Cycling is cooler than ever. Why? It’s not simply because it’s easy commuting, a great way to explore the outdoors nor for its on-trend clothes and accessories. Cycling today is a state of mind.
The bicycle, a seminal example of modern vehicles, is and has been a source of inspiration for many–scientists, artists and common people–ever since it was invented. The first one to design a bicycle probably was Leonardo Da Vinci who, in 1490, drew one in his Codex Atlanticus. The first real moving bicycle, though, was built centuries after in the early 1800s by German baron Karl von Drais.
Despite such progress cycling remains a world apart, a fascinating universe for each one’s own personal approach to movement. The two-wheeled means of locomotion synonymous with speed, movement and modernity–as well as freedom, independence and love for nature–has also given life to a democratic and transversal activity anyone can partake in at almost any age and in almost every environment–from the uncontaminated outdoors to chaotic and competitive urban landscapes.
Many longtime giant high-tech and highly specialized companies and players dominate this industry. Some of them also have started operating in other fields beyond pure gear and technical apparel manufacturing, a natural evolution of the vast interests such a sport can arouse.
Making a fortune...from sitting
Selle Royal was founded in Italy in 1956 as saddle manufacturer for leisure bikes. Especially during the last 15 years, thanks to the commercial ability of its founder Riccardo Bigolin, it acquired other players and brands and is now recognized as one of the leaders in this market. The group is made up of Selle Royal, or SR, the historic brand of the group still specialized in offering comfortable saddles for recreational bikes.
In addition to companies that produce more technical apparel and gear such as Fi’zik and Crankbrothers, SR also owns Brooks England, a UK brand founded in 1886 that makes leather handcrafted saddles that change shape and color day after day. In 2002 SR acquired Brooks England and launched more saddle models (including Cambium, made with vulcanized rubber), and functional though cool cycle bags (backpacks and bags) and cycling helmets for recreational lifestyle cycling activities.
The company recently celebrated its 150th anniversary by publishing the book The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture. While drawing a history of the brand, it celebrates British ingeniousness and inventions like, in addition to the Brooks highly comfortable leather saddle, the incandescent light bulb, the toothbrush, the electric kettle. It also features British personalities such as architect Ron Arad, photographer Martin Parr and designer-entrepreneur Paul Smith who tell their own short stories about their love of cycling.
Also part of SR stable is Pedaled. This brand offers cycling apparel and accessories for two distinct uses: Living, for urban commuting, and Riding, for active cycling. The brand, acquired in 2011, was founded in 2008 by Hideto Suzuki. This Japanese fashion designer decided to create apparel as he could not find the right clothes for riding his bike through frenzied Tokyo, where he lived. “This brand’s story is quite the opposite of many others of the cycling industry. Most of them originate from the cycling market, while Pedaled’s origins lay in streetwear and urban commuting,” says Jacopo Porreca, brand manager.
The love for cycling is growing everywhere.
Pedaled’s Living collection counts about 40 pieces and is aimed at men. It is made with abrasion- and tear-resistant materials, Japanese cotton fabrics and denim, although items are manufactured in Italy. Special light reflecting details and coatings are added onto jeans’ faded surface areas. Today Suzuki continues to design the brand and, starting from s/s 2019, will also launch a selection of apparel for women. Completing the offer are accessories such as leather gloves, belts and shoes, Footwear is produced via a licensing agreement with Diemme, a Veneto region manufacturer. Shoes look like mountain hiking boots, are available in suede and lucid leather and are highly protecting and completed by functional details such as rubber toes, light-reflecting details and laces. The brand’s main market is the UK followed by Germany. “Among our next steps we would like to open our first monobrand in Japan by 2020, to be followed later by openings in UK and Germany,” continues Porreca who also makes no secret about the idea to cater to streetwear -ocused stores in the future, while doubling their collection to about 80 items by 2020-21. “The love for cycling is growing everywhere. Not only the desire for adventure and discovery is recalling great attention, but also by crossing cities. Let’s say, arriving to a restaurant by bike is always more normal.”
The whole Selle Royal group makes €110 million in annual sales. It employs about 1,200 people and operates from Italy, where most of its companies are based apart from Crankbrothers, which is located in California. The group also counts on two production sites in China for serving the Asian market, Taiwan for the US and various logistics, and Brazil, for local use, though managed through a separate organization.
Bianchi, an Italian legend goes global
Bianchi, the prestigious Italian bicycle brand founded in 1885, is involved in offering many initiatives to its aficionados. In addition to its legendary bikes and gear–it launched a special edition bike with Gucci in 2011–it also offers a men’s and women’s leisure apparel collection and opened Bianchi Café & Cycles worldwide. The first store debuted in 2010 in Stockholm, followed right after by Tokyo. It later inaugurated two more stores in Sweden, and, in 2014, one in Milan, the city where the brand was born. Since 2015 Bianchi Café & Cycles has travelled to the Americas and opened in Guadalajara, Mexico.
L’Eroica: how past inspires the future
L’Eroica is a cycling competition born in 1997 in Tuscany, Italy, from an intuition of Giancarlo Brocci. This race originated as a foundation for the protection and preservation of the last gravel roads, the “white roads” of Tuscan countryside, though Brocci also admired the values of past cycling and wanted to make it live again on the Chianti hills, in the small town of Gaiole, where he was raised. Brocci with a number of generous volunteers started organizing a very special cycling weekend spent through challenging routes, magnificent landscapes while tasting great food and drinks served at the rest stops.
The routes of L’Eroica now extend from Chianti to the province of Florence, valleys and hillsides near Siena and range from 46 kilometers to 209 kilometers, offering different challenges for every type of rider. The ride is extremely successful as it has reached peaks of 7,000 participants in 2016, even if has limited the number of its participants to 5,000 from 2017 on. It draws people from all over the world, including men and women of all ages, not to mention bikes of every era, excepting the modern one.
[Our] contests aim to exalt the beauty of fatigue.
From the original Italian event, L’Eroica has grown into a movement able to attract thousands of passionate cyclists. For this reason the Eroica brand is managed according to licensing agreements with sports companies or entrepreneurs who request to organize events under the brand name. Today in the world there are ten Eroica contests. In addition to the three events held in Tuscany, they take place in the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, South Africa, the US (California) and Uruguay. In 2017 they involved over 16,000 cyclists and aim to attract 30,000 cyclists yearly in the future.
L’Eroica has also signed an agreement with Santini as partner for producing technical cycling apparel. There are no other agreements for nontechnical apparel.
This contest, as its founder likes to say, aims to exalt “the beauty of fatigue,” though also the rest and after-race part can offer great relaxation and enjoyment. They will open the first of a series of Eroica Cafès starting from 2018 in Barcelona, at Consent de Cent, 350. All of these cafés will be meeting points where passionate cyclists of any age can gather, taste genuine local specialties and share their passion for this sport.