Up until 2012, bike construction was dominated by derailleur and hub gears. That changed with the innovative new gearbox from Pinion – an impressive combination of longevity, low maintenance, precision and closely spaced gear ratios. The compact gearbox component is integrated into the frame – in the same place where you would usually find the bottom bracket or mid-drive. Today, more than 100 brands sell bikes with the patented Pinion gearboxes. And in the gearbox-equipped touring and adventure bike segment, Pinion is even market leader. The products are developed and produced in Denkendorf near Stuttgart by a team of approx. 40 employees. Among them is Dirk Stölting, an industrial designer who heads the design and marketing team.

We spoke to Dirk Stölting about the company’s interdisciplinary development strategy, bike design, external designers and e-bikes.

Dirk Stölting, industrial designer
Mr Stölting, a gearbox is actually a purely technical product – and yet Pinion employs a design team. Why?
In our opinion, design is an integral part of any modern product development. So at Pinion, design isn’t limited to aesthetics, it includes user-friendly functionality and the interaction with the product and brand as well. Like whether to use a twist grip or trigger for shifting, for instance, because that’s the actual interface between the user and our product. We pay very close attention to the acoustic aspects of the riding and shifting experience too. At Pinion, design starts before the product and goes far beyond it. It’s integrated into every stage and step of the customer journey.
That calls for different areas of expertise – how is your design team made up?
Our 14-strong development team has an interdisciplinary lineup, with product developers, engineers, industrial and UX designers and marketing people all working with one another directly. They’re all part of the brand’s creative team. That way, we can make the most of the potential provided by all sorts of different perspectives and fine-tune every touchpoint the user has with the product and brand. For us, the term “design” stands for a certain way of thinking rather than a certain role.
You’re a designer yourself – what’s your role within the team like in concrete terms?
Besides being an industrial designer I’m head of marketing too, so together with my small team I contribute important input throughout the entire product development process. For me, the essential areas of focus – and the things I’m passionate about – are preparing usage scenarios and requirement specifications in the concept phase and the form, ergonomics and surface design during the design phase. I see product design as three-dimensional brand messaging and therefore as one of many important components in the customer experience as a whole. In my view, my role as head of marketing is the perfect complement to that.

How relevant is design in the bike sector in general?
Immensely! The bike is in the process of transforming from something that’s used purely as a piece of sports equipment or an auxiliary means of transport into a serious vehicle. As a result, design is becoming more and more relevant. Customer benefit, independence and innovativeness are firmly anchored in the bike sector. There’s also permanent competition to come up with the best vehicle concepts. It’s a sector where design’s potential as an interdisciplinary field is very much in demand. I would say that design – when it’s used correctly and extensively – is a decisive factor in our industry.

One major trend right now is “total integration”, i.e. dissolving the conglomerate of components that a bike consists of. It’s all about developing overall concepts for a bike’s functionality and design. The shifting system plays a key role in that because our gearboxes are actually the only meaningful way to integrate it.
Where does Pinion produce? As a developer, is it important for you to be close to your production site?
All our transmission components, i.e. automotive-quality gears and shafts, are 100% made in Germany. We also have injection-moulded plastic parts produced in the region. The coordination with regional specialists is outstanding, and the same goes for the tooling and component quality.

Who typically rides a bike with a Pinion gearbox?
We have a very broad-based clientele. We offer gearboxes that are ideal for virtually any purpose. But our roots are definitely in the high-end touring and adventure bike segment. And in the meantime, discerning individualists appreciate the benefits of our innovation and carefree technology for mountain bikes too. Clean, quiet and wear-free drive trains are becoming standard. We’ve been seeing huge growth in demand in the e-bike segment for years now. Our gearboxes are based on sophisticated automotive technology, and in combination with a belt drive and rear motor they deliver the ideal drive train. Derailleur gears just aren’t the right thing in this case. More and more commuters, cargo or lifestyle e-bikers appreciate that. The bike is turning into a proper vehicle.
You make what’s actually a classic bought-in part, if you don’t mind me saying so. How important is the exchange with OEMs and how do you involve the users of the gearbox?
No, Pinion isn’t a bought-in part at all. Our gearboxes are an integral part of the bike. The manufacturers mostly create their bikes in close collaboration with us. We and the OEM product managers actively factor user requirements into the equation.
Do you work with external designers as well?
Not often. Our processes are very agile and specific to us, which makes it harder to involve external development partners. But when it’s a question of getting an outside perspective, we’re more than happy to bring external designers and advisers on board. That normally happens before a concrete product development when we’re looking at aspects like the user experience, ergonomics or the brand.
Where does Pinion stand in the international market?
In addition to Germany, we have a very strong presence in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. Those are countries where bikes play an important role in people’s day-to-day lives. We also have a good setup in North America; we laid the foundations back in 2018 when we partnered with Denver-based belt drive manufacturer Gates to open our own branch. And developments in France, Spain, Poland and Scandinavia are promising too. We run our entire European business out of our headquarters in Denkendorf near Stuttgart.
Do you ride a Pinion-equipped bike yourself?
Oh yes! My go-to bike is an Enduro MTB with a C1.12 gearbox. And we’ve just built ourselves a cargo bike for the family, equipped with a rear motor, Gates belt drive and P1.9 gearbox. It’s great fun for shopping, taking the kids to preschool or days out.
You design made-to-last products that help protect the climate when they’re used instead of taking the car. Do you think design in general should be coming up with more answers to the major issues of our time?
Our understanding of design needs to change. Design shouldn’t be part of a boundless consumption and growth maxim any more. Design that doesn’t factor in the aspects that contribute to sustainable, climate- and resource-friendly economic activity isn’t good. In my opinion, Dieter Rams’ principles are more valid than ever. Everyone involved with value creation needs to commit even more to finding new answers. And designers are predestined for that.

Pinion GmbH

In 2006 students Christoph Lermen and Michael Schmitz, who had met while working on the development of the Porsche transmission, decided to design a new type of encapsulated gearshift for bikes that would rank in the same league as automotive technology. The two of them registered their first patent in 2007 and founded Pinion a year later. The first gearbox crossed the Himalayas in 2010, and in 2012 the firm started large-scale production in Denkendorf. Today Pinion sells five types of gearboxes with different transmission characteristics for trekking, mountain, city, cargo and e-bikes.