How do you translate the Rapha brand for the world of mountain biking? Maybe you don’t have to. Sure, Rapha isn’t a name that most mountain bikers would think of when it comes to apparel, but that might have worked to their advantage. How? Many riders like myself will probably have their own idea of what to expect from Rapha Trailwear MTB gear – only to be completely surprised by the result.
Rapha Performance Trailwear mountain bike riding gear
When we heard that Rapha was going to be creating a line of mountain bike apparel, I’m not sure what I expected. But it wasn’t this. Maybe more of a cut & paste version of their dropbar kit, just baggier with a different color palette. Instead, the Rapha Performance Trailwear lineup feels like something entirely different. Which isn’t by accident.
Like sessioning that challenging section of trail that always trips you up, Rapha’s MTB lineup is apparently the result of obsessive testing and repetition. With their U.S. headquarters based in Bentonville, AR, world-class trails are easily accessible to Rapha’s testers, right out their door. But they also enlisted the help of pros around the globe including Olympic medalist Jill Kintner, EWS racer Ella Conolly, all-around legend Adam Craig, plus Bryn Atkinson, Eliot Jackson, and Joey Schusler.
That combined expertise really shows through in the final product. From the fit to the clever little touches that help to make your ride more enjoyable, it’s clear that Rapha did their homework. Rapha seems to have acknowledged that the brand’s clout wouldn’t get them far in the world of mountain bikes – the product would have to speak for itself.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how green cycling clothing can really be, and for Rapha that’s no different. In 2021, Rapha states that 43% of their new Performance Trailwear by volume is made from “environmentally preferred materials”, with a goal of 90% by 2025.
That’s great for riders who have to buy new gear, but what about all the gear that’s already out there? Rapha’s ahead of the curve there as well, having repaired more than 34,000 garments since 2004 (for free) effectively keeping them out of landfills for as long as possible. That’s still an option for select pieces of the Performance Trailwear line (and still free!), but now there’s an even better option – fix it yourself!
No shipping, no waiting. Just use the included repair kit that comes with many of the pieces (it’s not just a tag, don’t throw it away!). Inside, you’ll find five pre-cut patches of different sizes made from excess material from production, which are self-adhesive with the use of a normal clothes iron. The patches will at least keep any smaller tears from becoming bigger, so you can finish your ride or your trip before sending it back to Rapha if it needs a more serious repair. As someone who has had to go out and buy a roll of Tenacious Tape for an unsightly repair, I hope more companies follow suit with repair kits made from the same fabric as the garment.
These types of launches are always challenging from a fit perspective as you’re asked what size kit they should send – for something that doesn’t exist yet. The only reference point I had was the Rapha gravel stuff like their Technical T-shirt which fits… OK. I’m a medium in those, even though the fit around the shoulder and arm leaves something to be desired. For the rest of the Rapha line, I waffle between a small or medium.
So I requested mediums for the Trailwear line. At 5’7″ and 155lbs (give or take with pandemic/new dad bod), I found the fit of the mediums to be quite a bit more roomy than the rest of the Rapha line. To the point that I’d like to try the smalls at some point to see how they compare.
More importantly though, in terms of the actual cut and function of the pieces, there is nothing to complain about. I’d go as far as saying that the Trail Technical T-Shirt is one of the most comfortable jerseys I’ve worn. Ever. It’s basically a fancy $75 T-Shirt, yes, but as they say, the devil is in the details (more on that below).
Performance Trailwear Lineup
The Trail 3/4 Sleeve Jersey is also available for women in two colors ($100 / 90€)…
While they may look like a basic t-shirt, there’s a lot of tech hidden just below the surface. The shirts are made from a super light, breathable, high strength knit fabric that includes a honeycomb structure for better moisture-wicking, and tailored stretch – the fabric stretches more side to side rather than top to bottom.
That stretchy fabric is paired with an ergonomic shoulder construction that fits way better than previous Rapha Tech Ts. The shoulders drape perfectly and the collar and sleeve openings are nonrestrictive.
The Trail 3/4 Jersey uses the same construction, but uses abrasion-resistant fabric on the arms and shoulders which also offer a bit of water repellency. Again, the fit and feel is spot on with arm openings that are tailored, but not tight.
The weight of your clothing isn’t something that many people think about, but in terms of comfort, the weight of the Trail Technical T-Shirt is surprising. Weighing in at 119g for a medium, it just feels light when you put it on. It feels light enough that it seems like it wouldn’t be very durable, but the thorn holes in my arm but not the jersey seem to say otherwise.
The workhorse of any MTB kit, a good pair of shorts blurs the line between lightweight comfort and rugged durability. Once again, Rapha seems to have nailed it with their Trail Shorts which are available for both men and women.
Men’s come in three colors and sell for $150 / 135€ each.
The Women’s shorts come in two colors, also priced at $150 / 135€.
Starting with a plain weave stretch nylon, the shorts feature a forgiving fit that includes a DWR treatment for shedding water and mud. I can already attest to their durability after a hard crash thanks to a poorly placed front tire on a wet root. I hesitate to think what it would take to rip them badly enough to need the included patch kit.
Designed to be worn with or without knee pads, they’re also a perfect fit with a bib liner like Rapha’s below.
If you find yourself needing to tighten up the waist like I did, you’ll be happy to find one of the best adjustment systems I’ve used. Each side has a low profile cam lock buckle which is attached to a variable-width belt system – meaning the actual strap that is in the buckle gets wider as it goes around the back of the short at the waist. That keeps the strap from digging into your waist or bunching up against your back.
The straps are very quick and easy to adjust, play well with hip packs, and keep the short exactly where you want it. But if for some reason you need extra support or want to use your own belt, there are also external belt loops.
Note that the front button is really a slide-lock button closure. It comes with a tag to warn you, but on mine the tag was tucked inside the short so it was hard to see.
More clever touches are found in the pockets. In addition to the two standard hand pockets, there are also two zippered pockets – one on each leg of the short. These are perfectly placed to stash a large cell phone and even have an additional flap inside the pocket that keeps the phone closer to your leg so it doesn’t bounce around while pedaling. As an added bonus, if you forget to zip up the pocket (I did this, uh, for testing…), the flap does a great job of keeping your lifeline from jettisoning onto the trail.
Men’s Trail Cargo Bib Liner
For now, the Trail Cargo Bib Liner ($135 / 120€) is a men’s only piece – which is a shame since it’s really good. Though I’m sure Rapha is working on something for the ladies down the line.
Not to be confused with their Cargo Bib Shorts for gravel and adventure riding, the Trail Cargo Bib Liner is a completely different beast. Created with huge mesh side panels and uppers, these are definitely meant to go under a pair of outer shorts to keep you cool.
Inside, you’ll find a stealthy chamois pad that is incredibly comfortable right off the bat. Also, wide leg grippers are designed to provide a secure fit without ripping out any leg hair (this is mountain biking, remember?).
Honestly, I was prepared to hate the rear cargo pockets on this bib liner. I just haven’t had good luck with most bibs that don’t use a pocket ‘flap’ to position the contents over the waistband of your short. I’m not tall, and I find that most of this style positions the pockets so they’re either so high that you have to be a contortionist to reach them, or so low that your pump and mid-ride snacks end up in your shorts.
Again, Rapha surprised me with pockets that are perfectly angled and designed so that they’re easy to reach while keeping the contents secure. These bibs don’t have a ton of storage area, but it should be enough for most rides – especially since the outer shorts are so good at holding your phone and other items.
Women’s Trail Liner Shorts
While women don’t get a Cargo Bib Liner option, they do get the Trail Liner Shorts. I’m assuming these feature the same mesh as the Men’s bibs with a high-end chamois and comfortable fit – just without the ability to carry extra gear. But they’re also a bit cheaper at $110 / 95€.
Lightweight Trail Jacket
Without taped seams, the jacket can’t be called waterproof, but the ripstop nylon’s DWR treatment is water repellent enough to keep you dry in light showers.
The stretchy hood is designed so that it can fit over or under your helmet thanks to the rear drawcord that cinches it down. The front of the hood has an interesting ‘bill’ that seems to keep more of the helmet vents open for some small amount of cooling when it’s up. It also seems to be tight and stretchy enough that it stays in place while riding, but still allows for easy movement.
But really, what sets this jacket apart for me is a simple but brilliant feature. We’ve seen plenty of jackets that pack into their own pockets, but the Lightweight Trail Jacket includes a storage strap and a strap guide on the jacket itself.
This makes it far easier to strap the jacket to your bike between rain storms, or when things warm up (without the risk of the strap slipping off the jacket). The strap works really well with accessory mounts like the Wolf Tooth Accessory mount, but it also works great for just attaching it to a frame tube. The rubberized bottom of the strap keeps it in place, and the cam lock buckle makes it quick and easy to install or remove.
Once again, it’s a simple idea, but one that’s executed almost flawlessly.
Rapha Trailwear + Smith Forefront 2 Helmet
The helmet seems to be identical to the existing Forefront 2 helmets out there, except for the Rapha branding including their new Performance Trailwear logo – a stylized diamond trail marker.
Designed to work with the new Pro Team Full Frame Glasses below, the glasses are meant to stow under the adjustable visor while upside down.
usly), the helmets are priced at $240 / 205€.
Available in two colors to match the various clothing colors.
Pro Team Full Frame Glasses
Offered in three colors, the glasses sell for $165 / 145€ and include a luxe hard case, soft bag, clear lens, and a second, thicker nose pad. I will say that changing lenses is not the strong suit of these glasses. You have to sort of flex the two halves apart and pop the lens in and out. There aren’t any moving parts, and I came really close to breaking the frame on my first attempt. But the fit and the optics are great, so if you don’t plan to need the clear lens (or swap back & forth regularly) they’re worth a look.
Specifically, since sunglasses have gotten ridiculously large recently. While certainly not small, these seem to offer great coverage without being obnoxious. Unsurprisingly, they work great with the Forefront without interference, even on my smallish face.
Trail Hip Pack
Honestly. Would this lineup really be complete without its own Hip Pack? Candidly, I really don’t like riding with a hip pack, but I’m always on the lookout for the one that would change my mind for longer rides.
The bag itself offers 3L of storage and an external drawcord for carrying a jacket or other light and bulky items like a sub sandwich or a well-wrapped burrito. An Aquaguard zipper keeps the contents dry, and the whole thing sells for $80 / 70€ in three colors.
Hats & Socks
Rapha Performance Trailwear – First Impressions
It’s probably clear by now, but Rapha has really impressed me with the Performance Trailwear series. While I had expected that Rapha’s first MTB kit would be good, I wasn’t prepared for just how much I was going to like it. To me it really doesn’t matter what label is on the outside – but the fit, feel, and performance of this stuff is just too good to ignore. I have a lot of kit at my disposal, but the Rapha Trailwear will be at the top of the heap.
Stay tuned for a longer-term review from Jessie-May that will focus on many of the women’s pieces as well.