not quite what the heading might suppose. nobody from rapha was on my day out, but new stuff was. rightly or wrongly, certain items of rapha apparel often seem targeted at the urban rider, and that can lead to feelings of inadequacy amongst those of us resident very far away from urban-ness. in this case, a two hour ferry sailing away. of course, this isn't an affliction applicable to the entire range, but having just released their long awaited trousers, are rapha in danger of becoming rohan?
the fixed shorts are still about, perfectly formed to allow practicality on the bike, tied in with a suitable level of acceptability when removed from the safety of pelotonic surroundings. and in the manner of those neat little tan lines from a pair of backless track mitts, they still say cyclist. maybe not everybody wants to be seen as a cyclist all the time. rapha's slogan for the trousers emblazoned on their website is created for the urban rider. however, i'm not, and likely so not are others. i have no access to rapha's customer demographic or, more to the point, geographic demographic; it may be that the bulk of purchases for such products do indeed come from the urban domiciled.
so in order to prove once and for all that this is only a percentage of the story, and perhaps to convince those easily swayed by slogans, i spent a long day wearing a new red softshell jacket and a pair of trousers. nothing out of the ordinary there, but allowing for the maxim that it is better to travel well than to arrive, i travelled rurally almost as far as it's possible to do and partook in an activity probably not considered by perren street during the design stages.
the last weekend in september is, according to local nomenclature, known as the september weekend. and on september weekend, jura, the next island up, holds its annual music festival. my jazz partner, singer sheena swanson and jura guitarist, giles perring and i have been asked to play both last year and this; it's a bit impractical for an half hour set to struggle with a drum kit, so in this instance i percuss on a pair of congas, which sheena takes over by car at the start of the weekend. my mission jim, should i decide to accept it, is to get myself over to jura for the sunday afternoon. this is a 70km round trip including a there-and-back ferry trip of five minutes each way.
jura is hilly; the road leading from the ferry follows the coast along the sound for a couple of kilometres, before turning left and climbing, and climbing and climbing. fortunately, while the weekend had been grey and closed in, the trip up to craighouse was dry, if a bit mild. the softshell is nothing if not versatile; if you quiz over the offset zip, as did i (seemed like an attempt at trendiness), there is grand logic at work here. your jersey is likely to have a straight up and down zip, so offsetting the zip on the outer shell prevents one sitting on top of the other.
there are also zips under each armpit to aid cooling when necessary, without letting the water in. the three rear pockets are joined by a small hidden zipped pocket on the left side and there is the expected standard zipped pocket piggybacking on the right rear. there's also one of those internal pump pockets inside the centre rear. however, what was unexpected was the thumb loops on the elasticated cuffs, and fine enough to allow wearing a pair of track mitts over the top without discomfort. hook thumbs in place if it's cold, leave then off if cooling is required.
it is, however, a tad unfortunate that such an expensive and fabulous jacket isn't completely waterproof. i don't see that as too much of an ask.
the trousers were weird - well weird if you're used to pedalling about in shorts or threequarters. but it took only a few kilometres for the weirdness to dissolve into comfort and joy. it may be that the trousers can be successfully worn on and off the bike as normal, if your journey is relatively short, or broken up into manageable chunks. however, when the numbers add up to 70km, i'm afraid i can't ride without a pair of padded shorts underneath, so i did. mrs washingmachinepost doubted their ability to continue to look stylish with a padded insert invading their inner space, but the proof of the pudding proved her wrong. the trousers are made from pretty tough polycotton with two side pockets, one of which has an inner loose change pocket. there's even a clever flap to prevent loose coins from falling out when you sit down on the bike or in the jura ferry waiting room (that's another story). there's also a zipped rear pocket and grippy stuff inside the waistband; bear in mind that if worn with lycra shorts, there will be a lot of shimmying going on.
leg length is a standard 34" which is about three inches too long for me, so i just turned them up at the hem. however, i had rather expected there to be some sort of something on the right leg to keep material away from flailing chainrings. surely in this day and age, wearing trouser clips or tucking into socks (which aren't actually long enough) can be bettered, particularly by rapha. the hem of the fixed shorts has an adjustable strap to pull the leg tighter. something similar would have been a nice and practical touch.
so we're clear on the benefits to the everyday or sporting cyclist from both items of clothing, but as mentioned previously, are there benefits to those of us indulging in extra-curricular activities? picture in your mind's eye the possibility of myself sat behind a pair of glossy wooden conga drums wearing liquigas or garmin jersey and shorts. do you think anyone would notice? in reality, i had taken my merino jersey in which to play, but jura distillery's cooperage isn't the warmest place on earth, particularly in september, and i was too much of a wimp to remove the softshell and chill. so the half hour gig went ahead with moi hurting my left hand (must practice more) dressed in perren street's finest and well within the visual expectations of the considerable assembled multitude.
while the tardiness of our singer is not something to be discussed on the pages of a cycling website, suffice it to say that we didn't play at quite the appointed hour we should have, and by the time we'd finished, i had 25 minutes to get myself and colnago from craighouse to the ferry eight miles away. michael hutchinson and bradley wiggins would have managed with ease, but now into a growling headwind on a road that was a darned sight hillier than i remembered from the inbound journey, and threading carefully through a herd of cows ambling slowly homeward. the ferry was heading to port askaig on islay as i pedalled frantically into sight.
the sunday timetable has gaps of two hours between journeys; it was now 16:45, and the next ferry was due to leave islay at 18:30. the rain was heading in, and it was starting to get dark. joy. thankfully, the ferrymaster figured he may have more cars waiting at feolin on jura than would fit one trip, so he left islay at 18:00. joy again.
it's a 14% climb out of port askaig, the rain was well and truly throwing it down by now, and the headwind was a headwind all the way to bowmore. not having expected to be returning this late, i had no lights with me, so resorted to the softshell's hidden feature. inside, there is a large, ass-covering tail velcroed halfway. when the tail is pulled to drop down, there's a small flap that covers the bit of raw velcro inside thus preventing a fluffy patch appearing on the back of your jersey. clever. the tail flap bears a large, reflective rapha logo which, in this case, had to make do to alert cars approaching from the rear, out of the grey, drizzly gloom.
rapha's fixed shorts have an outer skin of schoeller nanosphere which renders tham pretty much stain resistant, and highly water resistant; why it was not possible to have crafted the trousers from the same material, i know not. 18 kilometres into a rainy headwind is not the best way ti keep a pair of polycotton trousers dry. the softshell is not waterproof, it's water resistant; i need to say that it managed a fine job of keeping me almost dry and definitely warm, despite wearing only a long-sleeve merino below.
the softshell has been around for a long time, and i totally agree with rapha that this is the finest version to date. if you only buy or need one jacket, this is most likely it, and the addition of the red one is to be welcomed with open wallets. the trousers will likely last forever in daily use; the seams have been carefully considered for riding comfort, the waistband grippy stuff doesn't let them slide down in use over lycra, and the pockets are of generous proportions. it would be nice if there were a built-in way to restrict the right leg from grabbing at chainring teeth, and schoeller nanosphere could perhaps be a viable alternative if it's ever up for discussion. and currently they subscribe to the henry ford book of colour; you can only get them in black.
they can easily be worn in the office, the coffee shop, the kitchen, jura ferry waiting room, or any other normal place, as well as in the saddle, which i know is the desired intention. box ticked.
so, in an open memo to rapha, you can lay off the urban thing; the rapha hebridean have not only verified their rural credentials, but their ability to hold a quinto in place between the knees during a rather fine rendition of little feat's dixie chicken, even if i do say so myself.
rapha's softshell jacket retails at £240 ($375), is available in either red or black and in sizes from extra small to xxl. the trousers are available in black and 34" leg length only; waist sizes go from 30" to 38", retailing at £150 ($210).
posted sunday 27 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................