Wednesday 14 December 2016 12:46 pm

Le Col: Can this premium cycling brand designed by riders be the next Rapha?

"I'm convinced that cycling isn't going to go away," says Yanto Barker, a retired British pro cyclist now whose ambitious apparel brand Le Col is currently looking to secure £1m worth of funding from investors via Crowdcube.

Le Col is entering the home straight of its crowdfunding campaign with 23 days left for budding investors to join the 117 people who have already given £551,690 towards the premium cycling brand's £1m target.

The company, founded in 2009, sits alongside high-end success stories like London-based Rapha or the Australian MAAP, designing products based on professional rider feedback and selling self-manufactured products for up to £300.

Barker insists that there are many lucrative peaks still to climb in the cycling industry — his five-year plan for Le Col is targeting £27.7m turnover by 2020/21 —  despite recent figures suggesting a drop off in enthusiasm in the UK.

Following years of Team Sky and Olympic glory-inspired growth in the number of Brits getting on their bikes and the profits of the cycling industry, Sport England last week revealed that cycling had suffered a drop of 85,200 people regularly participating in the sport last year.

But Barker, currently a member of the ONE Pro Cycling team owned by former England cricketer Matt Prior, doesn't believe we're about to see a burst in the British biking bubble.

Read more: The London crowd – Will Meyer of Brother Cycles on what it’s like to crowdfund a business in the capital

"There are lots of council-led schemes investing in cycling infrastructure not just in London but all around the UK," he told City AM.

"They are long view projects either in operation or in planning or due to begin soon that will continue to increase participation in the next few years.

"When you do the research you recognise that there is a direct correlation between infrastructure facilitating cycling, making it safer, and the number of people actively cycling.

"It’s never going to be a linear graph going up. There will be a few dips here and there. But overall I’m convinced that cycling isn’t going to go away because there’s actually for health reasons, for transport reasons, for the economy — cycling to work etc — people will ride recreationally, buy new bikes and kit, and continue spending in the industry. These are things we look at to make sure we’re forecasting and planning."

Yanto Barker: "I'm convinced that cycling isn't going to go away"

But for Barker, the forecasting and planning at Le Col stretches beyond Britain's borders. With its products now sold in 10 different countries, Barker wants to use the Crowdcube campaign's funds to fuel growth on a global scale in order to boost revenues from this year's £949,500 to the targeted £27.7m.

"It's naive to think that all countries are at a similar level in their cycling trajectory," says Barker. "Even if we've reached the peak of the bubble in this country, we [Le Col] are very much not reliant on one single country to reach our targets. There's a careful analysis in where we think the most attractive countries are for us to expand into, mature markets and emerging markets.

"It’s important to factor that into our business plan because we can potentially hit a territory that’s going to go through what the UK’s gone through in the last five years and that would see a strong increase in participation and premium levels of people with high net worth getting involved in cycling and buying the kind of products that we produce."

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The route ahead for Le Col has been paved by the likes of London-based Rapha, the current leader in the quality cycling apparel space, who reached turnover of £50m last year and Italy's Pinarello who last week were sold to L Catterton, the US-based private equity firm of which luxury brand conglomerate and owner of Luis Vuitton, LVMH, is a part owner.

Barker wants to use future investment from the crowdfunding round to raise the brand's profile and reach new markets while maintaining the quality of the product currently handmade in house at its Italy factory.

"It’s a very delicate balance and the considerations are twofold," says Barker. "One, maintaining the integrity of the brand. Two, satisfying the people who have invested into a growth plan that we’ve set out.

"Maintaining that quality aspect on a scaleable level is very important and something I've worked hard to make sure won't get compromised.

"Part of that is owning the manufacturing. We have one core manufacturing unit in Italy and all products are made from there. During the expansion phase we will be hiring in as opposed to subcontracting more.

"I would hope to attract a [potential] buyer who got the features and qualities of the brand in the first place."