Rapha has been known for their pared down, conservative aesthetic with a touch of bold colors since their start back in 2004. But they also are known for selling at a premium price point that turns away a lot of cyclists. With the new solid color Core collection that they teased a couple of weeks back and now introduced, Rapha has tried to develop some new, more basic jersey and short essentials that they feel keep their brand ideals and trademark level of quality while being more affordable. We’ve had a quick chance to sample the new Core kit, and get the sense that while not revolutionary the new collection does deliver on offering a high quality fit and good performance value…
Rapha see the Core collection as a stepping stone to the rest of their product line. And while trimming costs was a big driver, they also didn’t want to skimp on the quality, fit, or attention to detail that they pride themselves on. The new Core collection is now composed of just four pieces – a jersey each for men and women, men’s bib shorts, and women’s regular shorts.
The £75/100€/$115 Core jersey (for both men and women) looks to be pretty much the same as the lower-cost team replica jerseys that they have offered for a few years (although now fabric dyed instead of that one’s sublimation, so better breathability here), just with a plain and simple look for riders searching for an everyday, unassuming aesthetic. Plus, the line is expected to continue to expand with cool weather essentials in the works for next fall, assuming these are well-received.
Getting costs down means this will be a line that sticks with Asian production, while most of Rapha’s premium products are still made in Europe. The Core jersey includes the same standard 3+1 pocket layout, with a zippered valuables pocket. The extra pocket uses the same base fabric so isn’t water-resistant, but still includes little details like an inner slit for routing headphones. Overall construction gets simplified a bit too. The jersey keeps more simple stitching wherever it can, uses a fabric backing behind the one-piece left sleeve for a somewhat 3D take on the ‘typical’ Rapha armband look, and gets a simplified laser-cut rear hem with a printed on silicon gripper out back.
While Core starts out as a small collection it does offer a decent color range, with men getting at least black, pink, navy, and light blue jersey options and women getting black, pink, and navy at launch. We’ve also seen images of a red, white, and grey for the guys, plus white and a cherry red color for the ladies, which we’d expect will show up sometime this spring/summer too.
As for the Core shorts, men get a set of £100/125€/$150 Core bibs, and women a £80/95€/$120 pair of Core shorts. The men’s version comes in two color options: all black, and a pair with white bib straps to pair with lighter colored jerseys. The key here is that both men’s and women’s versions use the same thick Rapha-specific premium Cytech pad as their Classics line, while cutting overall price significantly vs. the Classics.
Cost savings are made again here by using a more affordable fabric and simplifying construction. Both men and women share a new-to-Rapha lycra that is a bit more shiny and not quite as soft, but would probably still be considered premium based on its overall stretch and density, even when stretched. The cut of the shorts is also a bit different than any of Rapha’s other offerings, and generally uses more panels and seams to get the desired fit, and at the same time uses details like the laser-cut legs and printed silicon gripper that keep production simple.
We’ve had a set of the new Core for about a week so have started to try it out a bit. Here in Central Europe it has been too cold and wet to do much outside with a summer kit, but I’ve put some time in on the trainer with it, plus one ride under a bunch of other layers. The form-fitting polyester jersey still has a pretty high-end feel to it, and seems to wick on par with other mid-range plastic jerseys. It does not however wick as well as the Super Lightweight jersey or insulate as well as the Club jersey, neither of which are that much more expensive.
Looking closely there are definitely corners that have been cut to keep costs down, but so far it hasn’t really affected the feel or function of the jersey. There are a bit fewer flat-locked seams on the jersey, which leaves a few more exposed fabric edges inside, but certainly with a baselayer I haven’t seen any issue so far. One thing I did notice is that the extra zip pocket means that in that spot on the lower back the jersey is actually four layers of fabric thick. After an hour inside on the trainer, the rest of the jersey was damp from sweat, but that spot was wet, having not really wicked as well. While comfort-wise I didn’t notice it riding, I personally would think twice about storing things like a wallet or phone in those pockets without putting them in a waterproof container.
The Core bibs combine a mix of straight and flat-locked stitches to keep costs low too, but still prevent chafing where it matters. I haven’t yet had the chance to ride them on any all-day rides, but so far the placement of the extra seams appears to have been well thought out. Even though the fabric doesn’t have as nice a feel as Rapha’s premium shorts, the inclusion of the thick Classics chamois is a welcome addition. The layout and construction of the bib straps also does a good job of balancing value and performance. While they don’t use a mesh set of bib straps, the large, square open back and very stretchy material does a good job of providing a comfortable fit (especially for taller riders) and doesn’t seem to hold too much sweat, even after intense effort.
At 125€ this seems like the real value of the Core collection, and is likely a good deal on a pair of bibs that are sure to be comfortable on truly all-day adventure rides (and most likely is the same for the women’s shorts, which we’ll likely try to get ahold of in the future too). I get the sense that this is how Rapha might be able to bring in new customers, as anyone who is unhappy with cheaper shorts for long days in the saddle would do well by giving a pair of these a try.