By now, savvy cyclists are well aware of the UK-based, pink-emblazoned, Rapha clothing company. In some ways, the brand has been a tough sell, struggling to balance aspiration with alienation. Cycling is an expensive sport, granted, but we’re a notoriously cheap lot, too. By the same token, we care about style while being cost-conscious.
That said, even when the cost of a Rapha piece tickles your gag reflex (and it inevitably will), there's no denying their innovative commitment to detail. No cycling stone goes unturned in the design of their products. Articulation is key with bike apparel, so it’s no wonder Rapha tried their hand at a non-performance piece with superior success. The plainly coined “Jeans” are built to withstand (and enhance) a bike commuter’s journey with accoutrements aplenty.
When you bike in traditional denim, you’re left with two consequences: a nicely broken-in pair of jeans that stretch in the thighs and, worse, a seat section worn thin by repeated saddle abrasion.
Since I’ve been testing Rapha’s Jeans, I’ve made two key observations. First, the Jeans’ fit my typical cyclist’s physique (skinny waist with long, thick tree trunk legs) better than common brands from the first time I put them on (without any accumulated stretch).
Second, the denim-looking fabric (actually a Cordura-lycra blend) stretches more like a pair of cycling shorts, complementing your pedal stroke instead of detracting from it with bunching at the knees or with seams that lay flat instead of wrapping around your legs. That said, don’t expect these commuter-specific jeans to revolutionize your ride; they don’t contain a chamois, so the discomfort you might be used to from movement on the saddle will remain. These jeans simply stand up better to, and fit more comfortably during, the rigors of cycling than regular clothing. After two months of near-daily wear—hey, I grew attached not only to the quality of these jeans but the style as well—I’m pleased to report zero visible abrasion in the rear. Try getting the same results out of your Levi's or Luckys.
Rapha’s commitment to detail is most visible when you roll up the right (chain-side) leg; a white Rapha logo turns your calf into a reflective piston. A soft, pink gripper on the waist helps the jeans snug-up, especially when riding sans belt. The pockets, while deep and easily accessible in the saddle (especially when pulling for items like your keys or cell phone), were the only part of the Jeans where moisture accumulated. I would often get to the office or home, reach for my cell phone, and notice the screen was covered in condensation, which doesn't happen with traditional denim.
The Rapha Jeans’ style rivals designer denim brands like Diesel and cost about the same as four pairs of Levi's 501s, but you'll get what you pair for: Diesel-like style with all the details and cycling-specific durability you need for your daily rides. Once you “go Rapha,” it’s hard to look at your other jeans the same way, especially when all your other pairs are fraying in the seat.
Hits: Clever and useful bike commuter details, outstanding durability, snug and stylish fit
Misses: Costly, moisture build-up in hip pockets, doesn’t improve comfort on the saddle