- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 27 October 2012
Whenever I met the KNOG team at trade shows they always invited me to visit their office in Melbourne. On my trip from Sydney to Melbourne for Ausbike, I finally checked in at KNOG HQ. The team is really easy-going and they were happy to have me over and reveal the inner workings of their successful bike accessory company.
When you walk in to KNOG you know instantly that they are a design company. The modern building features open plan spaces with a showroom, work areas and meeting areas. It is far from clinical – evidence of creativity is everywhere: sketches, CAD renderings, prototypes and even mockups of point-of-sale displays.
KNOG started about eight years ago as a spin-off brand of a successful industrial design company (catalyst) and has grown so that the company is now 100% KNOG. They began by reinventing the bicycle light and produced the successful silicon “KNOG frog”, but straight away they were faced with a challenge: “Are we one-hit-wonders or are we really good at what we do? Can we reinvent something that we reinvented the first time?”
CMO Michael Lelliott is a cycling fanatic, the type of guy you would imagine to have an enviable collection of urban bikes in his apartment and who loves to cruise through the city on his bike at night. When he talks about the products the company creates it is not just passion, there is also a sense of relaxed methodology. KNOG has created an identity and they know where they are going and how to get there; it involves a good dose of fun.
KNOG lights and locks are born in a relaxed and creative workspace
When I sat down at the KNOG HQ, two of Michael’s marketing colleagues joined us: Englishman Sean and Spaniard Tania. Michael took the lead, but only after getting a supply of locks and lights so that he could hold the products in his hands as he talked about them. I wanted to know about the design progress; how do they get the ideas and what does it take to make a finished product?
According to the KNOG team, from start to finish it takes about a year and begins with the team of designers getting together and brainstorming. The constant process of reviewing existing products and improving the technology leads to new ideas. Michael explained “One side of the brand is having fun and being Aussie in our humour and approach, but from the product design point of view it is about what can we do that is different. What can we do that it is different from a design point of view? What can we do that is different from a technical point of view? What materials can we use to make something that hasn’t been seen before?”
For the current series of blinder lights, for example, KNOG took on customer feedback, such as the light switched on inside people’s bags, and derived a solution: to turn the lights on you need to press the button down for two seconds and toggle modes by pressing once. The initial problem was resolved though at the cost of a small, but easy to overcome learning curve understanding how the new switch works.
USB charging was an improvement from an environmental perspective (i.e. no batteries to dispose of) and it also meant that the lights could become a sealed unit and become (fishtank) waterproof. New smaller lithium polymer batteries allowed a freedom in design without compromising performance.
A team of 20 designers, including industrial designers, design engineers and electronic engineers, sees the team moving from sketches to Computer Aided Design (CAD) before creating prototypes (via rapid prototyping). The electronic engineers further develop the product so that working prototypes can be created and tested. It is a continual process of optimisation and refinement before the factory is involved to look into tooling, electronics and production before they deliver the first off-tool samples which go into testing. It takes about a year from original conception until the factories are ready to deliver the final product into shops.
The KNOG workshop for hands-on creation and testing
Rapid Prototyping is followed by painting to create a mockup of a proposed new light
If imitation is the ultimate flattery, then KNOG have been well and truly flattered; there are a lot of imitation silicon bike lights on the market. At this year’s Eurobike, the team was shocked to see that top German brand ABUS had released a lock remarkably similar to their Strongman lock, a modern heavy duty U-Lock with Silicon over moulding.
“When we arrived at Eurobike this year, ABUS had made a lock that was incredibly similar to ours and that was a bit of a surprise, not really a happy one. Our BNA [laughs], DNA is originality and innovation, so we pride ourselves on that. It is one of our driving factors”
This goes to show that KNOG have grown significantly from their roots in the fixie scene to being a full-blown mainstream cycling brand – you will spot KNOG lights in the bunches cruising up and down Beach Road as well as on commuter bikes and mountain bikes.
Lights make up 80% of KNOG’s global sales and this is where their future lies as well. Tania showed me prototypes of the next generation lights which are not just lights to be seen, they are lights to see with at 220 and 350 lumens. They are well suited to road cyclists who are always demanding more lumens, but minimise weight and do away with external battery packs. Without revealing too many secrets, I can say that they will feature USB recharging and should be released in February 2013.
Tania Sanchez from Madrid is one of the fresh faces of the international brand
Even though they’re an Aussie brand, KNOG doesn’t market itself as identifiably Australian. “Heritage doesn’t play a part in our brand DNA at all” comments Michael “it all comes back to originality of the product, the fun that we’re having with it and more and more the technical prowess”.
Though KNOG have set their sights on becoming the number one bicycle lighting brand globally, they won’t loose the cheeky advertising and fun-ness of KNOG any time soon.
KNOG online : www.knog.com.au