The World Cup 2017 for folding bikes: Defending our title? Check!

KLAPP SABBATH is the name of our folding-bike racing team. When it was called out, last in line, at the award ceremony for the World Cup race for folding bikes in Mannheim, we were beyond thrilled.

And the thrill didn’t end there. On the stage, Céphas Bansah, a genuine tribal chief from Ghana, personally presented us with the winners’ trophy, the HORST. “We” refers to Ralf Kien — that’s me — Michael Hofmann, Mike Rinks, and Franz Tobaschus. We’re an extremely close-knit team.

And we’re the successful defenders of the title we won last year in the 24th World Cup race for folding bikes, which was held in the village of Schopp in Germany. This year the time trials for the four-man teams were held in Mannheim.

For me, it was in effect a home game, because I’ve been working for more than a quarter of a century at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Mannheim. During the eight weeks before the World Cup competition, I trained for the race by commuting to work on my folding bike. The many commutes between my front door in the town of Haßloch and the factory gate in Mannheim added up to about 1,400 kilometers of practice.

Reaching the finish line 48 meters ahead of the others

This year our victory was a really close call, because there was very strong competition. The main race consisted of three laps of 1.8 kilometers each, totaling 5.4 kilometers in all, which we completed at an average speed of 40.6 km/h. We reached the finish line four seconds (about 48 meters) before the second-place winners, the “Feuer.Wasser.Blitz” (Fire.Water.Lightning.) team.

In order to have this average speed for the whole race, we had to reach a top speed of 48 km/h on the straight stretches of the route. During my training period, when I was using my racing gears for Mannheim (traversing about eight meters of road per crank revolution), I once even reached a top speed of 53.8 km/h.

Practice makes perfect

The training period for this year’s World Cup was very time-consuming. In addition to my individual training, starting three months before the race we met as a team roughly once a week to train on the Rhine dam between Altrip and Speyer. There we marked out a training route for ourselves that was 5.4 kilometers long and had alteration markers every 450 meters so that we could also perfectly train the changes. That’s because a sprint race like the one in Mannheim is won in the curves and during the switches within the team.

This year we were accompanied by the photojournalist Philipp Sann during the last week before the race. That was a real stroke of luck for us. He’s the man we have to thank for the great photos. He also experienced at first hand just how much commitment and passion we invest in this sport. During the actual race he was one of the enthusiastic fans rooting for our victory.

But what’s folding-bike cycling all about, anyhow?

This is a very special kind of cycling sport.

We ride folding bikes that were made in the 1970s and 1980s. The regulations of this sport permit us to tune them and ride them for fun or compete in street and mountain races. The folding mechanism of the bicycle has to be fully functional, the handlebars have to be original, and the bike has to have 20-inch tires. In addition, the bike is allowed to have only one gear. However, each cyclist can freely choose which gear he wants to install in his bike.

No beard, no start

Folding-bike sport is not only focused on ambitious cycling in itself. It’s also about the spirit of the 1970s and 1980s. For example, every competitor in the World Cup race has to be wearing a genuine 1970s beard. The motto is “No beard, no start.” Women are allowed to have a glue-on beard, but when they register to participate they need to have the event’s official barber, Rainer KLAPP, issue a “certificate of inability to grow a beard” for them.

The teams’ outfits also have to be in a style from the 1970s or 1980s. This year we decided to once again wear really special outfits. As the current titleholders, we expanded the name of our team to “KLAPP SABBATH – The Heroes.” And naturally there was only one kind of costume we could wear: We became superheroes from the comic books of the 1970s — Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and Flash. Our outfits were really popular with the audience and with our fans, and of course that was a real thrill for us.

Cycling at “Benz”?

Yes, lots of it! Ever since I was a trainee, I’ve been regularly riding my racing bike from my home in Haßloch to Mannheim — that’s 72 kilometers every day. That adds up to between 12,000 and 13,000 training kilometers per year just as a result of my daily commute. Without this commute, I wouldn’t be able to practice my sport as ambitiously as I now do. All told, I cycle about 18,000 kilometers per year on all of my bikes — during my leisure time and in competitions. And my daily commute accounts for the largest proportion of my training.

I work as a master craftsman in cylinder head production for truck and bus engines at the Mercedes-Benz engine plant in Mannheim. My teammates and my colleagues jokingly call me “the crazy guy,” because I do so much cycling, especially in the winter. But cycling is also infectious: I’ve been working at “Benz” for almost 26 years now, and during that time I’ve motivated many of my colleagues to ride their bikes to work too. I’m glad I’ve been able to live up to my status as a role model and make a small contribution to Daimler’s many initiatives for promoting its employees’ health!

The perfect balance

To my mind, nothing is more fun than getting on my bike before and after my workday when the weather is fine. If my workday has been stressful, cycling is the perfect way to offset it. In addition, for me cycling combines pleasure with practicality, because it keeps me healthy and fit. This is how I maintain a good work-life balance and do something that’s good for me every day.

By now there are many fans of folding-bike sports among my immediate colleagues, supervisors, and other employees at the plant. When I start growing my 1970s-style beard about three weeks before the World Cup, people often come up to me saying things like, “Oh, is it that time of year again?” or “Wow, that’s a cool beard!” I don’t normally wear a beard, so people are sometimes really amused if they don’t know why I’m growing one.

After one race is over, training for the next one begins

My KLAPP SABBATH teammates and I are still delighted that we were able to defend our title this year. One thing is clear: We’re already training on our bikes for the next challenge!

He’s a master craftsman in cylinder head production at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Mannheim, and he’s trying very hard to transmit his passion for biking to his wife and two daughters.