Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: Rapha Core Collection

It’s been a while since I have covered Rapha on this blog. But I’ve been wearing bits and pieces of their clothing for a good few years now. And in the course of those years I have arrived at the opinion that Rapha makes excellent cycling clothes. The comfort factor is high. The fabrics are uniquely pleasant to the touch. The styling is flattering (inasmuch as such a word can be used to describe cycling clothes). The fit of the women’s collection - which was quite good to begin with - has improved steadily over the years. And the durability has, for the most part, proved excellent. Some of my oldest cycling clothes still in circulation are Rapha (i.e. my Ride Studio Cafe club kit circa 2010!), still going strong despite frequent wear.

It feels a bit unfair then to add, that I would prefer for all these praiseworthy features to come in a more low-key package. For I am in the category of those who find Rapha’s iconic white armband off-putting, their contrasting logos visually domineering, their themes of epic suffering comically exaggerated. I suppose what I really want from Rapha - whether it's "fair" to want such a thing or not - is their styling, fit and quality, without the overtly Raphaesque iconography. And even though in today’s landscape of boutique cycling apparel brands Rapha’s price tags are not as eyebrow-raising as they once were, of course lower prices wouldn't hurt either.

I am hardly alone in such criticisms. Nearly every review of Rapha ever written describes their garments as excellent, but a bit OTT in the branding department, as well as expensive. 

And so, as if having finally decided to address the situation, this spring Rapha has introduced the Core Collection. Released simultaneously for men and women, the Core shorts and jerseys offer “the basic essentials in performance and functionality" - with subtler branding and a lower pricepoint than Rapha’s traditional lines. Having received a sampling from the range for review, what I am looking at is some handsome cycling kit, plain and simple. 

As far as sizing: I am a size 4 US (38/40 EU, 12 UK) and am wearing the women's Core shorts in Size Small, the jersey in Size Medium (deliberately sized up to fit over a base layer - it's cold here!). My male tester is a size 34 (trousers) and L (tops) in street clothes; he is wearing the men's Core bibs is size Large, the jersey in size XL. 

The short sleeve jerseys are available in black, as well as a range of solid colours, including red, navy, gray, light blue and pink (I am actually quite impressed with the colour selection considering they have just launched the line). The fit is generous enough to be worn over a base layer, but tailored to hug the body's contours - with men-specific and women-specific proportions executed pretty well.

My skin is sensitive to synthetic fabrics, and even in warmer weather I can't wear synthetic jerseys without a merino base layer underneath. Still, one thing I appreciate about lycra is that it is highly stretchy. The Core jersey in particular, I find, allows for a great range of movement without pulling at the shoulders, riding up too much, or bunching uncomfortably. The stretch also makes it somewhat versatile as far as sizing: size down for a tight, racy fit and it won't constrain; size up for a roomier fit and it won't flutter.

Designed to fit optimally when leaning over the handlebars, off the bike both the men's and women's versions of the jersey are quite loose around the lower back - an effect that is exaggerated by the deep rear pockets.

What it lacks in clever extras - key fobs, special compartments for pumps, and such - the basic 3-pocket system makes up for in roominess, swallowing bananas, scrunched up rain jackets and phones unceremoniously. And it still features a zippered compartment for valuables.

And once the rider is on the bike, the looseness at the lower back disappears entirely.

Distinctly devoid of white armbands, neon stripes or contrasting logos, the Core jerseys feature a subtle tonal armband on the left sleeve and two tonal logos: one on the chest and another across the rear pockets. The logos are so subtle, as to be near-invisible, unless hit by direct light. It's a clean and simple look if ever there was one.

While I prefer merino jerseys over synthetic ones, as far as the latter goes the Core jersey is certainly a nice one. I like this jersey for its excellent fit, generous degree of give, roomy pockets, and overall functional simplicity. As a fan of all-black cycling kit, I also appreciate that "even" the women's version comes in black. Not black with a splash of fuchsia just in case, but "pure dark black," to use the local parlance. Seriously Rapha, thank you for that.

Because of the lower pricing, it is tempting to think of the Core Collection as Rapha’s “budget range” and, consequently, to look for signs of this in the look and feel of the products. I was therefore surprised to discover that I actually prefer the women's Core shorts to my trusty Rapha Classic shorts, which I have owned and worn for years.

The women's Core shorts offer the same key features that make the brand’s flagship Clasic shorts so comfortable: namely, the same excellent chamois and the same fold-over front panel construction that makes these the only non-bib shorts I've tried that don't pinch or create muffin-toppage around my mid-section.

I was then delighted to find that, in addition, the Core women’s shorts are made with wide laser-cut leg grippers - a feature that my Classic women’s shorts lack and I’d always wished they had. Apparently the laser-cut style of leg gripper is actually less expensive to produce than the fold-over style of the Classic shorts. If so, all the better, as this is my favourite style of gripper. Holding firmly in place over bare legs and legwarmers alike, it doesn't oversqueeze, saving me from rashes and the unsightly sausaging effect.

Wheareas Rapha's Classic shorts are available in a longer and shorter length version, the Core shorts come in the longer length only. But perhaps the most noticeable difference, is that the fabric of the Core shorts is denser and a bit heavier than the stocking-thin matte nylon of the Classic shorts. While I suspect that in super hot climates this denser fabric might not be as cooling, this is something that I personally am spared from worrying about in Ireland. Wearing the Core shorts on the bike, I appreciate the extra support and compression they offer, preferring this denser fabric to that of my Classic shorts.

The men’s Core bib shorts parallel the women's shorts, with the addition of (black or white) bib straps. With the straps being solid rather than mesh, I again suspect that for very hot climates these bibs might lack cooling properties. That said, the straps are of the fairly minimal variety, and described by my male tester as comfortable with and without a base layer.

The bib shorts are in fact my male tester's favourite part of the Core collection. He raves about them after every ride, saying they fit him better than any of his other cycling shorts and feel considerably more comfortable around the crotch area (both the chamois itself and the fit around it).

Aside from the fit, comfort and laser cut leg grippers (which is his prefered style as well), he also praises Rapha's choice of black for the chamois-cover fabric - clarifying meaningfully: "You don't want a light colour down there, like!"

"Ew. Are you sure you want me to publish that?" I ask.

"Yeah, write it down. Men like to know about that sort of thing."


With stitching that is only partly flat-lock, and a sewn-in label along the back seam, the inside of the Core shorts and bibs provides insight into the cost-reduction aspects of their manufacture. But as these details translate into no discernable discomfort, I see no cause for complaint.

I was also amused to notice that the Core Collection's lower pricepoint did not come at the expense of literature: Like many Rapha garments, the Core shorts and bibs are imprinted with cycling-themed stories (in this case, on the underside of the front panels).

So, should you ever want to ...erm, flirt with a Core shorts-wearing rider, just ask for a glimpse of their Marin Headlands/ Lonely Mountain (as applicable).

My overall impression of the Core Collection is that it is basic Rapha, but not "budget Rapha." While we have not worn the garments long enough to comment on durability, as far as fit, comfort and styling I feel that the Core range has much to recommend it. While I like the Core jersey, the item I love best is the women's shorts, and I note that my male tester is mad about the bibs. Additionally, I appreciate the Core's subtler branding and lower cost.

Priced roughly 30% below their flagship Classic line, the Core Collection still isn't exactly cheap: A jersey will set you back £75.00 (men's and women's), the women's shorts £80, and the men's bib's £100. But, whether we like it or not, that pricing is on par with what many other cycling apparel manufacturers are charging today.

Whether you are a fan of Rapha, or secretly wish you could wear Rapha without being a "Rapha Wearer," the Core collection could be for you. I wish their new endeavour well and hope to see the Core range expand in future - in particular, with cold weather offerings, and - a personal request! - pure merino.


  1. I've heard good reports about cycle clothing by Torm http://torm.cc/index.html. Similar fabric to Rapha


    1. There are quite a few manufacturers now who use Sportwool or similar for some of their products (a fabric that's wool on the underside, with a thinner exterior layer of polyester), including Torm as well as Svelte (UK), Road Holland (USA) and Shutt Velo Rapide (UK). The construction, tailoring and other details can vary greatly though.

    2. There is an older post where you compare some of these IIRC, but I can't find it.

  2. I really dislike lycra cycling shorts with the "diaper" padding and gave them up a good 12-14 years ago, but I was never satisfied with the alternatives until, just a couple of months ago, I came across a reference to Rapha's "Randonee" shorts and, in addition, found a source (Sigma, somewhere in the Yew Kay) that sold them for (at the time) US$98/each.

    I have to say that I used to sneer at Rapha's pretentiousness; but these shorts are entirely everything that I want in cycling shorts. Trim fit -- no flapping baggy khaki cut offs but no binding; black; pockets -- 2 X side ad rear; long enough; high waist that is comfortable in back when you are in the hooks; tightly woven material that seems (and reports bear this out) durable, but with a bit of stretch; proper button waistband; quality zipper; outstanding tailoring.

    My only gripes are the foolish pink left rear pocket button tab -- superfluous, because the pocket itself has a buttonhole; and the weird white, reflective belt loop at about 4 o:clock south -- the other loops are black.

    But comfortable! Like a properly chosen and set up saddle, they disappear. Highly recommended.

  3. Hm. So Male Model prefers the feel of the Rapha core series bib shorts to say, the Hoy-Vulpine ones that were reviewed earlier? Those sounded great.

    1. It seems that he does. His other bibs include Giordana and Road Holland. And I think his order of preference for those would be: HVulpine > RHolland > Giordana. But at any rate, he liked them all well enough and had no complaints wearing them. The Rapha bibs just seem to fit him more precisely - specifically, in the tricky areas between chamois and leg. He also likes the long length plus laser-cut gripper band combo of the Core Rapha shorts. The Hoy Vulpine shorts are v similar in length but have a different gripper style (a rather unique one with little circular silicone pads). The RH and Giordanas have the laser cut grippers, but are shorter in length. So he likes it that the Rapha Cores are both. Not to mention the black chamois!

  4. What. Is. Happening. To your face. In these photos?!

    But seriously. I like my Rapha windbreaker, going on 4 years now. The classic jersey not so much. And although I see they have recently updated it, it remains a wool "blend" which ain't the real deal. In the end Rapha is just a manufacturer. They make some good stuff and they make some silly stuff. My windbreaker was pretty damn good, so I am glad I bought it.

    1. I know, the smiling is a problem for product reviews. Blame the photographer.

      My "vintage" (c.2009) men's Rapha windbreaker in action:
      The Peloton Vanishes

  5. That lot just looks sooo uncomfortable! I just don't get the cycling clothing thing. All that synthetic fibre next to my skin? No thanks, it is making me shudder just to think of it! Hey, each to his own. I do approve of the plain black which looks sensible/functional.

    1. It's quite comfortable!

  6. Any color so long as it's black, eh? Looks good!

  7. Thanks for the many details and photos. This is the most informative review of the Core Collection I have read so far. My only question, is the Core jersey modeled after the Classic jersey and if so how do they compare aside from the difference in fabric?

    1. It is not based on the Classic jersey, as far as I can tell (either on the original version, which is the one I have, or on the recently revamped v2.0). In particular, the waist band and shoulder/sleeve construction are completely different, and of course the fabric. So, entirely separate designs I'd say, and it would not be useful to compare them. Hope this helps.

  8. What tights are you wearing under the shorts, thanks!

    1. Oh those aren't tights; they are merino knee warmers (Rapha) plus long socks (Vulpine).

  9. OMG! What is going on here!? Am I the only person who is SHOCKED and DISTURBED by the subtext of the photographs in this post?!

    A series of images showing an apparently innocent couple out for a cycle in the country, riding lightweight bicycles(without any visible luggage(the importance of this fact will become obvious shortly)). They stop in a secluded wooded area where the Lady begins waving her arms about in a lascivious way while the Gentleman appears to be furtively looking around in what can only be an attempt to see if the "Coast is clear". Follows more arm waving and uncharacteristic "leering" by the female. Soon mid-riffs are exposed, the Gentleman STRIPS to his suspenders followed by images of all the garments the couple brought with them HANGING IN A TREE! Were there a soundtrack I can only imagine it would be played by a slack-jawed trombonist accompanied by tambourine and cocktail shaker.

    Please cancel my subscription.


    1. Shame on you for thus scandalising an innocent post-ride laundering. You have to remember there are no washers or dryers in Ireland (the bicycle-generated electricity is not enough to sustain such things).

      bib shorts and jersey
      hanging in a tree
      Dee Are Why
      Eye En Gee

    2. Well, the male model appears to be wearing a lovely and entirely tasteful hand-knit hat. Even Spin would appreciate that, I would think. Please renew my subscription.

  10. Really useful review both, thank you!

  11. Recently had to finally let go of my Sheila Young bib tights. Forty years of service. Forty years of compliments every time I wore them. Took a real good look at them before I said goodbye. A severely simple pattern. Would not be possible to describe much detail or write a long review. They fit perfectly when I weighed 155 and they fit perfectly when I ballooned to 200 and fit perfectly when I came back down a bit. Lycra does, after all, stretch. Or it did for quite a long time.

    Sheila Young is World Sprint Champion Sheila Young. Made by means the champ cut them and the champ sewed them. Didn't mean designed by or under the supervision of or we remember seeing her once and we gave her a check for using her name. She made them. I watched. No need for romantic stories printed inside. I saw some of her victories. I rode with her father and with her brother.

    Wish I could tell you where to obtain such clothing currently. If you ever know anyone making clothing the old way, support them.
    I've supported a few over the years, it is not an easy business and the big players have massive advantages. Mostly marketing advantages. My most recent purchase was forty year old new wool shorts. Some kind of animal skin for a chamois. The kind of skin that always launders perfectly and dries well too. Again a super simple pattern and a great fit. Made by hand, by someone who cared.

    1. "If you ever know anyone making clothing the old way, support them."

      I do (myself included). And I do. Alas, not cycling clothes.

      Thank you for sharing this. I would love to know more about her sewing and to see a photo of your shorts if possible. Would be glad to hear from you at filigreevelo[at]yahoo[dot]com if you have the time and inclination.

  12. I discovered your blog several weeks ago (I can't recall which post) and am utterly smitten!

    I recently began cycling again after several years off, and the previous years riding upright single speeds. The bicycle I'm now riding is my first with drop bars and your posts back in the beginning truly make me feel like I've just had a friend and riding mentor cheering me on. My local friends that cycle are hardcore winter riders (as in hardcore winter, -20F and colder is not uncommon) and/or racers and, while encouraging, they really don't remember feel awkward on their wheels.

    I'm gleefully working my way through Lovely Bicycle from the very beginning-- I'm just now in January 2010! and finding myself wanting to comment all over the place to thank you :)

    So, Thank You, for your words, your photos, and your beautiful prolific devotion to the joy of cycling!


    1. Thanks for reading, kat. Cycling in -20F is not for the faint hearted - hat's off!