All sports have champions from the past. Some have an undisputed “best ever” champion. Boxing has Muhammad Ali, soccer has Pelé. And cycling has Eddy Merckx although the story is never so simple, you could make arguments in favour of other riders, for example Fausto Coppi. But Merckx is a living legend and his name is valuable.
In 2008 Merckx sold part of his bicycle business to an investment company called Sobradis. Run by Joris Brantegem and his family, the company specialised in shoe retailing until it took a stake in Eddy Merckx SA. In time Sobradis sold some of its retailing interests, including the Brantano chain of shoes shops. Now flush with cash, Sobradis is planning to launch a range of Eddy Merckx shoes in time for the Spring classics. Note we’re talking about ordinary footwear and not cycling shoes.
It’s an odd choice of branding, it’s not cycling related but designed to cash into his reputation in Belgium where the shoes will be sold. Eddy isn’t exactly “street” these days and it’ll be interesting to see who buys the shoes. I hope they’ve licenced the rainbow design from the UCI.
This isn’t the only way to make money from Merckx and his reputation. Cannibal Editors have produced a book about Merckx’s career but this time it’s not just a book. Instead it comes in a presentational box that includes 12 glass jar containing “relics” from Merckx’s past. For example one contains some Mexican soil in celebration of his hour record, another contains water from the fountain on the Via Roma in Sanremo, to mark his seven wins in the Italian classic, another has stone chipped from a Paris-Roubaix pavé. The video clip below explains a bit more.
I haven’t seen the book but the “artbox” sells for €995 ($1370). No doubt someone had to co-ordinate the gathering of rock samples from Mexico to Mont Ventoux but this is an amusing way to bottle some dirt and sell it at a high price simply because Merckx happened to ride past the area 40 years ago. For me it would be different if the book contained special relics from the past, for example ball bearings from his hour record bike or shoe leather from the day he won the Giro for these are in limited supply and, in a tiny way, were part of the moment. Simply bottling some rocks from Mont Ventoux, which are in near-unlimited supply, doesn’t quite cut it for me.
We’ll see how the box sells but note on the one hand we have shoes with a Merckx label stitched in, destined for the mass market and out-of-town retail. On the other hand someone is trying to sell gravel in jar for €995 just because Merckx rode past. Mind the gap.
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I bet Rapha are kicking themselves for not thinking up this piece of pseudo religious pomp first!
Mega-celebrity is unique unto itself. It’s sometimes hard to fathom the reach of such celebrity. To this day, people like Elvis Pressley, John Lennon and stock-car racer Dale Earnhardt are revered at a level that is essentially the same as when they were alive. So, while Eddie Merckx is still very much with us, he is – as you pointed out – the Muhammad Ali (or the Mario Andretti) of his sport. Therefore, for some, stones or dust or water from a place he once rode past might be worth having. Also, note that they didn’t produce too many of these collectibles, indicating the market for them is not vast.
Those shoes were designed by Bikkemberg on a very bad day.
My thoughts exactly Jez! As to the shoes, if someone would rather have Eddy’s name on their shoes instead of Nike, Puma or Oakley it’s fine with me, at least HE’s a real guy with a real name.
Ha Jez you’re right, thanks for raising!
True, Rapha are kings of pomp, one company up their own passages, £1,700 for a coffee machine, rarely say it but – WTF. Bunch of elitist Wallpaper magazine reading styled enthusiasts living retro but forgetting what cyclings truly about, substance not all style. BUT CYCLINGS GOING THAT WAY WORRYINGLY FAST – Cycling was a sport for the masses, the poor people, as for these shoes – a gimmick a legend has allowed his name to for a cheque, no doubt massively overpriced in a bespoke store somewhere near Bruges when they do come out, (no mention of price INRNG?),
You’ll see some tools wearing them on the cobbled car park in Belgium next year with their white iPhones trying to get a pic of Gilbert in the back of the BMC car….. (same guy has his name on his bike like the pro’s, deep rims with deeper decals he paid a fortune for but his belly will fracture if he hits a healthy pot-hole, custom Jawbone’s and is a cyclist wouldn’t go out for his 15km cycle to the coffee shop on the square on a sunny Sunday if his trade team shorts didn’t match his trade team jersey!).
Cycling, it’s about hardship, give me the wind, give me the wet, give me the wooly jerseys, the TVM kit still being used by the real enthusiast who once met Jesper Skibby, the Ambrosio rims, the cold feet, the tin-foil trick and the football socks, the racing, the raching for gears, the leperous tube of repair patches.
Get real, we’re going all Dubai/fashion/football with it all, custom this, custom that. Limited edition my arse, there’s a recession and we’re all hairpinning it downhill quickly, these Vertu phones, diamond encrusted Hublot watches etc are all that’s wrong with the world. Let’s keep it for Paris Hilton but out of the most beautiful example of man and machine…. I remember winning the Tour meant a yellow helmet or yellow socks, ha ha now it seems most riders start with a custom paint job, I commend teams like AG2R who don’t embrace the “stupidly special person” bikes for the famous riders…. Anyway lets blow up Greece and the Schlecks can get their custom Trek’s next year designed by Banksy …..
Wow…. THAT FELT GOOD!
I’ve got some cocaine from Pantani and Boonen, how much would that fetch on the open market if I pop that in a bottle?
@ John Oliver, nice writing about the iWant culture. It’s getting quite ridiculous sometimes.
John Oliver, take a breath, you said a mouthful. Well done.
John, Effin-A brother.
John Oliver, you win the internet prize for best rant on a blog.
Yes, that’s some big ring ranting there, some heart.
For me, if someone wants to spend all their money on bikes, that’s ok. Your legs are going to hurt just the same. And someone can walk into a room with expensive clothes and other people form impressions. But you can’t just “appear” on the bike, you have to ride. Doesn’t mean going fast, just keep it upright and enjoy it.
Cycling is an activity for the masses but as a sport it is now very expensive. I’m not sure that there are many studies on the socio-economics of road-racing but it would be interesting to see what the socio-economic grouping of neo-pro’s today is compared to 10, 25 and 50 years ago.
Well put John Oliver – I agree wholeheartedly!
How times have changed though. I remember growing up that it got me absolutely no social kudos at all that my brothers, cousins and nephews were international bike racers (McQuaids in Ireland), representing Ireland at world championships and in the Olympics. Cycling was definitely a D, E social group sport in the 1970s.
Today, you only have to open the business pages of the national newspapers and often when there’s a profile on a business “top dog” he proudly (sadly, more often a he than a she!) makes reference to their love of riding their racing bike for leisure and watching the Tour de France et al. I suppose we have to be grateful that the sport has opened up to more people and that must make it easier to attract sponsors for events and teams.
I guess there are still bikes and equipment for sale at affordable prices. It’s just that there are also expensive bikes and equipment for people who are happy to pay more. I agree with “The Inner Ring” too though – all the expensive kit in the world won’t turn the pedals. You can’t buy the legs or the lungs. As my father used to say “you can’t make a racehorse out of a donkey”!!
Brilliant rant. Thanks inrng for provoking the outpouring of emotion. I believe the phrase most applicable is ‘all the gear, no idea’
@John Oliver; Nice rant. I agree with some of it about wanton consumerism being a bad thing. However they are more than welcome to spend too much money on a poseur bike if that funds trickle down and is a sign of growing enthusiasm for cycling across all social groups.
Anyone riding a bike is a good thing in my book! Plus it’s nice to ogle at the expensive stuff now and again!
The way they sell rocks in glass just because of Merckx is something else. There’s one born every day.
Nicely said, John! Was out on a training ride today (border Belgium/Netherlands) when I ‘bumped’ into a AG2R Mondiale rider, Bouet, and asked him what he was doing training here in Belgium and not in France! For the wind, man, the wind! Good for condition! And the winding roads (head-wind, cross-wind, and now and then, a blasting tail-wind)! Reminds me of a bike test review where the bike was referred to as a Star Wars Speeder Bike hurtling through the corners!!! But yeah, the wind is good for your condition when you’re training alone! As for idolizing Merckx and others…the man doped! Enuff said! Just like Boonen, although one was for performance, the other was to try and be cool at parties! Team mates get aggro if I say that Boonen is finito…idolatry’s a bitch!!!
TomC nailed it.
Like it or not, it’s this influx of rich ‘poseurs’ who have helped get cycling more noticed. Their cash has also certainly helped more than a few stores/companies stay afloat. If they want to spend a wad to get in to the sport, good on them I say.
Just don’t ride near me in the bunch 😉
Nice one John Oliver, very true, nice dump, really had a good chuckle.
First raced in the 70’s and sorry to say it was an expensive sport then, packed groceries for months to pay for first set of race wheels! $200.00 wheels when paid $1.00 an hour, … do the math.
Triathalon, the internet and the new golf set (cycling is increasingly referred to as the “new golf” here in Australia), BRING IT ON! The range of new gear and advances are fantastic and in real terms gear was never cheaper, second hand bling is still dam good bling.
If it gets a few off their 3 axe handle wide butts and out doing exercise fantastic, and hopefully a few more quid into the sport. Mind you I do have empathy for Le Badgers comments about fat blokes with the top bar supporting their gut whilst straining the load limits of the Maillot Jaune they are wearing. Dorks are in cycling, football, running, golf, everywhere… but maybe in a year or two they will be happier & healthier, lets keep the glass half full.
Nick has also nailed it, they can watch all the TV, DVD’s, read all the books & blogs they like, but nothing beats 4-5 years 0f bunch riding brushing, bumping shoulders and learning the “unwritten” rules.
That said it still hurts when doing repeats; when you are in the gutter in a crosswind clawing at a disappearing wheel; and when your eyeballs are rotating when you hit the 1 km to go mark and you figure you are a chance; that is when what is inside your legs &/or chest count, $ don’t buy that…
As far as Eddy goes, good luck to him, I hope he gets a decent fee in return for the all the years of hard work and grind to get the results & shares it with his domestiques.
ps I like the shoes and wouldn’t mind a pair if the price is half reasonable, but hey I was eccentric back in the 70’s wearing a TI Raleigh jersey (woollen, still have it & it fits) and trying to learn French (still trying), in small country town in the back blocks of Victoria Australia!
Inner Ring, keep up the great work!
I’ve got some Rapha bibs. They are remarkably comfortable, and were comparable in price to other quality knicks. But they don’t stop my legs from hurting.
I like to say, “$10K bike, 79 cent legs”
I always find the “slating Rapha” types hilarious. What you mean is ” I don’t want to pay for it”.
Shall we ignore that they’ve run men’s and women’s race teams pretty much since they started, they’ve run grassroots events, they’ve supported things like the Smithfield Nocturne and Supercross series, as well as individual riders. Now they’ve decided to run their team as a development squad for young British riders. Yet they’re up their own arse and don’t care or know about real cycling?
You might want to check how much a Giotto evolution espresso machine costs before you start pinning the price on Rapha as well. Just a thought: craftsmanship and luxury goods cost money, always have done.
Cycling hasn’t been cheap or for the masses since the late 60s. It’s been in decline for nearly half a century now, but if you want to go back to some romanticised past that never actually existed, fine. But don’t expect the sport to follow you back there if it has any hope of continuing to exist.
You make some good points about “the good ol’ days” Alex but for me the knock on operations like Rapha is the same with designer stuff in general. Sure the quality is just great, but the price is such that it seems to be more about creating a status symbol, as in “you know how much these cost, so you know I must have a lot of dough to afford them- don’t you wish you were me?” mentality. They’re like Assos, but without the history, passion or innovation. Other than outlandish pricing and the “designer” idea, what exactly does their stuff bring to the market that wasn’t there already? I’m happy they spend some of their (seemingly) obscene profits on cycling teams, but when I see someone wearing their stuff I have the same thoughts as when seeing an old, fat, bald guy standing next to his Ferrari or $10K “skunkworks” Cervelo.
Well said Larry T.
Don’t you find that price is not always indicative of “quality” or “fit” or “enjoyment” of a product?
Unfortunately the marketing budget is sometimes a better indicator of the price. If enough people are told in the right way that it is quality, and will fit wonderfully, and WILL be enjoyed, they will pay. Add a “celeb” to the mix and WOW. Oh yes, they will pay.
I have noticed that Bicycle magazine is starting to look like one of my wifes mags. If you can find any substance in the first 15 or so pages you are looking hard. Unless you enjoy staring at the same add you have seen over an over.
Reminds me of when I worked at Asics! There was a study performed by technology specialists where they tested the running shoe products and related technologies for the key running brands; Asics, Nike, Adidas, Puma and a few others. The end result saw only Asics getting the ‘thumbs up’ for their technologies! In their report they said ‘they laugh at Adidas’ A3 tech, laughed at Nikes Air and Shox tech, saying that the end product was roughly 50% tech and 50% marketing!!! For some of these brands their marketing budget equals/betters their R & D budgets! Asics on the other hand, had a marketing budget only about 7% of the R & D budget!
Cycling IS cheap and for the masses to watch for free on TV and by the roads. It’s actually a small-town (or small-village) poor fellow’s thing.
Honestly, I think people need to spend less time worrying about what others spend their money on.
I ride an aluminium bike with 105 running gear. My bibs cost me less than $30 (AUD) each, and my jerseys (apart from my club jersey) less than $25 each. My race wheels cost me less than $500 brand new.
But hey – if you added a zero to my salary (or I won the lotto), you’d better believe I’d have a wardrobe full of Assos and Rapha, a feather light carbon frame, and a different pair of race wheels for every type of event. And a butler to glue my tubulars and fix my punctures… 😉
Of course, I’d still ride just as fast/slow… But if you can afford it, why the heck not spend your disposable income on cycling gear?? I always enjoy seeing those top-end steeds (no matter who is riding it), and thing “cool – one day, maybe…”.
Whatever. Those shoes look nice. I’d definitely wear them.
I agree with CGradeCyclist and Jeff Lavi.
Part of what’s wrong with society in general is that too many people are worried about what the person next to them is doing instead of getting on with their own life. Life is not a match sprint, you can break away.
I have a few mates with bikes that cost twice what mine did, and I can ride rings around them. On the other hand, I have mates with bikes that cost half what mine did, that can destroy me. Snakes and ladders really, there is always going to be someone better or more wealthy.
It’s late and I’m waffling. Mmmmm, waffles.
If you got the money and the fever for all things cycling spend it on cycling. If you got the time then you train. As long as the kids are happy and the roof doesn’t leak everything is all good. I am so tired of people bitching and moaning about wannabes and there 10k bikes and 79cent legs. Does it really bother you that much? How much time, thought, and energy do you think you waste on this shit? I have a petty nice bike and some decent legs to back it up but I don’t go around with my nose in the air either. It’s late this is silly I could honestly give a shit less about it.