Magazine article Management Today

Born-Again Bikers

Magazine article Management Today

Born-Again Bikers

Article excerpt

For competitive male execs of a certain age, cycling is the latest antidote to mid-life crisis - and the worse the physical punishment, the better, reports EMMA DE VITA.

It's official: bicycles are the new black. To Britain's monied and middle-aged male business elite, concerned with consuming the beautiful things in life, two wheels and a frame have unexpectedly become the most desirable object of our time.

Choosing to buy a Ferrari or a Moto Guzzi when mid-life crisis strikes is just too obvious an option for the discerning alpha male of a certain age, whereas a hand-built bicycle engineered to world-class standards represents something exquisite but stylishly understated. The temptation of the sleek lines of a Campagnolo, the hand-built individualism of a Condor or the supreme good looks of a Colnago are just too much to resist for any red-blooded man with a head for design and a passionate heart.

The global bicycle industry, including bikes, parts and accessories, is worth more than dollars 20 billion, according to BikeBiz.co.uk, and the UK industry racked up about pounds 974 million in sales in 2002. In terms of participation, road racing remains the most popular form of cycle sport in the Britain.

In 2002, there were 2,101 road races with 126,060 participants.

Bike junkie and former brand consultant Simon Mottram runs Rapha, a newly launched bikewear company that sells a range of elegant jerseys and accessories for men. Mottram estimates that the hardcore road cycling market in the UK is worth pounds 50 million, and it's his ambition to stake out a 5%-10% share of it. His timing, it seems, is spot-on, because the growing cycle market has coincided with the rise of what think-tank Demos terms 'eternal youths' among well-off middle-aged professionals, who are determined to 'have their time again' and aren't afraid to use their powerful consumer clout to buy the best toys around.

And one of the best toyshops is Condor Cycles on Grays Inn Road in central London. It's run by Grant Young, whose father Monty set up the business in 1948. The family firm has a healthy six-figure turnover and specialises in supplying custom-built road bikes, manufactured in either Britain or Italy.

'City-based people in high-ranking jobs make up about a third of our customer base,' says Young, although he has a number of celebrities on his books too - Mick Jagger, Jeff Banks and Jon Snow. 'We get loads of barristers and lawyers who haven't been on a bike since they were a kid.' It's these same cyclists, now grown up, who are prepared to dig deep into their wallets in order to rekindle their dormant passion. And born-again bikers are not afraid to splash out for the experience, typically pounds 3,000 on a bike and pounds 400-pounds 500 on the clothing to go with it. After all, they're used to buying only the best in life.

Rapha is the latest company to tap into this newly emerging market of 35- to 50-year-old professional and corporate men, keen to wave their Coutts card at something more energetic than golf. Road cycling - whether just commuting to work or taking part in amateur races - has all the right credentials: a gritty heritage with real heroes such as Merckx, Indurain, Hinault and Armstrong; punishing participatory events such as the Etape du Tour, where amateur riders are invited to race one stage of the Tour de France; and expensive, high-tech equipment to fiddle with. The surface appeal of road cycling is irresistible to the competitive man in search of masochistic machismo.

An avid cyclist for years, Mottram - formerly of Sapient and an ex-partner at brand consultancy Circus - took the plunge earlier this year, quitting work as a freelance consultant and setting up his business after getting a couple of investors on-side. The name Rapha comes from a legendary French cycling team from the 1960s - St Raphael - that had five-times Tour de France winner Anquetil as its leader. …

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