The Ribble Cycles’ Story

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 the rich history and development of this historic British brand. From its earliest beginnings during the Victorian era through 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.  

Ribble: The beginning

Decorated for the visit of HRH Albert Edward in 1885. 12 years hence, Ribble Cycles will open its doors for the very first time next door 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. It was amidst this time of the industrial revolution that 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 flowed outside the new premises, the choice of the name ‘Ribble’ was an obvious one. 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 sea within view of Water Lane.

Ribble in the 20th Century

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

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

During their tenure, the first-ever Ribble Cycles sponsored racing team made an appearance on the UK cycling scene as well as sponsorship of the national team. The iconic image below hails from this period and was taken during stage 10 (Malvern to Porthcawl) of the 1970 Milk Race. Ribble was bike sponsor to the England team for the event as well as providing technical assistance.

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

Ribble enters a new era

Ribble Cycles passed into the hands of a further Preston family in 1985. Whilst under their leadership, the company continued the evolution from 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 reflecting Ribble’s sponsorship of the GB Olympic team 2 years prior.

To facilitate this new DTC 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 then phone to place their order for their new cycling kit.    

Into the new Millenium

Ribble was still hand-building Steel frames into the mid-’90s when alloy and carbon frames 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 change. 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 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 bike attained legendary status as the go-to winter bike and rugged commuter 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 then-Premier Calendar series. Boasting an extremely talented roster of riders including the best domestic riders in the UK, the team racked up many victories. By season 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, with fresh investment and a new leadership team Andy Smallwood joined as CEO. Bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and experience, with a vision to establish Ribble Cycles as the number one British premium bike brand and a global player through world-class product and revolutionising bicycle retail.

Following closely after Andy was ex-World Tour Pro rider Jamie Burrow as Head of Product. Jamie started cycling from a young age and held the title of the Under 23 World Cup Champion before being signed by the US Postal team. Jamie’s appetite for success and passion for the sport and 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 new Ribble team understands that no two cyclists have the same needs and therefore customisation and personalisation is 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 bikes at first hand.

One of the most 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 store in The Mailbox, Birmingham.

Ribble has taken a revolutionary approach to digital commerce. Pioneering a true multi-channel retail experience by bringing the best of the online experience into store. In Ribble’s showrooms, customers can experience the full customisation of BikeBuilder and personalisation of CustomColour with the support of friendly and knowledgable experts.

Ribble Pro Cycling

Ribble Pro Cycling aboard their Endurance SL R series bikes during the Calpe training camp 2019.

In 2018 Ribble launched the Ribble Pro Cycling Team to not only raise awareness of the brand and the credibility of Ribble bikes but also as a platform to test at the highest level. The team has gone from strength to strength and in 2019 stepped up to UCI Continental status. This enabled Ribble Pro Cycling to race in UCI sanctioned events both here in the UK and on the continent including the Tour of Britain and Tour de Yorkshire. They amassed 80 race victories throughout the course of the season and in doing so remained the number one ranked British team.

The highlights of the 2019 season, however, 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 Dan Bigham for the 2019 World Championships with both riders securing bronze medals in the mixed relay time trial.

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 and performance of the Ribble e-bike range have attracted interest from all quarters. Two British legends of cycling also ride one of these new cutting edge electric bikes. Both have been inducted into 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, household names such as Charly Gaul and Louison Bobet. In a prestigious career, he can count winning 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.

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 for his remarkable power and a true hardman of the peloton. It was for his brute strength, descending skills, 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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  1. 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?

  2. 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.

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