This piece was written for bendelaroubaix’s blog – https://roubaixcycling.cc/ – where a myriad of other reviews, written by another keen amateur cycling in the real world. Drop him a visit.
For 2016, Rapha have released their ‘Core’ range of clothing which is a set of shorts and jersey for both men and women. In a new move for Rapha this range was intended to be a less expensive, dare I say budget, option for people that could or would not buy the full price Classic (mostly wool based), Brevet (designed for long distance/travel) or ProTeam (designed for Team Sky) ranges. Having worn through a pair of ProTeam softshell gloves and overshoes in a few months I returned them to Rapha who in recompense sent me a voucher with which I purchased the Core Bib shorts and Jersey (plus an extra 50Eur).
I used them for the first time on a 100km ride on a dry but cold and windy day in the Netherlands. Rides in the Netherlands may be flat but the dutch attitude to sport means that they are often done at a good pace and so it was a hard ride. I also went on a short 40km smash through the sand dunes on the coast to calm down after the recent fantastic edition of Paris Roubaix. It is only fair to say that I am a Rapha fanboy. I find the cut and materials in the jerseys and shorts extremely comfortable and given that I do not have a Pro cyclists physique, the wool jerseys and quieter designs than our friends in Europe offer suit me a lot better. On the road bike I tend to use Rapha clothing (though the accessories are more of a mishmash) but when I’m on the mountain bike or cross/adventure/travel bike I use cheaper stuff as these sorts of rides throw up more possibility of crashes, thorns or other potential damage. I am a man so, obviously, this review is on the men’s kit.
The jersey is a nice, soft feeling, thin fabric which matches very well with Rapha’s other synthetic base layers. You get a choice of 4 colours and I went for the dark navy blue. Unlike most Rapha clothing it is a single colour with no characteristic white armband. However, for reasons I can’t understand, this band is stitched into the sleeve nonetheless and does have a thick piece of white fabric on the inside of the jersey arm. The best explanation for this is that it is some kind of sweat mop you could use but this doesn’t really seem likely. Labels on the jersey are also very subtle and comprise a simple Rapha logo at the base of the lower pocket. Speaking of the pockets they are well designed and top of the pockets sit relatively high up the back and so swallow a modern smartphone in a waterproof case with ease. As usual with Rapha there is a zip pocket on the left hand side which is big enough for a set of keys and a card holder or a banknote for the coffee stop. One departure from the more expensive jerseys, both in material and message, is the cheesy label which adorns all Rapha kit. In the core jersey it is merely printed on as opposed to a separate label and instead of being a message from a bike racer of old is a message from Mr. Rapha himself, Simon Mottram extoling the virtues of riding with friends. Whilst I agree that (and I quote) “the best rides are rides shared”, the rest of the message about taking turns on the wind, sharing bidons and waiting for people who are dropped seems at odds with the #epic message that Rapha is notorious for. Obviously this has no bearing on the performance of the jersey though.
On the bike they jersey feels great and I struggled to really notice any difference between this and the ProTeam jerseys. Obviously the feel and performance is different to the sportwool jerseys which are a different kettle of fish. The fit is similar to the ProTeam but maybe a tad looser. I found it would flap around my shoulders a little bit but not so that I would really notice unless I had a blog post to write. My Proteam jersey doesn’t do this. The base of the jersey has a wide gripper which keeps everything in place. The sleeves are a modern length (i.e. long) and have no gripper but stay in place perfectly well. In short, without doing a back to back test with a (non aero) ProTeam jersey I don’t think I could’ve told the difference. When “just riding along” I quickly forgot that I was wearing a “budget” option.
If anything the shorts are where you can tell that the Core range is more “budget”. The fabric does not have the same premium feel of the ProTeam shorts. Although I don’t own the classic shorts I remember testing some and the fabric on the classic shorts was much thicker. That said this does not make the shorts feel any less comfortable. The pad is the same as in the classics shorts and in my tushy’s opinion is the best pad available. Obviously this is entirely personal but if you get on well with Rapha’s other shorts you will find the same level of comfort here.
One notable difference with the Core Shorts is the cut. I take a size down in the classics/Core range shorts than the ProTeam shorts but the fit is still much less “compressive” than the more aero/more muscle supporting ProTeam shorts. Whilst the UCI ban full on compression wear I’ve yet to see a pair of modern “race” shorts that don’t claim to have some compression benefit. This is not the case with the Core shorts. The other difference is that the front of the bibs comes much further up than on other models, well above my navel. Again this is a personal thing but I don’t much like this. If, like me, you re a cyclist that enjoys Belgian beer as much as Belgian Classics, the high front tended to get trapped below my belly and pull on the bib straps a little. I found I had to keep puling the front of the bibs up to stop the straps digging into my shoulders. Hopefully as I get closer to racing weight (ahem!) this might stop happening. Perhaps a size up would have helped but then the shorts would not have fitted so well everywhere else. I suspect the problem is with the rider here and those with more traditional cycling physiques will not suffer with this problem. When in place the bibs are comfortable enough to be forgettable. As with the arms I find the legs relatively long compared to some manufacturers but they are no longer than Rapha’s other options. Another thing to note is that the leg grippers are very wide. When on the bike they are well behaved but they tended to stick to my hairy leg when putting the shorts on. When looking stuff up for this write up this was something I noticed another user had commented on the Rapha website. (in case you want to know the message on the shorts is much more typically Rapha, some nonsense poem about wind and mist and sweaty pores). All these niggles disappeared on the bike and the shorts settled in place quickly. Assuming they last as well as other Rapha kit, I’ll be very happy.
In short Rapha have done a good job with the Core kit. Unless I really concentrated on it I could not notice any difference between the Core range and the other, usually significantly more expensive, Rapha kit. To be able to get such a good pad for a relatively low price is a real boon. In my opinion it’s the most important part of cycling clothing. The jersey is certainly the best bargain of the pair as the performance it offers is basically as good as the more expensive options, fit aside. The shorts will also keep most riders happy and it will be up to the individual to decide if the thicker classics, or more racy ProTeam options are worth the extra expense if they are doing longer rides or for those special days. One of the best things about my other Rapha kit is that unlike almost all other manufactures, my oldest kit still looks as good as it did on the day I bought it (and on the few times I’ve used it, I’ve found Rapha’s after care to be outstanding – see above!), on that note, I will be certain to let bender know how the kit stands up to a few weeks and months of club runs, long rides and bikepacking trips.