Q&A: ChowPourianLab – Elektrokatze custom bicycles

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Hong Kong-based designers Howard Chan, Sonia Chow and Huschang Pourian talk to Jasmine Chan about the launch of the Elektrokatze bicycle

Riding bikes through a city can be a liberating and enjoyable experience. Amsterdam, Tokyo and Paris are a few of the places that come to mind when one thinks of leisurely peddling. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is unlikely to be the first place people would consider for a casual ride, though maybe that’s about to change.

Howard Chan is a true believer in the cycling lifestyle. As the founder of Numb Workshop, an independent fashion and bags label for men and women with a shop located in Causeway Bay, Chan plans to expand his business by starting a bike rental and storage service in the city. 

Bike rental services can be found on the outlying islands of Cheung Chau and Ping Chau, or in Tai Po in the New Territories. But a congested area like Causeway Bay, where Chan plans to map out routes for his customers, is the last place you’d expect to see such a scheme. 

“There are certain checkpoints that we have chosen to allow people to explore places they’ve never been to,” says Chan. “I want to encourage more people to start using bikes, while at the same time make things more convenient for those who are already familiar with cycling.”


HK-based designers Huschang Pourian and Sonia Chow

While Chan prepares to launch the rental service in autumn, the first step for his cycling revolution begins with a collaboration with two notable Hong Kong-based designers – Sonia Chow and Huschang Pourian – and their unique Elektrokatze (‘lightning cat’ in German) bicycles. The married couple moved to Hong Kong from Tokyo in 2007. Soon after, they started ChowPourianLab, a company that specialises in developing independent products and brands. The bikes are part of their Katze Custom project, which won three awards at the Hong Kong Designers Association Awards in 2013. 

The duo never thought about marketing the ElektroKatze, but Chan encouraged them to after a meeting at a cycling event. Now they are available at Numb Workshop and online at katze-customs.com. We talk to Chow and Pourian about their designs and taking the leap into retail.


Image by Calvin Sit

When did you start making bikes? 
Pourian: The whole thing started after a job we did for a client, but we thought that we should make our own bicycle ourselves from scratch as an experiment, and for fun as well. But then it’s like a virus, it catches you and you get addicted. You start researching, going to trade shows and buying books and magazines non-stop until you get an overview of the bike world. 

I got a sense of all the different types and designs that were out there. What I noticed was that the good designs are, of course, not commercial and always in small quantities. This is something that the industry is not happy about. The big companies are destroying prices and not letting anyone [new] enter the market. But what matters are that people are still really happy to cycle. It’s a great tool to move while being environmentally-friendly.

How did you come up with the name? 
C: We got a rescue kitten and it had a kink in its tail that sort of looked like a lightning bolt, so we started to call her Elektro Katze. If you look at the logo, it looks like her. The wordmark is a custom font made by me. If we make other models, Katze will always be in the name.

What makes your bicycles special? 
Chow: Katze Custom bicycles are completely customisable. And when we say completely customisable, we mean it. Whether you want a matte, gloss or chrome finish. Whether you want BMX style handle bars or lower seats, it’s all entirely up to you. Another unique aspect is the colour of the bike. Unlike the standard red, green or black bicycles that are seen everywhere, our bicycles can be any colour you want as long as you can provide a visual swatch of the colour you desire. Katze bicycles are also distinctive because they are appropriate for cycling in the city. It’s more compact and agile compared to other bikes out there, so it’s definitely a city bike.  


Image courtesy of ChowPourianLab

Do you make the bikes yourselves? 
C: The design and style of the bicycle was entirely done by Huschang. The manufacturing of Katze Customs is done by Colossi Cycling.

How long does it take to make a bike? 
P: There are two ways to order a bicycle. To begin, you always start off by ordering a frame and the colour you want, which will take about 10 to 14 days. The first option is for the people who are familiar in this field and have all their separate bicycle parts ready and just need the frame. Or the second way is we help you to define your style through a consultation process. We can source what you want to truly customise your own bike. It’s a very hands on process.

Who are you trying to appeal to?
P: I think it’s only for urban customers. If we were to bring out other models, maybe it can become more commercial. 
C: Adding to what Huschang said, I think Katze bicycles appeal to people who can appreciate design. The concept of the bikes is that they’re made with a focus on design and with an urban lifestyle feel. It’s so simple that it works and fits well with all different types of people. 

How do you feel about the project? 
P: We had a launch party, [and] it was a great feeling to show our product and get feedback, and have different people try it out and observe how people interact with it. It’s a milestone and a nice feeling to be able to say ‘yes, this is my project’. You can put a little flag down on the achievements you make.

Elektrokatze Available at Numb Workshop, G/F, Causeway Place, 25 Haven St, Causeway Bay, 2312 7007; katze-customs.com.

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