Seventy people work in Ridley’s main headquarters facility in Belgium.
Just off the E313 highway in Paal, Belgium, there’s a large industrial park. Among the various box-shaped buildings is one that stands out for anyone with even a mild interest in cycling. Here, about an hour east of Brussels, is the world headquarters of Ridley Bikes.
Inside this 12,000-square meter facility, you wont find any manufacturing. That all happens in Asia. But there is real work going on. Each day, about 70 employees conspire to take the raw frames that arrive at the shipping-and-receiving dock, and guide those frames through a labor intensive process that includes quality control, transfer sticker attachment, painting, curing, and final component build-up that yields ready-to-ride, fully hand-painted frames.
The hallmark output is of course Ridley’s cyclocross bikes. If you’ve watched any elite level cyclocross in the last decade, you know that on the World Cup circuit, Ridley is the dominant player. Seven of the last 11 men’s world championship titles have been won on one of the Belgian bike-maker’s top-shelf ’cross steeds — a feat that is commemorated in the paint job of the most recent X-Night frame, Ridley’s top-shelf carbon race bike.
“Because Belgium is such a cycling country, it’s very important for us to have a large presence in the professional ranks,” explained Jochen Bessemans, Ridley PR and marketing manager and RoadBikeReview’s tour guide during our visit to the Paal facility. “Our success at the professional level is something we are very proud of.”
An in-house design studio creates transfer stickers that guide Ridley’s painter staff. Each bike model and size gets its own set.
In 2013, Ridley outfitted 11 pro teams, including the Fidea and Sunweb pro cyclocross squads and the Lotto-Belisol WorldTour team that includes sprinter extraordinaire Andre Greipel.
“It’s a huge commitment for us,” added Bessemans. “For the Lotto team alone it comes out to about 2 million euros ($2.7 million U.S.) a year when you include equipment. It’s four bikes for each of the 29 riders.”
The process of getting a frame ready for retail takes at least a full day. Raw frames are prepped for painting, taped off using specially designed transfer stickers, painted, cured, and then given a clear coat in a special room that must remain dust free at all times. All told, frames typically pass through the paint rooms three times, as each different color and corresponding set of transfer stickers are applied. When everything is running smoothly, about 130 frames are painted per week.
Simultaneously, Ridley employs a team of designers whose job is to create the transfer stickers that assure all paint ends up where it’s supposed to. Literally every model size gets its own custom packet of transfer stickers.
After painting, frames spend about three hours in a curing oven, which completely dries the paint and assures maximum adhesion. The frames then move to the building’s lower level for final parts assembly and shipping. About 450 bikes are assembled per week.
The amount of handwork that goes into each frame is truly impressive.
In order to make this possible, Ridley stocks just about every type of bike component known to man, including groupsets from SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo. Worldwide production is about 30,000 units, which includes cyclocross, road, and mountain bikes distributed to 69 countries. Ridley also has its own component line called 4ZA (produced, forza).
To learn more about the Ridley operation, check the extensive photo gallery below, and watch this video from our friends at the Global Cycling Network. It includes an interview with company founder Joachim Aerts, who started the operation out if his family garage when he was 18 years old. And in case you were wondering, the name of the company traces its roots to Aerts’ admiration of famed film director Ridley Scott. His favorite Scott picture? Blade Runner.