Kring meets Jochim Aerts, Ridley’s owner.
Kring : Belgium is synonymous with cycling, from its riders to its races. Ridley sort of embodies the last Belgian brand to be at the highest of race levels. How do you feel with such a huge heritage on Ridley’s shoulders?
Jochim Aerts : We are all proud about the Belgian cycling heritage. Belgium is one of those countries that go way back with victories in for instance the Tour de France of 1912. Cycling is is our national sport. We have real cycling heroes, look at Tom Boonen or Eddy Merckx. People adore them.
To be a brand that is today still helping Belgian cyclists fulfil their dreams, to be a sponsor at the highest cycling level makes us proud. It’s motivating to be the brand that represents that Belgian heritage.
Frames lined up at the Ridley factory in Paal-Beringen, Belgium, 21st March 2013 (Photo by Eoin Clarke 2013)
Kring : What is your view on the fact that urban cycling develops, especially in Brussels, with the emergence of concept stores revolving around bikes, such as Kring? Do you see connections between the racing world and the urban one? How does Ridley stand between these spirits?
Jochim Aerts : Cycling is becoming one of the most important solutions for present and future communities. It solves mobility problems, it increases our health and it’s of course fun.
Ridley Bikes’ main focus has always been competition bikes. Racing, CX (another Belgian heritage) and MTB. To be competing with the best brands in the world requires your full focus. You need to build up important expertise, you need to have innovative minds in your company and this for different types of bikes.
Now we feel confident we have enough expertise to launch a new and complete range of urban bikes next year.
Kring : What have been the major evolutions for Ridley over the past few years? What game changers did you introduce into the company?
Jochim Aerts : Innovation is the key and this in product and supply chain. Most of our competitors are outsourcing production and supply. We still develop and build bikes how and when the customer wants it. That’s why our R&D, Paint and Assembly department is still at our Ridley HQ in Belgium.
That way we can produce at a very flexible level. This is very important for a lot of bike dealers.
Kring : Do you still consider yourself a frame builder? You do R&D, painting and assembling at your facility, right?
Jochim Aerts : Yes, we still consider ourselves as a frame builder. We have an in-house R&D department that develops our bikes. They work closely with our marketing and design team.
Here in our factory the bikes are prepped to be painted and assembled just like the consumers prefer. From Belgium it gets shipped all over the world.
Kring : How do you compete with other brands, much bigger than Ridley? Focusing on high-end products?
Jochim Aerts : We do position ourselves as a Premium brand, but that’s not sufficient enough.
For consumers we want to be an innovative brand, that’s on the frontline of cycling. We want to be a tough brand, that’s our slogan as well: #BeTOUGH. We are Belgian, we are tough, we’re not afraid of cobbles, we conquer hills, …
To our dealers, we want to be a brand that keeps their promises, that’s flexible. We don’t push our dealers to buy bikes they don’t need. We help them selling our bikes.
For our dealers as well as consumers we are a brand that’s known for customization. Our customers have the opportunity to have unique looking bikes.
Kring : Speaking about competition, how does Ridley manage to stay on UCI WorldTour? Do you plan on remaining in the WorldTour? The competition must be also fierce in this small world…
Jochim Aerts : We’re in the WorldTour since 2005. We have a partnership with Lotto Soudal until 2020. So, we’ll be at the highest level for some time as well. That will mean we’ll be 15 years playing between the biggest brands of the world.
The competition is fierce. There are always new companies looking to have their brand at the highest level. But we have proven ourselves. Our riders have won classics and Grand Tour stages. What connects Robbie McEwen and André Greipel? Our Noah. Greipel still gives us feedback on how we can continue evolving the Noah. We listen to our riders, don’t take them for granted and let them be a part of the bike. That gives us a big advantage.
I do have to admit; it makes us also proud to be the bike sponsor of the only Belgian WorldTour team. Together we ensure that Belgium stays at the highest cycling level.
Kring : Ridley is not only known for its road bikes and the fact that Lotto-Soudal rides them, but also for cyclocross, almost the Belgian national sport. Do you plan on expanding your collections for other riding styles?
Jochim Aerts : Like I said, we’re working hard on a new urban range for next year. But we’re taking steps in improving our MTB range as well.
They have the only wind tunnel in the world purely made for bikes testing. That’s why I’m confident we’re going to be on the frontline of aero bikes for time trailing and triathlon.
Kring : What is your personal favorite Ridley bike to ride on, and why?
Jochim Aerts : For Road: in our area I always ride the Noah SL, its super-fast stiff and direct in handling. In Mallorca I have a Helium SLX, in the mountains every gram makes a difference.
Kring : To finish with, what could the future look like for Ridley? What are your priorities?
Jochim Aerts : The last couple of years you see a clear evolution in our consumer’s knowledge. They step into a store and they know which bike they want. It’s easier than ever before to compare brands and products. It’s very hard for dealers to convince them to buy something different.
This means we need to convince our consumers more than ever. We need to make sure we’ve got their attention when they look or dream of a bike. We must peak their interest, when they’re looking for a bike.
It will become very important to grow brand awareness. This will be our biggest challenge. It can hold a big advantage as well. We always have managed to tell our consumers very well who we are. Combined with a bigger product portfolio and custom options I’m sure that we will be able to keep growing as a brand and company.