I'm excited to bring you an interview with a very talented and dynamic female change agent in the bike industry. Claudia Wasko is the Business Unit Leader of Bosch eBike Systems Americas, a division of Robert Bosch LLC Germany. She's responsible for all operational activities in eBike Systems within North and South America, and has been based now out of Irvine California for about two years.
Since joining Bosch in 1994 Claudia has held numerous positions with increasing responsibility and in 2009 she was the co-founder of the business unit Bosch eBike Systems in Germany. In 2014 she led the launch of Bosch eBikes Americas headquartered in Irvine California.
Melissa Balmer: Claudia what's your earliest happy memory riding a bike?
Claudia Wasko: In my childhood I usually spent the summer with my grandparents who had a wonderful allotment with many fruit trees and berry bushes. I still can remember the first time my grandma took me to this paradise on her bike, in a child’s bike seat which has been mounted on the handlebar. I can still see this green little thing which did not have anything to do with today’s state-of-the art seats - fully adjustable for the perfect fit and the ultimate comfort, along with advanced safety features. So my ride was definitively not a smooth ride one for the 2 of us, but nevertheless nothing could get in the way of the thrill of the ride through the beautiful German countryside.
MB: How did you get selected to come to the United States to lead Bosch's electric bike operations?
CW: In July 2009, the eBike department was established in Germany as a project within the Bosch Group and I had been one of its two project leaders. After the decision to establish this product division had been made, the two of us founded a start-up and managed all related activities such as searching for our office and recruiting a team. So, I have been the co-founder of Bosch eBike Systems, if you will. When we decided in 2013 to enter the market in the US the role of the GM for Bosch eBike Systems Americas was kind of tailor-made for me. I was part of the success story of Bosch eBike Systems in Europe, had both the internal and external network and experience to start a business from scratch. Plus, in former positions I had had many business relations with customers in the US.
MB: Why did Bosch decide to headquarter its U.S. electric bike division in Southern California?
CW: California is the main bicycling commuting region in the US – it has a great bike friendly infrastructure for commuting and also fantastic trails for recreational purpose – of course the climate is a huge plus, too. Furthermore many companies out of the outdoor and bike industry are located in SoCal, e. g. Oakley, Felt, BH Bikes, Electra Bicycle, Campagnolo, and Crank Brothers. Also, important trade magazines as BRAIN have their office here. A major part of the US bicycle industry can be found in CA which is also attractive from a hiring perspective.
MB: Germany has seen incredible growth in the electric bike market over the past decade - do you feel the same energy and interest building for the U.S. eBike market?
CW: If we take a look back at the developments of recent years in Europe, we see that the eBike has secured a permanent place as a great item of sports and leisure equipment. It stands primarily for electromobility that offers unlimited riding enjoyment.
The US market is about 5-10 years behind, but we are convinced that this fun can also be transferred to the U.S. and that the eBike will be a complete success. With its high quality, reliability, and attention to dealer service, Bosch will play its part in establishing the eBike market in the years to come. We are convinced that it is possible to continue the success story of eBikes in the U.S., and we expect dynamic market development with attractive growth rates.
What are the main drivers?
- Demographic reasons: Gen Y (some 100 million people) will trigger an (e)bike boom in the coming years.
- Technological aspects: recognized technical system solutions characterized by high quality and reliability are available now. Also, eBikes have conquered every bike type, e. g. city, cargo and also Mountain Bikes (MTBs).
- Environmental aspects: freedom from emissions and environmental sustainability
Of course, we need to continue to work on the regulatory environment (through People for Bikes and the Bicycle Products Suppliers Association) to remove market uncertainty and also potential barriers to eBike use on public property, including roads, trails, and commuter paths.
MB: The U.S. has nowhere near the number of women riding as does Western Europe, especially in places like Belgium, Denmark and Germany. What do you feel the U.S. needs to do in order to make casual bicycling for errands or fun more appealing for women here?
CW: Making biking more comfortable and irresistible is one of the most important components in increasing female ridership. Why do we see some of the highest rates of women's ridership in our top Bicycle Friendly Communities, like Portland and San Francisco? Because those cities have made investments to make bicycling more appealing. Communities need to be safer and more comfortable, they need:
» more (separated / protected) bike lanes and bike paths.
» local streets with lower traffic and speeds that prioritize people walking and biking.
Our recently conducted market research study has proven: Safety concern is a main barrier to (e)bike ownership, especially observed with women.
And of course eBikes (especially eCargo bikes and City eBikes) transfer the daily “running errands” into fun. Because they provide an extra tailwind and flatten every hill.
MB: What type of projects or programs does Bosch have specifically to engage women?
CW: Examples: women@bosch
In 1995 the management board of the Bosch group released the women@bosch network, and Bosch took over a pioneering task in the matter of advancement of women. In the beginning the focus then was firmly on the subjects of equal opportunity and increasing the profile of women and their job performance. Since these early days the network has progressed and expanded considerably, and is now firmly anchored within the Bosch Group. Additional aspects and focal points have been added. In particular, there is now a greater focus on internationalization and the concepts of relationships and networking. Exchanging ideas and information with other women around the world, on both a formal and informal level, help promote and consolidate women’s career and personal development. women@bosch is the ideal platform for all women who go for advancement and enter a career path, either within Bosch or privately. It offers the chance to go for goals actively. Within this network, the women of all locations, departments and hierarchy meet..
Diversity is one of our main values. To promote greater diversity in the future the worldwide Diversity Initiative was launched in 2011. It focuses on four different areas: gender, generations, international character, and culture.
The awareness campaign introduces diversity to all associates through measures such as posters, associate testimonials, leadership forums, department meetings, web-based training and various other communication mediums.
Talking about gender, at Bosch we believe that mixed-gender teams are more successful because they utilize the potential offered by different perspectives and solution strategies. We therefore promote mixed teams at all levels and draw on the entire talent pool.
MB: You've inspired the creation of the mid range drive and it's had a dramatic impact on the industry. Can you share how that came about and what happened?
CW: I don't want to personally take credit for the mid-drive eBike as it has been a huge team effort within Bosch.
Several years ago, we at Bosch thoroughly studied all types of propulsion system concepts before deciding with full conviction to develop a mid-drive motor. Mid drives allow you to use the bike’s transmission as the motor’s gears, so the electric motor can run in its optimum RPM range. This translates to a happier more efficient motor and a lighter better balanced e-bike. Overall they are superior to hub wheel motors in terms of performance, weight distribution or handling and maintenance. Especially climbing hills, or even mountains, they can be the cream of the crop.
The launch of our system in 2011 initiated a tremendous mid-drive motor trend in Europe, one of the biggest eBike markets of the world. We at Bosch claim to have kick-started the eMTB market because our system has been and still is the ideal drive for off-road.
MB: Where's your favorite place to ride bikes now?
That really depends on the bike type I choose for my ride … I have 3 bikes sitting in my apartment. For a tri or roadbike trip in CA I like Santiago and Silverado Canyon, also Mount Baldy,For a MTB ride Aliso and Woods Canyon Park. Back in Europe I always loved Italy, South Tyrol for road, Lago di Garda for MTB.