Launched in the spring of 2016, Rapha’s Core range of clothing has vindicated the belief of the London based brand that they were missing out on the potential custom of a certain group of cyclists, put off by the high cost of their premium garments or the overt branding.
The more affordable, minimalist Core range, first tested out on the summer market, is confined to a few key garments and this winter saw the introduction of the bib tights and winter jacket. Both utilise premium, innovative fabrics, but the savings have been passed onto the customer by the Rapha designers compromising on some of their usual flair and embellishments.
Let’s not pretend that these garments are cheap – at £125 apiece, the jacket and bib tights occupy a position in the upper reaches of the mid-market price spectrum and the price tag reflects the quality of the construction and the cut, which are both top drawer. Everything that one would expect to see are there, from the brushed inner fleece lining, to the zipped side pocket on the jacket for valuables and a wonderfully comfortable Cytech pad insert on the bibs. Simplicity does not mean basic.
And out on the road (tested over several rides over a wet and windy January and February) both garments perform admirably. The stretchy, luxurious nature of the fabric used in the panel construction of the bib tights delivers all the comfort you need. Likewise, the thermal properties cannot be faulted. If protection from chill winter winds and comfort are your two over-riding concerns, then these bibs deliver. The elasticated hems sit snugly on the ankles; the wide, stretchy straps do not constrict or cut into your shoulders and the large oval cut out on the rear ensures adequate ventilation.
A single discreet logo is the only evidence of Rapha branding on both garments
Everything is as it should be, but the real beauty of these bibs lie in the pad insert, which will even keep the backside of those masochists who insist on winter base miles in a constant state of posterial nirvana. Like the Core Bib Shorts, the Bib Tights utilise the pad insert that was originally developed in tandem with pad insert specialist, Cytech, and used in Rapha’s Classic Bibs (since superseded by the Classic II that use an updated pad). Anyone who has owned a pair of Rapha’s Classic Bibs will vouch for their quality of the chamois – supportive and cushioning in equal measure.
The pad is the real star of these bibs and to accommodate one of such good quality, whilst keeping a careful eye on the price point, Rapha have had to make compromises elsewhere. No zipped ankles and only the tiniest sliver of reflective detailing on the calf area. There is no high-tech mesh upper to optimise ventilation, but instead the designers have provided a large oval cut out section (as previously seen with the Core Bib Shorts) that guards against overheating. The lack of reflective dealing aside, the paired down nature of these bibs does not detract, especially for a garment that looks so sleek and performs brilliantly.
The jacket provides a similar level of warmth – far too warm on any rides close to double figures, even if worn with only a base layer. The laminate fabric on the front of the jacket does a good job of keeping the chill and light rain at bay, aided by an inner flap along the zip line that acts as a barrier against any wind ingress.
The cut is ergonomic, but forgiving, the neckline is a little shorter than on some winter jackets and the cuffs are elasticated and tight. Three strong rear pockets (and that small zipped one mentioned above) ensure all the necessary boxes are ticked. It’s simple, but it just works and, for £125, one could argue that it works exceedingly well, especially if your winter riding is confined to those days when the thought of being caught in a deluge is as welcome as an asthma convention in the Team Sky hotel.
Roomy, strong pockets keep all your winter accoutrements safely in place.
So, what don’t you get with the Core jacket? Well, none of those little Rapha flourishes that characterise their higher-end clothing, for starters. So don’t hold up any hope of finding an embroidered quote from a long gone cycling legend hidden in the interior folds. There’s no overt branding and the cut is blunter than the sharp lines of their more expensive collections. Venting under the arms? Not a chance. An extendable rear to protect your backside against road spray? Get an ass-saver. Breathability? When cycling at a higher tempo, make sure you can operate the zip or you may find yourself steaming like a Chinese dumpling.
Instead, it’s all rather plain and unspectacular. OK, the blue jacket (tested) is a wonderfully deep navy, but the overall monochrome design left this reviewer wondering if this jacket had been so paired down that it has become, well, rather bereft of character compared to similar products in the same price bracket. A sideways look at jackets of a similar quality by the likes of Sportful, Endura and dhb and you’ll see colour accents that not only add visual interest, but might also make you a little more visible to other road users too.
And that’s brings me onto a further point – these are winter garments, but the lack of reflective dealing is a weakness. On one test ride on a particularly gloomy day, I neglected to take a rear light and felt horribly vulnerable on some stretches of road, as if I was being absorbed into the shadows. As the Brevet range so admirably demonstrates, Rapha have proved that visibility and style are not mutually exclusive, so it would have been good to see a some of that ingenuity in these garments, even if their addition pushed the price point.
Style is very much a subjective thing. Some will embrace the simplicity of the Core look, whilst others will err towards clothing with a little more character. The mid-market is a crowded one, but Rapha have successfully made their presence felt, introducing a fresh peloton of cyclists to the innovation and quality that characterises their clothing. It will appeal to those with slightly more conservative tastes, who don’t hanker for the brash branding of Assos or the strong slabs of geometric colour of some.
If your cycling is based on strong foundations, focused on the basics and not looking to set the world on fire, then the Core might just be the collection for you.
The Rapha Core Winter Jacket is available in dark blue, deep red, black and hi-viz pink and retails at £125. The Bib Tights with pad insert also retails at £125, but for those who want to save a few pennies, there is also the option of bib tights without a pad, which can be worn over bib shorts, which retail at £95. All Core garments are available exclusively on raphe.cc and it is well worth checking out the bundles on offer as they provide a substantial saving on the overall cost.
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