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The Comedy of Errors

At The Wheel: Raleigh's New Managing Director Lee Kidger on The Company's Local History

10 June 21 interview: Jared Wilson

Originally founded in Nottingham in 1885, The Raleigh Bicycle Company went on to become one of the oldest and most well-loved bicycle companies in the world. From transforming Notts into the world-leader for bicycle manufacturing and creating countless jobs in the city to being the workplace of Alan Sillitoe’s Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and crafting the iconic bikes that would help shape a generation of cyclists, the name Raleigh is as tightly woven into Nottingham’s DNA as any other. A lot has changed for the company over the years, but it’s still firmly based in Notts (in Eastwood these days). We spoke to their Managing Director Lee Kidger…

Tell us a bit about you. What were you doing before you started working at Raleigh? Have you always been enthusiastic about cycling?
I was always interested in cycling throughout my childhood. However, my main sports were always football or golf. I remember my first Raleigh bike being used as a goalpost at the local park with friends – I was always out riding it. The passion for cycling, and the industry, came after school when I was at University. Whilst completing a degree in Sports and Business Management I worked for Halfords within their cycling department. This was the moment I realised that I had a real passion for working within the industry and really enjoyed the business element. I have stayed within the cycling industry ever since. It’s really good to be passionate about the products and the brands you work with on a daily basis.

You started at Raleigh in 2014 and worked your way up through various roles to take over as Managing Director last year. What did it feel like to become the main figurehead of the company?
Being appointed Managing Director of the business was an honour. The business has such a rich history in the cycling industry, Nottingham, and the surrounding areas. From Sir Frank Bowden acquiring the company back in 1888, his passion for the brand is still felt within the business. I joined the company back in 2014 because of the brand and have held various roles within the business. I think this development shows that the ownership of the company fully trusts their employees and for this I am extremely thankful to work for a company such as Raleigh.

How many people work for Raleigh these days?
We have about 120 employees working at our Raleigh Head Office in Eastwood – this spans across all facets of the business from sales, marketing, finance and all our warehousing/logistics comes from this one site. Raleigh are owned by Accell Group who are the European market leader in electric bikes and second largest in bicycles parts and accessories. From this we have colleagues across the whole of Europe who we work with on a regular basis. While we are known as Raleigh, we also manage the Haibike and Lapierre brands in the UK as well as distributing over forty Parts & Accessories brands.

The Raleigh Bicycle Company has a long and distinguished history in Nottingham, dating back hundreds of years. Do you find that legacy more of a blessing or a curse?
It is 100% a blessing. The legacy and the continual brand love for Raleigh is infectious. We have the highest brand recognition in the UK at >70% aided awareness. You only have to ask anyone about Raleigh and most people will have a story about the brand. We are a different business compared to even five years ago with our direction, but the heritage and brand love is still there. We continue to embrace our history however we will not be defined by it. We are a modern-day business, with modern values and the team are vital to the success of the brand.

Nottingham is in our blood, it’s where the brand was founded, and we continue to embrace all that Nottingham has to offer

Did you ever ride a Chopper or a Burner while you were growing up?
My first bike was a Raleigh in the early nineties. I never had a Chopper or a Burner as that was a little before my childhood but the affinity for the brand remains.

Have you ever been tempted to launch a revamped ‘Chopper’ like Volkswagon did with their Beetle?
The Raleigh Chopper is probably one of the world’s most iconic bikes ever made. Launched in 1969, over 1.5 million models were sold. The love for the Chopper lives on; we see many of our brand fans collecting and refurbishing old models, so we know if we were to bring it back one day, we could be sure of a high amount of interest. All I can say is, watch this space…

Personally I was a Raleigh Burner kid when I was growing up. I’m pleased to see that they remain part of your product range. Are they still a big seller?
We relaunched the Burner Trilogy (three specific models) back in 2017 as a brand marketing activity. We knew there was an affinity to the brand and our iconic bikes (the Burner) but these models blew us away with the brand love. We received an amazing response to these bikes and it’s great seeing the youth of today riding these iconic remakes. They aren’t staples in our range, but we will release them in limited numbers from time to time. Keep your eyes peeled for the next one.

What are Raleigh’s best-selling bikes these days?
In short, all areas of our business are performing well. The stand-out areas are electric bikes, whether these be leisure bikes or electric mountain bikes, more people are understanding the benefits of these products. Cargo bikes are now becoming increasingly important within cities for businesses to transport products quickly, without the use of motor vehicles and are being adopted by many local authorities also. The Raleigh electric bikes are market leaders in the electric leisure sector and continue to impress their users. Recently our Motus Tour was crowned Indy Best Buy.

Do you think people are consistently moving more and more towards electric bikes or will there always be a call for regular bikes?
There has been a resurgence of people wanting ‘regular bikes’. However, throughout 2020 the demand for electric bikes continued to outperform the market. They are enabling people to ride further, faster and for longer. Electric bikes now look awesome and customers really like that. Look at the German market, over one million electric bikes are sold each year – as Raleigh we have a duty to educate all consumers on the benefits of electric bikes for leisure, business or commuting use.

The legacy and the continual brand love for Raleigh is infectious. We have the highest brand recognition in the UK

What effects did the pandemic have on Raleigh? Did you see a surge in bicycle sales?
The industry has seen an influx of new cyclists into the market which is great. The Government has set out their recommendations to get more people active which has had a positive effect on the bicycle industry, as well as Raleigh. We must continue to do more to support these new cyclists; infrastructure, access to bicycles, government loan schemes etc. Back in July 2020, the Government announced the ‘Gear Change’ document. A £2 billion investment in walking and cycling over the course of the next five years to support consumers and businesses in going green. The Prime Minister's first sentence in this document is, “I have always known that millions more people in this country want to cycle, if the conditions are right, and the past four months have proved it”. This is absolutely critical to the development of the market, especially for the electrification of bicycles. 

We saw that you’ve just launched a new co-working space called The Hive. What’s that all about?
The Hive is a brand new collaborative working space for our employees that embeds the magic of the brand alongside 21st century working conditions. Gone are the structured desk areas, replaced with standing desks, quiet spaces and creative thinking areas – fully equipped with bean bags and deckchairs to sit on. The global pandemic has changed the way businesses operate and while we give our employees the choice where to work, we wanted to create a team working space that encompasses all our core values. People love the flexibility to work from home when it’s beneficial for them but can come into our office environment and the Hive when they see fit. You cannot choose bike colours from a computer screen, for example.

The health benefits of cycling have always been embedded into Raleigh as a company, ever since Frank Bowden founded it and wrote papers like Cycling for Health and Points For Cyclists (1913). What would you say to people who are considering taking up cycling to get more exercise?
I think the benefits of cycling need to continue to be expressed to customers of the brand, or any bicycle brand, as the benefits far outweigh just exercise. Yes, there are many health benefits to riding a bicycle, but we must remember the environmental and social benefits also. The Government has very ambitious plans to remove carbon emissions and a bike can be a major player in this.

What does Nottingham as a city mean to Raleigh these days?
Nottingham is in our blood, it’s where the brand was founded, and we continue to embrace all that Nottingham has to offer. The city is vibrant and has a good cycling community. Also, the introduction of electric cargo bikes within businesses in Nottingham has been very well received – who doesn’t love having their produce delivered by a zero emissions electric cargo bike?

What are your personal favourite cycling routes? Got any to recommend within Nottinghamshire?
There are some fantastic cycling routes in Nottingham and the surrounding counties, so whether it’s a ride on the road, a mountain bike or a leisure ride the county has something for everyone. For me, a mixture of all is great – and either a cafe or pub stop are almost compulsory. I would recommend Caffe Velo Verde in Screveton or Fables in Edwinstowe as my two favourite cafes. Pizza at the Rustic Crust in Farnsfield to recover from your ride is highly recommended too.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I think the bicycle industry is at a crossroads; with the government investments, this really is a once in a lifetime opportunity for change – however we must seize it fast. Temporary measures are great, but they must be made permanent.  

Look at our European counterparts, such as the Netherlands or Germany – cycling is a way of life, used for both leisure and transport. For us to capitalise on this, we must engage with not just cyclists, but everybody, to further explain the physical, economical and mental benefits of cycling. 

We have just been through a full brand re-launch and you will start to see this come through in our messaging, product and photography – we want to inject the fun back into cycling.

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