several years ago now, i was invited to write an article for whisky magazine - hardly information of an earth shattering nature, but remarkable enough at the time because i don't drink (alcohol) and had thus never tasted any of the tipples being written about on the magazine's other pages. the article concerned the islay whisky festival and featured in the issue following that year's event. one or two of the regular contributors to said publication were rumoured to have mumbled that it was a waste of a good page, not necessarily because of the writing, but more because i could be viewed as somewhat ineligible on the grounds of teetotalness. they may have had a point.
but here we are a few years later, in an altogether different genre, and i have yet to learn my lesson. there are likely to be a number of readers and commenters on the post who could validly question my credentials for reviewing/testing rapha's cyclocross jersey and threequarter bibshorts; at the time of writing i am a cyclocross teetotaller. whether this ever changes, rests more on having the financial acumen to acquire a cross bike and the temerity to ever enter a cyclocross event, mindful, as always, of my complete lack of competitive instinct.
but i do understand cross, have sandpits of enthusiasm for the sport and many well qualified friends who eat, breathe and sleep cyclocross. i'm also more than willing to believe in osmosis, even over the internet. couple this with a number of years reviewing experience under my padded right shoulder, and i have the nerve to place my thoughts in writing with the hope that you will all accept the whole rather than the constituent parts.
in 2008 rapha released their first cross specific jersey in two flavours but one colourway. the basic jersey was fashioned from a similar variant of sportwool as used for the lightweight jersey; except this is cross and short sleeves are not mode de jour. effectively this jersey contained more polyester and less merino, the latter being confined to a thin coating on the inside. the word is snug. colours were brown body and arms with an orange hoop on the left, the alternate take being exactly the same but with an independent fabrication logo emblazoned on (if memory serves) the right arm.
perren street is, if anything, very good at learning and adapting, so with the arrival (in staggered formation) of the 2009 autumn/winter range, the cross jersey has improved with age. colourway this year is not a kick in the teeth off ardbeg green, complemented with a red sleeve hoop and detailing, black cuffs and side panels. what has also seemingly improved, if you can accept that such is possible, is the fit: i truly have not pulled on a long-sleeve jersey that compares with this. the word, and it bears repeating, is snug. and this snugness is adjustable by means of elasticated drawstrings in the hem. as if that were not enough, there is the customary strip of gloop round the hem to ensure continued elegance in the heat of battle.
true cross bikes do not have bottle cage bosses, because their riders need only race for an hour plus a lap at most. similarly quite a number of the elite riders, and probably elite wannabees, race in skinsuits. not entirely sure why that is the case, but it takes only a few minutes to realise that this form of racing apparel is bereft of the roadies' three rear pockets. drop a few rungs lower to those of us who live in the real world, and it's likely that we would be happier to settle for something that advertises a less than lithe form. and something that displays just a tad more practicality. while three rear pockets may be an unnecessary luxury, some sort of storage space would most definitely not go amiss.
last year's edition featured a single zipped pocket which, while admittedly larger than it at first appeared, had a wee bit of trouble fulfilling the word capacious. as i said, perren street has a thirst for learning, and the 2009 version has two pockets: one zipped, one open. the zip is placed at an angle for easier pulling and access. this pocket has enough space for a mini pump, a digital camera (sven nys swears by them), a couple of munchie bars and space to spare. the open pocket piggy backs on the zipped one and was more than happy to swallow a stowaway, even if its orange colour did clash slightly.
front and centre is a full length zip running all the way to a cosy collar - it kept the chills at bay on a bright but cold sunday morning, as did the long sleeves which are generous enough to overlap a pair of race mitts in superman mode, even with my long arms. where hup united have top tube goes here tattoed on their team jerseys, rapha have placed a quilted pad, all the better to shoulder a top tube. i did try as much in a passing grass verge, though my tyres were smooth. i apologise in advance if there are peculiarities of cross that have escaped my attention due to a lack of competitive (or even passive) experience, but for an active, muddy and heart thumping wallop round a couple of fields to the soundtrack of a thousand cowbells, this is what we (you?) want.
the jersey is sold with a drawstring bag capable of containing that and a pair of...
built to accompany and complement the above jersey, these are perhaps the more versatile of the two, given that they're not so very different from rapha's more regular threequarter offering. distinguished from the rest of the world by coloured panels on the shins, these bear the same red as featured on the cross jersey, as do the bibs themselves. in a paean to the art of hidden detail, the double layer of gloop on the inside of the hem is separated by a thin red line, as is the hem of the jersey. the bibs also feature short mesh panels in an ardbeg green to match the jersey, if only anyone were around to see. these are thin enough not to ruffle the jersey and comfortable enough to be not there at all.
the bulk of the threequarters comprises black lycra, probably amongst the most luxurious lycra ever to encase such wimpish thighs, knees and shins. this variant is a smidgeon thinner than that employed in rapha's regular belgian impostor bib threequarters - i have no real idea whether lycra is graded in degrees of luxuriancy, but if not i have a good mind to start with this stuff and work my way down. the panelling on the legs does a beautiful job of leaving no wrinkle unfurled, that svelteness can be enjoyed both running with shouldered bike, cycling like fury or standing around apres ride, caked in mud and looking for a suitable explanation or excuse.
it would perhaps be stretching credibility a bit to say that the thinner lycra engenders a greater degree of flexibility, because that seems more the concern of the rider wearing them, however mobility is easier to come by for a sport that involves grown men and women leaping on and off their saddles and jumping over dods of wood carelessly left in the way.
just in case the extra pocket on the jersey amounts not to the variations required, there's a neoprene lined and zipped pocket at the base of the bib to the rear, big enough for several digestive biscuits or a peanut butter sandwich (bart wellens swears by them). both legs have small reflective tabs sown in at the seams for those races in the dark at the yakima cross school. the pad is provided by pad artisans extraordinaire, cytech, attaining the holy grail of all padded inserts by being all but unnoticeable in use.
match top with bottoms and the armani (paul smith) of cross is upon you before it all gets muddy.
the rapha cross jersey retails for £130 ($210) in sizes from extra small to xxl. the bib threequarters retail at £155 ($215) and are available in the same sizes. sizes tested:medium jersey and small bib threequarters
posted thursday 17 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................