Rapha and the elegance of cycling
In the past issue of The Rake, readers will have seen two pieces on cycling-related companies that we celebrated for their craft: Rapha clothing and Brooks saddles. They were included for their dedication to workmanship (though the approaches are very different, with Brooks’ traditional English factory and Rapha’s innovative work in China). But neither would have made it in if they weren’t supremely stylish.
Road cycling, for me, is the most elegant sport in the world. The slow wind of the pedal; the long loops of the peloton down a mountain valley; the splattering of colour across caps, gloves and jerseys. Some of this has been eroded in recent years: helmets have replaced caps; far worse, skin suits are replacing jerseys. Some of the panache of the lone rider has been reduced by the increasing professionalism of the sport – as Rapha’s Simon Mottram so eloquently writes. Much as I celebrated Brad Wiggins becoming the first British winner of the Tour, I and many others longed for him to prove his mettle in the mountains, on a long lonely pursuit or race-winning breakaway.
But enough flair remains. Voeckler’s characteristic attacks and David Millar’s heart-warming stage win this year were enough to lift the spirit. And more importantly, that attitude remains at other levels. Everyone right down to the amateur toiling up Cotswold hills can appreciate the elegance of his pursuit, and the long-burning reward of the finish. Indeed, one of the things that always attracted me to Rapha was the philosophy that road riding is to be enjoyed first and foremost – for the scenery, for the pain, for its own sake.
This attraction has been tested in recent years, as Rapha’s popularity in London has boomed in line with cycling in general. It’s hard to feel quite as excited about your jersey when you see yet another middle-aged man puffing past, the merino stretched to breaking point over his belly. Much as I hate to think that what I wear is affected by other people, I know it is. I’m sure I would be less passionate about the Italian paradigm of blue shirts, navy ties and brown shoes if I lived in Milan. With Rapha, I take solace from my connection to the brand and stick to a few rules: only City Riding gear in the city, for instance; those ubiquitous jerseys are far too short in the front to wear on an upright Boris bike.
Rapha, too, has come a long way. Its range of videos by Continental riders grows every week and spans Scotland, Canada and Java. Indeed the Rake’s own Wei Koh rides with a couple of the Continental riders out in Singapore. Rides are being mapped and provided to the public – a particular service in the US, where road riding has a much lower profile. And a few weeks ago, at the end of the Tour, Rapha opened its first permanent shop, just off Piccadilly Circus in London. Set up more like a café and hangout than a shop, it has a great espresso bar and a real broom wagon sitting behind the counter. It seems so natural now that we have a place to go and try on the full range of Rapha clothing, but for a long time that wasn’t the case.
Here’s to the growth of Rapha and of the most stylish sport in the world.
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