It is not always the case that a successful entrepreneur has a talent for figures and market analysis, but also brings a passion to every single product. This is the case for Roman Arnold.
As a young man, he was an enthusiastic racing cyclist, and it was his passion for bike racing that first brought him to the business. Over his last 30 years with Canyon, Arnold has built a steadily growing, internationally successful bicycle company that specializes in road bikes, used in competitions by professional Tour de France cyclists. An iron discipline, tireless stamina and a good amount of assertiveness, as well as a feeling of freedom and independence, are all characteristics of the competitive sport that have remained with him – and which now benefit him as an entrepreneur.
The history of Canyon is a family story. Because Roman’s father didn’t only want to stand and wave on the sidelines of his son’s road races, he decided to purchase cheap Italian bike parts in order to sell them on at a profit during the tours. Out of this enterprise first developed a small garage company, then a mail-order business for pro cyclists. Today, Canyon develops, designs and assembles its own bikes out of their factory in Koblenz. There, just like close friends, we visited Roman to talk about his love for the two-wheeler.
I can still remember the feeling I had when I learned how to ride a bike: great freedom.
Roman, can you still remember how you learned to ride a bike?
Yes, very well in fact. It was in Löf, when I was three years old. With help from my older brother Lothar, I practised on a used Puki-Rad. He held me steady and eventually I went all by myself. I can still remember that feeling when I no longer toppled over: complete freedom.
As teenagers, most people start to feel the necessity of changing from two wheels to something motorized. Was it different for you?
Initially, no. It was my greatest wish to get a motorbike for my fifteenth birthday. That summer, shortly before the big day, we drove to the Adriatic via the Brenner mountain pass – and there I saw the cyclists. I was so inspired that I decided to wish for a racing bike instead of the motorbike. Directly after the holiday, we bought the bike: a Peugeot PY10.
When you were younger, you also participated in races. What do you like about racing sports?
In general, what I like about cycling is the feeling of freedom – to move with your own strength, experiencing the wind and the rain. And for racing, I really like the discipline. It is different than team sports like football; in cycling, whether you’re successful or not entirely depends on you. Being able to suffer sometimes, to be persistent, to have goals and to reach them – that for me signifies true independence.
Why didn’t you become a professional cyclist, and instead became a professional bicycle manufacturer?
I actually had an invitation from a sports company, but immediately after I graduated from high school, my father died. I decided not to cycle anymore, but manage our garage business with my younger brother instead. Also, I wouldn’t have become a very successful professional cyclist because I’m too big and too heavy. But many of the characteristics that are important in competitive sports – discipline, perseverance and the ability to assert yourself – have since helped me to succeed in business. Strategy and tactics are also important in cycling.
So, making a career out of your passion was the logical step for you?
It all started because my father wanted to accompany me to my races and not just sit and watch from the roadside. We then shopped for goods together in Italy and he sold them out of a trailer while I was cycling. That was a lot of fun for both of us and brought us very close together. When my father died, it was clear to me that I wanted to continue this business. I then worked together with my brother out of our garage at home and did some training in wholesale and foreign trade, and then later in bike mechanics.
Canyon was founded in 1985 and ran until 1996 under the name “Radsport Arnold.” To begin with, you only sold from external manufacturers. Why did you decide to not only work as a dealer, but as a producer as well?
The interest has developed slowly and steadily. I knew that I eventually wanted to see my bikes at the Tour de France and with team sponsorship. To influence the design of a product meant the realization of a dream for me: to be able to express myself through my own products. We develop, test and assemble our bikes here in Koblenz and only sell them directly.
Good design is extremely important to us. The design directive that is essential for us is: simple, precise, dynamic.
What was the very first bike solely from Canyon?
A mountain bike, model FX1000.
As a former cyclist, you know the importance of good function. Where do you stand on the importance of form?
Good design is extremely important to us. Our products must be aesthetically pleasing and timeless. The design directive that applies to us is “Simple, Precise, Dynamic.”
In what way do trends play a role for you?
We are continuously developing our products. At best, we can trigger a trend, and that makes us proud. But we don’t just jump on the bandwagon. Many things come to us of their own accord. For example, at the moment we don’t sell any e-bikes, although it is totally an industry trend.
A longing for nature and the desire to be fit and slim are also growing trends among city dwellers. Do these trends manifest themselves in the bike industry?
We are seeing a change in society: people want to cycle to work or be seen as sporty among their friends. For this reason, we need a bike that corresponds to our spirit. We had the idea of developing such a “Free Time Bike” just for our employees. In the end, the “Urban” series emerged from this.
Canyon is the official outfitter for top racing athletes; for example, in 2009, Australian Cadel Evans took the world title on a Canyon bike. Are you proud?
Yes, bursting with pride!
What are your goals for the future of Canyon at this top level?
We want to win the overall standings in the Tour de France as soon as possible. That would be the greatest achievement at the level in which we operate. Also, to win the Iron Man in Hawaii would be pretty good.
You also actively support young talent. Why?
As a former racer, I know how difficult it is to finance cycling. This is a major challenge for many parents. I also wanted to give something back to the sport that has given me so much.
What has been the best moment so far in this association?
It makes me really happy when I see some of the kids today who are real professional cyclists and race in successful teams. Lucas Liss has become the World Champion in track cycling and Jonas Bokeloh is the Junior World Champion, to name just a couple.
Do you still cycle a lot in your free time?
I would like to cycle more. I always intend to do it. At the moment, I do 2000 km a year. Previously, there was a management team race at Canyon every Tuesday for anyone who wanted it; it was a kind of lap to end the day. We are now starting that up again.
How do you travel to work every day?
In the summer, I ride my bike a bit more often, but I have to take the children to nursery by car. In principle, however, we strongly encourage cycling amongst our employees. We now have a pool of around 60-70 bikes which every employee can use, especially on the weekends.
Which bike tour would you recommend?
For ages now, I’ve been going once a year with my friends to L’Eroica, where we cycle with old bikes on natural roads in the Tuscan heat. For me, that’s always a highlight – and it’s also my motivation to train.
Thank you, Roman, for this exciting tour of the cycling world of Canyon. More information on Canyon’s current designs can be found on their website.