As of this morning, Rapha is back. Bigger, bolder, and with beer! The premium cycling brand broke the mould when it opened its first Clubhouse in Soho, London back in 2012 – at a time when there were just a handful of cycle shop cafes in Britain. As London’s stores reopened at long last Monday, it hopes to repeat the trick, after a complete refurbishment that aims to ride the extraordinary growth in cycling sales during lockdown.
Indeed, Rapha’s flagship destination has relaunched at almost twice the size, with a wider product range, personal shopping, upgraded fitting rooms and – most importantly – a large ‘experiential space’ to celebrate the culture of cycling, with a larger café area for its riding community and a packed events and rides calendar, with rides every day.
The move in part reflects the fact that U.K. bike retailers and manufacturers are struggling to keep up with unprecedented demand as the cycling boom rolls on, with sales of bicycles, including accessories, services and components, up by 41% in January, compared with a year earlier, maintaining a similar rate of growth of 45% across 2020 according to the Bicycle Association.
Cycle servicing rose by similar levels as families dusted down old bicycles lost at the back of their garden sheds and garages, or looked to refurbish second-hand acquisitions as new bikes proved increasingly hard to find.
Sports warehouse retailer Decathlon reports that electric bikes and sporty road machines are currently selling particularly well, up 170% and 65%, respectively, in the opening quarter of this year, while sales of hybrids and commuter bikes are already ahead of 2020. It’s an issue exacerbated in the U.K. because deliveries are also being held up by a worldwide shortage of shipping containers and additional Brexit import issues.
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Rapha CEO: By Far The Biggest Bike Club In The World
No wonder then that when I caught up with Simon Mottram, Rapha founder and CEO, immediately ahead of the opening of Rapha’s London Clubhouse, he was hugely excited about the future for both the brand and cycling in general.
Mottram, sitting in his new emporium, said: “Rapha Clubhouses exist to help our customers to find the products they want but more importantly to help them get closer to the cycling community and closer to the sport itself. We set out to create a club feeling and we’ve grown to 20,000 members worldwide and 4,000 in London alone. We are by far the biggest bike club in the world.”
As part of that strategy – in the U.K. a membership costs $96 annually in an approach which is more culturally aligned to the approach taken by the likes of sports brands LuluLemon and Peloton than to rival bike makers – weekly rides will head out from the Clubhouse and Mottram stressed that although Rapha has long-standing relationships with experienced riders, the company wants to help encourage the pandemic-enthused generation of new cyclists and novice riders.
Pointing to the still relatively quiet streets of London’s West End, he said: “You only have to look at the number of people on their bikes because the roads are less busy to understand the huge demand if we can give people safer and easier places to ride. The type of people who call themselves cyclists is broadening all the time and it’s crucial that we make getting on a bike as accessible as possible. Build, and they will come.”
Rapha Clubhouse Focusing On Social Soho
While many Rapha Clubhouses exist around the world, Soho London is the original and global flagship but has been somewhat hampered by its size. Doubling its floor space and obtaining an alcohol licence this summer will change all that, allowing the retailer to become a drop-in location before and after work, said Mottram.
It will, he hopes, act as a community hub and place to meet like-minded people. Organised group rides will be rolling out every day of the week, from beginner’s laps to women’s rides to high tempo sessions, plus annual events like the Compass Challenge and Women’s 100.
The Clubhouse will also be stocked with the latest kit and exclusive, Clubhouse-only releases and services. Members of Rapha’s Cycling Club get access to additional RCC-only rides and events, early access to product launches, access to Canyon bike hire worldwide and discounted coffee in all its Clubhouses and RCC partner cafes.
Its first exhibition chronicles Rapha’s history with a Stitches in Time retrospective on the Rapha cycling jersey, from its launch in 2004 to the Palace collaboration for last year’s Giro, featuring highlights from Team Sky TISI to its longstanding relationship with fashion designer Paul Smith.
At a time when London’s West End is reopening with many familiar retail names missing from its premier shopping streets, Rapha’s investment in physical space is a welcome reminder that some sectors have boomed from changing behaviors and priorities. It’s betting that bikes mean business.