Posted by: Ian | May 9, 2010

Raphaphilia

Most of my recent bike gear purchases haven’t been from Rapha. Upon returning from Maui I was excited to find my Twin Six Haleakala waiting for me at home, which I had earned by cycling 35 miles up a volcano. For the past couple of months or so I’ve also been enjoying wearing my Twin Six merino trainer. The cut is similar to a Rapha merino jersey, which is a close equivalent. The Twin Six design is funkier, and perhaps that’s why I’ll continue to do more bike miles in the Rapha.

While we were spending an unplanned week in San Francisco I hit the Chrome store. They’re primarily about the bags, hence the URL – www.chromebagstore.com. I bought a citizen messenger bag and it’s ideal. It sits very tidily across my back, has good (though not cavernous) storage and I think it looks great. I also picked up a hoodie and some Kursk shoes. I rode from the store in the shoes and they were markedly better for cycling in than the running shoes I’d ridden up in. As well as nice stiff soles, they have a discreet elasticated band in the laces to make it easier to stuff your aglets out of the way so that the laces can’t catch in the chain; they call it the “garage”, pronounced the American (or posh English) way. The hoodie too is suprisingly well tailored for cycling. Chrome gear, I’ve concluded, is for people who want to have a great time on a bike without looking like cyclists.

As if that wasn’t enough new gear, I’ve also been sporting a new Shutt jersey. Like Rapha, you buy Shutt gear from the manufacturer and there’s something reassuring about this. The service I experienced from Shutt when buying on line was exceptional. The jersey is excellent too. By coincidence, Stu bought one of their jerseys at around the same time and he finds the detailing on the Rapha jersey to be superior. Personally, I find the Shutt just as good and I’ll be happy to get more if we get a proper summer. The fit is slightly boxier but not enough that it bothers me, and they’re about 3/4 of the cost. More than that, I like to have an alternative from time to time, and I think my Shutt sportive jersey looks pretty spiffy.

My most expensive bike gear purchase of the year, though, was some Assos bib shorts. I’ve been wearing my Rapha 3/4 bib shorts all though the winter and they’ve been ideal. With Spring here, it seemed like time to give my Raphas a break and also to have an above-the-knee alternative for the fine weather we can look forward to now. Since I wear bib shorts most days and  I’d heard so many good reports about the Assos ones much I didn’t scrutinise the cost. Only when they arrived did I properly notice how much I’d paid for them: they made the Raphas look inexpensive. I wore them today for the first time on a 55 mile circuit round to Somerton and back (passing the wonderful and even more wonderfully named Burrow Mump on the return). I have to say that they did the job well, though not necessarily any better than the Rapha bibs have been doing. Being Swiss, they come with a solemn booklet about their production values: in its prose a war is fought between pride and naffness that, because the quality is actually there, pride just wins.

These products are each as good as the Rapha alternative (though the point of Chrome is that it’s not offering a literal alternative). But Rapha will remain my first port of call next time I need new gear, and there are a few reasons why. First, only Rapha offers the complete range of all the stuff I need. Where is the alternative to the Stowaway, for example, which if I’m not wearing is usually stuffed into my jersey pocket? And who does an equivalent to Rapha’s Touring Shorts that go perfectly over bib shorts? Secondly, the understated Rapha style enables any item in the range to be worn with any other, and it really doesn’t matter if I come across someone else wearing the same gear. Finally, the experience of having worn so much of the stuff over hundreds or thousands of miles has built a platform of comfort and confidence. But I am glad I have my new gear too.

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