Many of us who get into cycling immediately start chasing down the lightest carbon fibre bikes, and snap up replica apparel as worn by our pro cycling heroes. After we’ve been riding for a little while, however, we look back at the history and heritage of cycling, learning about the great riders as they tackle the most iconic climbs. Images of pain, heroism and grit etched on the faces of the true stars of the sport, such as Hinault, Simpson and Coppi put the likes of Contador and Froome in the shade. And the clothing… well you only have to look at the shocking new Tinkoff-Saxo kit to know that the teams of the 60s, 70s and 80s just oozed style and sophistication compared with their modern equivalents.
Which leads me to shoes. Sidi, Shimano, fizik – all perfectly good brands and the Ride Velo household own several pairs of these. But they’re functional objects, not objects of desire. You wouldn’t get a foot fetishist drooling over a pair of Mavics, for instance. But when Ride Velo saw our first pair of Celeste blue, leather, lace up cycling shoes with navy laces and stitching, we actually went weak at the knees. Filled with the urge to touch, stroke and sniff (yes sniff!) that gorgeous supple leather, we were slaves to its numerous charms. We longed to caress them, care for them, and more than anything else, take them home and make them ours. But, no, they weren’t for sale.
There was nothing for it but to hunt these beauties down. We came very close when we visited The Light Blue in Cambridge where the Celeste blue shoes perfectly complement their range of retro steel bicycles. Then Mark Fairhurst; shortly after we interviewed him he appeared on Twitter looking like the dapper chap he is, sporting a brand new pair of REW Reynolds classic leather cycling shoes with orange stitching, seemlessly matching his Guv’nor’s Assembly tweeds and vintage Pashley. Mark told us we had to write a profile on REW Reynolds and who were we to disagree?
A couple of weeks later, we rock up at the uber slick Rapha store in London’s Soho to meet David Smith, the new Managing Director of REW Reynolds, a brand established in Northampton by the Reynolds family back in 1921, thought to be the oldest cycling shoe manufacturer in the world. “I can’t believe I’ve bought Reynolds,” he told us excitedly, “I used to go past the shop as a child, nose pressed to the window, and now I’m the owner of this company with its wonderful history and provenance.” So how did it all come to pass?
David Smith, 50, is someone who has always followed his passions, even running his own vineyard in Bordeaux. Cycling was another passion - he used to ride for fun with a pro team in France when he wasn't tending the vines. He secretly dreamed of becoming a cycling shoe manufacturer. “For a good many years, I had this idea in my mind, to design a Goodyear welted, cleated cycling shoe, using my wife’s maiden name which was ‘Kingston’.”
Northampton has such a noble tradition of shoe manufacturing that this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The likes of Church’s, Barker’s, Crockett & Jones and Edward Green are all based in the Midlands town. REW Reynolds (not to be confused with Reynolds steel tubing) originally made bicycle frames, cycling jerseys and even published a couple of guidebooks in addition to their range of shoes. For David Smith REW Reynolds was part of his childhood, inexorably linked with his own personal history.
“A friend of mine’s father many years ago bought Reynold’s cycle frame and shoe shop as a business, lock stock and barrel, when Ralph Reynolds retired . The shop came to an end but the shoe business carried on and it put my friend through university. He then sold the business on to a very nice couple who trundled along with it, but didn’t change with the times, manufacturing a traditional cycling shoe which is quite straightforward to do. But to go to a cleated shoe to move with the times, well they simply didn’t do it." Things weren't looking too healthy for Reynolds until David stepped in. His opportunity to finally fulfil his dream of making beautiful cycling shoes had come true.This was back in early 2014. "So there is a God whoever he is, and I bought Reynolds in April/May 2015.”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing, the business wasn’t commercially sustainable and David had to drag it back into the 21st century. In less than a year, David’s plans to revolutionise the very traditional brand, while making sure that the new designs and methods were still in keeping with Reynold’s roots (bench-made and hand-stitched), are well under way.
“There’ve been a few trials and tribulations, but today things have more or less worked out. We’ve taken the traditional cycling shoe and jazzed it up, using new coloured stitching and laces to make it a bit more palatable. You can ride for hours in these shoes.” These beauties also last for ever. David was recently sent a photograph of a pair that had cycled 100,000 miles and still look as good as new. “The people who’ve come out of the woodwork and contacted me with stories about their shoes is incredible.”
Just a couple of months after buying Reynolds, he bravely relaunched the brand at the L’Eroica festival of retro and vintage cycling in Derbyshire. “It went really well, we were just there to reintroduce the world to our shoes but the response was resoundingly positive. The popularity of L’Eroica in the UK is growing all the time, showing people that cycling’s not just about racing, it’s reminding people that you can just get on a bike and go for a picnic, say, like they did in the 1940s or 50s.”
David excitedly revealed some prototypes of his new range, displaying them on the table for us to admire. The staff of the Rapha Café leant over us, drooling over these beautiful creations as they sought to sniff the aroma of fine leather. He has created a beautifully sleek lace up racing shoe that he intends to manufacture with a cleated sole. He’s also developing a brogue boot with a recessed cleat in the sole so that you can pedal into work, leap off your bike and stride straight into the office, without getting changed. Another brogue type shoe will complement the new range. He’s also working on developing a women’s specific shoe. Finance for all his ideas, on the other hand, is not quite so well developed but David thinks that crowd-funding could help get all these projects off the ground - in the same way that Vulpine managed to raise funds so successfully last year.
The temptation to lead Reynolds back into manufacturing merino jerseys and bike frames is always there, but David knows the dangers of spreading yourself too thinly. “We’re going to concentrate on shoes and on making a really nice product. Cycling is not a need – it’s a want. So who knows? But what I do know is that we will always make our shoes in England – that’s our USP (unique selling point). “
At the moment he’s busy playing around with trying to incorporate road cleats into a welted shoe, while using the traditional methods. “We’ve got all the skills in Northamptonshire and we’re playing around with it. If it works, fantastic, if it doesn’t work, than at least we tried.” This is obviously the future for traditionally handmade leather road shoes, because David realises that not all his customers want to use strapped pedals. But we think, that if anyone’s going to be able to make them – REW Reynolds will do the job. And we’re first in line to place an order when that day comes!