Another piece of Portland’s vaunted local cycling industry is soon to be gone: High-end cycling apparel and lifestyle brand Rapha Racing LLC is moving its North American operations from Portland to Bentonville Arkansas.
According to North America Marketing Director Jake Rosenbloum, the move will be finalized by March 1st. “Portland has been an incredible home for the Rapha brand over the last 10-plus years,” he said in an email today. “Throughout our time here, the Portland-based team have helped to inform and define what Rapha is and means not just to the US, but around the world.”
Rapha made Portland for its U.S. headquarters in February 2008. Back then I asked company co-founder Luke Scheybeler why the London-based apparel brand chose Portland, he said, “Portland is so obviously a center of cycling, there’s an amazing bike culture here and a real appreciation for it. It just feels right.”
One reason for the change of heart is that the company was purchased by RZC Investments 2017, which is controlled by heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, who are based in Bentonville. Bringing the popular company to Arkansas is part of a larger push by RZC’s Steuart and Tom Walton (grandsons of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton) to make Bentonville a mecca for cycling of all types.
“We understand the Portland cycling community might be a little disheartened with this news.”
— Jake Rosenbloum, Rapha North America
With a solid footing in the road cycling market, Rapha’s latest move is to launch a line of mountain bike apparel in 2021. Rosenbloum made it clear in a statement today that Rapha feels Bentonville’s off-road cycling opportunities (which Bicycling Magazine has likened to “Disneyland for mountain bikers“) figured prominently into their decision to leave Portland.
“With this [mountain bike apparel launch] in mind, we need to make sure that our office has a home that best supports this strategy. So after much careful consideration, we’ve decided to relocate… to serve these aims most effectively. The proximity to the emerging OzTrails MTB network, the incredibly fast-growing gravel landscape and the continuing emergence of Northwest Arkansas as a cradle for all kinds of cycling development will help to foster this direction and the impact that Rapha North America can have in the US and beyond.”
Rapha’s Portland office on NW Kearney and 19th is just a mile or so away from the 5,000 acre Forest Park. Unfortunately, mountain biking isn’t welcome there. Despite years of advocacy and promises to improve off-road cycling access in Forest Park and other places, the City of Portland has largely failed to do so.
Like many of us, Rapha is tired of waiting.
“We understand the Portland cycling community might be a little disheartened with this news,” Rosenbloum said. “But we’d like to thank all of our friends, fans and collaborators here for over a decade of warming support and hospitality.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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