Brazed, assembled and painted in Switzerland

Aarios AG, a company steeped in tradition, is the last remaining Swiss bicycle manufacturer to still braze its frames itself. As part of the Bike to Work campaign, the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) paid a visit to the ‘Fabrik für handgebaute Fahrräder (factory for hand-built bicycles), where the former managing director Arnold Ramel was at work building his Swiss handmade bicycles. Arnold can still be found in the factory every day, even though his shares in the company were passed on to next generation years ago.

Arnold Ramel, the former managing director of Aarios AG
Arnold Ramel, the former managing director of Aarios AG

In the 20th century, Switzerland was a major centre of the bicycle industry as it was home to countless manufacturers. However, towards the end of the century, various changes negatively impacted the industry. As a result, nowadays, the majority of bicycles for sale in Switzerland are either manufactured abroad or developed and assembled in Switzerland from mostly imported parts.


Steel bicycle frames, brazed in Switzerland as in 1930

The long-standing Aarios AG is an exception to this trend. Founded in 1930 under the name Aarios-Fahrradwerk (Aarios bicycle factory), the manufacturer is currently located in Gretzenbach in the Canton of Solothurn. The company, whose name is derived from the town of Aarau where it was founded, is the only bicycle manufacturer in Switzerland that still brazes its own frames. Aarios AG consistently uses steel in its manufacturing – a material that, according to Arnold Ramel, has several advantages: “Steel is dynamic, but it’s also robust and provides good shock absorption,” says Arnold. However, many cyclists don’t know just how light a high-quality steel frame can be. “Our lightest racing bike weighs just 7kg,” the trained mechanical engineer adds. As well as racing bikes, Aarios AG produces travel bikes, touring bikes and vintage bikes.


Custom made, assembled and painted on site

Speaking with Arnold Ramel, it quickly becomes clear just how passionate he is about building bikes from scratch: “We offer 14 standard sizes and 14 special sizes so we can build bikes to suit all customers’ heights, from 110cm to 217cm,” says Arnold. Following a personal consultation with the customer, every bicycle is individually made and fully assembled on site by Aarios AG. Once brazed, the frames are placed in an acid bath to remove residue, treated with iron phosphate and finished with a powder coating. The final paintwork is available in 70 different colours. The spokes are then inserted into the rims by hand and lastly, the saddle, gears and handlebars are fitted. Around a dozen employees work in the bicycle factory, with administrative staff also helping out with the manufacturing when there are shortages. “Our staff know exactly what they need to do,” says Arnold Ramel.


A difficult industry that demands a lot of perseverance

Since taking over Aarios AG in 1974, Arnold Ramel has had to overcome a number of challenges. He tells us that it’s a difficult industry that demands a lot of perseverance. He cites the example of the company’s attempt to produce e-bikes. After finally finding a suitable partner to supply high-quality motors in Switzerland, the supplier stopped selling the motor. This is not that unusual, Arnold asserts: with a few exceptions, bicycle parts such as brakes, handlebars and toothed belts are no longer produced in Switzerland. Arnold will be looking for a new solution for his e-bikes. But at the same time, the entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily want to follow all the trends. To survive in this industry, you have to be good, not modern, he says.


Tradition, quality and precision are core values

“Once you’ve chosen a path, you have to follow it resolutely,” Arnold explains as he looks back on 50 years since taking over the company in 1974. Referring to the inscription on his bikes, he says that ‘Swiss handmade by Aarios’ stands for high-quality bikes that meet the buyer’s needs in terms of size, features, colour and price. The aim is to avoid making mistakes as far as possible, be honest with customers and manufacture products that are reliable, durable and low-maintenance. According to Arnold, steel has a lifespan of around 25 years. After that, the steel and all metal parts can be melted down and processed into new parts. The typical Swiss values of precision and quality are very important to the Ramel family business. This is evidenced by the fact that, at 78, Arnold still checks every bike before it leaves the factory building.


“Swissness will become more important for Swiss bikes in the future”

Even if, by Aarios AG's estimations, only around 5–10% of the Swiss population are potential customers: Arnold Ramel believes that ‘Swiss-made’ indications (or Swissness) will become more important for bikes in the future. “I’ve always said that, at some point, people won’t have the money to drive cars any more,” Arnold tells us. Even though his prediction has yet to come true, he hasn’t given up his faith in high-quality, Swiss-made bikes powered solely by human energy. “Recently, we’ve seen a slight increase in e-bike owners looking to buy a normal, excellent bicycle that will make them very happy because it has been built especially for them.”


When can the Swiss cross be used on a bicycle?

A bicycle is an industrial product. These are the general requirements for an industrial product to be labelled ‘Swiss’ in accordance with the law (TmPA, Art. 48c):


Sixty per cent of the manufacturing costs (including research and development costs) must be incurred in Switzerland.


The activity which gives the product its essential characteristics must take place in Switzerland.


An essential manufacturing step must be carried out in Switzerland.


The law also contains several exceptions for this category of goods: for example, raw materials and semi-finished products that are not available in Switzerland can be excluded from the calculation under certain conditions.

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