In March, a Portland, Oregon, fan of cycling created the Jens Voigt Army website, part of which pokes fun at Rapha. The spoof website has generated a loyal following and was plugged by the CTC email newsletter on Friday, taking it to a new audience.
BikeBiz reached the designer of the website last week. He said: "I do my best to keep my real name off of the internet (as you can probably tell by the site). I’m Google shy."
The JVA website has funny soundboards, purporting to be by Jen Voigt ("No, no, no, I want to go to Paris,") and Lance Armstrong, and sells cycling jerseys. The soundboards went viral during the Tour de France – in parallel with the internet chatter about the veteran pro cyclist – but it’s the Rapha spoof that now brings most people to the site.
Rapha co-founders Simon Mottram and Luke Scheybeler told BikeBiz they love the spoof.
Scheybeler, a graphic artist and the creator of Rapha’s choice of bold typography (mercilessly spoofed by the JVA website), said:
"Being criticised by Portlanders for ‘taking ourselves too seriously’ is rather ironic – but, obviously, any parody is a massive compliment."
Parody sites come with the territory, he said.
"There was another excellent spoof site a few years ago called ‘Crapha’ by Secrets of the Peloton. It had fake products like ‘bottled air from Mt Ventoux’ and ‘endangered goat scrotum leather gloves’.
"Strong brands are, by definition, divisive – they don’t please everyone. Frankly, I’d rather be Apple than Philips, and if you’re not making a bold statement then why bother?
"Cycling needs more marketing sophistication, more people taking risks and more contentious product ideas. If that opens brands up to ridicule occasionally, then so be it.
"Anyway, I’ve got to go. I’m about to descend the Col des Aravis in an epic hailstorm, en-route to a Michelin-starred restaurant on Lake Annecy – and my cashmere armwarmers need adjusting."
Simon Mottram said the JVA website was "very funny" and done by a talented group of designers.
"Having detractors is part and parcel of having a distinctive brand," said Mottram.
"If you mean a lot to some people, you are almost bound to aggravate others. We would always rather have people loving or hating us than people not having an opinion. People don’t parody or copy weak or uninteresting brands. Team JVA is proof to me that we are getting things right."
But Mottram bristles at the suggestion Rapha is form over function.
"The thing that grates slightly about their site, as often with these things, is the clear suggestion that Rapha is some kind of marketing project, a ruse to cynically prise money from unsuspecting cyclists. Anyone who has met people from Rapha knows this isn’t the case. It’s incredibly hard to design and produce a range of 100 top quality cycling products. A cynic wouldn’t bother.
"Our events, investments in teams and rides come from passion for riding and the sport. We are out there trying to drag the industry forward, not cynically exploiting something that exists already."
Echoing the famous line from Oscar Wilde that "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about," Mottram said:
"The alarm will go off when people stop copying or parodying us."