When Rapha initially launched back in 2004, most other road cycling kits looked like they copied cereal box graphics, and many cyclists would mine thrift stores for ancient, wool Faema espresso jerseys from the 1960s. Thankfully, along came the London-based brand, with its elan for decidedly subtle style and carefully tailored sportswear. Ever since, brands and designers (from the athletic realm to the auto industry) have hat-tipped the label for its brilliant reimagining of a category.
Owning older Rapha pieces has become a sign of authenticity for cyclists, but also is testament to the brand’s long-lasting quality. They famously used Merino wool before that was common—for a better hand and drape, and its odor-resisting properties. At first, some riders complained about the premium pricing, but soon realized the quality has been stellar. Plus, Rapha has repaired over 34,000 pieces of their own clothing; standing by their mission to make apparel that’s far from disposable.
While Rapha perfected their cycling style, they steadfastly avoided mountain biking apparel. And as brands like Mission Workshop, Kitsbow and Endura expanded the category, Rapha seemed to sit idly. That is, until now.
Today, the brand launches their MTB category with summer-focused wear that includes shorts, jerseys, jackets, helmets (made in collaboration with Smith), sunglasses and bags. Their now-classic Merino wool garments aren’t here yet, but are planned for the near-future—along with a broader line-up. We spoke with Jake Rosenbloum, general manager of the MTB category, who tells us the move into mountain biking began prior to the pandemic, but was accelerated by it.
He also says, “The lines that separate cycling disciplines are increasingly blurred. This is something that we’ve seen in the cycling market, and across other consumer trends.” That’s why the new Trail Shorts, for instance, read as an everyday garment, rather than explicitly cycling garb. The shorts are made from a lightweight, breathable stretch nylon that has the hand and drape of a softer cotton, but the toughness and water-resistance of a synthetic. On the men’s, there’s a hidden built-in belting to keep them from slinking downward. On the women’s, the cut fits a more curved body. On both, there’s plenty of stretch and on-hip pockets—which keep keys or a wallet off the thigh. Rosenbloum stresses that the Trail Shorts suit any kind of riding—or no riding at all. “Cyclists these days are coming into the sport from different backgrounds,” he says.
Rapha, Rosenbloum believes, has the ability to directly impact the mountain biking industry with its specific aesthetic. It’s a sport that fiercely embraces technology, but the clothing hasn’t seemed to advanced as rapidly. “Our goal is to deliver a much-needed combination of MTB-specific performance and style to a sport that has largely neglected it,” he tells us.
Rapha brings a renewable ethos to the collection, with items in the collection all coming with materials and instructions for repairs and patching. Jerseys, jackets and shorts all come with swatches of fabric and adhesive backing. The aim is, as Rosenbloum says, to “keep garments out of the bin and out on the trails.”
Some of the pieces are crafted from recycled materials, though not entirely. The thinking here is consistent with other sportswear brands and suppliers, like Polartec, Patagonia and Norrona. “All of the tops are made out of recycled, environmentally preferred materials,” explains Rosenbloum. “In these applications the thread chosen is not only durable, but also offers wicking and ventilation properties that exceed some materials that are not so environmentally friendly by nature.” But not everything can be made from renewable materials. He explains, “Some pieces are not to the point yet where they can be made from completely recycled materials; not all materials are as durable as they are sustainable and vice versa.”
A bigger picture view here is how many athletic brands have made clothing that’s stylish enough to be worn in other spaces—whether off the bike or outside of the yoga studio. Rapha did that for road cyclists, and now with looser cuts and less aggressively tailored fits, have the chance to roam again. As Rosenbloum stresses, the brand won’t “and can’t focus on one width of tire as our white space.” With that in mind, perhaps Rapha is already thinking way ahead of tires entirely.
Images courtesy of Rapha