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Q&A: Rapha CEO Simon Mottram talks Roadmap, new $1.5 million charity

Rapha has launched a new charitable Foundation to donate $1.5 million to cycling non-profit groups

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Rapha’s latest project has nothing to do with selling you bike shorts.

That’s the perspective of Rapha CEO Simon Mottram, who on Wednesday announced the creation of the Rapha Foundation, a charitable organization that will donate $1.5 million this year to global non-profits aimed at cycling development. The announcement named five American organizations that will split initial $750,000 investment: New York City’s Star Track; the National Interscholastic Cycling Association; the Amy D Foundation; Boulder Junior Cycling; and USA Cycling’s cyclocross-focused Mud Fund.

Rapha will earmark another $750,000 for global cycling non-profit groups, which will be announced at a later date.

The creation of the foundation comes on the heels of the publication of the Rapha Roadmap, a 10-part research project on the state of professional racing, which was recently published on Why is Rapha investing in these projects? We spoke with Mottram to find out.

VN: How does the Rapha Roadmap and this new Foundation help you sell more cycling apparel?

Simon Mottram: It doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. It’s not intended to. It’s there for our bigger purpose, which is to make the sport the most popular sport. We spent a lot of time and energy and a bit of money on it. Nothing about the Roadmap will lead to increased sales of jerseys. Hopefully it will make customers think, and maybe have them like us more for having a point of view for debating these issues. I’m not sure it’s going to make someone a Rapha customer, so in that case there’s no direct commercial benefit for doing these things. It’s a massive pain in the ass that we bring on ourselves for other reasons. In the long term, it may make the professional sport better, and therefore the whole sport better, and we all benefit. We need to just go beyond the horizon and try and drag the sport forward.

VN: What was the process you went through to select these five non-profit groups?

SM: It was interesting. The Foundation is something we have wanted to do for a hell of a long time. It was down to our shareholders to step up with the seed funding. About six months of works, to date, went in to identify the right causes and the right focus of the Foundation. You could just spray the money around at lots of different organizations and interest groups and initiatives. We wanted to focus it down on the types of organizations that will help the next generation of racers. So, working backward from professionals sport, we looked at organizations that can really help the sporting side, but were looking for people to help involve communities that are often excluded from the sport, including women, which is shocking but true. We’re looking for more inclusion, and we were looking for cross-discipline groups. We didn’t want it to just be a roadie or track thing. We have a nice spread of mountain bike, cyclocross, road and track, and we’re looking to make it a global thing that covers all the areas of the world. We’re looking at the USA, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Australia and elsewhere, and we stated by drafting up a list through our networks of all the organizations we could come up with in those territories that fit the bill. We came up with many dozens of candidate organizations, and to be honest, we got more way more in the USA than anywhere else. There seems to be a more well-developed not-for-profit culture there.


VN: And who had the final say?

SM: These five were the ones we felt were most aligned with our cause, and we were really excited about each one of them, and we focused on the U.S. for the first six months because we had a better network of people coming in and applying. We had a fairly rigorous scoring system for the proposals when they came in, and the board of the foundation, which is me, Steuart [Walton], and [Runway Group] Brendan Quirk. We felt these five were the right ones.  So, we have $1.5 million a year and split that into two $750,000 parts, and the first $750,000 goes to these first five grantees and the second $750,000 goes to the rest of the world in November and December.

VN: What do you plan to do with the findings of the Roadmap?

SM: It’s why we did the project in the first place. We needed some coordinates and a map to guide what we should be investing in, because we’ve done Team Sky for a few years, and we got shots of Rapha jersey on riders posing with their arms in the air. It was was great, but it wasn’t moving the dial, and it seemed to be taking us further away from what enthusiast cyclists were doing. That’s where the roadmap is so brilliant for us. It gives us a fantastic point of view to guide our investment in cycling. I think about Team EF Education First and the conversation I had with [EF Education CEO] Edward Hult. He wanted us to come in as a clothing supplier. I said we’re not going to do that. We want to have control of media, and look at the calendar and turn your rider into characters, and he was up for that. It’s changed our approach to sponsorships, and we’re looking at what we do in future years. Bringing men’s and women’s teams together is something interesting. We’d love to see a combined team, which we’d operate as a combined team rather than just have the same sponsor. Basically, we’re picking off the stuff from [the Roadmap] that we can influence. Obviously,  there are some things we cannot influence. I cannot say to ASO to change the cycling calendar. But we will use the Roadmap to guide us. This Foundation launch is directly related to some of the findings there.

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