by Old Bone Machine
Rapha is a brand that intrigues.
The brand was created in 2004 in London with offices later opening in the USA (Portland, Oregon), Japan, Germany and Australia. Started by Simon Mottram and Luke Scheybeler, both cycling enthusiasts, Rapha was born from a passion of road cycle racing and of design.
Everything we do comes from a love of that struggle and glory that is at the heart of road riding. (Simon Mottram)
We knew that design was going to be essential to the brand’s success. Our initial research told us that our customer base would be very design aware, and we needed to ensure that everything the company made or did would communicate our passion for the sport through design. (Simon Mottram)
Rapha has been collaborating with Paul Smith since 2007. A perfect partnership as Smith is British, a noted fashion designer and also a cycling enthusiast. Smith had childhood dreams of becoming a pro cyclist and the dreams have stayed with him. He is an avid collector of bicycles and of cycling paraphernalia (read about his jersey collection here).
Rapha products are highly designed yet understated and restrained, some may say classic. They appear exclusive and because of this are desirable. Initially producing only high-end cycling attire, the brand now makes a wide range of clothing, skincare products, books, magazines and luggage.
The brand sources its inspiration in the romanticism of road cycling, its inherent struggle and suffering. The name Rapha itself refers to the junior cycle team of the 1960s that prepared young riders for the professional ranks. Riders such as Jacques Anquetil and Tom Simpson rode for the Rapha team.
The Rapha brand is marketed in a multitude of ways. Firstly, through its association with the icons of cycling, whether these be classic mountains and races, local riders/builders or past greats such as Andy Hampsten and Alex Steida. Secondly, through sponsorship of the British road racing team Rapha Condor Sharp and of the cyclocross team Rapha Focus and lastly through their still images and short films. None of the marketing strategies are overtly extrovert for this would diminish the elements of exclusiveness and desirability. Distribution of the products is either via their website or through select speciality cycling stores.
Of all the marketing strategies used, I find the short films most interesting, for the Rapha short films are waking dreams. Typically, a film may begin with a series of almost unrelated images. Editing is sharp. The viewer is confused, left unbalanced, as in a dream. The images only form a more linear understanding as the story progresses. Sounds are amplified. Tyres on a gravel road. The harsh and laboured breathing of a rider. Tones in the landscape are muted and dark. Often there is a sense of foreboding. The atmosphere of the films is palpable.
The riders in the film, and there is always a group of riders, companions, struggle together, riding in extremes. The films are beautiful and I am drawn to their images and the sense of the enhanced riding experience they portray.
The short films depict and promote the Rapha mythology. Within today’s world of social media the mythology is easily spread (especially as short rather than longer format films).
Ultimately though I feel an ambivalence towards the brand and what they represent. The underlying reason for this is that I suspect I am being manipulated, that the mythology is manufactured. Of course I know that all brands manufacture their image but because cycling and its history are sacred to me this becomes something more difficult to ignore. Yet, I do own a number of Rapha cycling items and I still desire to own more. So the marketing works and yes I am their target market.
I wanted to target 30-to 50-year-old men who were time-poor, affluent, brand conscious and keen on the sport. (Simon Mottram)
In 2013, Rapha will produce the clothing for the British professional cycling team, Team Sky. It’s a move into the big time and it will be interesting to see whether the Rapha brand continues to intrigue.