Factory Tour: Ridley Bikes Belgian Headquarters (Video)

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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.

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Factory Tour: Ridley Bikes Belgian Headquarters (Video) Gallery
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Winning History

The paint job on the latest X-Night frames trumpets the company's massive success at the top level of cyclocross. Seven of the last 11 world titles have been won on a Ridley.
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All Shapes and Sizes

While best known in the U.S. for its 'cross rigs, Ridley is also a player in the road and mountain bike markets, though they have yet to bring their fat tire bikes to North America.
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Design In Process

Each bike model and size requires its own specially designed set of transfer stickers, which assure the right color paint goes in the right places. There's an entire department who does the transfer sticker design work.
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Tailor Precision

Most of the transfer sticker design work is done on computers, but occasionally they need to resort to more traditional methods, such as using a tailor's tape measure.
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Taping

Transfer stickers are then applied in phases that correspond to the paint color to be sprayed. Typically, that means three separate trips through the paint room.
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Sharp Lines

It can take a day or more for a frame to go through the entire painting and assembly process, which is not surprising when you see the amount of handwork that goes into each one.
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Spray Time

Frames typically pass through these paint rooms three times, as each different color is applied.
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Phase One

Here you see a frame that's received the first of what will be multiple paint colors. No stickers or decals on these bikes.
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Cook It Up

After painting, frames spend about three hours in the oven, which completely dries the paint and assures maximum adhesion.
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Dryer Rack

Frames must then cool down after their time in the oven.
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Clearcoat

Next comes a layer of clearcoat, which both protects and ensures the bikes have that special shine.
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Over the Years

Over time the look has changed, but the name remains the same.
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Clean Room

The clearcoat room must stay 100 percent dust free at all times.
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Catalog Creation

Ever wondered how they get bikes to look like they are standing up by themselves in catalog photos? All it takes is a little fishing line.
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Photo Illustration

These photos will soon make up the contents of a catalog or webpage.
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Alternative Revenue

Ridley fills in the work gaps in its paint rooms by painting auto wheels for a few local car parts shops.
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Not For Us

These are not the next big thing in fat bikes.
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Printer Paper

Ridley also has its own component line called 4ZA (produced forza). These stickers will adorn those products.
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Order Form

Every frame is tracked throughout the process.
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Parts Bin

In order to make complete in-house assembly possible, Ridley stocks just about every type of bike component known to man, including lots of derailleurs.
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Giant Bike Store

Whether you ride SRAM, Shimano or Campy, Ridley has it.
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Finished Product

In the building's upstairs showroom, you can peruse all the bikes in the Ridley line, including the cobblestone-eating Ridley Fenix Classic.
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Lunch Break

The other favorite sport at Ridley? The design team prefers at little lunch time badminton.
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Major Operation

All told, Ridley produces about 30,000 units per year.
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Olympic Bikes

Among the many showcase bikes floating around Ridley world headquarters is this fleet of Olympic bikes ridden by German, Belgian and Kiwi athletes.
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Simple Slogan

That about sums it up.
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Pro Team Pick Up

Some frames end up in boxes in shipping company trucks. Others go straight to their intended riders, in this case the Fidea pro cyclocross team.
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Roots

Flanders is both the epicenter of Belgian cycling culture -- and the home of its No. 1 bike maker.
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World HQ

Seventy people work in this building.
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures in British Columbia, Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, and Peru among many others. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in January, 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and edited a book on cycling tips. When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying the great outdoors with his wife Lisa.


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  • Des Dunphy says:

    Sir/Madam,
    I did a lot of research on carbon frames and happily in the end bought a FENIX .It does not disappoint in any respect,complimented with Campagnolo EPS.

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