Rapha built its reputation on innovative, high quality cycling apparel. But as a brand grows, which Rapha has done a lot of in the last decade-plus, it can be hard to maintain those qualities that attracted so many to it in the first place. I tried a couple of newer pieces, the Pro Team Gravel Jersey and Powerweave Bibs, to find out if the brand still has it.
Pro Team Gravel Jersey – $240
Pros: collar, pockets, fit
Cons: high price
Size/ Weight: XS/97g
This is my new favorite jersey cut, hands down. Now, I admit some of this is personal fit preference. I like my jerseys tight, the collars low, and the sleeves long. This hits all those notes (though obviously the “tightness” is a measure of sizing). The front panel is nearly transparent mesh for breathability as well, which I thought salacious — but also comfortable — so choose your sports bra wisely.
The collar is one of the design features that sets the Gravel jersey apart from the regular Pro team jersey. It is lower at the front and high at the back, Rapha states with the aim of protecting the rider’s neck from the sun. I’m sure it helps, in addition to the UPF 50 fabric treatment. But what I noticed was the comfort at the throat. No more choking in the drops, no more adjusting the front of the jersey because it doesn’t fit at the neck or pulls across the shoulders. The slight v adds just the right freedom of motion and comfort to an otherwise skin-tight garment.
Also read: Kit review: Assos drop tail UMA GTV
The collar is just one of many differences between this new Gravel Pro Team and the Pro Team jersey we all know and love. The pro team jersey is a traditional piece of Rapha kit with its accent color armband and standard high collar pattern. The gravel jersey, on the other hand, leans into more current features: the sleeves are generously long, stitched at the cuff, and incorporate multiple fabrics — one under arm to allow for ventilation, another on the shoulders for airflow — which assumes that this jersey is going on someone strong enough to maintain 20mph over a long ride, or someone with excellent taste, or both. Honestly if every jersey I wore for the next year, for everything from a long gravel event to a 30-mile road ride for coffee, had this cut, I’d be happy.
The pockets are also an interesting option to meet the need for more storage on rides that take people away from coffee shops. I won’t pretend it’s as secure as a zipper, but it also is less fussy to access, less prone to tear than a small zipper pocket, and lighter. The exposed accent color on the inside of the pockets is also a nice touch. The top of the pocket has an elastic batting fabric over it that keeps a smooth appearance rather than the simple folded ruching on basic kits. All in all, the jersey works as well from the back as from the front. Another case of a solid colored jersey that made some effort to offer something that can’t be found anywhere else. If I could have this jersey in a variety of prints and colors, I would. But of course I won’t because it’s an eye-watering $240.
Pro Team Powerweave Bibs – $395
Pros: lightweight, high compression
Cons: snag-able fabric, eye watering price
Size/ Weight: Medium/164g
First, the bad. My bibs got a snag in them on the second wear. I don’t know if my luck has just been bad lately but I was devastated. I don’t like to ask for anything really, even when I need it to do my job, so I didn’t ask for another pair of these astronomically expensive bibs. My fear was it would develop a run like a stocking, because these bibs have a woven stocking texture. I trimmed the snag, and it luckily seems totally fine.
Also read: Pedal Mafia PMCC kit review
That woven texture is exactly what Rapha’s Pro Team Powerweave bibs have over the average pair of bibs. It offers high compression, on par with my nylon Giordana bibs. They’re also the right length for me to take full advantage of that compression. They breathe incredibly well and don’t have the stiff almost papery texture of nylon woven bibs. The fabric is really the shining star here.
The leg grippers are integrated, as they would need to be with this fabric — elastic is woven into the thigh panel. Sausage leg couldn’t be a concern — these are among the most comfortable bibs I’ve ever worn.
The price is about what I should have expected from a comfortable Rapha specialty bib at the higher end of the scale. It’s about on par with other woven bibs, so I suppose the market will bear what it will bear. The only concern that makes me question the price is that snag — I can’t be sure of the longevity as these admittedly aren’t my only pair of bibs. It’s something to consider if you’re rough with your stuff. I got the snag while I was wearing mine by brushing up against a thorn (this is road, not gravel gear). I also noticed pilling on the outside of the thigh. I suggest that these bibs only see the inside of a washing machine from a garment bag. They’re great bibs while they last.
Also read: Varlo Tairo and Lazarus kit review
Rapha puts its money where its mouth is
In New York City, Rapha had developed a bad reputation as the garments of choice for needlessly aggressive noob roadies. I admittedly have counted among those who had grown to dislike the brand, even make fun of it. But it is unfair of me to blame a whole brand — let alone one not from or based in NYC — for the behavior of the people who purchase its items, especially when the brand at question puts its money where its mouth is. Our local Rapha clubhouse makes an effort to open their doors for charity and educational events. At the corporate level Rapha gives back to youth cycling organizations, a cause near and dear to my heart.
But the key point for a clothing company: they make well designed, quality clothing and if something breaks, they fix it. More importantly, they refined the pro sleeve; they combined the low collar that is popular on race kits with the high collar pattern of a cool-weather garment to offer the best of both worlds, and to that, added two set-in pockets. This kit will make everyone look their best. It also helps that it didn’t chafe, rub, or pop any seams. If you can afford this kit, get it, whether you’re riding gravel or not.