London-based cycling and retail company Rapha has been on a roll with its U.S. expansion, opening its Seattle Clubhouse in the Excelsior building at Melrose and Pine on March 22.
“Seattle was just a no-brainer,” said Brendan Quirk, president for Rapha North America. “It’s got a great cycling heritage, it’s got great bike riding. People around here are tough; they ride all year.”
Rapha started as a clothing company in 2004, and does most of its business online. However, its brand is being showcased out of its network of Clubhouses and pop-ups, where the company pushes cycling culture hard.
For its Seattle Clubhouse in Capitol Hill, Rapha is also pushing coffee, the cafe being the first to take centerstage in one of the company’s physical locations.
“In Seattle, the cafe was purposely put in the center of the space,” said Rapha Seattle general manager Zac Daab, adding hiring for that side of the club was the hardest.
Rapha Cycling Club members, who pay an annual $200 fee, can pick up free coffee daily. The high-end bikes seen hanging overhead at Rapha are not for sale, but available to RCC members to rent.
Daab said German company Canyon Bicycles provides the high-end bikes — $12,000-$15,000, and yes, they’re insured — and customized their look for Rapha.
“We have our particular take on it,” Quirk said of Rapha’s club. “It’s around riding together. It’s introducing people to the spot. It’s getting people to push themselves, and then get together to celebrate the sport.”
Rapha Clubhouses host a number of weekly rides. Daab said the Mercer Island loop is very popular.
Pronto is kaput, but don’t expect an RCC membership to replace Seattle’s failed ride share program. The bikes for rent are for sport, not utility, Quirk said.
“There are definitely fans of the brand,” Daab said, “a lot of pent-up demand.”
The building at 301 E. Pine was long branded as the Capitol Hill Bauhaus coffee shop, and people stopping by do miss it, Daab said.
Daab has his own Seattle brand, having founded the Cascade Bicycle Studio in Fremont 11 years ago.
“A lot of people I think in the community know me from that role,” he said, adding he has a team that manages the shop now.
Rapha Seattle is the fifth U.S. location for the company, which plans one more in Los Angeles by the end of 2017, followed four more in 2018, Quirk said.
There are currently Rapha Clubhouses in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado.
On the subject of the old Bauhaus, Quirk added that Rapha Chicago opened in the Wicker Park space that had been used as the record store in the film, “High Fidelity.” Rapha worked a nod to that history into the store, Quirk said, but heard about Bauhaus a little too late.