How Ribble Cycles has been reinvented for the e-bike era

Ribble Cycles is a brand that has been synonymous with British bicycle heritage. Over the past few years, Ribble Cycles was reinvented, rebuilt and given a new vision.

Ribble was founded in Preston in 1897. Although initially specialised in steel frames for bicycle frames, it became well-known for its high performance road bikes. It’s not content with its heritage. Ribble is now fully accepting the electric bike. They were among the first British companies to design and produce a wide range of ebikes that use the highly-respected Mahle SmartbikeX35+ system.

Jamie Burrow, Head of Product at Ribble Cycles, was on hand to answer my questions about electric bikes, and the future for the oldest British bike brand.

The flagship store is different from any other bike shop I have been to. Everything, from bike positioning to layout and atmosphere, has been considered. A specially crafted ‘Ribble” scent is released into the air at the entrances. Ribble designed the shop to look like a high-end showroom, beyond the lighting and sensory awareness.

The manufacturer’s embrace of immersive retail experiences is one of many ways it is pushing itself forward in the new world of the bicycle industry. This is the result of a reimagining that began in 2017, when Andy Smallwood became boss. Boardman Bikes was his former managing director. One of his first moves was to stop selling other products and return the brand’s focus to the roots of the brand – bikes. Ribble also launched its first ebikes in 2018.

Burrow says, “Our heritage is performance roadbikes, so when we were reinventing the premium range of roadbikes, we thought, “Why not follow suit and use all technology that we were working with on the road range to make an ebike?” “If we start out with a roadbike and then move into the ebike sector, it’s still something we can do that is different from everyone else.

This approach allowed the first to claim the title of the ‘lightest e-bike’ by a British brand, thanks to the Mahle Smartbike system. Ribble loved the system’s lightness and discreetness.

Burrow says, “It was a time when I believe it was even harder to market because of the culture still of ‘e-bikes being cheating’.” We had to be careful how we approached it. The key point was that it should look like a bicycle. That’s exactly what this system is made for.

Although attitudes are changing, it is likely to be far more attractive for riders who wish to ride an electric bike but aren’t sure how to handle one that looks almost exactly the same as an unassisted bicycle.

“The idea was to get someone on an electric bike who needed it, and maybe not want to admit they did. But they could do it. It’s an easy system that doesn’t require activation and has no resistance.

Mahle will continue to work with the firm to integrate the newly released X20 system in its range of bikes. This will allow the company to bring e-bikes up to the next level.

Burrow says that e-bikes are the fastest growing category of bike since 2018. “So, where we started out with road, then moved into hybrid, now we’re looking at expanding those categories and working with Mahle to develop new, better and lighter systems. We also want to work with Mahle to create what everyone wants: more range, shorter charging times, waterproofing, and all the other things that will make that system applicable to other types.

Jamie stressed the importance this has on the development of the electric range, as more people are using e-bikes to replace their car journeys.

“Integration has always been key to our brand, and especially on the newer models, you’ve got integrated light fixtures which is setting a precedent for what is to come. This is the future of urban, although I’m not sure how to define it. E-bikes are the most important part of that. It is where we can bring as much integration as possible. It all comes together: security, navigation, lights and your assistance.

Ribble’s retail space is being used in a similar fashion to a car showroom, as e-bikes are increasingly becoming more attractive alternatives to cars. It is similar to visiting a car showroom, with custom frame colours and the ability to choose the tier of the components.

Burrow says that the brand has worked hard to integrate digital shopping and physical shopping. This includes the ability to talk to an expert online and have them show you around the store or each bike.

“It’s an immersive brand experience. It doesn’t matter where you are, it will still give you that brand experience. We host events, online and in-store.

“We are passionate about bikes and Ribble Cycles heritage. Everybody who works for us bikes, we are into the sport. We’re ambassadors for the Ribble Cycles benefits and all the Ribble events.

It is clear that Ribble, the reinvented Ribble, is determined to make cycling a more enjoyable sport by introducing genuine innovation. E-bikes are only one part of this vision. E-bikes made in the UK are limited by the pedal assist regulations. The motor size and speed limit for e-bikes is 15.5 mph.

Jamie asked me what Jamie thought would help e-bike development. Burrow says that a higher speed limiter would be beneficial. It is not common because, despite the huge benefit of a climb, most riders will ride faster on flats than the limit. It is not possible to go 20mph.

“The second big thing is out of our control right now because we rely on third-party partners to build the system. But, it would be possible to charge the battery while pedalling like KERS. A way to recharge the system without relying on a plug. This would be the most significant change and I know people are interested in it.”

Ribble’s e-bikes are growing in popularity and variety since their launch in 2018. This is due in large part to Ribble’s unique approach to designing ebikes. It hasn’t been about attaching a battery and motor on any frame to enter the ebike market. The firm designs the models around an electronic system that compliments its bikes.

Burrows says, “We treat our electric bikes with the same design approach that we use for our high-performance models.” It transcends all that we do. All the R&D technology you see in professional team bikes will still be applicable to the Hybrid, the SLE, or some other model.

“We haven’t forgotten about things, and we’re not treating electric bikes differently. It shows that things were considered rather than ‘just slap on a battery on a down-tube.’

Ribble Cycles’ design philosophy has been recognized by the industry. With’real bikers’ at its heart, Ribble Cycles’ future looks bright.