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by Neal Rogers
May 29, 2019
Rapha is putting its money where its proverbial mouth is.
The British apparel brand has announced a new charitable foundation, with $750,000 in grants headed to five non-profit grassroots organizations in the United States and another $750,000 headed to similar organizations across the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, and Australia later this year.
Following the recent release of the Rapha Roadmap, a two-year study into the state of professional cycling, the Rapha Foundation is the next step in the brand’s ambitious efforts to see professional cycling became the most popular sport in the world.
Assembled by four authors 2017 and 2018, the 128-page Rapha Roadmap makes several suggestions to help grow the sport. Among the conclusions were that the most obvious method for growing the sport’s participation is to “improve its existing local communities and to build new ones.”
“The possibility of stronger funding for amateur development programs would boost the entire sport,” the Rapha Roadmap states. “These programs — perhaps funded in part by a professional team or event organizers — could create an unbroken rider development path, from a grassroots regional club to the very top level of pro cycling, mirroring the feeder programs that are already well established in other sports.”
In this case, the funding comes not from a pro team or event organizer, but from the brand that commissioned the study — and more specifically, from its founder and CEO, Simon Mottram, along with new shareholders Tom and Steuart Walton, who invested a reported $225 million into the brand in 2017.
The Walton brothers are grandsons of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas. The Walton Family Foundation has invested over $70 million into cycling infrastructure in the region, and is helping fund the 2022 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Rapha Foundation’s stated mission is to build toward a better future for the sport “by inspiring, empowering and supporting the next generation of racers.”
The five inaugural grantees are the Amy D. Foundation, Boulder Junior Cycling, USA Cycling’s MudFund, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), and New York City’s Star Track winter velodrome program.
Boulder Junior Cycling is a year-round youth cycling program in Colorado that provides programs for all abilities aged 8-18 in mountain biking, cyclocross, and road cycling.
“Fortunately, we have shareholders now who have enough money to put their money where my mouth is,” Mottram told CyclingTips. “It’s fantastic that we’re able to do it. It comes from the Roadmap, but I suppose it also comes initially from the way we started the company, which was to try and make the sport more popular. And having a foundation, which enables us to invest into the grassroots of the sport, was always enticing, and something we would have loved to have done. And the Roadmap gives it a more sharp focus.
“Because the Roadmap is really focused on professional sport, as the very important ‘shop window’ that will have a halo, helping those aspiring, talented young riders is the next thing to do. Tom and Steuart putting up the seed funding is amazing.”
Mottram said that Rapha identified up to 100 potential organizations around the world, and then narrowed that down to a field of 25. Without identifying the Rapha brand, the foundation asked each organization to submit a proposal on how they would use the funding.
Potential grantees are invited to apply for funding on a biannual basis in the spring and autumn. Applicants must be registered charities, including 501c3 organizations for US-based institutions, and equivalent institutions outside the US.
“We will be able to track how the funds are being used,” Mottram said. “There’s a very specific undertaking for each of them. Star Track, in Queens, focuses around a winter training program, and the facilities to be able to do that; they’ve got their outdoor track, but the more-talented riders want to train in the winter, they need somewhere to go with stationary bikes, they need to be taken around. The MudFund has a strong focus on travel grants, and getting people to be able to go and race cyclocross overseas.
“Each of these grantees set out in detail what they wanted to do, and how they would apply the funds. And we’ll definitely be checking on how they do that.”
Star Track aspires to improve the lives of New York City children through a free program that teaches the fundamentals of track cycling at Kissena Velodrome in Queens.
While seed funding for the Rapha Foundation was provided by the Walton brothers, Rapha will ultimately look to its customers, and members of the Rapha Cycling Club, to help provide funding. The second round of funding will be announced in November.
“We will expect to raise significant funds doing things ourselves,” Mottram said. “We do quite a few charity rides. My son is disabled, so we’ve always done ridiculously long rides to raise money for autism. We’ve raised over a million pounds in the last five years for that. So getting people to come do things, to raise money for good causes, is something that we’ve always done. I think there will be an element of that.
“There will be an element of check-out contributions, getting involved however they want. I suppose we’re lucky in that we sell direct to the consumer, so we have this group of people who feel some kind of affinity to Rapha, and we’d like to encourage them to get involved.”
The Rapha Foundation is administered as a donor-advised fund at Fidelity Charitable, an independent US-based charitable organization. For more information, click here.