A well-known UK bike brand, Ribble is synonymous with the sport of cycling in ‘the old dart’. So much so, soon after arriving Heathrow Airport during a recent trip, I walked out of the terminal to jump on a bus and saw a cyclist approaching. Sure enough, he was riding a Ribble.
A relatively rare brand here in Australia, it has been our mission for three or so years to review a Ribble. Finally coming to fruition, while in London, we picked up a Ribble’s Gravel Ti, their super-versatile, titanium-framed allroad offering.
And while there in the UK we also enjoyed the opportunity of getting to know more about the Ribble bike brand by visiting one of their retail showrooms and also meeting several members of team Ribble, including CEO Andy Smallwood.
A Rich Heritage
Offering a fascinating insight into one of the world’s oldest bike brands, Andy Smallwood explained how the company was established not far from Clitheroe, on the Ribble River in the Ribble Valley.
“The company was started in 1897, as a small-scale frame fabricator based near Lancashire,” he told us. “We’ve always been building frames and bikes – back in the early days the safety bicycle – the diamond frame we see now – was in its infancy, and that’s how we started.”
Over the years, Ribble became synonymous with British cycling, the company supporting the Olympic Team GB team and being trusted, and well-known in the local racing scene.
“Ribble was definitely the go to brand when I was racing 30+ years ago,” Smallwood continued. “My first race bike was a Ribble steel frame. It was my training bike, my race bike, my ‘rough stuff’ (or gravel) bike … we even used to go bikepacking on those steelies. They were very versatile, and they had to be!”
Enter the Computer Age
Andy told us that around 30 years ago, Ribble moved to be a mail order brand, and became one of the first brands to go to direct-to-consumer or ‘DTC’ as It’s commonly known these days. “Then, when the computer age started we moved to digital,” he added.
“With this 125-year-old brand that I remember well from 30 years ago,” Smallwood continued, “there was a lot of competition in selling 3rd party parts, accessories and clothing, and particularly from some of the bigger players … it was a very crowded space.”
Brainstorming with Ribble colleagues around 5 years ago, Smallwood said the team worked on a strategy to propel the historic brand into the future.
“We thought ‘we have this brand we’re passionate about, one that has a lot of credibility but seems neglected’. So, what we did is look at the overall business model and plan the future of the business and the brand.”
“We decided to transform Ribble into a premium brand with premium products with hand-assembled and hand-built bikes.”
He told us the new strategy was to relaunch “with a big bang.”
“We developed a range of 23 new models that were designed from the ground up, and we launched them for the UK’s biggest bike show,” he told us.
“It was kind of like ‘Bang! This is the new Ribble’”
“We had the SE, the world’s lightest e-road bike, the Ti, steel bikes, gravel bikes … the intention was to show that this is Ribble moving forward.”
A simple web, YouTube or social media search will show that the ‘Bang, this is the new Ribble’ plan is going well. It’s certainly a big part of why we’ve heard so much about the brand and wanted to review a Ribble for years. Down-to-earth YouTuber ‘Katie Kookaburra’ is a big part of that. Her videos are brilliant and highly recommended!
Asking Andy about the company’s global ambitions, he said the main focus has always been the UK but the team are “starting to look at unlocking territories such as Europe, the United States and Australia.”
“For us, it’s all about bikes,” he said. “It’s about product development, giving people the best products and performance, and giving riders exactly what they want. It’s a refined product that’s manufactured and developed. “
“We believe we have the best bikes at each price point in the market,” he continued. “It’s not about discounting or being cheaper, but being the best-performing bike at the price point.”
Riding Into The Future
From MTB’s and commuters through to classic steel frames, and on to titanium and carbon fibre road and gravel, the company has a wide range of models and options and spec levels on offer. But their piece de resistance would have to be the aptly named Ultra.
Arguably one of the world’s fastest and slickest looking aero offerings, we asked Andy Smallwood about the top-level Ribble.
“When it came to the Ultra product, the pro teams we were supporting at the time, they were riding our aero-optimised Endurance SLR,” he told us.
“It’s a great all-around race bike. But the riders were asking for a full-on aero race frame and at the same time, we were really wanting to stretch our legs and work on something new.”
“The R&D and design philosophy was to develop the world’s most aerodynamically optimised frame. You can have a super super quick bike, but then you put the rider on it and it all changes.”
Smallwood elaborated on this by saying the team came up with an aero handlebar design, but once the rider was in situ a big percentage of the gains were lost.
“In the CFD trials, the air was flowing well over the bar but then hitting the riders legs,” he said.
“We could see an opportunity to manipulate the airflow to create a wake for the riders’ legs to sit in. By designing the bulges in the bar, the riders’ legs were the wake of the airflow.”
He said the team looked at the rider and the bike as a holistic package, which was the crucial difference.
Then they conducted a detailed study of the bar, with one of the conclusions being ‘why is it round … if we can optimise the shape we can make this more efficient.’
“As we know,” Smallwood continued, “Bars need to be round to hold the round brake lever. But by creating the direct-mount brake lever, we could therefore make the bar more efficient.”
Handlebar tape was next on the chopping block, being ‘inherently not aerodynamic’ Andy said the team figured that by forgoing tape and using a textured finish that was another aero gain ticked off the list.
The fork was optimised similarly, and, over 18 months of development, the whole concept was tweaked, tuned and refined before the manufacturing process got underway.
“It was a very exciting project,” Andy Smallwood continued. “It’s our flagship model from an R&D level. It’s an uncompromised aero road bike and really does show where the brand has come since 1897.”
You can read our review of the Ribble Gravel Ti in the September/October edition of Bicycling Australia Magazine that is out now.
For more about Ribble bikes and to see the range visit www.ribblecycles.co.uk