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TESTED: Rapha Track mitts, socks and undervest

A trio of Rapha goodies tested…

Rapha Track Mitts

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The Criterium gloves
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The Grand Tour gloves

Track mitts are a bit like saddles and handlebars – you’ll have a favourite brand and stick with it. I like a thin palmed glove for racing and also one to wipe my nose on (a regular activity at this time of year). So changing over to a unfamiliar pair is never an easy process. But we’ve used these gloves a fair bit despite the cold weather and seeing as it’s Christmas you may want to see if your auntie wants to buy you a pair, instead of the usual awful sweater…

Criterium (pictured in black)
This glove is designed for everyday use and is made from soft and durable kid leather which is naturally breathable and water resistant. It has hand stitched construction with double stitching at key wear points, a road-specific pad design using 2mm pads from army sniper gloves, towelling wipe-back, knuckle holes and a Velcro fastener. Move over Alvin Stardust.

Grand Tour (pictured in white)
Before we go any further let’s just remember how much these gloves cost. £45 is a lot for a pair of track mitts and £80 is an incredible amount. But seeing as Rapha have been kind enough to send us some, we’d be rude if we didn’t give them a good going over.

Grand Tour gloves use ‘African Hair Sheep’ leather. African hair sheep are pretty tough, even by sheep standards. According to the Rapha website:

“They [the sheep – ed] live on the arid savannah of Eastern Africa. To cope with the heat and dry conditions, the hair sheep have extremely thin but strong skin. Pittards plc bring the hair sheep hides to their tannery in the UK where they are graded, treated and dyed. The hair sheep leather is then ‘table cut’ by skilled craftsmen at Burfield in Somerset and worked by hand lengthways and crossways to give the leather its beautiful texture and suppleness.”

The gloves claim high breathability, sweat absorption, water repellency and they’ve been carefully finished with double stitching in key wear points. They have road-specific pads with extra reinforcement around the thumb and forefinger – it’s all pretty practical stuff. The padding is the same high density foam used by army sniper gloves and at 2mm allows you to stay in touch with the controls. The Grand Tour gloves are finished with durable stitching around all seams and edges. And no the holes don’t line up with my knuckles, but the look is suitably understated.

They’re fastened at the cuff with a Velcro strap and sadly this was our only real point of criticism, I have pretty small hands and a matching set of weedy wrists, so I found the velcro straps overlapped a fair bit and started to look a bit dog eared after a while. Both the models really do work their way in though and after a while you find they do mould perfectly to your hands, but this moulding process means that the straps need to be pulled tighter and tighter, and on the Criterium gloves this created a few fastening problems.

The Grand Tour gloves, however, look and feel beautiful and they do get better with age. Buy them slightly tight and they will stretch to the shape of your hands – you won’t want to take them off. The Grand Tour gloves come in three colours and in four sizes.

Grand Tour gloves are almost too good to wear on your road bike though. These white ones have been reserved for track duty only, but they do feel fantastic and they’ll be worn on those sunny days and reserved for special occaisions.

Verdict
Yes, we know that both of these gloves cost a fortune. Over twice as much as their nearest rivals. But they are beautiful. They’re practical too, but the price will decide whether they are the ones for you. If the wrist closure issue was resolved, this would be a perfect pair for me.

Criterium Gloves
Colours: Black with white trim
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Price: £45
Rapha

Grand Tour Gloves
Colours: Black with pink trim, tan with grey trim, all white (perforated)
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Price: £80
Rapha Grand Tour


Bling-tastic!

Rapha attention to detail

2mm foam underneath

Merino Socks

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There is currently a bit of a return to natural fibres for sportswear. This is partly because Merino can be spun into finer and better fabrics, but also because its practical benefits and qualities never really went away. Put simply man can’t make a better fabric. Sheep might be very silly, but they are probably the best creatures on the planet at staying warm.

Rapha’s merino socks had to be different though and sure enough they are ‘engineered’ left and right with helpful L and R knitted into the toes. Reinforced heels and a tighter weave around the centre of the foot make for an excellent fit. Really snug, wear them with your slippers, mmm…

The reinforced bit on the inside of the sock does seem a little pointless though, it did actually rub on the inside of my old pair of cycling shoes which was annoying. It’s intended to protect from the chain and chainrings but I’m not in the habit of rubbing ankles with my cranks, so it seemed a wasted extra feature to me. But above all, being a bit of a wash-day disaster myself, I’d perfer socks that didn’t have to be a pair? I have actually ended up wearing two left ones (I was never very good at football) but it stopped the rubbing and they fit just as well.

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In the recent cold weather these have been fantastic, thin socks that actually insulate. Fabulous. I’m going to order several pairs of Left handers.

Verdict:
Great socks for all weathers – but the colours?! Black socks? Don’t start me on that again… Get some for Christmas, although they seem to have run out, probably because at £15 they’re certainly the best value Rapha product.

• Fabric: Super fine New Zealand merino wool from sustainable sources
• Colours: Black with white or pink trim and white with grey trim
• Sizes:
Small (UK 3-5)
Medium (UK 6-7)
Large (UK 8-11)
Extra large (UK 12+)
• Price: £15
Rapha socks


Merino Undervest

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Your mother would always tell you to wear one and so do we, a vest that is. A base layer is essential wear for the hottest and the coldest of days and there’s been plenty of them recently – but also you should always wear one for racing, as we found out recently at the track, the two layers of fabric will slide together in the event of a fall, saving your skin.

Most cycling base layers are still made of synthetic fabric and polyester undervests are cheaper, sure – but few can match (or even get close) to the feeling of natural wool. You can sit in your wet woolen kit all day long and not feel chilly, probably like a static grazing sheep would.

How many features can a simple garment have? Well in true Rapha style there are many. All the seams are flat locked for comfort. Seams are positioned behind the shoulders to avoid rubbing from bag or bib straps. Flat locked seams and no labels on the inside to scratch your skin and cut long at the rear to cover your back. A care label is stitched to the outside seam for comfort. Sleeves or sleeveless is a great idea too for under summer jerseys or skinsuits respectively, we had a long sleeve tucked under the bib tights and winter jacket. Toasty.

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Merino wicks moisture away from the skin, it is naturally anti-bacterial and odour resistant and we found that it doesn’t hold onto sweat smells like synthetic materials do. You may, however, smell a little bit like a wet sheep after a long ride, which is quite comforting and certainly better than smelling like a wet cyclist. I’ve purposely washed this with all the rest of my cycling kit and there’s been no shrinkage or shaping problems, however it’s probably best to follow the (in depth) care instructions.

Verdict
This is the best undervest I’ve ever used. Rapha prove that branding isn’t important (there isn’t any) for high-tech quality basic cycling kit. It washes well and feels perfect next to your skin. If it gets wet, you stay warm, a bit like a sheep. Get one, you’ll love it.

• Fabric: Super fine New Zealand merino wool from sustainable sources
• Colours: Black, cream
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• Prices: Sleeveless £40, Short sleeves £45, Long sleeves £50
Rapha base layers

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