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Rapha will relocate North American HQ from Portland to Bentonville, Arkansas

Posted by on February 11th, 2020 at 2:19 pm

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

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.

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“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 jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Champs
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Champs

Amazing things happen when when billionaires throw their money and clout around. Everyone else gets to wait for scraps to fall off the table.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

What happened to the Off-road Cycling Master Plan? The project website still says that it will go “to City Council for adoption in 2019.”

Huey Lewis
Guest
Huey Lewis

Ewww. Arkansas? Have a blast, I guess.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz
jeff
Guest
jeff

Their quality has suffered greatly in the past several years anyway.

I wear many hats
Guest
I wear many hats

I moved away from Portland. I can now mountain bike from my house every single day. I no longer get yelled at on the trail. Portland is good for commuting, but its terrible for mountain biking, despite the miles and miles of trails in the city. Its no surprise that the brand needs to be somewhere where mountain biking is allowed.

PS
Guest
PS

Ah yes, if only there was mountain biking here in Portland, then the company from England, majority owned by an investment vehicle for two heirs to the Walton family fortune, who consequently operate their fund from Bentonville, AR would have kept the NA operations here, sure. This was a long time coming guaranteed.

Probably due time to pivot to OrNot, Voler, and others at this point.

Al
Guest
Al

How many Rapha customers will enjoy learning that they’re owned by Walmart?

I can just see this now, “Nice jersey. Was there a sale at Sam’s Club?” *snicker* *snicker*

rick
Guest
rick

Lower taxes and less regulations?

RudiV
Guest
RudiV

Not as bad as the Sonics moving to OK City, but in a similar vein. As somebody funnier than me noted at the time, “It’s like getting mugged by a 10 year old.”

Tom Ritchey
Guest
Tom Ritchey

Best way to instantly alienate everyone at the MTB trailhead: show up wearing Rapha lol

Beard-o
Guest
Beard-o

MTB apparel will be another short-lived folly in stepping away from their bread and butter business, which is marketing “suffering” to rich MAMILs who live in posh urban condos.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Sad for what it says about the state of road cycling and cycling in general, but honestly I don’t think anybody should be too surprised by this. There have been rumblings around town and their involvement in the local scene has declined the last 4 years or so. I mostly feel bad for those that are affected job/ salary-wise by this decision.

And if you’re looking for a local brand to support, Roule Cycling Apparel is a Portland startup that could use some love and support from our PNW family. 🙂

Dustin
Guest
Dustin

From an area that is supposedly inclusive, many here are prejudice. I moved to NWA (northwest Arkansas) 2.5 years ago and had some of the same concerns posted here. I would say it is awful to keep people from moving here, but I simply can’t in good conscious. 2022 UCI world cyclocross also chose Fayetteville. Soooo as I said to an old girlfriend once: “it’s not you, it’s me (being super awesome!)”. Dont hate it til you try it! We love visitors! http://Www.ozarkcyclingadventures.com

Kirk Jordan
Guest

As an Arkansan (Who loves Oregon), All I can say is — When you vernture this way, get ready for a big suprise. Arkansas is a hidden gem, a true delight.

Rivelo
Guest

Check out Wabi Woolens, which is based right here in Portland, Oregon and SEWN right here in Portland, Oregon!

About the same price as the Made in China Rapha stuff.

https://www.wabiwoolens.com/

Rivelo
Guest

Of course, the people who invented mountain biking just wore regular clothes. 🙂

https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/the-hippie-daredevils-who-were-just-crazy-enough-to-invent-mountain-biking/

Manville
Guest
Manville

maccoinnich
What happened to the Off-road Cycling Master Plan? The project website still says that it will go “to City Council for adoption in 2019.”Recommended 12

Just freaking ride Forrest Park. The master plan is a joke.

John Stephens
Guest
John Stephens

Bummer to lose them. Love the brand and the clothes. But, seems this is the pattern with high end brands…..sell to a holding company, go ‘big’ and start mass production under corporate management. Oh well. Lots of local companies to keep shopping at, like the Wabi Woolens mentioned above.

Rivelo
Guest

Matt S.
I talked with a Rapha rep years ago about their goods being made in China, he said, “that’s where all the best sewers in the world are located.” We have a lot of US pride here so it makes since we value stuff being made locally, but when you’re London based operating in NA they’ll go where the best sewers are. Interesting how he framed it as a quality issue, suggesting our sewers are subpar. He even went as far as speaking about the decreasing textile industry on the east coast.Recommended 0

The Chinese *are* excellent sewers. Their labor costs are also a fraction of what American shops charge.

Chinese costs are rising, though, and more and more American/UK companies are going to Vietnam. (The Vietnamese sew the best tents in the world! Amazing stuff. )

Michael Mann
Guest
Michael Mann

“We understand the Portland cycling community might be a little disheartened with this news,”
Yes in terms of selling out to Walmart. But once you have, sure, please, go to Arkansas.

Clive de Sousa
Guest

The mystique of the Rapha brand seems to be running out of gas with each turn it takes.
Was truly inspirational at the start not feeling the same anymore.

They'll Never Get It
Guest
They'll Never Get It

Middle of the Road Guy
And in Arkansas, people are pointing and laughing at Oregon.Recommended 22

it’s typical of the people of this area to think that everyone else, everywhere else are rubbing the last two brain cells together while the most enlightened find themselves here in this hamlet.

But, the rest of the country does point and laugh, and it takes a bit of swallowing your pride to see that the city in all of its communistic glory is an almost comical cesspool where companies simply don’t want to be, and certainly where families do not want to raise their children.

Everyone that leaves is better for it. When I finish milking the funds out of this consulting gig, I’ll be happy to move on as well. You’ll, surely, be happy to see actual productive and moral bicyclists roll out. But you do that to your own detriment.

Ilya
Guest
Ilya

I have been wearing Rapha bike and off the bike clothing for about 10 years. After my first jersey purchase 10 years ago, I exclusively wore Rapha clothing going forward. I used to purchase new items all the time, especially during a sale or when I had a discount code or a gift certificate. As of the last few years, I have noticed a drop off in quality and design. I am not longer excited by many of their products and find the quality is lacking compared to a few years ago. I’ve had a gift certificate that I’ve tried to spend but many of the basic items like a cream base layer or classic bib shorts were only available in extra small or large. The jersey designs have become very boring. I remember the club or country jerseys or the special issue jerseys that would sell out quickly only to be replaced by some boring race cut jerseys that down quite fit right anymore. I wont even get into the City collection which used to be awesome If things continue on the same path this company is doomed and this move is a signal of the beginning of the end. I hope they bring in some new designers because whoever is designing their current products SUCKS!!

Slate
Guest
Slate

Forest Park’s lack of MTB access has nothing to do with this move. This is a consolidation by new ownership, plain and simple. Things change when the mission is different from the original vision. Rapha in MTB? Sacrilege. Rapha not in Portland? Bummer. But, I’ll just say my own personal thank you to Portland for having Rapha in our early days be part of this great community. The role Portland played in those days were defining to the culture we wanted to show to the world. A love of riding, adventure and the amazing people you meet along the road.

Jessie
Guest
Jessie

I have no dog in this fight, I live in the east and have never been to Portland or Bentonville. I find it interesting that there are very few positive comments here about Rapha as a company, yet people still complain that they are leaving Portland. Do you like them or not? Do you actually want them there? Personally, I am not a fan of the cult of Rapha but I do own a few pieces of their gear, and it is all arguably of the best gear I have. I take issue with some of their prices but I have no issue with the quality they produce. I don’t love the branding but I also think it’s coming from an authentic place. They have created something special, along with creating a new category of apparel.

It should be noted that Wal-Mart does not own Rapha. The grandchildren of Sam Walton, who inherited his money (yes, Wal-Mart money), have their own investment company. That’s who owns it. They also have a stake in Allied and are heavily invested in cycling infrastructure to make NW Arkansas more of a destination. Regardless of where their money came from, I think we can all say it seems like they are using it to make bicycling better, which is good, right?

It makes complete sense from a business perspective to consolidate operations. Imagine being a national company but living in the top-left of a huge country. I think the time difference to their London HQ is 8 hours, right? Have you ever had a 6:00am conference call? Consider how much easier shipping orders and business travel is from the middle of the country. Personally I wouldn’t want to move from Portland to NWA but I do know (this part of) Arkansas isn’t as bad as you think it is, and they’re obviously building a new culture in the area.

So, what is Portland going to lose by their dozen or so staff moving to Arkansas?