As a producer of bike and speed wear, Bioracer has found international response; Bioracer clothing just wants to be the best, and the fastest. Founder and CEO Raymond Vanstraelen (69) is still completely committed to that.
“I was the most unlikely candidate for entrepreneur,” rationalises Raymond pleasantly. “Up till my fortieth, I worked for RTT before I started my own business.” When he was young, he was one of the better ‘amateurs’ (now known as ‘elite without contract’) and was also active as a sport masseur and cycling trainer. In his cycling school, he developed a fitting system for how you should sit on the bike.
Twelve Olympic Gold medals
And that’s where Bioracer comes in. “My mission was, and is, to make cyclists better and faster,” Raymond sums it up. “A lot of people think immediately about the bike, when they hear ‘bike fitting‘, but there’s also great scope for improvement in the clothing too. You know, we started with wool and cotton! At the time, I was in touch with a Swiss manufacturer who was already doing pioneering work with modern bike materials. My wife and I started making ultramodern, breathable cycle clothing on two machines, in my garage.”
He met professional cyclists Eric Vanderaerden and Hennie Kuiper and… “Well, it just ran away with us,” Raymond jokes. Bioracer has currently been working for more than twenty years, for the Belgian and Dutch cycling federations. They also cover Germany and Luxembourg. “Twelve gold medals were won at the last Olympic Games, wearing Bioracer clothing,” he says, sounding proud. Moreover, Bioracer invests in high-tech research into aerodynamics in Flanders’ Bike Valley, together with bike manufacturer Ridley and helmet maker, Lazer (see separate interview).
We want the world…
From an aerodynamic point of view, the surface of the body is the most slowing element in cycling. So adjusting the cycle clothing can be more profitable than adjusting the bike itself. Bioracer designs and develops specific apparel for all cycle disciplines (on the road, on the cycle track, time trials,…) all the way up to individually made-to-measure. The major part of the turnover comes not from the professional cyclist, but from the cycle tourist. “The clubs submit an application, tell us the colours and logos that are to be incorporated into their apparel, and we produce the clothing.”
Bioracer is a brand for the practised cyclist. “It’s a very diverse market with few big players. We lead the market in Northern Europe, but we’re less well-known in the South. In terms of the number of clubs as clients, we are the world market leader. We have 35 people, not including agencies, working the market. We produce very little standard clothing which you would distribute through dealers’ collections, if you see what I mean.” It would seem to be only a question of time before the whole world knows what Bioracer does.
Raymond shakes hands jovially with a few of his hundred employees, whom we meet on the way to the production rooms at the Bioracer premises in Tessenderlo. “This is where we design, carry out our own research, develop new models and produce in small numbers. There are a few production sites abroad for the larger numbers. We do the fast deliveries and specials (individually made-to-measure) here: measurements, posture on the bike…” Cycle fanatics come to Tessenderlo from all over the world to take advantage of Bioracer’s know-how; people with money, not necessarily professionals, and including triathletes.
You can just feel the passion in Tessenderlo, not least in the 69-year-old Raymond himself. “It’s already been taken care of, who will take over from me, but I’m staying on as CEO for the time being; Bioracer is my whole life.” His strong point as a manager? “I have a nose for the right people, both to take on board, and to get rid of.” And there’s that laugh again. “Everyone has their limits, and with a growth in turnover, the need for new, different, younger people increases. Some of them are many years younger than I am, but they bring with them fresh ideas, which they acquire from modern-day training. That is absolutely crucial.” Surrounding yourself with the right people, as long as they share the same passion, that’s the way.
Bioracer as an innovator
“We can talk for hours about a new kind of thread,” Raymond Vanstraelen comments ironically. “We test whether it is sturdy enough, its elasticity… We look mercilessly at every aspect under a magnifying glass. The materials used in making bike wear evolve greatly year after year: breathable, wind-proof, water-proof, elastic,… Both the basis and the success factor of this company is the uncompromising commitment to renewal. We want to continually be putting innovations on the market, and convince the world of the added value of that which does not yet exist. Personally, I’m really closely involved in research and development, but actually, everyone here is, including the representatives, material suppliers and the client, whose input is listened to attentively.”