Saturday, September 25, 2021
HomeInterviewsAndy Smallwood - Ribble Cycles CEO Talks Tech, Teams and Traditions

Andy Smallwood – Ribble Cycles CEO Talks Tech, Teams and Traditions

"The Ribble brand is going from strength to strength. We have built a highly innovative forward-thinking digital business with a product and customer centric brand at its heart."

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When Sasha Castling of Ribble Cycles contacted us to ask if we’d be interested to hear more about the company’s decision to run a TV ad. campaign promoting their wares during the Tour de France, we took the opportunity to ask the man behind the company, Mr. Andy Smallwood a wide range of questions about his business, the sport and that ‘tech stuff.’

Andy Smallwood
Andy Smallwood. Photo©supplied

Where does the name ‘Ribble’ come from?

“The ‘Ribble’ name comes from the original location situated in Preston, Lancashire in the North-West of England, on the banks of the river Ribble and the amazing countryside and riding terrain of the Ribble Valley and the Trough of Bowland that the river flows through. 

“The Ribble HQ has always stayed close to its river Ribble and Ribble Valley roots.” 

Roots in 1897 – tell us more please.

“Whilst Ribble Cycles started off as a small Bike shop, importantly the original owner saw an opportunity to design and manufacture his own bicycle frames and forks using steel tubing. 

“They were hand crafting high quality bespoke bicycles and this tradition of high-end bespoke design and manufacture continues at Ribble Cycles in Preston today.” 

Andy Smallwood
A scene from Ribble’s first ever TV advert. Photo©supplied

TV ads – a big decision with big cost implications, are you seeing a result?

“Over the past few years we have focused our attention on R&D and diversification within our product range, offering unique levels of customisation and personalisation, our digital and physical customer journey and the experience of buying a bike whether purely online, connected to our ‘Ribble Live’ virtual store or one of our world class brand showrooms. 

“With this in mind, it feels like the time is right to start to push the Ribble brand out to a wider audience, and trialling TV advertising centred around the most prestigious event in the world felt like a logical step aligning to our vision for the future growth of the Ribble business. 

“We have seen an immediate increase in brand awareness and engagement.” 

Tell us about the thought process behind and the making of the ads.

“The inspiration for the ad. creative comes from the essence of Cycling which is core to the Ribble brand. 

“The ad campaign focuses on the pure organic sounds and scenery of the bikes in their natural riding environments, highlighting the riders’ physical and emotional experience combined with the enjoyment and reward that comes from riding a well-designed bike as it is intended. 

“The ad. features four riders with each one expressing their riding style and reason for cycling, from the all-out effort of the Pro rider racing for the win, MTB rider nailing their favourite berm and single-track, to the functional simplicity of Urban commuter on their electric bike.”

Andy Smallwood
James Shaw rode a fantastic race against top level competition in Slovenia. Photo©supplied

The Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling continental team, we saw great rides by James Shaw in Slovenia, does that translate to sales – and does a move up to ProTeam from Continental ever enter your thoughts?

“Our supported Pro Teams, Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling and Drops Le-Col Racing have seen some really-strong results this season and recently James’s ride in Slovenia against World Tour opposition was significant both for him as a rider and the progression of the team. 

“More recently Joss Lowden won the Tour De Feminine in the Czech Republic with great rides in both the TT and road stages really showcasing her talent, the strength of the team and the performance advantage our bikes offer. 

“It’s not just about results though, we get very valuable product feedback from the teams that filters into and through our range. 

“The association with riders competing at the highest level provides further brand credibility and reassurance for the consumer.”

Andy Smallwood
A very special edition of the Endurance SLR with gold leaf trim! Photo©supplied

What’s your biggest selling model – and why do you think that is?

“There are a number of models in our range that we consider to be our best-selling models; our award-winning Endurance SL Disc ticks all the boxes from a road perspective, it’s got all the aero benefits of the top of the range Endurance SL R as ridden by our Pro Teams whilst still being lightweight, having great power transfer without compromising on comfort and when you factor in specification customisation through our ‘BikeBuilder’ and personalisation with our ‘CustomColour’ it represents a great all round proposition. 

“Our CGR (Cross, Gravel, Road) range is also very popular offering amazing versatility across Ti, Carbon, Alloy and Reynolds steel frame materials to give the rider one bike that can handle any terrain.” 

For many of the bikes in Ribble range, it’s possible to specify the colour scheme, for example this “VeloVeritas edition”.

The ‘e’ bikes they’re taking off hugely, your thoughts?

“Yes e-bikes are definitely growing as the social, economic, environmental and health benefits become widely accepted for multiple different types of rider, it’s not just the commuter and leisure cyclist looking for some assistance; electric bikes offer a lot more riders a new and exciting dynamic to their riding. 

“With a well-designed e bike offering controlled power assistance when you need it, riders can go further, climb higher and faster than ever before, lead the group they used to get dropped by over the climb and are no longer limiting their riding experience by fitness.” 

Andy Smallwood
Ribble’s Endurance SLe Hero is very sleek for an e-bike. Photo©supplied

Your electric ‘performance’ machine is perhaps the nicest looking out there – how did you avoid the ‘lumps and bumps’ of your competitors offerings?

“We set out from the start to design a bike that was just that, a performance bike. 

“The bike had to look, feel and handle like a high end, dialled road bike when the motor is switched off, giving the rider the experience you only get from a well-designed performance road bike. 

“However, when you turn the power assistance on it can either give you just enough help to get you over the climb or headwind section, or turn on full power and you are an Elite climber at the press of a button. 

“To keep the aesthetics of the bike pure the battery and motor system had to be hidden to create a stealth e bike and the system needed to be light whilst still offering enough power and range. 

“Having exceeded the brief on our performance e road bikes we then filtered this design philosophy and technology into our Gravel and Hybrid e bikes.”

Andy Smallwood
Spot the motor; the Ribble Endurance SLe. Photo©supplied

Are you 100% discs now – and ‘necessity’ or ‘manufacturer driven?’

“Not quite 100%, we still have calliper brake options on our steel and high-end carbon frame platforms to ensure we offer a choice to riders who want the latest frame technology but prefer calliper brakes, after all many riders have invested in and built their bike and wheel collections around calliper brakes over many years. 

“From a braking performance point of view it is hard to argue against the fact that hydraulic discs offer a performance benefit over calliper brakes in most conditions and circumstances. 

“They also enable braking consistency across different rim materials and weather conditions especially carbon and open up greater flexibility for wheel and frame designers. 

“Having ridden both disc and calliper brakes for many years, my view is one of necessity.” 

Andy Smallwood
Andy Smallwood has many years’ experience of new bike technology. Photo©supplied

Your thoughts on 1 x transmission?

“My view on 1x is that it is riding style and terrain dependent with the benefits to the rider based on the general frequency and variance of gradient and terrain changes experienced on a ride, combined with the requirement/preference on size of incremental jumps between gears. 

“There is also a simplicity benefit for some riders and when you start looking at marginal gains on course specific performance bikes 1x can also have an aero benefit too.” 

TT machines, how do you ‘keep up’ with the tech?

“Aerodynamics is such an important factor not just for TT riders but anyone riding competitively whether against others or themselves. 

“Ensuring our bikes offer an aero advantage is also vital for our professional teams. 

“Therefore, aero is a key element in our New Product Development process and capability and we have some very exciting projects on the horizon that take this thinking to a new level.” 

Andy Smallwood
Ribble support the Drops-Le Col women’s team. Photo©supplied

Track and cyclo-cross, are these markets you have an eye on?

“We already have a highly accomplished CX range with our carbon CX frame platform being race proven and has been ridden to Elite level national titles.” 

Is there still a market for aluminium?

“Definitely, aluminium can be designed into a high quality, high performance bike frame and due to material and manufacturing costs, at a lower retail price compared to materials such as carbon fibre.” 

Ribble offer some lovely finishing kits. Photo©supplied

Will steel – in some new form – ever come back?

“I don’t think steel has ever gone away, in fact one of my favourite bikes in my collection is my custom colour Reynolds steel Endurance 725 (with calliper brakes, by the way). 

“We currently have Reynolds steel models in our Road, CGR, MTB and Urban ranges with the material offering that unique ride feel you only get from a high quality steel frame.” 

Wind tunnel testing is important to Ribble. Photo©supplied

What does Ribble’s future look like in your mind?

“The Ribble brand is going from strength to strength. We have built a highly innovative forward-thinking digital business with a product and customer centric brand at its heart. 

“Whilst short term (hopefully!) we are combating the industry wide component shortages and delays, we continue to drive our product and technological innovation through R&D with some very exciting projects in progress. 

“We will continue to diversify and refine our World Class product offer with our unique ability to customise and personalise. 

“We continue to invest heavily in our customer proposition both from the digital journey perspective as well as our physical brand and customer experiences. 

“The expertise and knowledge within the team combined with the positive team culture within the business is a real strength, taking the brand values to heart as we continue to grow as a brand and business.”

With thanks to Andy for his time and to Sasha for facilitating the interview.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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