Pink, red and baby blue on black might not be a typical colour combination for cycle clothing, but in Rapha’s dedicated cyclo-cross range, it’s a classy and stylish departure from the norm.
Rapha Cross jersey £130
The Rapha Cross jersey stands out with its unique styling and a bunch of features intended to be cross-specific. Can a jersey really be cross-specific? With an integrated shoulder pad for slinging the bike over obstacles, a lightweight Sportwool fabric and just one rear pocket, Rapha’s Cross jersey is just that. And those unique pink, red and blue stripes are the livery used by the Rapha-Focus cyclo-cross race team.
Aside from the styling, what sets Rapha’s Cross clothing out from the rest of its range is the lighter weight material used. Cyclo-cross is all about short intense efforts. Races last an hour and sprinting out of every single corner is standard procedure, so the Sportwool fabric is a lighter weight variant.
This means you don’t overheat so much, and while it’s probably still overkill for racing, for ‘cross training, honing your sprints and skills unique to this form of cycle sport racing, it’s just perfect.
I’ve been testing this jersey (and the shorts that are designed to go with it) for about a year now. Anytime I get the ‘cross bike out, which is a lot as autumn replaces the summer, and I include more off-road riding in my weekly riding time, this jersey is the first I reach for. It’s perhaps overkill, and a little expensive, for an hour of racing around a school playing field, but for training in and just going for a cyclo-cross ride, the jersey is fantastic.
Unlike a few other Rapha garments, the fit of this size-medium top is spot on. It’s very much on the racy slim side of fitted (it’s designed with skinny ‘cross racers in mind, after all) with the lightweight fabric keeping bulk down to a minimum. There’s little excess material to flap, the arms are snug and the silicone waist band keeps it from shifting about.
Out the back of the jersey is just one pocket – you don’t need three when you’re riding ‘cross – with a discrete zipped pocket for valuable items like your house keys – ideal for heading off-road so you avoid bulky pockets hindering your progress. Other nice details include a drawcord on the waist band for adjusting fit, and the angled cuffs.
Don’t let the ‘cross racing intentions put you off. We’ve actually found it more useful as a training top, ridden for a few hours on the bike working on our off-road skills and, as ‘cross riding is full of short and intense efforts, it doesn’t turn you into a sweaty mess within a few miles of starting. We’ll admit to even using it on the road bike, as the material is just the right thickness for the unseasonably mild conditions we’re currently enjoying. The racing fit has also won us over.
Rapha Cross ¾ bib shorts £150
This Lycra/Spandex fabric is cut into shorts that emulate the great fit of the jersey. Fit is first class. Around the legs, hips and over the shoulders, they fitted us perfectly, with no tightness or snagging detected.
The length has been judged just right, with the distinctive colour stripes sitting nicely below the knee caps. They’re fine for reasonably mild days, and perfect for an hour of racing (and especially fine if paired with some Rapha Embrocation). And if there’s anything ‘cross racing has taught us, it’s about toughening up to adverse conditions. So if it’s a bit chilly out there, deal with it.
Putting our questionable advice to one side, let’s take a look at what else is ticking the boxes for us. Well the chamois is incredibly comfortable. It’s a chunky pad that is perhaps overkill for its intended use. Other niceties include the full back panel, providing another layer of insulation, and a neoprene-lined rear pocket.
Our test pair have a few nicks and exposed threads after the odd battle with a bramble bush, but no more than is to be expected in the tough and tumble of ‘cross riding over inhospitable terrain. And they’ve had hundreds of miles of off-road rough and tumble to deal with, and still look pretty much brand new.
Don’t let the cyclo-cross roots put you off; this is a classy jersey and bib short combination. Expensive to justify for many perhaps, but the performance, fit and design is top notch. If you are a diehard ‘cross fan you’ve probably rushed off and bought them before even reaching the verdict of this review anyway.