From luxury cars to precision machinery, “Made in Germany” still means quality craftsmanship around the world. But the Teutonic attention to detail goes far beyond engineering. This series will feature a diverse array of products from both well-known German brands and less famous firms. But no matter big or small, all of them are focused on being the best at what they do.
When their son Niklas was two years old, Rolf Mertens and his wife Beate wanted to encourage his love of movement but knew he wasn’t old enough to ride a bicycle. So Mr. Mertens, a trained product designer, set about creating a special wooden vehicle back in 1997. A bicycle without pedals, little Niklas could sit and push with his feet to ride around. “We wanted to test and see if he could keep his balance,” said Mrs. Mertens. “He loved to move all the time, running around, climbing, and we wanted to give him a toy that let him live out this love of movement.”
The test proved more successful than they could have anticipated. “We were absolutely surprised he could manage the balance nearly right away,” said Mrs. Mertens. “He loved it! After a while he only put it down to eat and sleep.”
The family lived just outside of the western German city of Aachen, and whenever they Niklas rode the contraption in public, they were bombarded with questions about where they got it. Inspired by the response, Mr. Mertens quit his job. Along with his brother, Alfred, a school teacher, they dubbed the little vehicle a LIKEaBIKE, and founded the Kokua company in their living room. “Kokua was a fantasy name,” explained Mrs. Mertens, who has a background in economics. “My husband and his brother invented it as a name for the little woods next to their childhood home, where they would play.” As it turned out, the word Kokua does exist: In Hawaiian, it means “help.” “We were very happy when we found out it had this meaning, but we didn’t know at the time.”
And ‘help’ is just what their children’s toy does. The LIKEaBIKE is good for kids too young for a regular bicycle, but it’s also popular, in a larger size, for older children who suffer from developmental issues like Down’s syndrome.
Kokua now has several models on the market, costing between €159 and €229. The bikes are built in the Erzgebirge Mountains, using environmentally friendly materials like beech and birch. They have attracted attention from all over the globe, and are sold in nearly all countries in the Western world. The company’s newest products include an alloy bicycle (with pedals).
Niklas, now 15, is too old to test the bikes’ crash capabilities, as he did in the beginning. But thanks to his early intrepidness coupled with his parent’s ingenuity, Kokua now employs 25 people all focused on getting kids rolling in life.