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July 26, 2017

In communist Romania, almost every child had a Pegas bicycle. In a country cut off from the outside world, the state-owned company’s distinctive bikes were all people knew. However, with the violent end of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s reign in 1989, all that changed.

Foreign brands flooded in, and Romanians ditched their Pegas bikes along with other vestiges of the communist-era, and the company shut its last production lines in 2001.

In 2012 four 30-somethings bought the lapsed trademark to the brand with the idea of recreating the bikes of their childhood, and set about updating the designs for the 21st century. The idea came after one of them started to look for a suitable replacement for his imported bike, which had been stolen; something that looked cool but was also less likely to entice thieves.

“After the revolution no one valued Romanian products, but now that’s changing,” says Andrei Botescu, one of the co-founders and the company’s general manager. “These bikes now resemble memories from childhood. Partly it’s about going back to find our roots,” he says.

The team brought back some of the distinctive touches from the bikes of the 60s and 70s, including the elongated “banana” seats and chopper-style handlebars, and decided to alter the colour schemes each year so people would know which generation you rode. They marketed them to 30- and 40-somethings with fond memories of the bikes of their youths.

“We have lots of clients in their 30s, 40s, 50s, who once had a Pegas, but we also have young customers who want a cool Romanian brand to make a statement,” Botescu adds.

The Pegas relaunch began tentatively, with 500 bikes sold in 2012. But the new versions struck a nerve in Romania, and numbers doubled each year. In 2016 they sold 10,000 bikes. This was helped by the chief executive of eMAG, Romania’s version of Amazon, buying a majority stake in the company in late 2015, giving Pegas the funds to grow faster; the company is hoping to sell 20,000 bikes this year.

The brand’s reappearance has timed with the growth of a bike culture in Romania, as well as a desire among many young Romanians to have local products they can feel proud of.

“After joining the EU, along with increased globalisation, people realised they’d lost a bit of national identity,” says Alexandru Manda, Pegas’ marketing manager. “People with our bikes are reconnecting with their history and a beloved old brand.”

Increasingly, older Romanians are also digging out their long forgotten, communist-era bikes and getting them restored. “Some people love their old Pegas bikes; they have an emotional value and don’t care if they have to pay more to repair one than it would cost for a new bike,” says Botescu.

The Pegas headquarters, down a rundown, non-descript street in the Romanian capital Bucharest, is half shop, half workshop. New bikes and accessories hang on racks out front, while in the back employees fix up or refurnish new and old bikes. The company now has 23 staff, including four designers.

“To work here you have to have had a Pegas as a child,” jokes Manda. “We have some young blood working here who weren’t born in the 1980s, but their first bikes were the new Pegas bikes.”.

Pegas bikes were once churned out at a factory in the heart of Romania that also produced weapons. One popular joke at the time concerned a factory worker who was stealing parts to build a bike for his son, only to find that no matter how he assembled them he made a gun. The new Pegas team initially relied on foreign manufacturers for parts, but are now aiming to establish a production facility in Zarnesti, the city in which the original bikes were produced.

Many bikes have been bought by Romanians living abroad, but the company is now looking to target non-Romanians.

“People from other communist countries also connect with us. They had their own brands; not Pegas, but similar designs,” says Botescu. “Our main model, with the banana seat, was launched in the 60s in many countries. It’s a retro style for everyone,” he adds.

Despite this, Pegas’s core demographic is Romanians who lived through the era when the bikes were all that were available.

But there are already multiple generations engaging with the restored brand. “Parents are buying their kids Pegas bikes,” says Manda. “It’s a new generation – they had the bikes as a child and are now buying for their own kids.”

www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2017/jul/26/pegas-reborn-romania-communist-bicycle-returns-with-oomph-and-style