October 1, 2014
Rapha is unashamedly expensive, claiming to provide the best in technical fabrics and design for cycling. So are you just paying a premium to be in an exclusive club or does it actually live up to the hype? Through the 2013/14 winter I used a range of Rapha products and these are my thoughts on how they performed.
Before I get into the detailed product reviews, let me first state my views on cycling kit in general and Rapha in particular. I ride my bike a lot, I train around 12-15 hours a week, and I ride in all weather conditions so that means my kit gets plenty of use. I'm happy to pay a premium for well designed kit that performs well and lasts.
In the past Assos has been one of my favourite brands because it really does keep on going. I've got jerseys that must be 10 years old and are still in great condition. However, recently the quality of their products seems to have dipped, and bib shorts purchased in 2013 are already starting to look worn and tired.
I originally tried Rapha kit in 2006, soon after they first launched, with the merino jersey and the softshell. Whilst I loved the styling I found the actual performance a little underwhelming. The jersey was a little baggy and faded quite quickly and the softshell suffered from very limited breathability. On the positive side I must point out that Rapha have excellent customer service and warranty, the jersey was replaced for free with no questions asked, which I think goes some way to justifying the extra initial cost. So as I was looking for some new bib shorts I was tempted back this year by the new pro range, which claimed to be tighter fitting and optimised for high intensity training (as well as having the Team Sky halo effect).
I love the tight fit of these shorts. I am more Froome than Greipel in the thigh department but the medium size shorts are snug on me. They feel like a compression garment and because the cut is good this makes them feel very comfortable when riding. The close fit continues into the fabric around the lower torso which contributes to the comfort and means there is no sagging when in a riding position. The shoulder straps are tight when standing but are spot on for the riding position. The pad insert is from Cytech and is very comfortable.
Rapha do offer these shorts in a thermal version but I was quite comfortable down to a few degrees above freezing in the regular version.
After a year of intensive use the shorts are showing no signs of wear, looking exactly the same as they did on the first ride. I know they are expensive but if they are of sufficient quality that they last significantly longer than other bib shorts then that ends up being good value in my book.
I like the minimalist styling of this jersey, classic Rapha black with white accents. As with all the pro team kit the jersey is tight fitting, although not to the same extent as the shorts. The arms are cut a little long for me even in the riding position, an inch less would have been perfect. The cuffs are quite tight and care needs to be taken when putting it on and taking it off to avoid ripping the stitching.
The jersey features 3 rear cargo pockets and a zipped valuables pocket. The middle pocket features a loop to help keep a pump in place which is a nice touch.
Even at moderate intensities this jersey was warm enough to cope with temperatures around 5 degrees with a slightly thicker base layer. Breathability is excellent so it is suitable for a fairly wide temperature range, probably up to 10-12 degrees.
This jersey quickly became my preferred choice for winter training sessions and is still in excellent condition despite being used so much.
I bought this jacket because I was looking for something that would be suitable for training in moderate but wet conditions. Therefore I was looking for very good breathability and reasonable waterproofing.
Unfortunately despite Rapha's claims this jacket is not highly breathable. In temperatures over 7 or 8 degrees I get wetter from sweat than I would from rain. The wind proofing is good so I guess it lives up to the name. It is fine in showery weather but in persistent rain the water comes through after about 30 minutes which to be fair to Rapha this is consistent with their claims.
The jacket features some nice details, such as the reflective logo and piping, and is extremely light and packs down small enough to get into a jersey pocket. The fit is excellent and it certainly looks stylish.
Despite the positive points, the poor breathability really does limit the usefulness of this jacket.