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Can you tell us about your work?
Three VIT graduates are determined to give the bicycle a much-needed image makeover through their company, Scolarian Bikes in Coimbatore
Somy Sridas, Sachin Kishore and Varun Moorthy don’t get much sleep. “We do some of our best work at night,” says Somy, discussing how they’ve turned a 2000 sq. ft. house into a home, office and warehouse. “We begin at 11.00 a.m. and end at about 4.00 a.m.,” he says, and adds , “And we love it. The only thing we love is making things!” They do, however, routinely take one break. “That’s when all three of us ride our bicycles out to some café. This way we get cake, as well as new customers. Because people always stop us and ask about our cycles.”
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
When the trio graduated from Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai, (mechanical Engineering) in June 2014, they set themselves a task to give the everyday bicycle a modern makeover.
“Riding a bicycle is a part of our childhood memories,” says Somy. However, younger people, especially those aged between 23 and 29 tend to boycott bicycles. They don’t want to be seen riding one.” They decided to start working on finding ways to fit cycling into modern lives. “We wanted to create a product that looks aesthetic and is also well-engineered. We are working on this, while popularising it as an ideal option for the urban commute. Given the volume of traffic we see in big cities, we feel “a fixie” is the best possible option.”
So, the three B.Tech graduates formed Scolarian Bikes, a hardware start-up that handcrafts fixies — bicycles with fixed gears. “We wanted a name that that never existed. Scolarian doesn’t mean anything, so we intend to give it a new meaning. People should now associate the word with protective armour, because of our company. That’s why our logo is armour and an embedded sword.” The name — and philosophy behind it — becomes easier to understand when you realise that Somy is just 24 years old, and his two partners are 23. Their company, they admit, was funded by their parents, who together put in Rs. 30 lakh as Scolarian’s initial investors. “They were happy to support us. They just said do something productive,” says Samy.
How did you gain the skills to venture into bicycle design?
Fortunately, the team had experience to build on. In VIT, they participated in Baja SAE, an intercollegiate design competition run by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) at national and international levels. “It’s a competition in which teams of students from all over the world design and build single-seater all-terrain vehicles from scratch. We apply engineering knowledge to design unique vehicles,” says Somy. Varun had been a part of Formula SAE Japan, where student design teams design and manufacture formula-style cars and take them to the racing competition. They also still have a patent pending on a mountain bike they designed as part of their final year project. “It has unique suspension mounting. But is not ready to be released commercially; it needs more research.”
While more Indians are showing an interest in high-end bicycles, the team says the market can be daunting. “Every year, 15 million roll out in India,” says Somy, “But of that just about two lakhs are premium cycles, all priced between 15 to 25 thousand.”
What is your USP?
Operating out of Coimbatore, the one-year-old start-up focuses on its main strength: intuitive engineering. Since their products are fairly simple, with minimalistic parts, they say stocks don’t require much space. “We basically see ourselves as a design firm. The bicycles are basically 10 to 15 parts. We use about eight tools. When we get an order, we put it all together and then ship it out,” says Samy. “Mass manufacturing is not the way to go. We want to be the face of our bikes. Afters spending several months on design, technology, prototype… we have a set design but there is always room for improvement,” says Sachin.
After officially launching in Bangalore in March this year, the young engineers are happy with sales, even though they sell just about 6-7 bikes a month right now. “Instead of taking on the big companies head-on, we bring a different aspect to biking: how the bike can be better for you. We involve customers in building the bike and also educate them on how they can dismantle it and put it back together. This way, they also enjoy the touch-and-feel connect with the bike,” says Sachin.
Customer satisfaction has been a driving factor for Scolarian. “All our bikes come with fixed gear, and the rider is connected physically and psychologically. Our customers call us to share how every ride helps them control stress,” says Somy. Varun adds, “We are also available to customers 24/7. When there is a problem, they just call us. It is the personal connect that builds confidence.”
“We didn’t want to get lost in the virtual world. A start-up, especially hardware, is considered difficult. It’s not true: there are people out there to help you,” says Varun. Sachin adds, “There is nothing to lose. There are no risks; it’s just a learning curve.”