hub shifts back to first gear.
The new woom ORIGINAL 3 AUTOMAGIC with automatic hub gearing.
What are the advantages of this automatic shifting on a child's bike?
Well, first of all, we have to remember that manual shifting is still too complex for children aged between four and six, which is the target age range for this woom bike with automatic gear hub.
Even children older than that can struggle to change gears correctly on their own without being prompted in any way. They often just end up cycling in the wrong gear.
But the huge advantage of this bike is that younger children who are keen little cyclists can reap all the benefits of riding a bike with gears without actually having to worry about shifting.
With the gear changes taken care of for them, they can stay in control while cycling at a faster pace on flat stretches during family bike rides and pedal hard without any risk of spinning out or slipping off the pedals.
Riding uphill is easier on this bike too – how does the automatic shifting help there?
As this is a two-speed bike, we were able to set the spread of the gear ratios so that the pedalling resistance in the first gear is nice and low.
That makes it so much easier for children to climb a hill or cycle into a fierce headwind.
Another big bonus of this automatic technology is that the sealed hub design means that the gearing is extremely low-maintenance and long-lasting. Without gear cables, a trigger shifter or a derailleur, there's none of the components that would traditionally move over time and need to be readjusted every so often.
On top of all that, the gearing is better protected against damage – that's obviously a huge selling point for a bike aimed at children aged between four and six. At this age, most children don't always show their belongings – including their bikes – the necessary level of care. It's not that they are deliberately trying to cause damage or that they aren't bothered. And you can also bet that their parents have already told them at least 100 times to be a bit more careful with their things (laughs)!
But, you know, kids just tend to live in the moment at this age. They're led by their emotions and they can end up getting carried away at times. This may well mean that they get excited and spontaneously decide to stop off to explore by the river or buy an ice cream at the shop. And it wouldn't be unusual for a child of this age to jump off their bike without a second thought about abandoning it in these kinds of situations.
We have to remember that children aren't just mini adults, after all. That fact is reflected in every single one of the products we develop here at woom.
The sealed hub design protects the automatic gearing effectively against external forces.
Did you face any major challenges during the product development phase?
There were plenty of challenges to overcome! The woom ORIGINAL 3 AUTOMAGIC was the first project I started working on when I joined the woom team at the beginning of 2021. We were right in the middle of the second lockdown during the pandemic then and everyone was working from home.
When you're developing a physical product, it's so important to keep talking things over with your colleagues face to face. Not to mention inspecting, assembling and testing material samples. And of course you have test rides of various prototypes by children to arrange.
Getting all of that done at a time when everyone had to stay at home and keep their distance was a huge challenge. We also had difficulties getting hold of the right components due to supply chain issues and port closures.
But it all worked out in the end – despite all the obstacles that stood in our way. The excellent tools for communicating and getting organised at our disposal at woom allowed me to get to know my new colleagues virtually to start with.
The test rides with our young cyclists more than six months later were always a real highlight of the process for me. Luckily, cycling outside was one of the few things we could all still do even when the restrictions were in place throughout the pandemic.
One nice bonus for me was that I could keep working during the lockdown and still spend time with my daughter, who was four years old at the time. Since she was ready to transition to a woom ORIGINAL 3 at just the right time, she helped us test out the woom ORIGINAL 3 AUTOMAGIC with my colleague's two children.
What a fantastic excuse to get outside and do something meaningful with the kids!
Is there one particular moment during the process that stood out to you?
As an adult, it's impossible to really know what it feels like for a child to ride a 16″ bike with automatic shifting. We can't test out that particular cycling experience for ourselves.
So I'll never forget the wonderful moment during the test rides when I could finally see the fruits of all those months of hard work in front of a computer screen and in the workshop right in front of me.
We could see the sheer joy in our children's faces as they rode the bikes with automatic shifting. My daughter even managed to make it up a hill she'd never been able to manage because she was cycling in that first gear with less pedalling resistance.
Where did the name AUTOMAGIC come from?
Well, the gear shifts are completely automatic on the basis of the speed the child is cycling at. And the hub takes care of it all – as if by magic. We combined the words “automatic” and “magic” to create AUTOMAGIC.
Plus, we liked the idea of woom bikes having something magical about them. The technology behind the hub gearing is pretty complex. Too complex to explain to a four-year-old child. So why not just let them believe that their bike is magic?!
Most children in this age range still believe in magic – just think about Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. There's always got to be a bit of magic, hasn't there? After all, the beauty of childhood is that imagination and reality can exist side by side in perfect harmony.
Thank you for the interview!