We speak with product designer Toby Howes about landmark bikes, how three decades have changed the brand and a new road bike range...

Ridgeback picks its five key bikes over 30 years

The brand started with a single mountain bike. How big is the range now?
It fluctuates between around 55 to 60 models, excluding colour options.

How far has Ridgeback’s mission changed from back in 1983?
In terms of quality and design, our basic ethos remains unchanged. We strive to offer a quality product, that is durable and reliable and one which can be passed on for more use but more than that, we want the resulting rider experience to ensure that a Ridgeback owner has no hesitation in recommending the brand to others. Which is what happens.

If you had to pick out three milestones over the 30 years, what would they be?
1 The first; Ridgeback being the first UK MTB in 1983. Credit needs to go to the company’s founder Errol Drew who back in 1982 at the New York Bike Show, spotted a strangely robust bike that looked as if it was the two wheeled equivalent of a 4WD car. With a high degree of conviction I recall he said, ‘Toby, this is the future of cycling’. I will also admit that at that moment, I didn’t see the potential of this ‘mountain bike’ as strongly as he did.

2 Secondly, In 2001 we created the flat bar road bike. Yes, Ridgeback was the first commercially available bike of this type. Originally named Genesis, this new breed of fast commuter sports bike was definitely one of the last significant developments in cycle genres. Shimano had created a set of road group compatible flat bar controls and front derailleur the year before but with little interest from bike makers. At the time, I was riding a self-customised road bike with a straight bar and caliper brakes … which were hard work as the incompatibility of brake and lever meant the system lacked sufficient leverage to get good braking. Shimano’s new flat bar components addressed this issue.

I remember thinking there must be others who’d want to ride on a bike like mine, so we developed a couple of models, ordered a container full and bingo, they sold out instantly. When we visited Eurobike that year, I fully expected to see flat bar bikes from all of the big players. But no! They didn’t start picking up on it until 2002. Shortly after, Shimano very kindly sent me a pair of R540 wheels with a note thanking us for getting things going in terms of flat bar road bikes.

3 Last of all, pioneering disc brakes on road going bikes. In 2008, to mark our 25th anniversary, the R25 was launched. This was a limited edition flat bar bike based on a prototype I was riding at the time. Six years ago, there were almost no disc equipped road or hybrid bikes, so looking back, the R25 was a clearly a precursor of the faster commuter sports bikes of today. We’ve always been a fan of hydraulic discs as they really do offer advantages, especially for everyday commuters. Great stopping power wet or dry, low pad wear and no cables to lubricate. We’ll be introducing hydraulic discs on some of our best-selling commuter bikes in 2015 including Element and Supernova.

And can you pick your key bike models over the decades?
1 The first Ridgeback … for obvious reasons!

2 The somewhat racy sounding Roxy. Ridgeback’s first 700c model. It was the Velocity of its day … back in 1990.

3 The Ridgeback Genesis Day 01 … as described above.

4 The Storm … a slick tyred 26” wheel ‘courier’ bike belonging to the Switch series. We did very well with these bikes for about 12 years from 1998 to the end of the last century! These street mountain bikes were fun to ride but provided a serious alternative to the more traditional 700C city bike.

5 Finally Scoot. Whilst we can’t claim to have invented the beginner bike, I’ve yet to find an example with a rear brake that pre-dates Scoot so we like to think that we took the idea to a higher level. We always believed that if a child can learn what a brake does on a beginner bike, it makes the transition to a proper bike a little bit safer.

Ridgeback is traditionally seen as strong in commuter and touring markets – how have those markets – and Ridgeback’s offering – developed to fit those areas?
Ridgeback has always been strong in these markets and in some ways they are similar. Good design is timeless. Whilst that comment can be applied more literally to the touring market, we feel it also applies to the commuting market. Of course there are many variations on a theme and Ridgeback has a few itself but the basic layout of a comfortable everyday bike doesn’t need to change from season to season. Yes the top tube shape might change over time and even though Shimano continue to eke more performance out of their components year-on-year, Ridgeback’s strength comes from the fact that a Ridgeback Velocity today delivers the same quality cycling experience it did 15 years ago. Owners know it and bike shops know it.

How tough is offering £200+ bikes in the children’s market?
Ridgeback has always been successful with children’s bikes right from their first introduction in 2003. Back then, we noticed that there didn’t appear to be many alloy framed kids bikes so we created a lighter, better quality range of bikes to sit above mass market products. The rest is history as Ridgeback continues to dominate in this key area. In fact, we’re expanding the category with a slightly higher priced premium range of even lighter, more practical children’s bikes that we call Dimension. We had previously launched a Dimension kid’s hybrid about 10 years ago but we were ahead of our time. It wasn’t very successful. Now the market for lightweight ‘everyday’ bikes is firmly established and it’s long overdue.

What does the future hold for Ridgeback?
Stick to what we do best! Evolution and refinement are always on-going but in the short term, more premium children’s models. Greater use of disc brakes and even a couple of Tandems but they will appear next year. However, later this year, we’ll be launching a new road bike range called Rapide. Nothing to do with our best-selling commuter range, (which will be re-named in 2015), the Rapide road range is designed in the UK and aimed at the sportive market. We have focused on geometry and fit whilst also investing in our own tooling to ensure quality. This complete approach allows us to offer a lifetime warranty even on our carbon frames. Rapide will officially be launched this summer with an extensive marketing programme to build consumer awareness.

We would like to thank all our loyal customer base for their support in making Ridgeback the success it is today. Ridgeback’s core brand values of quality, service and value will always be our priority. We have also set out a very exciting product roadmap for the next three years to build on what we do best and also expand into new categories.


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