Is Rapha’s new mountain bike clothing any good? An early review
Rapha has officially entered the mountain bike world. And while you may have expected the once road-focussed apparel company to hone in on the lycra-clad endurance and cross-country end of mountain biking, it has instead launched with a line of casually inspired trail wear.
Coming 17 years after the company launched, Rapha’s entry into the mountain bike market has been heavily hyped. In addition to the expected talk of tailored fit, superior comfort, and sweat wicking, the release comes with a clear focus on sustainably sourced materials, durability, and repairability.
Many of the garments feature fabrics made from recycled materials, and Rapha has made a pledge that 90% of the range will be using environmentally preferred materials by 2025. As a fairly unique feature, almost all clothing garments are supplied with a matching repair patch kit in case you taste dirt. Failing that, there’s Rapha’s free repair service.
An intro to the trail wear range
Rapha’s new “performance trail wear” range is fairly small, but certainly covers the basics. In terms of pricing it’s perhaps most comparable to Rapha’s Core range (which by mountain bike standards is on the high side), and almost all items are available in unisex and women’s versions. And of course, Rapha’s signature armband is in attendance on a number of the pieces.
At US$75 / £55 / AU$95, the Trail Technical T-shirt is likely to be one of the most popular items in the range. Made from recycled materials, this loose-fit top focusses on breathability and wicking, and uses a textured fabric to aid in just that. It offers an antibacterial treatment to hopefully stop you from smelling like an unwashed glove, too.
The Trail 3/4 Sleeve jersey (US$100 / £75 / AU$130) builds out the sleeve length from the T-shirt and uses a double weave fabric for abrasion resistance over the arms. And there’s a light and breathable tank top (women’s only) for those seeking no sleeves.
The Trail Shorts (US$150 / £110 / AU$195) are a baggy number made from a stretchy nylon. The fit is designed to accommodate a liner (there’s no integrated chamois) and offers room to be run with knee pads. The shorts offer two large hand pockets and two zippered side pockets. The men’s version has a variable-width belt built into it, while the women’s short features a stretch waist.
Of course there are seperate liners to go with those shorts (or any baggy short, really). Made from recycled materials, these are designed as a lightweight chamois-equipped underlayer and feature breezy mesh panels in the legs. The men’s version is a bib (US$135 / £100 / AU$175) that features two rear cargo pockets that are designed to be hidden beneath a looser-fitting jersey top. The women’s version is a simpler short (US$110 / £80 / AU$140) without bib straps or cargo-carrying capacity.
And then there’s the Lightweight Trail Jacket (US$180 / £130 / AU$230). It’s designed to be a packable windproof shell with a DWR coating for water repellency, and it features a helmet-compatible hood with an adjustable cinch cord. The jacket stores into its chest pocket and offers a strap that can be looped around your frame.
Accessories and a helmet
Rapha has released a few other items in addition to its apparel range. There’s the trail-specific Pro Team Full Frame sunglasses, and a Smith Forefront 2 collab helmet that features Koroyd protection and MIPS.
And then there’s the Trail Hip Pack (aka a bum bag), something I could see becoming popular with grountain bikers. This US$80 / £60 / AU$105 number is made from a recycled ripstop fabric and offers multiple storage solutions. There are two water bottle pouches, a 3-litre internal capacity (with a secure valuables pocket), and an external cord that can be used to strap down an extra layer. It offers an adjustable waist band and is available in three colours.
Early ride impressions
Our editor-in-chief Caley Fretz has now spent a week wearing a few select items from the Rapha trail range. While it’s of course too early to talk about durability, Caley still had some early impressions he was keen to share. Take it away Caley:
Can Rapha make good mountain bike clothing? Yes. Are those clothes materially different from much of what is already available in the mountain bike space? No, not really.
It’s difficult to differentiate in mountain bike clothing. The jerseys, for the most part, are just fancy T-shirts. The shorts just fancy shorts. The aesthetic, unless you go in for the Moto-inspired clashing colors of enduro, is somewhere between “I’m going on a bike ride” and “I’m going to a very casual bar.”
Still, it’s possible to do mountain bike clothing wrong. Shorts can bunch, sit too high or too low. Jersey materials can stink in 15 minutes or catch and run on passing branches. Jackets can tear too easily or have useless hoods. Etc.
I’ve now spent about a week in the Rapha mountain bike line, a short but intense testing period that was mostly conducted in very warm weather. Here’s what I thought of the key pieces:
Men’s Trail Shorts
The hardest piece to get right but Rapha’s done a good job here. The length sits just above the knee with an opening large enough to fit most normal kneepads but not so wide as to flap around on bare knees. The cut is excellent on the bike, without any strange bunching at the crotch or behind the leg, but that does mean it’s a bit less pleasing when standing around with a post-ride beverage. Not awkward, just not particularly elegant.
There are pockets galore, which is excellent. Two zippered pockets are good for stashing a phone or keys, and regular hip pockets can take anything less important. Even those hip pockets, which don’t feature any sort of closure, are deep and feel secure enough for a phone even when riding.
Placement and support of all the pockets is excellent. I’d like to call out the zippered pocket support in particular – if you stick something heavy in there, it doesn’t slowly migrate down and back as you pedal. It stays put.
The waist closure is adjustable using a little built-in belt and two clasps. It’s a quick and easy-to-use system, and the clasps stay put.
The nylon material strikes a good balance between stretch and stiffness and seems abrasion resistant, though I haven’t thrown myself at the ground yet to find out. Rapha didn’t get too fancy here; there are no attempts to work in multiple materials for flex in specific areas. That’s good. Generally when shorts try to get too fancy they just get worse.
When I do finally conduct a crashing test, I’ll be able to fix any rips or tears with the included color-matched patches – a nice little touch for a garment that is almost guaranteed to see the ground at some point.
Bottom line, these are good trail shorts. They’ll feel a bit long to anyone used to riding in spandex and a bit short for anyone who wears knee pads more often than not. For those of us in the middle, the cut, material, construction, and fit are all pretty spot on.
Men’s Trail Cargo Bib Liner
If you like other Rapha bib shorts, you’ll like these. The fit is roughly the same, though the chamois placement is moved back slightly (as far as I can tell) to accommodate the more upright position you’ll generally find yourself in on a mountain bike. The chamois also feels a bit chunkier than other Rapha shorts too, though this sensation disappeared once saddled up. I found them to be very comfortable, even on the first ride.
Mesh legs help keep things cool, in theory. This is a recurring feature in liners across almost every brand, though I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever thought, “damn, my thighs are too warm.” But maybe that’s just me. I sort of wish they’d stop making liners so revealing so I could just wear them as shorts, too.
A set of built-in rear pockets work well for stashing stuff, particularly since the tops in Rapha’s new range don’t have any pockets. Crucially, these lower-back pockets are low enough that you don’t have to dislocate your shoulder to get things in and out of them.
Men’s Technical T-Shirt
You’ll notice that these mini-reviews are getting smaller and smaller. There just isn’t much to say about a technical T-shirt. It’s a T-shirt.
The material is good. It feels high quality – has a nice touch – and seems to be durable too. I ran into a pretty spiky bush/small tree at decent speed and the shirt came away unscathed. Most fabrics would have run or pulled, and lighter ones might even have torn. This stuff was fine.
A lot of technical Ts stink. I rode in this one for a few hours and then sat around in it for another hour or so and smelled no worse than usual, according to my wife.
Rapha’s first go at mountain bike clothing doesn’t bring much new or innovative to the space (except for maybe the supplied repair patches), and certainly won’t change the way mountain bikers dress (which, one could argue, Rapha very much did on the road side over a decade ago). But this doesn’t feel like a space that needs novelty or innovation.
Good mountain bike clothes work precisely because they are simple. Rapha’s mountain bike line is both pretty simple and, as a result, predictably good.