Riding with Panache: Rapha style

Many VeloVoices readers are avid cyclists themselves and I often get asked about various types of bikes, accessories and apparel so I thought I would write a semi-regular column called Riding with Panache. In it, I will share tips on how to look and feel good when riding and will, from time to time, review cycling products that I have purchased or that have been sent me. (I will always let you know which is which.) These are my opinions and you may disagree. Just know that no matter what you think, I am always right. Today I’m reviewing some kit from Rapha. (All photographs ©Panache.)

Rapha on the bike.

Rapha on the bike

I’m going to the Tour de France this year and I wanted to take some ‘non-team’ clothing that would look great and make me feel like a million bucks as I ride up and down the Alps. I’ve always been intrigued by the clean lines and classic look of Rapha’s clothing. I’m a designer and love the brand’s black-and-white photography, emotive cinematography, elegant typography and hipster models – they suck me in like a black hole of Colnago Clover Leaves! It’s only Rapha’s high prices, my financial responsibility and the good sense of Mrs Panache that keeps me from buying everything in their catalogue.

However, because I’m making this special trip to the 100th Tour, Mrs Panache gave me the green light to purchase an entire Rapha kit – Bib Shorts, Jersey and Socks! I chose the Pro Team Bib Shorts, the light blue Trade Team Jersey, and the 3-pack bundle of long Pro Team Socks. My total bill was $495. (Gulp!) I will be in the dog-house for a while. So now the moment of truth – is it worth the money and the marriage capital?

Pro Team Bib Shorts $260| £170.00 | €190.00

The bottom of the Rapha Pro Team Bibs feel like they were custom made for my body.

The shorts of the Rapha Pro Team Bibs feel like they were custom-made for my body

The Pro Team Bib Shorts are the most expensive single piece of cycling apparel I have ever purchased, so my expectations were through the roof. If you don’t like tight-fitting bibs, these are NOT the ones for you. They are designed to be like a second skin and they don’t disappoint. The chamois is the thickest I have ever worn and it feels great when I sit on the saddle. The stitching is high quality and unnoticeable, which means no hot spots or discomfort, even after long hours. The leg grippers feel luxurious and the Rapha branding is gorgeous in white on one leg and glossy black on the other. Nice little details like these are everywhere, from the striping on the shoulder straps to the race radio pocket.

My only issue with the bibs is the length of the shoulder straps. I’m 6′ 5″ tall and a lot of my height is in my torso. The bib straps are very tight so I’m hoping they’ll stretch and become more comfortable. Rapha does offer a tall version but that only allows for an extra 30mm in length in the legs, which I don’t need. Most people won’t have this problem but Rapha should consider adding length or additional flexibility to the straps for those riders with longer torsos. If I didn’t have the strap length issue, I would have rated these 5 out of 5. These bibs are exceptional quality.

Rating: 4/5

Pros: The bottoms fit like they were custom-made. The stitching is luxurious and seamless. These bibs should last many years.

Cons: The shoulder straps are short for tall riders with longer torsos.

Trade Team Jersey $175 | £110.00 | €130.00

The Trade Team Jersey is a Merino/Poly blend with classic styling and colours.

The Trade Team Jersey is a merino/poly blend with classic styling and colours

The Trade Team Jersey comes in several different colours but I fell in love with the light blue, honouring Jacques Anquetil. The merino/polyester blend feels luxurious and works well in both warmer and cooler weather. This jersey is a bit heavy for really hot days but it has felt perfect in the lower to mid-80s °F (about 30°C).

Embroidered stopwatch on the back middle pocket representing Jacques Anquetil.

Embroidered stopwatch on the back middle pocket representing Jacques Anquetil.

This jersey’s more casual fit has me covered nicely without being too baggy anywhere. The short sleeves are the perfect length and width. My buddy WTF Kits did a thorough review of this jersey and its nine-panel design. He gives an obsessive level of information, which you can read for yourself here.

It’s the little details that set Rapha clothing apart and this is no exception – the embroidery on the sleeve and back pocket, the hidden pockets, the Drawcord hem, and zipper chin guard. Perfection.

Rating: 5/5

Pros: Breathable, comfortable, stylish and full of luxurious details. Really well made.

Cons: None.

Rapha is all about luxurious details

Rapha is all about luxurious details

Pro Team Socks 3-pack $60 | £35.00 | €45.00

I bought the sock bundle because I couldn’t see myself spending $25 dollars for a single pair of socks – in a bundle of three, they’re only $20 a pair (slightly better). The white pair have a reinforced heel and toe area, a nice little black stripe on the back and a mix of fabrics which provides support and breathability. These are really comfortable socks and the white long socks are the perfect length. I ordered one black pair in my bundle and they seem to be longer than the white ones.

Rapha Team socks are among the nicest I’ve worn but they are also the most expensive. Time will tell if the fabric quality and continued ride experience translate into good value.

Rapha TeamSocks

The white long socks are just the right length

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Simple, comfortable, breathable, stylish and the perfect (white sock) length.

Cons: Inconsistent size between the white and black versions.

Conclusion

One question I hear often is: “Is Rapha worth the money?” Rapha is about luxury and quality, about details, about image. All of those things have a place with me. I can’t afford a complete Rapha cycling wardrobe but I can afford a few classic pieces. I look at my investment in a Rapha kit the same way I look at purchasing a good business suit. They cost about the same and I feel great when I wear them. (Now if only riding a bike and looking good could be my business!) So for me, the answer is YES, Rapha is worth the money if I purchase in moderation. I’m going to look good in France. 😉

The Rapha Trade Team Jersey and Pro Team Bib Shorts paired together.

The Rapha Trade Team Jersey and Pro Team Bib Shorts paired together. Sorry, I forgot to grow my hipster beard and moustache.

Link: Rapha website

11 thoughts on “Riding with Panache: Rapha style

  1. ridebikesdrinkbeer says:

    I’ve got a pair of rapha classic bibs I got for free. They’re nice, but seriously if it’s my money? Cedar Cycling or Twin Six. There’s nothing Rapha does that Castelli cant for half the money.

      • ridebikesdrinkbeer says:

        Castelli stuff runs cheaper on sale all the time, especially on ChainLove. Same bibs run 150 when they show up on CL. Castelli has lower range stuff that is still excellent quality. Saying one item price ranks with another company’s one item price doesnt really work.

        • panache says:

          I do think it’s appropriate to compare the high end bibs from each company in terms of normal retail price. Yes, Castelli has some lower end alternatives, but I wanted to try the very high end. If you see BodyPaint 2.0 bibs on ChainLove for $150, let me know and I’ll purchase a pair. I own lots of Castelli and have been please with it.

  2. “Saying one item price ranks with another company’s one item price doesnt really work.”

    Actually, look at review styles across a multitude of industries and you see product classifications are a selected by functional features or price range that define product grouping. Why? that’s the most appropriate methodology to justify price through a range of features and functions in the consumer goods market. Given the comparable price range & well regarded chamois it’s entirely acceptable to put the rapha pro bib up agains the highly technical Castelli body paint 2.0

    Saying one appears on a clearance site such as chain love doesn’t negate that fact at all. Nor does Castelli having a more expansive offering of mid and lower range products. That would be akin to saying
    “I can’t review the Specialized S-Works Roubaix in comparative contrast to the Domane 6.9 because the Roubaix will appear for cheaper on a website and it has the Allez in the line.” Yes, I realize Trek has aloy bikes but I’m just being illustrative here …

    However, lets not deviate from the point these can be grouped together on price. Because as discussed above using price point is widely regarded and accepted review practice. However, put them side by side and you have to ask yourself about the price you pay for Rapha vs. Castelli Body paint 2.0 with self selected criteria such as “what and where am I maximizing my return on.” That’s the responsibility of the consumer to make that judgement call against their wants/needs.

    Without getting too nerdy on the technical features you literally have to do wear n’ tear, aero and breakdown on materials in order to understand true material gains. Thus, back to what YOU as the consumer want. Looking at your comments it appears as if you are self determining on price and reputation rather than features. That being said, if Rapha and Castelli want to enter the thunder dome of technical review send me a few pairs of bibs to destroy … I happily volunteer.

  3. Kerm says:

    Hi; Nice write up. I found your article great as I also am 6’5″ and as you commented on the fit of the bib. Reading the Rapha website it appears their jersey’s are, compared to other brands, long in the torso. I was wondering if you found that to be true?

    • panache says:

      Yes they are long in the torso, but not too long. I could have actually gone with a medium. The large fits just a little big.

    • panache says:

      The other thing is that Rapha provides postage so that you can return it at no charge if it doesn’t fit properly. They have great guarantees in the area of fit and satisfaction.

  4. Angelo says:

    I agree with reviewer on his above comment about comparing brands. I for one am loving the the Rapha kits and was a previous Castelli Rossa Corsa fan for about 3 long rides. The chamois in the Castelli are crap as the stitching kept coming apart in the Castelli RC bibs. I have exchanged 3 bibs and every one of them did the same. They use a single stitch and not a good quality one. Rapha base layers are the best most comfortable merino’s I’ve worn. My skin is sensitive to wool but Rapha uses a very clean wool “meaning higher quality”.The Classic line of bibs are insanely comfortable and faultless after a thousand miles of riding in them. I just bought the winter tights and brevet jersey and hope it takes me 80miles in comfort and warmth in the mid 20’s tomorrow morning. People who laugh at the Rapha price tag haven’t experienced wearing it. Haters will hate if they can’t afford it or doesn’t have the flash they seek. It’s classy and doesn’t have big bright words advertising it’s branding for everyone to see. Subtlety is more my cup of Joe. 😉

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