When Rapha’s loopback jacket arrived to my apartment, the mercury was pushing 40ºC [I’m not sure what that is in fahrenheit, so let’s just call it “Hot AF”]. It was sharp-looking, sure, but not what you want to see during southern European summertime. Just the thought of it was enough to induce severe perspiration, and so, it waited patiently, for the weather to change and the autumn to come.
A couple of months later and it’s become a go-to, which is about the best thing you can say for any garment. But I do have one bone to pick, albeit a pedantic and totally silly one. Rapha’s own description reads: “Trucker jacket utility with the comfort of a jersey.” I’ve just travelled from southern Spain to northern Portugal, and along that 1,100km stretch of road, at not one single rest stop did we see a trucker wearing Rapha.
Trucker jackets usually come in heavy-duty fabrics like denim or canvas and close with sturdy metallic buttons. And while the lightweight loopback fabric used here would be fine against bare skin, this isn’t a jersey. I’m not sure why they’re trying to make either association. Perhaps “blouson” didn’t sound as cool?
That said, you’re buying the jacket here, not the marketing copy. And the only bad thing I can say about the product is that I was a little confused by the sales pitch. I’m not sure how much more I can add, other than to say that it goes well with a tonne of stuff, is very comfortable, and the reversible, high-vis and pink cuffs are a nice touch for anyone feeling a little fancy. The water repellent, wind-blocking material is quick drying, so it does a great job as a cycling commuter jacket, but thanks to some low-key retro styling and a smart cut, it does just as well on social occasions. All in all, a solid addition to any wardrobe.
If you’re not into cycling, there’s a lot to mock in a roadie’s wardobe. But more than the lycra, more than the helmet, more than the weird shoes that are impossible to walk in, the single most derided item in a cyclist’s outfit must be the glasses.
Nearly all of the non-riders I know will joke about the skin-tight clothing, but they get it, more or less. It’s about performance. And the helmet? It doesn’t look as cool as that old cap you have from a pro team long since past, but it provides a whole lot more protection in the event of a spill. So they get that too. It’s a safety thing. Even the shoes and cleats, once explained, make sense. But the sunglasses?
Upon arriving back from the Giro d’Italia, I happily added a pair of team-issue only pink Oakleys to my shades shelf. “What are those?” inquired my significant other. “New glasses,” I replied, while offering to show them off. I didn’t even need to get them all the way out of the case, never mind model them, to await her review. It was one word, and ruthless: “Gross.”
For the record, I still think those Oakleys are cool AF. But then, I would, wouldn’t I? I also think it’s OK to hang bicycles from living room walls and leave a stack of Rouleur back-issues in the bathroom. But it was interesting to note the reaction I got not long after, when I came in sporting a pair of new Rapha Classics. This time it was five words, and curious: “Let me try those on.”
An homage to Coppi
The model in question was the Coppi Classic II, a twist on the British brand’s Classic glasses that includes the same Carl Zeiss glass lenses – these ones are a deep green – and the same handmade acetate frames made by Italy’s Mazzuchelli 1849. Where they differ is in the details, with Coppi’s signature inlaid in chrome on one temple, and a pink tinge to the Havana brown acetate in the right light, which is more pronounced towards the ends of the temples and earpieces.
If you’re this deep into a post about cycling eyewear, you probably don’t need an introduction to Fausto Coppi, Italy’s most successful, and stylish, champion. The pink flourishes are an obvious nod to Italy’s grand tour, and the styling harks back to a time when cyclists could still look effortlessly cool. The glasses form part of a mini-range of items currently on offer from Rapha that all tip the hat in some way to the Campionissimo, and all come in pleasing, subdued tones with at least a hint of that timeless pastel pink.
So far this summer, they’ve been left on at the coffee stop – something I’d never do with sportier models – and taken away on weekend breaks when the closest I’ve gotten to a bike was checking some race results online. In other words, I’ve worn these glasses off the bike as much as on it, and I can’t think of a bigger compliment that I could pay.
With the solid Zeiss glass, there are lighter options you could go for, and at $295, cheaper choices, too. And if you’re really particular about cleaning lenses, the tiny etching of Coppi in the right-hand corner of the right lens might occasionally catch your eye and make you reach for a cloth. But these are all minor concerns compared to their biggest selling point: They really look great.
The build quality is second to none and the elegant, ageless styling means that they wouldn’t look out of place in a line-up of the sexiest shades from Persol or Ray-Ban. Which means you’ll get a lot of wear out of them, even when you’re not riding. And best of all? There won’t be a disgusted look, or a dismissive “Gross,” waiting for you when you get back home. That alone must be worth the purchase.
Am I the only one thinking that it’s about time Rapha’s city collection made the mainstream? Not that there’s anything wrong with the cosy waters of the cycling world, but Britain’s foremost pedal-powered fashionistas have been killing it with their civvy threads for a while now, and in my recent experience, their casual clothing garners the most lustful glances from those observers who haven’t ridden a bike since around the time their voices broke.
One of their latest offerings, the reversible wind jacket, struck me as peculiar when I first picked it up, because you can buy more technical jackets for far less, but the thing is … they don’t really look as good. This is not a coat for the darkest of winters, but in most climates it will do you year round with some creative layering because the wind-resistant fabric is really effective, and it’s now become a real go-to item when I’m running out the door.
It was the only jacket I needed in May during my day-job duties covering the Giro and on a recent vacation home to the old country, it stood up fine against the famously un-summery Irish summer. It’s super lightweight, which makes it perfect for those of us who like to travel, and reflective elements will keep you safe on your commute while at home. But my favourite thing about it? Subtly flipping sides while in the company of others, and waiting to see if they say anything. Add a hat or glasses for best effect.
In the beginning, there were goggles. Military-style flying goggles made of glass and leather, designed to protect the riders’ eyes from dust … and judging from the photos of the era, the discarded cigarette butts of their rivals, too.
Then, came Fausto Coppi, when stylish offerings by Persol and Rayban gave the peloton some Hollywood sheen. This was surely cycling’s Peak Fashion: an age of slicked-back hair, slender steel bicycles and elegant wool jerseys in block colors.
The ’80s were still an innocent time, when Greg LeMond and his Oakley Eyeshades seemed modern and fun, before we knew what genuine sartorial sin really looked like. If only we could have stopped the clock then, before Mario Cipollini and Marco Pantani, with their garish Brikos. Before the dawn of Oakley’s “Over The Tops,” perhaps the most aptly named piece of kit in cycling history.
Alas, it was another disgraceful decade before the sport’s purveyors of ocular apparel got their collective shit together. Before a word like “cool” ever applied to your riding wardrobe.
Of course, fashion is transient, and we might well wretch when we look at all of our cycling selfies 10 years from now, but it’s hard not to look at a pair of POC DO Blades or Oakley Jawbreakers and think that they’ll still have a certain air of retro charm for the next generation.
They will be second place however, at least in this guy’s opinion, to Rapha’s Pro Team Flyweights, which manage to combine some retro charm with uber-modern styling and high-quality materials into one of the raciest, boldest eyewear options on the market.
The Carl Zeiss lens is made in Italy and coated with a protective treatment, making it scratch resistant and easy to clean. They usually look great, even after a long, grubby ride. And there’s a selection of five different styles, covering every conceivable weather condition.
For the racers, their svelte 25-gram weight will appeal. The way they sit, and their frameless lens design, makes it easy to forget you’re wearing them. They’re also super aero (if that’s your thing), and after a few months’ worth of testing in rain and shine, I can say they are excellent at staying clear, free of fog, and dispersing water. But all of that is secondary, because they look awesome, especially with the standard, bronze mirror lens. And isn’t that all we really care about anyway?
Not exactly cheap at $220, but that’s the ballpark cost of high-end shades these days. There is only one problem: The hard case comes with a space for two extra lenses. Damn the budget – those spots must be filled. And if you’ll excuse the pun, I already have my eyes on a couple.
We could say a lot about Rapha’s cotton trousers. For one, we think they’re snappy looking. They’re also really well made, with a couple of pleasing features like the high-vis pink tabs and the hidden pocket zippers that set them apart from the competition.
They also offer an awesome blend of off-the-bike style with on-the-bike functionality, something that every sartorially-conscious commuter will tell you is hard to find. And the little bit of lycra woven into them makes them super comfortable, all day long, no matter what you get up to.
All of this is great, of course, but that’s not why we really love them. No, these pants get an unequivocal seal of approval because they were complimented by someone with no interest in bicycles or the culty, lusty status us roadies give to brands like Rapha. With some bonus points thrown in because the flattering remarks came from a member of the fairer sex.
The trousers are a slim fit and taper towards the lower leg but the sizing is accurate and a little more generous than Rapha’s casual offerings in the past. The fitted look is eye-catching, especially with the hot pink pocket tab on the rear and the coloured seams that you show off with a crucial roll-up at the hem, and the zipped side pockets are great for keeping valuables safe while you ride. They’re bike-friendly, but fashionable enough to be an alluring choice even for people with no interest in two-wheeled transportation.
What more do you need to know? At $150, they’re not the cheapest pair of slacks you’ll find on the rack, but then, if you’re shopping at Rapha you’ll know that their good looks and quality construction rarely comes cheap. Threads like these are a practical investment in your wardrobe, and they’re worth it for anyone who values bike-friendly clothing but doesn’t want to go all courier chic – or worse, show up dressed like a Fred. Because no one likes those.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. These shades have handmade Italian frames and Carl Zeiss lenses, wrapped up in a sexy Rapha package. They were never going to be cheap.
But then, that’s ok, because if we’re honest, nothing is cheap these days. Especially not the pretty stuff. And if you go for the pink lens version–the only choice, if you ask this guy–you’ll have a nice rose-tinted outlook on the world that should distract you from your empty wallet.
Designed with a classic aesthetic and available in three colours–brown, black and the left-field grey/pink–the Rapha Classic range is inspired by sunglasses of old, but updated enough to function perfectly in today’s peloton.
The Carl Zeiss lenses are deep and curved, offering good coverage, and are coated with some things with complicated names that prevent fogging and smudges and offer 100% UV protection. The acetate/wire frame is made by Mazzucchelli, a firm outside of Milan with more than 160 years experience in the plastics industry. The design is robust and comes with well-placed, discrete rubber grips to stop slippage.
Rapha’s little foray into eyewear are a well-made, understated option for anyone looking for some premium shades. They won’t be to everyone’s taste because they’re not quite sporty enough for the try-hard weekend warrior, and unlike a lot of the competition, they don’t come with interchangeable lenses.
In the pro column, the build-quality is second-to-none and the understated design is stylish enough to wear off the bike without drawing any disapproving glances. And for those of us who’ve always thought we looked like tools wearing aggressively outdoorsy sunglasses, they’re a must have.
But I’m in Italy riding your bike, so complaining seems like a bad idea.
The water bottles are full, tires have been inflated, route map has been downloaded to the Garmin, caffe spot has been chosen and pockets are packed full of handmade treats.
And today I’m sporting the new Rapha Pro Team Climber’s Jersey. The first thing I notice is, even though I’ve stuffed my pockets with preparedness, there is very little sag from the packed pockets.
The second thing I notice is nothing. There is nothing to notice. The Rapha jersey is exactly what is says it is, a crazy lightweight jersey for hot and humid days in the saddle. Mesh panels here and mesh panels there allow this jersey to breath like few others.
Even though it is hot enough to bake a margherita pizza on the pavement the jersey goes basically unnoticed. Which on a day like today is exactly what I want.
Aerodynamic. Versatile. Team Sky. Something called “Coldblack technology.” There’s no shortage of buzzwords to accompany Rapha’s Pro Team Aero range, but they weren’t what hooked me when a colleague fired the full, fresh-and-clean kit at me. Using the the age-old, unimpeachable rationale of cyclists everywhere: I liked it because it looked cool.
The data print style—a graphical representation of performance data collected from a pro rider during a grand tour—is a move away from Rapha’s almost trademark tendency towards understatement, and for this hack at least, that’s a good thing. Because if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, those designers in London should be extremely pleased with themselves.
Rapha have redefined cycling’s aesthetic over the last decade—chapeau—but as an inevitable consequence, it’s all gone a bit identikit. There are now hoards of Rapha-wannabes, all trying to sell us the same clean lines and muted palette. No one wants to go back to the luridly shameful ways of the 90s and early 2000s when skeuomorphic denim prints and a plethora of sponsor logos were the order of the day, but a little colour never hurt anyone.
The Pro Team Aero range is a happy medium. As well as the staple black, the block color jerseys come some bright—but not offensive—colors while the data print option allows the flashier among us to express themselves a little without making their riding partners nauseous. The bibs are understated, but the use of some fluo for the branding means they pop just enough.
There’s also some performance benefits to be had. The shoulders, seams and pockets have apparently been reworked to make the jersey more aero. It’s the kind of thing marketeers refer to as “free” speed, though at $195 for the jersey and $290 for the bibs, it’s hardly gratis. Crucially, then, for gear in Rapha’s price range, this is some well-made kit and once it’s looked after, should stand the test of time better than a lot of the competition.
They’ve taken elements of Team Sky’s racing skinsuits and bundled them into a more versatile jersey package. As a nice pro touch, there are still loops to hold race radio cables—or headphones for the mere mortals. And the aforementioned “coldblack” material reflects more heat than standard fabric, while some nice mesh on the back and sides makes it all very breathable.
Rapha claim that Sky have been riding various versions of this kit for the last few seasons, and that the Aero has become their go-to jersey. Assuming you’ve got the bank—and the physique to suit its tight, race-cut lines—it could very quickly become your favourite kit, too.