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In the ten years since I started CyclingTips I’ve created over a dozen custom kits, and whilst the outcomes have varied, the process has been mostly the same.
First: you choose your manufacturer (it’s a bonus when you get sample garments so you know what you’ll be getting and how it fits).
Second: the fun bit – play around at creating a design. Fairly soon after, you realise why you’re not a graphic designer, because it usually stinks.
Third: hire a designer to make something awesome.
Fourth: have the kit manufacturer translate that design onto their template.
Fifth: go back-and-forth a few times to nail down all the details.
Sixth: pray that you got it right, and that the colours turn out as you’d imagined. All you can do now is wait (and wait…) until it shows up at your door.
Sometimes it exceeds expectations, and sometimes it’s a disaster.
That’s not to say that this process doesn’t work. There’s always a person on the other end of the process who can help guide you on what will work well and what will not, and if you’re diligent at all of the steps along the way, you’ll end up satisfied with the result.
CyclingTips kits through the ages.
But what if you didn’t need a designer to get it looking great, and the process was so smooth that you could be confident that what you designed is what you’ll receive? And what if the whole process only took 8 weeks?
This is what Rapha Custom has set out to do.
Late last year, my mate Al Iacuone and I raced The Pioneer together and had the time of our lives. We were immediately hooked on this type of event and took the plunge, entering the Cape Epic – one of mountain biking’s toughest stage races. This type of race is a two-person team format, which requires both riders to wear matching kit. Half the fun with these things is creating a kit that represents the event along with adding in some of your own personality.
Fortunately for us, Rapha Custom was just about to launch, and we were able to get in as one of their first customers just in time for the Cape Epic.
I could go into a laborious step-by-step description of the process here, but I’d be making it up. The reality is that the process was so simple that there’s really not much to explain.
All you do is choose your garment from Rapha’s range – there’s a wide assortment of gear available from the Pro Team, Midweight, Flyweight and Classic ranges, plus an assortment of accessories. Rapha say they’ll be adding the cheaper Core range, along with other items, soon.
There are only small order quantities required, with a minimum of five pieces, and prices drop from parity with the garment’s regular RRP to up to 40% off at larger quantities.
Next, you hop on their web design tool and select your layout by using a range of classic or modern design templates to start filling in.
It’s then time to get creative, apply patterns, colours and logos to your heart’s content. This is the fun part. There are a staggering 377 Pantone shades to choose from – and you can even contact Rapha if you need something specific outside of the wide range already available. You can add logos and text, and the whole time you’ve got a 360º view of the design up top.
By simply pointing and clicking, your design will start to take shape, with a near-perfect visualisation of what it will look like when it arrives. Compared to the 2D flat-lay drawings offered by most other custom kit manufacturers, it’s night and day.
For the Cape Epic we went with a deep green and yellow to resemble both Australian and South African colours, along with the vertically striped pattern that we’ve used in CyclingTips kits from the beginning. A massive thanks to our longtime designer Gregory Thorne for his help with conceptualising this kit – his fingerprints are all over this, as it carried over the design elements from the Pioneer and CyclingTips kits he designed for us.
At this point we could view our kit straight away in a 3D render, share it around, visualise how it would sit on the body thanks to the design tool’s virtual model, and hit ‘order’.
Eight weeks later and it was at our door ready to race. This was Rapha’s promise, and they delivered on it.
As for the fit and quality, it was exactly as you’d expect from Rapha and no less. With a gruelling stage race through challenging terrain lying ahead of us, we didn’t have to worry about the kit or whether we’d get along with the sizing or the chamois – it was a known quantity that we could rely on.
Custom kit has come a long way over the years and this could be the biggest advance we’ve seen to date. Up until now, ordering custom kit usually involves many steps and many sets of hands – adding considerable time and stress to the order, and often being a longer process than the actual manufacturing and delivery of the kit itself.
Rapha has done a brilliant job at streamlining this process and helping you visualise exactly what you’re going to receive. Supposedly, the company spent 18 months developing their Custom offering and its clever interactive online design tool. Having been through the process from start to end, Rapha’s hard work and attention to detail is obvious.
It’s hard to imagine how else custom kit can be improved from here. Now we just have to hope our bodies are as up to the task as the kit they’re wrapped in…