Rapha has a well-earned reputation for style and has carried a torch for understated elegance in the face of high viz nastiness that has lit the way for many to follow.
Despite a market leading position at the premium end of cycling leisure wear, and a highly stylized brand identity that draws detractors as well as admirers, Rapha is also supplier to Britain’s most successful UCI Continental road team, Rapha Condor Sharp.
Rapha can claim, then, with some justification, the title ‘Pro Team’ for this new range, whose tailoring and features are squarely aimed at the business of riding quickly and at the type of rider who devotes considerable time and effort to doing so.
The Pro Team jersey, as we reported in our first look, is tailored without compromise for a rider Rapha clearly do not expect to be carrying excess pounds. If you’re set on Rapha style this summer, but harbour no ambition to replace Andy Tennant at Rapha-Condor-Sharp while he’s away on Olympic duties, our advice would be to investigate another part of their collection, slim down, or go a size up. The cut isn’t ‘generous’.
Having squeezed into the jersey, we found it performed well. Its most impressive feature was the perforated underside to the sleeve, which delivered a well regulated air flow. The low, soft collar was another plus, and the hem gripper served its purpose well, preventing the jersey from riding up even when riding down on the drops.
Three rear pockets proved useful, but, as with the rest of the garment, were on the small side. We’d choose a three-pocket design over others every time (the jersey-wide, single pocket that sags as the contents gravitate to its centre being our least favourite) but those featured on this jersey are especially small, and while they ultimately accepted a cargo of inner tubes, i-Pod Touch, energy gels, and wallet, it was only with some encouragement.
The Pro Team bib shorts were comfortable in the pad and the leg, but the bibs are their best feature. We’ve tested shorts from two brands recently with identical, polyester mesh straps that offered little ‘give’, placing pressure on the shoulders and pulling the short upwards. The bib straps here, while firm, offered sufficient elasticity to avoid the pitfalls described above. The styling, as might be expected from Rapha, was superb: the subtly retro white on black logo on the right leg repeated in still more understated, black-on-black stenciling on the left, and the brand’s signature pink limited to the centre line of two small tags on the rear of each leg. The stomach panel dips low into a v-shape a couple of inches below the navel and about the same distance above the crotch, which proved useful for comfort breaks. The gripper at the end of each leg was another pleasing feature: a nice, deep layer, lined on the inside with short ‘bars’ of silicone rather than a continuous band, which was easy on the leg.
Would we recommend Rapha’s Pro Team jersey and shorts? Wholeheartedly, if you’re intended purpose matches that of the garments. Rapha have done little to conceal how they believe this clothing should be used (‘Pro Team’ is a hint), and we’d recommend a similarly honest approach from potential purchasers. If you’re a sportive rider whose pleasure in cycling extends to the feed zones, we’d advise against adding them to your wardrobe.
If, however, you’re focussed on performance, this is the kit for you. We were seriously impressed by the fit. Many brands use the word ‘pro’ to describe their premium range, but using an expensive fabric does not of itself produce a garment suitable for racing. Rapha have got the tailoring of these garments bang on.
The Pro Team sleeveless base layer was another garment cut on the small side. Going up two sizes here would have been feasible. It was light, comfortable, and dealt with sweat adequately, but didn’t leave us open mouthed in admiration. For once, we felt Rapha had missed the mark with the styling: the mesh effect gave the appearance of a string vest, and the silver motto, however impeccably sourced (Octave Lapize, 1910), called to mind a jail break movie of the 1930s.
The Lightweight cotton cap, impeccably styled in cream with a centre stripe of contrasting blues, was of little use. The peak obscured almost all before us, resulting in much neck craning, and, ultimately, a flip upwards, negating any shade from the glare of the sun from above or from the surface of the road beneath (the latter being an advantage claimed by Rapha for its darkened underside).
The arm screens were much better. In keeping with the style of the other garments they were close fitting, a given you’d think for arm wear, but they do vary (Castelli’s NanoFlex, for example, are über tight). These offerings were very tight at the wrist, but that said, not restrictive. We didn’t experience temperatures high enough to sample their UV protective benefits, sadly, but their light covering was enough to take the edge off days with temperatures in the low teens when Roubaix-lined arm warmers would have been too much.