For the past many months, I've been a fan of Rapha cycling gear. Based in Great Britain, the U.S. sales division is headquartered in Portland, Oregon.
More specifically, I've been a fan of the Rapha website, which includes engagingly pretentious ad copy for some of the most expensive cycling clothing on the face of the planet, from jerseys to bibs, from gloves to socks.
Sample: "And if you ride hard you need to look good. It’s not an affectation but an aesthetic, a particular and vital sense of dandyism that lies at the heart of European road racing culture."
Or, as a Rapha shibboleth insists, cycling can evince "glory through suffering."
Wander over to the Assos website. The gear, like the Rapha gear, is first rate. However, the Assos website is filled with enough technical details - created with a boat-load of flash effects - to make the eyes of all but the most Fredish of cyclists glaze over.
That won't happen while perusing Rapha's offerings. In addition to showcasing talented writing, the easy-to-navigate website also offers up large doses of creative photography (see the accompanying photograph from Rapha). In fact, much of the website is concerned with documenting, in words and pictures, a series of epic, Rapha-sponsored rides in Europe and the U.S. The cyclists, of course, are dressed in Rapha's stylishly understated and slightly retro road kits. The stories are indeed about suffering and glory, while the sales pitch plays a discrete secondary role, serving more as a domestique on each ride, rather than as a pumped up, prima dona GC contender.
Now I have a Rapha jersey of my own. It's the orange sherbet-colored Country Jersey. The most comfortable jersey I've ever pulled over my head, it includes several deluxe touches as promised by that Rapha ad copy.
The soft, 40% merino wool/60% polyester fits as if it was tailored just for me. The material is soft, it clings to my skin and it wicks moisture. My other lycra jerseys wick moisture, too, but not when they flap in the wind, as they will do on long descents, leaving me with a resultant clammy feeling, even in warm weather. The only other jersey I have that comes close to the Rapha is my ancient and decidedly old-school La Grange-Peugeot racing jersey, which is also a blend of wool and polyester.
I'm in awe of the soft guard at the collar of the shirt, which insures neither my chest hair nor my epidermis will catch in the zipper. The three traditional rear pockets include an mp3 port for running headphone wires beneath the jersey. A additional zippered mini-pocket, built into one of the larger pockets, can hold a credit card or cash or a key. A fifth pocket is shaped to hold a mini-pump. I have, and sometimes use, a mini-pump, and the pocket is a welcome convenience.
For me, the jersey is worth every penny, but it doesn't come cheap. Nor, given the build quality, should it. Are the $150 leather "Criterium" gloves worth the price? Probably, although it's a safe bet, given my income level, I'll never justify the expense. I definitely enjoyed reading about the gloves, though. Certainly my own gloves, nice as they are, don't "offer unrivalled cushioning through super high-density foam, used in the shooting gloves of army marksmen."
Wander by the Rapha website to see that it features a veritable cornucopia of other distinctive and deluxe clothing, luggage, and cycling publications, all of which serve as an accompaniment to the excellent writing and photography.
(The blogger Velodramatic, who bleeds Rapha, has some great photography here.)