Rapha Café: London and New York

London cycling brand Rapha has opened a café and shop in London. The design looks very modern, you can see some more images over at the Bianchista blog. It’s on the edge of the City, London’s wealthy financial district and one of the more creative areas of London. The symbolism is obvious, it’s close to the money but has a foot in the trendy part of town. One is coming to New York too.

What strikes me is how this is very similar this is to an upmarket car showroom. Once upon a time cars were sold from mere garages but visit the premium end of the auto sector and you’ll find lavish showrooms with marbled floors, designer furniture and the obligatory coffee machine. The same looks to be true for Rapha, indeed there’s a Citroen H parked in the showroom. Is it for sale?

I find this fascinating, it’s so far removed from a cycle clothing shop. For fun, imagine what an Assos shop would like (I’m thinking polished concrete and Corbusier furniture) or Vermarc’s outlet (a roadside friterie?).

Looking back, all this makes you realise how far the image of cycling has come. Only a few years ago a bike shop had that smell of rubber and oil and shop staff – with notable exceptions – were not exactly helpful or even interested, customers were made to feel like a nuisance.

Is this a British thing?

Non. Visit Paris and you can drop into Time Square, the swanky Time showroom just off the Champs Elysées. The branding might not be as lavish but that says more about the functionality of Time. Going back some way and it was Laurent Fignon and Cyrille Guimard who opened the Maxi Sports bike shop in Paris during the 1990s, it resembled an art gallery.

Here’s hoping it works for Rapha. It has to, I’ve seen their financial accounts and a profitable shop is just what they need. But it’s possible to stretch the brand too far, an urban café might be close to the customer base but it clashes with all those careful photo shoots of riders in olive groves and Alpine passes. Grimy London is different proposition.

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