Rapha fever swept over the cycling community when they launched in 2004 with their high quality, understated apparel.
The brand's dedication to women’s cycling is clearly being rewarded - in fact recent reports tell us women’s road is their fastest growing segment.
Described as clothing ‘without compromise for the most discerning riders’ the gear was quickly adopted as a wardrobe staple by a large proportion of the market. From the very start Rapha offered a large range of women’s kit that was designed with just as much care and attention as the men’s ranges.
Rapha don’t offer absolute parity - some items at the top of the performance hierarchy aren’t available in women’s fit - but they’re certainly moving in that direction. As well as creating quality kit that’s genuinely appealing to women, as opposed to being an add-on to the men’s range, the brand also organise events specifically created to promote and grow women’s cycling. On top of all that, they've just partnered with pro women's team, Canyon//SRAM, and designed them quite possibly the best kit in the peloton.
The brand offer a huge range of clothing, as well as accessories right down to the classy leather 'essentials case' which is probably the least essential item in cycling but by far the most luxurious. However, there are four stand out collections.
We checked out the 2016 range with a full overview of everything that's new here
The original, twelve year old Classic range with its subtle colourways and unmissable single white stripe has remained almost unchanged up until this year. For 2016 the brand updated the options with the Classic II Jersey which features slightly lighter, softer, more breathable merino fabric with a reworked fit and reduced bulk. The subtle collection is a sportive favourite with a more forgiving fit and can be paired with a wide range of bibs, waist shorts, tights and three quarters all with various splashes of colour to match.
At the racier end, is the Souplesse range – light, aero-fit tight, and available with some bolder patterns for those after something stand-out. This year the range excited us with amazing nautical stripes in a feat of reflectivity that’s both eye-catching and practical for those low light mornings and evenings. With Rapha now sponsoring one of the top women’s UCI pro teams with race kit and skinsuits based on the Souplesse, we can only expect the offering to get even better based on rider feedback.
More recently, Rapha added the 'Core' range, designed to offer an affordable entry into their wardrobe. Jerseys start at £75, and shorts at £80. The shorts use the same chamois as much higher end versions, and the jerseys are super stretchy and breathable. Small corners have been cut to reduce the cost, such as fewer panels, fewer stitching styles, and cheaper material used to produce grippers at the cuffs.
On a note completely other from the Classic and Souplesse ranges is the City selection. Stunning kit for day-to-day life, all with cycling inspired features that are designed to make commuting more inviting, it could well be tempting to build an entire capsule wardrobe based on Rapha’s designs. From relaxed leggings with reinforced fabric and high waists to avoid mid-ride flashing, to our absolute favourite, the Deconstructed Blazer with breathable fabric and reflective stripes, every piece is created with the needs of a cyclist in mind.
The Rapha 100
Rapha realise that creating kit women want to ride in isn’t going to transform the cycling scene on its own. Alongside regular initiatives available to men and women, every year the brand host the ‘Rapha Women’s 100’ – a day on which women all over the globe are encouraged to ride 100km.
In 2015, 7,979 completed the ride, signing up on Strava and receiving a woven roundel for the achievement. For some of those taking part, it’ll be their longest ride ever, for others it’s a chance to share a ‘first’ with a less experienced friend.
The beauty in the ride is its total simplicity – it’s global, and requires only a bike and GPS computer (or a map if you’re going old school). The result is that uptake is huge, as is the feedback on social media with thousands of pictures shared on Twitter and Instagram every year the event takes place.
Arguably, it was this year that Rapha made their biggest statement of support for women’s cycling. With the end of their long standing relationship with stalwarts of ‘Marginal Gains’, Team Sky, came the announcement that the brand were to partner with new women’s team – Canyon//SRAM.
Rapha are providing the team – most of whose riders have emigrated from the roster of the deceased team Velocio-SRAM – with team kit from the Souplesse range, as well as casual clothing from their stylish City wardrobe.
The kit can only be described as stunning – plain black with flashes or green, yellow, pink. The branding is subtle but unmissable, bringing a whole new, stylish age to women’s cycling that has barely been seen in the industry before.
When we spoke to team rider Tiffany Cromwell, she told us: “If you can combine [cycling] with fashion, women will say ‘I want to do that because I feel good, I look good’ – they learn more about the sport. They learn more about the riders, you get more ambassadors and role models for the sport, and we’re getting more and more of that. It’s exciting, giving women something to look up to."
Rapha intend to use feedback from the riders to further develop the kit they can offer little-old-us - Simon Mottram, Rapha founder and CEO said when the relationship was revealed: “The world-class riders, team management and cutting-edge partners, will further elevate our product design and performance, and help us develop the finest racing and riding products for women."
Rapha have impressed us from the very start, and we can only expect to be impressed still further in the years to come as they grow and develop.