The Ribble Cycles’ Story

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Ribble Cycles is one of the oldest brands in cycling and has been leading the evolution of the industry since 1897. In this blog, we take you through this historic British brand’s rich history and development. From its earliest beginnings during the Victorian era to its position today as a cutting-edge manufacturer of British-built, market-leading bicycles. Read on for the Ribble Cycles’ story, the journey from the bespoke crafting of steel frames to its position today as a market-leading, Direct to Consumer (DTC) premium bike brand.  

A bike brand is born

Decorated for the visit of HRH Albert Edward in 1885. 12 years hence, Ribble Cycles will open its doors for the first time next to the Grand Junction Public House. Image courtesy of the Preston Digital Archive.

The Ribble story starts in 1897. During these latter stages of the nineteenth century, bicycles had evolved from the plaything of wealthy young men into a serious mode of transport. The large and ungainly Penny-Farthings had given way to the ‘safety bicycle’. This safety bicycle forms the template for the design of every bike that we ride today. During this time of the industrial revolution, an enterprising gentleman with a passion for cycling and all things bikes set up shop in small premises on Water Lane, Preston. From here, he began the fabrication of steel bicycle frames.

Drawing inspiration from the river which flows through the heart of Preston, the name ‘Ribble’ was obvious. Flowing through some of the best cycling country in the UK, the River Ribble weaves its way through areas of outstanding natural beauty, including the Ribble Valley and Trough Of Bowland, before reaching the Irish Sea in Lytham.

Ribble in the 20th Century

The Ribble Cycles Shop on the junction of Strand Road and Water Lane, Preston, circa 1949 (BSA on the shop front). Image courtesy of the Preston Digital Archive.

As demand for this exciting, new, relatively affordable mode of transport grew, by 1913, Ribble had developed into a fully-fledged family-run business. Throughout the early 20th century, the production of handcrafted steel frames continued. In 1949 ownership passed to a second family from Preston, the Sandiford’s, who continued with the now established practice of handcrafting steel frames.

Under the ownership of Hughie ‘The Cycle King’ Sandiford, Ribble Cycles grew from strength to strength. Hughie was an integral part of the cycle industry in the North of England and was famous locally for his passion for the sport of cycling and his unparalleled dedication to providing excellent customer service. He was also widely respected in the wider business community, becoming president of the Preston Chamber of Trade in 1969.

During Hughie’s ownership, Ribble became the proud bike supplier to the British Olympic cycling team of 1956. The iconic image below hails from this period and was taken during stage 10 (Malvern to Porthcawl) of the 1970 Milk Race. At the time, it was the most prestigious cycling event in the British racing calendar and ran between 1958 and 1993. Ribble was the bike sponsor to the England team for this event and provided technical assistance. Never too far from the action and always on hand for his riders, Hughie Sandiford can be seen here driving the vehicle, with his son Vernon on the back.

This photo provided by PhotoSport International shows the 1970 Milk Race, Stage 10: Malvern to Porthcawl (Bridgend) 179kms Brecon Beacons with Phil GRIFFITHS (Team England) and the Ribble service vehicle.

The beginning of a new era

Ownership of Ribble Cycles changed hands once again in 1985. During this era, the company evolved from being a manufacturer of steel frames into a market-leading Direct To Consumer (DTC) brand. This era saw the birth of mail-order within the cycling industry, and Ribble quickly established itself as a leading exponent of this new form of retail.

Ribble Cycles shop, Water Lane, Preston circa 1994. Only 3 years shy of celebrating its centennial! The Olympic symbol on the shop front reflects Ribble’s sponsorship of the GB Olympic team 2 years prior.

To facilitate this new Direct To Consumer philosophy, Ribble advertised products and services within the Cycling Weekly magazine (affectionately known as ‘the comic’). Customers would obtain a copy of Cycling Weekly, flick through the pages to the double-page Ribble advert, and phone in to place an order for their new cycling kit.    

Into the new Millenium

Ribble was still hand-building steel frames into the mid-’90s, at which point alloy and carbon frames had started to take over.

By the mid-’90s, however, the cycling world was in the midst of major upheaval, and Ribble was at the forefront of this maelstrom. The classic steel frames that had dominated the market for decades had been supplanted by the lighter and stiffer materials of aluminium and carbon.

As customer demand for the high-quality yet accessible Ribble bikes grew, larger premises were soon required. So began the migration of Ribble from its Kirkham mail-order hub to the current location on the outskirts of Preston.

During this era, Ribble became synonymous with the iconic 7005 Audax. This versatile, accessible all-rounder attained its iconic status as the go-to winter trainer and rugged commuter bike for cycling clubs the length and breadth of Britain.

Ribble Pro Vision

John Tanner leads the pack with Mark Lovatt in third aboard their Ribble SC61.10a Scandium alloy bikes.

In 2001 Ribble sponsored the Ribble Pro Vision cycling team for the entirety of the Premier Calendar series. The team boasted the pick of the most talented riders from across the UK and duly went on to rack up a host of victories throughout the season. By season’s end, the team had filled 2 of the top 3 steps of the podium. With John Tanner claiming the overall series victory and teammate Mark Lovatt the position of runner up.

Water Lane shop circa 1994, lots of Columbus and Reynolds frames adorn the rafters and walls.

Ribble Today

Ribble CEO Andy Smallwood and Head of Product Jamie Burrow lead the way.

In 2017 under new ownership, and with fresh investment, a new leadership team was formed under Andy Smallwood as the newly joined CEO. Bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and experience. His vision was to establish Ribble Cycles as the number one British premium bike brand. A truly global player, through world-class product and revolutionising bicycle retail.

Andy’s appointment was closely followed by the arrival of ex-World Tour Pro rider Jamie Burrow as Head of Product. Jamie’s cycling career started from a young age and included at one time the title of the Under 23 World Cup Champion. His potential being recognised when he signed to the US Postal team in 1999. Jamie’s appetite for success and passion for the sport of cycling remains stronger than ever, transforming race wins into bike design award wins.

The brief was simple; to design the best performing bikes at every price point. This was achieved by utilising cutting edge R&D processes, technology, and materials combined with the very latest construction techniques.

Being passionate cyclists themselves, the Ribble team understands that no two cyclists have the same needs and therefore customisation and personalisation are vital. Through BikeBuilder and CustomColour Ribble offers an unrivalled level of choice. Your Bike. Your Way.

Dan Bigham of Ribble Pro Cycling aboard the Ribble Ultra TT during testing at Derby Velodrome.

The Ribble Bike Portfolio

The Outdoor Show London 2019 was the first opportunity for the general public to see the exciting new range of Ribble bikes first hand.

One of the more recent exciting developments for Ribble was moving into the electric bike market. Electric bikes are the fastest growing market in cycling worldwide. Ribble applied their design philosophy to the e-bike sector, culminating in the launch of the world’s lightest e-bike range.

Branching Out

Ribble’s flagship Clitheroe showroom with Europe’s largest 4k screen.

Ribble has taken a revolutionary approach to digital commerce. Pioneering a true multi-channel retail experience by bringing the best of the online experience in-store. The opening of their new flagship showroom signifies a giant leap forward in the evolution of cycle retail. This flagship showroom brings a world-class retail experience to the heart of the Ribble Valley while keeping Ribble in touch with its roots.

The Clitheroe showroom provides visitors with a sensory experience unlike any other, letting customers touch and visualise the effect of their personal spec customisation. It also boasts Europe’s largest indoor high-resolution 4k video screen. In each of the showrooms, customers can experience the full customisation of BikeBuilder and the personalisation of CustomColour, with the support of friendly and knowledgeable experts.

Virtual Showroom

Also situated within the flagship showroom is the Virtual Showroom team. This service lets people from all around the world connect with a bike expert via a live one-way video. By combining this with the extensive facilities of the Clitheroe showroom, it offers the widest possible audience access to a phenomenal retail experience. It also ensures that the retail experience is as good in person as it is from the comfort of your own home.

Even the smallest details like finding out what colour a bar tape is can be communicated via the Live In-Store Expert one-way video link.

Pro Team’s

Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling aboard their Endurance SL R series bikes.

Ribble Weldtite

Ribble is a proud sponsor of two of the UK’s most successful UCI Continental Pro Cycling teams. In 2018, Ribble returned to the UK racing scene with the Ribble Pro Cycling Team (now Ribble Weldtite) with the intention of raising the awareness of the brand and the credibility of Ribble bikes. Sponsoring pro teams provides a vital platform for design and innovation. The team has gone from strength to strength, culminating in their stepping up to UCI Continental status in 2019. Consequently, allowing Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling to race in UCI sanctioned events, both domestically and on the continent.

This includes the UK’s two most prestigious events, the Tour of Britain and Tour de Yorkshire. During the course of the 2019 season, the team amassed 80 race victories on the way to retaining their status as the number one ranked UK cycle team. However, the highlight of 2019 surely had to be the performances of John Archibald in the British National Championships. Winning silver in the time trial and bronze in the road race against World Tour level competition. Then partnering with fellow team rider Dan Bigham for the 2019 World Championships with both riders securing bronze medals in the mixed relay time trial.

Drops – Le Col supported by Tempur

As cycling’s popularity continues to grow, more and more women are finding themselves bitten by the cycling bug. So, the opportunity to partner with the UK’s leading women’s UCI Continental racing team was too much to resist. Drops – Le Col is Britain’s most successful women’s cycling team and provides a supportive environment where riders can develop and reach their true potential. An ethos matched by Ribble’s own ambition to become the world’s leading direct to consumer bike retailer.     

Famous Riders

If you have read any cycling autobiographies, you will be aware that some of the best cycling talents from around the UK began their love affair with cycling on Ribble bikes. Geraint Thomas, Chris Boardman, and Sir Bradley Wiggins are just some of the names that spring to mind.

It’s not all about World and Tour de France champions though. The design, performance and characteristics of the Ribble e-bike range have attracted interest from all quarters. Two legends of British Cycling now ride aboard one of these new cutting-edge electric bikes. Both are inductees to the British Cycling Hall of Fame.

Brian Robinson MBE is a true pioneer of British cycle racing, both here in the UK and abroad. In his professional racing career, Brian regularly competed against some of the giants of world cycling. Lining up in the same team as the great Charly Gaul in the 1956 TDF and regularly battling it out with Louison Bobet amongst other legends of the sport. In a prestigious career, Brian can count 2 stages of the Tour De France and claiming the overall victory at the 1961 Criterium du Dauphine as his outstanding career highlights. Brian can be seen out and about around his local lanes aboard his Ribble Hybrid AL e-bike. Cycling magazine placed Brian the ninth-best British rider of the 20th century.

Brian Robinson MBE with his Hybrid AL e-bike

Sean ‘The Animal’ Yates was an outstanding British rider of the ’80s and early ’90s. He developed a reputation for being a gifted time-triallist and was renowned throughout the peloton for his remarkable power. It was for his brute strength, descending skills and ability to sit on the front and pull the peloton along for hours that his cycling peers coined his nickname. His was a distinguished career with many race victories including;

  • A stage at the Tour De France (1988)
  • A stage at the Vuelta a España (1988)
  • National champions jersey (1992)
  • The overall victory at the Tour of Belgium (1989)
  • Holder of the prestigious Tour de France Yellow jersey (1994). In doing so, he became only the 3rd Britain to have held this jersey.

Sean now continues his passion for cycling aboard the Endurance SL e performance e-bike (as per the image below).

Sean Yates takes his new Endurance SL e out for a spin.

For over 120 years Ribble has been at the forefront of the bike industry and is perfectly positioned to continue giving cyclists accessible world-class products and revolutionary in-store experiences.

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Peter Allison says:

I have been riding a Ribble Cycle from the 1960s. It still has the original paint work and is a Ribble cycles pioneer frame. I have now retired to the south of France but still ride my Ribble. Do you have any info on this Fram.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Alan Gray says:

Hi Peter,
Thanks for getting in touch. It’s not often we get to see a Ribble frame of such vintage so we would be very interested indeed to see your bike. Please share any images of the bike through any of our customer service or social channels . Or you could post any images to the Ribble Owners on Facebook group. We look forward to seeing your bike soon.
Best Regards from less sunny Preston!
[email protected]

Monday, May 16, 2022

Brian Cowling says:

I can’t remember the owner of Ribble Cycles in the 60s He was also Lakeland BCF team manager Can your help

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Alan Gray says:

Hi Brian, thank you for getting in touch.
The history of Ribble is long and varied and proved to be a labour of love for our Managing Director David Stacey shortly after he was appointed to the role shortly after the Dove family sold up after Terry’s retirement. The period in question is a little hazy as the sources we used to collate the owner history seem to have incomplete information. Between 1939 and 1952 both Herbert Booth and Vernon Sandiford are listed as the owners/keepers of Ribble Cycles. However, we understand that Herbert passed in 1952 and ownership then transferred to the Sandiford family, it is therefore likely that it is Hugh Sandiford to whom you refer? To our knowledge, Hugh and his son Vernon ran the company up until the Dove’s took over in the ’90s.
Best Regards
[email protected]

Monday, July 19, 2021

Ady says:

I have been looking for vintage Ribbles on ebay for a while and a lot of them have Cinelli cockpit components

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Alan Gray says:

Hi Ady,
Thanks for your comment. Yes indeed, back in the day when steel frames reigned supreme Cinelli was the component manufacturer of choice. Deep drop, non-anatomic handlebars in a 26.4mm diameter that was only compatible with their own range of quill stems.
Best Regards
Team Ribble

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Chris J Kijko says:

I worked on watery lane for one year around 1990. The overalls were a stock item for sale that we used in the workshop. Beyond retail there was to my knowledge no relationship with cinelli.
I hope this answers you question.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Tristan Sage says:

In the pictures of the Ribble works in 1994 (In the Ribble Cycle’s Story) I see the staff are wearing cinelli branded overalls. Was this the case, and lf so, what was the connection between Cinelli and Ribble?

Monday, July 20, 2020

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