A Belgian Classic
Cycling Plus|April 2017

Ridley has, like Cycling Plus, been around for a quarter of a century. We travelled to Belgium to find out how the company has grown over the last 25 years to become the only global Belgian bike brand.

Robin Wilmott

We just wanted a good-sounding name that was easy to pronounce in different languages,” explains Jochim Aerts as he tells us about the brand he founded just over 25 years ago. “Many Belgian companies and bike shops used their family name or tried to make the company sound Italian, such as Borghini. I loved Alien and Blade Runner, both directed by Ridley Scott, and thought Ridley would be a great name.”

We’re with Aerts at Ridley’s headquarters and factory in Beringen, north-east Belgium as he reminisces about the formation and growth of a bike company that runs almost parallel to Cycling Plus’s history. And the ‘name’ is a question he’s asked a lot as it’s caused confusion down the years. “For years people thought we were an American brand,” Aerts admits. “Now we proudly promote our Belgian roots.”

In just over a quarter of a century Ridley has gone from custom bike painter, to frame builder to global cycling brand recognised for innovation and racing success on the road and in cyclo-cross.

“My dad is crazy about cycling and my brother, who’s 10 years older than me [Aerts is 45], began racing bikes at 14. From the age of four all of my weekend memories are of watching him compete. I began racing road and cyclo-cross at 14. When I was 18 my brother, who’d already been a pro for two years, had a crash and didn’t get a contract, so stopped racing.”

His brother’s misfortune led to the formation of what is now Belgium’s biggest bike company. “He was a partner in Bioracer clothing [another Belgian company] at the time, which was also selling custom steel framesets,” recalls Aerts. “My brother suggested I combined my cycling with building these frames, but I’d trained to be an electronics engineer. Back then I could probably have repaired a TV, but I’d never held a welding torch!”

IN THE FRAME

Aerts threw himself into learning the trade. “It took seven to eight months to become good enough to make Bioracer’s low-end lugged frames, with tube lengths variable by 5mm. I began welding them in my dad’s garage in the early ’90s, and they sold for around €750-€1000.” At the same time Aerts’ own racing career came to an end.

Just a couple of years after he’d begun frame building, Bioracer took production in-house and Aerts sold his business to them. His career took another different direction: producing custom paint finishes for them instead. He left his father’s garage and invested in a 1000m 2 facility close to Ridley’s current location. “I was painting for a number of companies and within two years we were the largest sub-contractor for bike painting in Benelux, painting 700-800 bikes per week.”

But when one of his largest customers – Minerva, another Belgian bike company – bought its own painting plant, Aerts changed tack once again.

“I had plenty of contacts in the racing world, I knew about bike geometry and how to design and paint bikes. None of the customers I painted for had any of this. The only things I didn’t have were money, a customer base and an assembly facility. I decided to begin my own brand!

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