There was a lot of leftover Lycra when, in March 2019, British billionaire Sir James Ratcliffe bought the Team Sky cycling franchise and renamed the professional squad after his petrochemicals group Ineos.
There was another glut of obsolete cycling kit earlier this year when Team Ineos transformed into Team Ineos Grenadiers to align with Ratcliffe’s newbuild SUV, which goes into production next year.
With 29 professional riders on the Team Ineos Grenadiers payroll—the company behind the team reported a turnover of €51 million in 2019, which makes it double the size of its next biggest rival—that’s twice in short order that a whole bunch of team-branded jerseys, cycling shorts, and gilets became passé overnight.
What do professional cycling teams do with all this high-end but suddenly out-of-date kit? Many now sell it to ProOwnedCycling, a Danish startup that, in effect, recycles cycle clothing; cycle clothing either worn by pro riders or supplied to them and never worn.
“Some of the teams used to have end-of-season sales, but they are not set up for when a customer later needs to change an M for an L, or somebody needs a refund,” said Oscar Bjørn-Rosager who started ProOwnedCycling in partnership with Danish rider Casper Pedersen in 2015. (Pedersen left the business to turn professional—in October, the Team Sunweb rider won the 114th edition of the Paris–Tours cycling classic.)
“Others give the clothing to staff, but then it’s just more clothing lying in a pile at home, probably unused,” said 23-year-old Bjørn-Rosager.
“Staff can no longer be seen in public with it because it’s dated kit.”
ProOwnedCycling sells used, nearly-new and unopened clothing from many of the world’s best-known cycling teams. An unworn 2019 long-sleeved Team Ineos cycling jersey from noted Italian manufacturer Castelli costs much less than in the shops—but it’s last year’s colors and doesn’t sport the SUV-brand logo.
It might not have been in the shops at all. Most of the clothing available on ProOwnedCycling.com is team-issue equipment, not consumer-level replica kit, which is often dumbed-down.
This is good for those wanting the very best in performance gear—so long as you are not fussed about latest logos or current colors—but there’s a catch: you have to have the body of a pro. Think skinny.
“Many amateur riders wouldn’t fit in this clothing,” admitted Bjørn-Rosager.
“This is not replica clothing—this is kit designed for the best athletes in the world, often custom-made to fit a rider.”
ProOwnedCycling.com features painfully truthful sizing charts and has videos talking customers through the often limited sizing choices—pros wear their kit tight so even tall riders may wear what appear to be child-sized jerseys.
On the portly side and still want to ride in pro-level kit? ProOwnedCycling stocks clothing that isn’t so tight and tiny, such as shoe covers, arm warmers and helmets.
“Some teams also make clothing for support staff who ride, so we sometimes stock XL and XXL kits,” offered Bjørn-Rosager, “but it remains unusual to see larger sizes on our website.”
The site also sells high-end bicycles, usually associated with the pro riders for whom they were built. Again, this is size sensitive: if you’re in the market for Ian Stannard’s €3,749 2018 Team-Sky-branded Pinarello Dogma K10—“shows some scratches on downtube, seatpost, chainstays”—you have to also be able to ride an 189cm bicycle frame that was made to fit the exact dimensions of this long-in-the-tooth British rider.
Unless, that is, you’re a collector, and not needing the bike to fit.
“Our best customer is a Chris Froome fan,” said Bjørn-Rosager.
“Every time we get a bike with Froome’s name on, that customer buys it.”
Some collectors buy clothing, too, and often specify the garments they wish to purchase must be sweat-stained, perhaps even flecked with mud.
“A guy in Portugal was a big fan of Danish champion Chris Anker Sørensen, and we were asked not to wash his jersey” smiled Bjørn-Rosager.
“[The fan] was happy to pay extra.
“We have other fans who ask for rider jerseys not only to be unwashed but to still have race numbers attached. It’s complex, but we can often do it.”
Other items of note on the site have included the—most definitely sweaty—helmet that Luxembourg pro rider Andy Schleck wore for at least part of the 2010 Tour de France when he came second to Spanish rider Alberto Contador. “Go Andy! Go go!” was written on the helmet in indelible ink. (Two years later, after Contador was convicted of a doping offense, Schleck was awarded the winner’s yellow jersey.)
ProOwnedClothing is run by Bjørn-Rosager and his childhood friend Casper Hillstrøm.
The webshop started as a Facebook group in 2015, becoming a standalone site the year after, initially selling only in Denmark. In 2017, the nascent business sold €12,000-worth of leftover Lycra. At the end of that year, a large order propelled the company forward and, halfway through 2018, ProOwnedClothing was selling to customers in more than 40 countries.
It now has a staff of ten. In 2018, the business attracted equity investment from Sune Sand, the former head of IT at the international shipping group Maersk who now works for Danish green energy firm Ørsted.
With the injection of funds ProOwnedClothing moved from tiny premises into an airy building on the outskirts of Copenhagen.
The company has washing machines and bagging equipment for laundering and packing its used and nearly-new clothing.
As well as Lycra riding kit, ProOwnedClothing also sells unworn, non-performance team-issue hoodies, t-shirts, and pants.
“We started to make money in 2019,” said Bjørn-Rosager, and the business has lucrative agreements with teams such as Mitchelton Scott, Team Dimension Data, Israel Cycling Academy (now known as Israel StartUp Nation, and owned by Israeli-Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams) and the women’s Virtu Cycling team.
Like many other bicycle businesses, ProOwnedClothing has had a good pandemic. The uptick started in April, with the company benefitting from European lock-downs.
“When shops in Italy and Spain locked down, we were still open [in Denmark], and so were logistic companies so we could ship out cycling components and bikes and clothing when customers couldn’t even get deliveries from local shops,” said Bjørn-Rosager.
Sales have remained buoyant, and, unlike some bicycle brands, ProOwnedClothing has been able to supply bikes from stock.
“We buy all the pro bikes upfront, which means that we have them in stock, ready to be shipped,” said Bjørn-Rosager.
“Many bike dealers are still offering four to five-week delivery slots, if they have any stock at all—we can ship out bikes immediately.”
ProOwnedCycling’s next growth opportunity, predicted Bjørn-Rosager, is to persuade cycling teams to make soccer-style branded casual wear. Followers of Premiership football teams sport replica shirts as everyday wear. Some teams even design away-strips to look good not on the pitch, but in the pub, matched with jeans.
“It’s not common for a cycling fan to wear their favorite team’s casual clothing because it’s usually not commercially available,” said Bjørn-Rosager.
“In partnership with the teams, we want to change that.”