Nearly 70 riders roll out into rare and brilliant February sunshine from the seemingly unlikely location of a Jaguar dealership.
Their route is led by the luxury car manufacturer’s XF Sportbrake model, the same used by Team Sky. A new bike adorns the roof rack and the riders following experience something akin to the motorized lead out enjoyed by professionals.
It’s a scene being repeated at Jaguar dealerships across the country, though others might perhaps struggle to match the panache with which the engagement has been carried off by Poole’s Westover Jaguar, located opposite the yard of luxury yacht builder, Sunseeker, and Ride, who, as well as scores of customers, have brought a fleet of high-end machines to the showroom.
The casual observer, and there are many as the ‘peloton’ returns through the town centre from a loop of about 20km, may notice little beyond the immediate distraction of gleaming bicycles and luxury motor cars, but closer examination reveals two important trends in modern cycling.
The first is a demonstration of the value placed by a blue chip car manufacturer on a positive relationship with cyclists. Those intent on portraying “a war” on Britain’s roads would find little to interest them here. That cyclists are also motorists is writ large; Jaguar clearly believes that at least some of them should be driving their cars. It’s an occasion that challenges the outdated belief that cyclists ride bikes from economic necessity rather than through choice.
Jaguar UK’s dealer marketing manager, Matt Dunnakey, told RoadCyclingUK he feels the brand’s sponsorship with Team Sky has given the brand permission to engage with the cycling community. Significantly, he has chosen to make that approach through independent bike dealers, in the belief that there is a synergy between their audience and Jaguar’s.
Ritchie Hilton-Foster, Ride’s owner, has chosen to close his shop this Saturday morning and to bring scores of his customers to the ride out. The financial hit absorbed by closing on the busiest day of week he hopes will be overcome by providing his customers with a day to remember: something the internet giants, with whose prices he cannot compete, might struggle to do.
Ride’s team members serve as road captains, shepherding the group behind the Jaguar ‘support car’, ensuring the riders remain safe and together. When the group returns to the showroom, mechanic, Andy Phillips, demonstrates basic maintenance procedures, while Jon Hayes, surrounded by the paraphernalia of the bike fit, discusses the importance of set up. Hilton-Foster has brought many of the shop’s finest wares, and the Colnago C59s and Masters draw as much attention as the XJs and XKs that surround them.
Is this the new landscape for independent bike shops? A range of services and experiences to build loyalty among a customer base only a mouse click away from lower prices? Hilton-Foster believes so. Alongside his bike fitting service, twice-weekly guided rides, and soon-to-begin maintenance courses, he hopes days like the Jaguar ride out will help to distinguish Ride from its internet rivals in the minds of his customers.
Luxury car manufacturers and independent bike dealers might at a first glance seem unlikely bedfellows, but those commanding Jaguar’s marketing strategy, and those ensuring local bike shops remain a feature of our town and cities, clearly believe in the partnership.