If one were to judge Rapha entirely by their print advertising you’d expect the crew behind the company’s Mobile Cycling Club would be gaunt, sweaty and grimacing. (Especially if you’ve ever seen this brilliant bit of advertising done by Rapha in the UK.) Luckily I know better, having spent a good amount of time with some of Rapha’s marketing chaps. When Rapha’s Communications Director Chris DiStefano emailed to say that the MCC was coming to my neck of the woods and was looking for a place to stop and refuel I eagerly invited them to pull up their RV and have a donut at my coffee and bakery, Gypsy Donut and Espresso Bar in Nyack, NY.
Most New York City riders are familiar with Nyack, it’s home to the famous Runcible Spoon—a long time destination for city riders looking to grab a bite half way through a fifty mile circuit. Since December I’ve been working on building and now running a coffee shop in the same town, one which serves handmade donuts and Stumptown coffee.
The goal of the Mobile Cycle Club is pretty simple—a bunch of guys in a big RV cross the country and stop to ride with friends and bike shops along the way. It’s about as far away from the suffering aspect of their ad campaigns as you can get—I mean any ride that stops to refuel with free donuts and iced coffee can’t really be that grueling.
Around sixty riders headed out from Signature Cycles in Manhattan and by the time I’d ridden from Nyack to meet up with the group a dozen or so had turned around. The mid-paced ride was friendlier than most of the group rides I’ve done with NYC folk—at one point I stopped to help a rider change a flat and we chatted for a while about cycling and the region. No pressure, just a nice friendly group ride.
By the time we rode up to the shop there were already forty riders munching on our donuts and drinking coffee in the shade. (We also offer a nice, clean bathroom and don’t mind cleats on our floors so we had a nice line inside too.) The assembled bikes were like a who’s who of custom bikes. There were Landsharks, a few Serotta, one Speedvagen, one Beloved, my Calfee a Parlee and several other high end bikes. Naturally when your product line consists of high-end cycling apparel with price tags in the low triple digits you’re going to self-select your customer base.
Regardless, Rapha’s really a lot more about riding with friends and enjoying cycling than their advertising would have you believe. Certainly there are a lot of pros in Rapha gear but every customer that rides into our shop in Rapha kit has been incredibly nice and incredibly friendly. Obviously this is true of companies like Nike and North Face—if you look at their ads you’re going to see pro athletes and mountain climbers, but most of the people I know with North Face jackets are lucky if they make use of their season’s lift ticket before the snow melts.
However, if you’d like to partake in the more soul-grinding side of the Rapha face, feel free to check out events like the (sadly over) Strava challenge to ride the Circle of Death or follow their Continental Pro men’s team.