“Why Rapha? We’re here to make the sport more popular and we’ve always strived to do that,” founder Simon Mottram said while launching the British kit brand’s latest evolution.
The Rapha Foundation is a $1.5million (£1.1million) a year initiative offering support to grassroots cycling organisations across the world.
Mottram, who founded Rapha in London in 2004, unveiled the latest development in the high-end kit firm’s lifecycle on Wednesday (May 29), as he hopes the Rapha Foundation will open doors to people who may not have had opportunities in cycling otherwise.
“It fits with everything we’ve done from the start,” Mottram said in an interview with Cycling Weekly.
“If you’re sitting in my shoes and seeing the world from my vantage point – I started the company because I love cycling and that’s what drives us on. We absolutely love the sport and I suppose – unlike – some people we set out to try and improve it in whatever we do, whether that’s better products, or better experiences, or products, or the club or the clubhouses, we do whatever we can to move it forward.
“This fits really well with that.”
Earlier this year, Rapha launched the ‘Roadmap’ – an extensive two-year investigation into the state of professional cycling with some ideas on how to improve the sport.
The next step is the foundation, which focuses on the grassroots of cycling by offering support to charitable organisations.
Each year, Rapha will offer out two rounds of funding for registered charities which can apply for a slice of the $1.5million on offer.
Potential grantees from the UK, Europe, the US and Asia-Pacific will be invited by Rapha to apply for support – once in the spring and once in the autumn.
Mottram said: “The first few years of the foundation are focussed on this idea of trying to get more grassroots races onto the first rung of the ladder.
“We saw from the Roadmap research project that there was this broken pathway for talented youngsters to get into the sport and that’s ultimately not going to help the sport if its starved of talent.
“It’s really good that we get younger riders but also more women.
“We’re trying to give people as many pathways as we can to get into the sport.”
Rapha have announced five initial grantees, all based in the US, who will benefit from the first round of funding before the second selection in November, focused around the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia.
The first organisations to be supported include the Amy D Foundation, which offers support to young women through cycling in memory of under-23 national champion Amy Dombrowski, who died after being hit by a truck while training in 2013, aged 26.
Other beneficiaries include the Boulder Junior Cycling programme, the Mudfund cyclocross initiative at USA Cycling, and New York-based Star Track aimed at under-funded parts of the city.
“I’m not sure there is that much money for these organisations. I think it’s quite hard.
“Some of the people we’ve spoken to, some of the potential grantees, they run on shoestrings. They’re very starved for cash and they do such brilliant work but they might just need £20,000 to pay a coach or some of them just needed to have a trailer to carry the bikes to an event.
“There are some really difficult problems people are facing, so I think bringing any money is a good thing.”
The foundation is supported by Rapha’s big-money backers Steuart and Tom Walton, heirs to the Walmart supermarket dynasty, who actually proposed the idea.
Both passionate cyclists, the Waltons were the driving force behind the foundation.
Mottram said: “It’s something we’ve thought about for the last few years within Rapha and actually the initial impetus came from our shareholders.
“We’d spoken with them about it and they know we’re a mission-focused company and we’re very ambitious for the sport. They wanted to do what they could to help. It was Tom and Steuart Walton who suggested it.
“They’re very experienced in philanthropic work. Obviously it’s a wealthy family and they have a number of different things they support and they have a bit of an infrastructure to help do this.
“They’re very passionate about cycling, it’s part of their lifestyle.”
Mottram said he is keen to hear about grassroots cycling initiatives that Rapha can then invite to apply for funding: “We’re just so excited about doing it because it’s something really good. There’s no commercial gain in it for us in the slightest, it just cements what we’re about as company in the places we operate. It’s really powerful.
“We’d love to have more ideas of organisations. If there are organisations that you or your readers know that are relevant to this, we’d love to hear about them.
“We do this by an invitation process, but we have to hear about the organisations first. There are some obvious ones we could all name, but I suspect there are quite a few grassroots ones only readers would know about.”