I didn’t know it yet but the people I was about to meet would go on to change profoundly my outlook on life. It probably happens to them all the time but this was to come as quite a surprise when it hit me a couple of years down the line.
The elevator doors almost close, then jolt open suddenly, two open smiles bundle into the cramped space and wish me a good evening. This loved-up couple, clearly wealthy but far from brash or showy, fill this 6-foot-square mirrored room on ropes with what I realize later is a kind of energy. More than chat or friendliness or indeed elevator awkwardness, this is invisible, but tangible, a real sense of feeling something positive, almost electrical energetically. Three floors later I have met Markus and Helena Storck.
Pretty much two years after that night when Campagnolo turned 80 and I found myself on the same dinner table as the Storcks, talking all things old and anodized. I am here in Germany to take them up on their offer of a rummage through the archives. As I depart my B&B after breakfast, I see, by daylight, it is just as described: “The apple juice family’s bed and breakfast” did indeed have apple-everything, everywhere. Gallon tins and small bottles piled neatly on every surface. Displays of the family produce sit proudly in the windows of the reception—all for sale. Apple key rings, apple coasters, apple postcards, apple people family photos…slightly awkward like family portraits are, but with added apples, as if the apples once to identify the clan, now are the family. I’m unsure if these slightly odd pictures are framed in a little irony but this is Germany and to an outsider this country can appear a little different sometimes so I presume these are just honest, sweet-natured projections of what lies beneath. More cynical cultures of cool like my homeland would see this as naïveté and attempt humiliation, but there’s an innocence here and a charm so long forgotten by the modern dependence on irony that I applaud. So I buy some apple juice.
Storck headquarters is a modern purpose-built facility on top of a hill overlooking Idstein, just outside Frankfurt. Clean and silver metallic on the outside makes way to light and airy and well laid out through the doors. Architecturally this is a pretty normal smart- and expensive-looking modern building and a really good use of space. Polished concrete floors and walls, steel beams and a mezzanine, 1980s euro-bold, primary-colored detailing brought up to date by lighting and subtlety of graphics. Immediately you get the impression of quality in this large room. This is an expensive space for a high-end brand, but it manages to pull off something more every day at the same time; it doesn’t feel alienating or exclusive. Minimalism or any kind of modernity in design by its nature seems to be a bit inhuman, so often better suited to a robot than a messy, sneezy, dust-making person, but this is a comfortable space. Sunlight warms it, gives it shape in shadow, reminds us of the human invention par excellence, the bicycle, by projecting its sunlight presence on every surface. I sit and think angles and compositions and allow a familiar and welcome feeling of tranquility to flood in.
Markus Storck bounces down the wide concrete stairs from his offices in the clouds grinning as he greets me enthusiastically without giving any sense that we have only met once before. His energy fizzing as he shows me around the proud creation that bears his name, he reminds me of Tigger, the bouncing tiger cub from A. A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” books, as he whisks me between ranges of slick-looking carbon super bikes. Given what we are looking at, I feel I ought to be witnessing a PowerPoint presentation filled with loud electronic music and slick graphics demonstrating ever more impressive numbers; but I am being talked through details in person at ground level by an adorable bouncy, fluffy German bloke with a huge grin and mad (if tidy) professor hair.
Most who have met Markus seem to say the same thing and already I’m joining in: this is a character and a half. He just couldn’t be doing anything else; it would have to have his name on it, or it wouldn’t make sense. He is Storck; and Storck really is him. Here is a designer with a whole string of hits under his belt. The first full-carbon fork, Carbon Power Arms cranks, the first all-carbon full-suspension mountain bike frame and swing arm: The Organic, nearly 20 years old and still impressive weight and ride wise, was a tour de force in full-susser design with numerous advancements in one package.
Enthusiastically, he marches me into a storeroom. All our previous talk of the anodized years has led me here to this place of boxes and crates like a scaled-down version of the last scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” There is surely a wealth of gems in here hidden away from the world, perhaps still awaiting their call up to a rainbow renaissance somewhere. Back in the day, Markus was the German distributor for most of the purple people: Cook Bros, Yeti, Moots, Merlin, Ritchey, Klein, Fat Chance, Funk, Trimble. All the good paint and metal went through this man. He totally got it and then passed it on to everyone else in this country.
The reason you will get good money for that box of Joystix cranks, Moby posts or Kooka levers in the garage if you put them on ebay.de is in great part I imagine down to Markus Storck. As we start unearthing boxes marked “Fat Chance prototype” and “Klein paint samples,” Markus eagerly recruits the help of a passing mechanic. Not appearing overly into pulling out box after box to show yet another visitor instead of getting on with what it is he ought be doing, he hands down one after another crate of Markus’s family silver. A box of epoxy-paint samples throws up Klein’s Gator and Moonrise linear fades, prototype cranks, brakes, suspension systems, bars, a one-off Leni Fried pink-painted Fat Chance for Markus’s dad, his own pre-Storck branded “Bike Tech” frames using steel, aluminum and carbon in the one frame design, piles of retro fluoro bike clothing with the hallowed Fat City Cycles slapped everywhere come out and go back at a moment’s notice courtesy of our hired hand. This lot must be worth a fortune to collectors, I mention. “I am a collector, I suppose,” he says, smiling, as we leave the poor chap to tidy up in the wake of our fluoro explosion.
Sun shines strongly through the tinted-glass walls of the test facility projecting shapes in dappled light of all the stages of bike design. Differing materials and densities of tube and swing arm hang like mobiles above a child’s cot. Delicately touching in the breeze, glistening from the reflected light, they project a water-like shimmer of colors and patterns on the ceiling above, their fishing-line-family-tree branches invisible except for an occasional catching of the light. A young engineer with a trendy haircut stands tapping-in coordinates to a supercomputer while lining up chain stays by eye just in case. There is a lot of tech in this room, in that way that the Germans are so proud; even when they have things made in the Far East, they insist on testing them back here, to their own standards before letting the world ride them and make judgment. I’ve said it before, but although I’m from a long line of French cars and do somewhat subscribe to the mantra that when bits fall off them it’s part of their charm, I, like most others have nothing but admiration for the level of integrity the Germans employ when they build something. If they have signed it off, you can relax completely in the knowledge they probably didn’t until it was considerably past safe.
Whisked off into town to for lunch, we talk about life outside bicycles: vegetarianism, the dangers of gluten, animal welfare, people welfare, the welfare of nations. I get the immediate impression that these two people give a shit. If you were to follow Markus’s Facebook trail you could be forgiven for thinking he was on a permanent holiday cycle of desert islands and volcanoes, always somewhere exotic with Helena, naturally smiling. These two do travel, and they do it in style and no doubt at a cost; there is money here but it isn’t flaunted. It seems a genuine appreciation of fine things rather than loud statements. Something clearly echoed in the bike range.
This is the man who has probably owned most of the legendary sports cars you could ever dream of, and yet here we are in a normal southern German beer tavern with him ordering egg and fries. It gives me the feeling that the liking of fine quality is just a genuine want for things to be the best quality they can be. That’s pretty German, but there’s something more; I get the impression it’s also about getting things just how he wants them to be, so I wonder if it could just as likely be a mark1 Fiat Panda—that brilliant piece of utilitarian design by Giugiaro—or a one-off Aston Martin 1-77, equally at home in the garage. Probably both sat next to each other. Markus has a very clever engineering brain, but design plays a huge part in his life. This man is a designer at heart. That’s clear when you see what Storck Bicycles produce, but it’s when you see what he hasn’t produced that it really hits home.
Where you would expect to see them proudly displayed on walls in the lobby, I am showed serious design awards staying subtly inside books on coffee tables. Incredible hi-fi hardware fills the office, and filing cabinets filled with theory and invention are excitedly pulled open in front of me as Helena gives a knowing smile and escapes to a neat office down the corridor. Plans and blueprints, prototype drawings and catalogues of the greats rapidly start filling the floor space in his office. Frames line the windowsills leading to a large portrait of Einstein awaiting hanging. One titanium hardtail catches my eye. It looks about 1991 to me, not unlike a Rocky Mountain Ti Bolt with its Canadian sloping top tube and taller seat stays. “Ah, this is a Bike Tech, my former brand, built by One Off Titanium in America.” I imagine, were he not to be the type of person to have had his address book implanted into his futuristic glasses in a heads-up display by the CEO of Google himself, Markus’s Rolodex would probably read like a who’s-who of cycling.
Everyone it seems has had something to do with this bundle of energy and infections grin over the years. I flip through prototype fork designs, now commonplace but date stamped years ahead of their time. Patents for suspension design, headset and dropout studies, hand-drawn designs that are blatantly in production now are pulled out. “You could presumably challenge that design,” I ask. “Yes, it is my design, they completely copied it; some of this stuff might be worth a few million if you chased it, but that is a negative energy. I have no time for that in my life.” Wow! I stop and take that in for a moment. At first I wonder if he’s joking, faced with the prospect of a few million clawed back from someone that copied his idea; he brushes it off as backward thinking and negative energy, then I realize it’s all part of the point. The vibe I have been picking up on from the start, back in that elevator in Vicenza all that time ago, it’s real. The Buddha statues dotted all around the place—that I have joked is how he must smuggle in the contraband that pays for the Porsches—is not some flakey part-time hobby to appear at one with the world; he really means it. This German couple is living by the code, walking the walk, turning down the lawsuits.
Zen is abruptly interrupted by the grumble of eight cylinders and turbocharger whistles reversing into pride of place outside. “You remember the surprise I told you I had lined up for today? It’s been delivered,” he says. Like when a fighter jet flies over low and everyone stops and looks up craning to see a glimpse, people spill out of the building right left and center to come and see the promised “One of Seven.” Now, I would consider myself a petrol-head, but even so, a couple of decades of hanging out with supercars through friends at car magazines has somewhat desensitized me to them these days; they are always even more impressive than before, ever more honed and ridiculous and at the same time more sensible and drivable than ever. In fact, I have to own up to being more intrigued when someone unveils an orange Fiat Super Mirafiori or a Peugeot 106 Rallye in French blue or a BMW 2002 with its high glasshouse and low waistline before things like safety came into the equation at drawing-board level.
But let’s be clear; this, it has to be said, is quite something. As it burbles and ticks itself down from an angered autobahn interchange, the heat displacement alone promises of something vast in presence. This is the surprise I was promised. I imagined it would be expensive and exclusive and as good as it gets and, of course, it is. This McLaren 650s is One of Seven to be made in this special gold-olive, muted-earth-tone color, along with McLaren Special Ops parts the Storcks have helped to bring to life that drop the weight and raise the exclusivity even further. But they didn’t stop there. Seven Storck bikes will be made alongside, in the same color, and then seven Rolex watches. It’s then I notice the “One of Seven” on the face of the timepiece to my right and it all slots into place. For a moment it’s like being one of the tin pieces in a game of Monopoly having just had your first rent from the hotels on Mayfair and Park Lane (that’s Boardwalk and Park Place in U.S. version) come in all at once. Phones are brought out and the selfies begin. I wonder if this display is perhaps a bit much for the troops and ask a mechanic standing nearby what he thinks of all this? “It’s Markus. You expect this kind of thing to happen at work,” adding through a wide grin, “it’s not every day you get to hear a V8 like that is it? But here, it’s probably every week.”
Helena asks what I would like for dinner before heading off into the hills leaving Hubby with his new toy. Back inside, his resolve to not take it for a spin on the autobahn right away is impressive; returning to work before play, he starts pulling out yet more memorabilia for my vintage Instagram friends. Pictures riding with Gary Klein and Chris Chance; cycling heroes are in every sleeve; invites to Aston Martin’s birthday party by Ulrich Bez himself…. I realize it would be impossible to win a game of “name drop trumps” with Markus Storck, he seems to have been there and done that more than most, but there’s an air of not showing it off as much as just wanting you to become a part of it all with him. It’s infectious and giddy, yes, but it’s also quite sweet and down to earth. It does take a certain type of person to have their own name on a down tube in big letters, but it also takes a lot to keep it there for as long as he has managed to. That’s no mean feat in this cycling day and age.
Markus has driven that destiny with aplomb and I wonder if he is about to hit a new sweet spot as one of the influencers that has stayed in the game throughout. There’s no doubt you’ve got to be pretty special to keep coming up with new ideas and evolution in the fast-moving cycling world if you’re relatively small and have much less to play with than the high rollers. It’s a dicey stake though; there must have been lows to all these highs surely? “When we met I had to explain to Helena I see 1.6 million in the bank,” and she needed to know what she was getting into, but it was as if we were on the same page from the beginning. I understand too, if it all goes wrong tomorrow and the McLaren and everything else becomes a memory, it is just a car, it is just material stuff. It is great stuff, but it is just stuff. It is not as important as health and wellbeing and love. Those are the only things that really matter.”
That comes from somewhere too because there have been a couple of those chances at reflection on life in the last few years and they’ve gone in. I wonder how many McLaren owners would be so easy to let it all go being content with having had some rather than none. I don’t question it though; I have no reason to doubt that this is his mantra and he means it.
There’s balance here too between the past and the present. He has the connections, the gravitas, the history of one of the industry greats, yes, but he’s not hanging on to them hoping there’ll be an anodized gold rush to remake his fortune one last time. This is a highly intelligent designer, engineer and businessperson who is one smart cookie; he’s worked out how to survive this industry that changes outfits twice a year and even influence it over and over again. Storck is growing, becoming wider known in new markets and stepping up a level in old ones. The Fascenario and Aernario seem regularly pitted against fish with a bigger spread, but hold their own among their contemporaries, indeed winning the awards often enough. It is really important that he is respected for cutting-edge racing bikes repeatedly voted the best ride in the world too, but it would be a slight shame if some of the stuff locked away behind these walls was forgotten by those old enough to remember, or worse, never discovered by the generation reaping the benefits of some of his plans and patents.
Markus and I are the last to leave, turning off the lights in the library of bike magazines upstairs. There is time for one quick portrait in the concrete stairwell on the way out and it is off to breathe fire into the clear German spring night. As I follow the distinctive rear lights and howling and spitting exhausts through the tunnels and into the countryside I can’t help thinking it’s a good job he hasn’t got many neighbors as we pull up to his ranch in the woods. The One of Seven has a space prepared next to the military-spec AMG G-Wagon just outside the front door. The golden hue of a warm indoors with new old friends spills out into the chilly outdoor air as we stop looking at the car and head inside. Like friends do, they call my B&B and explain in native tongue that I’ll be late, and I am invited to join the celebration of the new addition to the family parked outside.
Helena has made lovely food. Talk drifts from the everyday to the philosophical; their spirituality of sorts and my hardened realism collide. As the evening progresses, here away from work, I get more and more insight into what makes these two such a joint force. And the more I witness, the better I see. Epiphany is a strong word but an openness to a change of energy could perhaps cover it. Conspiracy theories surface and are dispelled. Empathy and compassion never far from the table, conversation is passionate and intelligent and a delight. Prosecco happens. I educate in the wonders of Instagram. Time passes and the energy is good.
As I depart and look back to see genuine waves good-bye from the front door, I get a real sense of connection to these two. Is that imagined? Fake? Weird? Instinctively, I feel it must be all three; but something’s happened because I pull up at my B&B an hour later completely relaxed post-autobahn and check to see if they’ve texted. I didn’t really want to leave this evening; I suppose I wanted to be asked by the landlord for a “lock in” and that’s always the sign of a good pub.
Buy issue 46 here.