Lycra has its upsides – it dries fast after a shower, it reduces your wind resistance and it shows off your figure. But having seen a few thousand cyclists at various events this year, its clear to me that not all figures are ideally suited to lycra. In fact, I’m on a bit of a mission to get everyone over 40 out of lycra, so to speak. The problem for the mature road cyclist is that there isn’t that much choice, at least in terms of dedicated cycling trousers, if you don’t want to wear lycra or the ridiculous baggies worn (inexplicably) by mountain bikers. But I have found one supplier of cycling clothes, some of which I’ve come to really like.
Let’s put this into perspective. First, my idea of a designer brand has always been M&S. In fact, I’d struggle to name more than a couple of designer clothes brands, assuming that there are more than two. Second, I have no commercial connection with the company and it’s apparent that its clothes are designed for a younger generation, but some Rapha stuff is terrific. My favourites are the 3/4 trousers, reminiscent of plus-fours but tailored for cycling with a lower front and higher back, and Rapha denim jeans, which seem to be a perfect fit for me. Also, I recently bought one of the company’s inappropriately named ‘hardshell’ winter jackets – great fit, warm and waterproof – and nothing ‘hard’ about it at all.
Rapha gear is not all good. I tried the padded undershorts and they gave me serious thigh chaffing due to the poor placement of the pad stitching, so I returned them. But when riding a Brooks B17 saddle, which I do most of the time, I find I don’t need undershorts if I wear decent cycling trousers. (I’ve never understood why a saddle, or a Hercules aircraft, would be called a B17?) The other product that I’ve found to be completely useless is the Rapha’s fingerless leather gloves. In the winter it’s too cold to wear them and when you get sweaty hands in the summer, they just stick to you in a very uncomfortable way. And beware, the sizing is a bit on the Italian side – I’m about 77kg and 5 ft 11″ but need a large size. No wonder all their SALE items are small.
Like a lot of people involved in marketing, I am of course totally immune to the wiles of advertising and brand promotion in general. But for the most part Rapha has won me over, despite one cycling friend of mine dismissing it as “over-priced crap”.
I have the padded boxer shorts and love them. I find them very comfortable, having worn them from London to Edinburgh over 5 days (a fresh pair each day, that is), about 100 miles per day. The tricky part is that the sizing guide is a bit off, by Rapha’s own admission. If I were to follow their published sizing guide, I would take a medium, but following a pre-purchase query, they suggested that I take small. Everything else I have from Rapha, including 3 models of bib shorts, is medium, except the mitts (small again, even though I take medium sized winter gloves, and the sizing chart indicates medium while Rapha customer service suggested, correctly, that I size down for the mitts). It’s a mystery why they don’t amend the info or add further guidance on the web site. However, the problem is that if you do not size down, the pad will not be sufficiently snug against you and consequently cause discomfort through unnecessary and undesired movements. I wonder if this was the cause of your chafing.
Ah, that may have been the problem. I’ll try again……
I resisted trying Rapha for a long time – mostly because of the prices but also because I’ve met Simon Mottram who bluntly told me that Rapha would not make womens clothing in sizes larger than 14 because he doesn’t want their clothes to be seen on fat women. I kid you not.
Anyway. my mission to find cycling shorts that stayed comfortable after 60 miles led me to succumb to a Rapha sale. Result? Only the very best cycling shorts ever. I wish I could afford another pair. I wish I could ‘undo’ all the sub-£60 short purchases I’d made in the preceding 18 months – in which case I *could* afford another 2 pair of Rapha shorts.
I find Rapha’s womens’ sizing to be only slightly smaller, and actually pretty consistent with the rest of the cycling garment industry, i.e. you always have to buy one size larger than you would with “civilian” clothing. Men’s experiences will no doubt vary.