Rapha CEO Simon Mottram Q&A: Cycling head talks ambition and Marco Pantani

So we know Manchester is cycling mad and we’ve heard all about Rapha putting the latest of seven global clubs in the city, but what about the man behind it?

Where does Simon Mottram most like riding? Where might Rapha one day open a club in his wildest dreams? And does he have any worries about the future?

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MM caught up with the 49-year-old a fortnight ago in London, before he came to Manchester last week (pictured above in the hat), to find out just what makes him tick, and tick, and tick, and seemingly never get tired…

MM: You must pinch yourself at the success of the company in a little over 10 years of business.

SM: I do. We had a meeting in London earlier this month with the racing group of the RCC and there were about 30 guys here all planning how they would train together and so on. I’ve been to maybe 10 of those events in the last six weeks all over and I think that community existed before but it was very dispersed and ad hoc. Rapha customers knew other Rapha customers and there were rides and shop rides, but I think with what everyone’s done in the last couple of months with the RCC it’s all become very visible.

MM: Is there a fear factor over Rapha becoming so big you can’t control it?

SM: Yes, there definitely is. But it depends on what your ambition is. If your ambition is for cycling to become more popular and to help more people to ride bikes then you have to embrace that, whether that’s people being talented on a bike, knowing the rules of the road, or being a bit overweight. You get all sorts and that’s absolutely fine. As long as you’re clear about where you’re headed and why you’re going there.

I worry about control though. Anyone with a brand, you worry about getting it wrong, it becoming something it’s not and the RCC is a massive challenge for that because we’re letting customers right into the inside of who we are, which for a brand is quite dangerous.

Those 1,900 members, they feel pretty entitled. And we’ve told them you’re important to us. If they all say ‘We don’t want you to make a certain product any more’, I don’t think they will but if they did, you’ve got to take that seriously now.

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So it’s about breaking down that barrier a little bit and ceding control a little bit to the customer. But that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to get as close as possible and you’ve got to share stuff.

MM: Where would your dream club be? Your home county of Yorkshire perhaps?

SM: We probably should have one in Yorkshire at some point although Manchester’s so close. The one that would be the closest to my heart, to be honest with you, would be in the south of France. If we could have one in Marseille, that to me is everything that I think is Rapha. That’s probably quite a way away.

Or when you start putting them in the mountains. One in the Pyrenees, the Dolomites, then they become more of a destination. That’s really interesting too. At the moment they’re places where cyclists live, work and shop but not necessarily where they ride. That works well, but ultimately we need to start going to where people ride as well.

MM: Favourite cyclist?

SM: Who do you think? Marco Pantani. In one person he was all the drama and the glory, all the fragility and the suffering and desperation in cycling.



SM (continued): When he crossed the line he’d put his arms up and say ‘Look, I’m just a man’. There aren’t many champions of sport who are so humble and human. The way he lived and died was so tragic and glorious, misguided, terrible and corrupt, which is what humanity is.

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MM: Favourite road to cycle?

SM: A road outside Vinci in Tuscany, a perfect little 4km climb which is nothing at all, 5% gradient, three vineyards with a little Italian café at the top. Giovanni Visconti is from around there so it has him all over the road. It’s not dramatic but it’s just right.

Then there’s the eastern suburbs Sydney ride. That’s amazing.

MM: Favourite climb?

SM: Probably Mont Ventoux. I’ve done it seven or eight times.



MM: Best time?

SM: I’ve no idea. As you may have seen I don’t have anything on my bike at all. I played around with the idea of heart rate monitors and so on about 10 years ago, which didn’t make much difference! So now I ride for fitness but I also ride for pleasure, and the experience.

Main image courtesy of George Marshall, with thanks.

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