6 Facts About Rapha You (Probably) Didn’t Know

Cyclist wearing Rapha gear

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Love it or loathe it, Rapha is arguably the biggest clothing brand in cycling. 

What started as an antidote to the garish lycra of the early 2000s is now a major player in almost every sphere of cycling. From professional road cycling and bikepacking to commuting, mountain biking and cycling lifestyle, Rapha has a finger in every pie.

That’s by no means a criticism, merely a testament to their success. Although naysayers may disagree, in our book it’s fair to say that the brand has transcended the world of cycling and cycle sport and entered a space no other cycling apparel has been before.

So, how well do you know Rapha? Is your wardrobe rail stacked with offerings from the British brand? Even if it isn’t and you have a passing interest in Rapha, you might not have come across our 6 facts. Let’s have a look-see, shall we?

1. Rapha Was Founded in 2004

Think back to 2004. What were you up to? Spinning some tracks on your portable CD player? Watching Lance Armstrong storm to a sixth Tour de France victory? Perhaps logging in and sharing a status update on TheFacebook for the first time? Maybe you weren’t even born yet – god we’re old! But yes, Rapha has (at the time of writing) turned 20.

Simon Mottram, Rapha’s founder (he took a step back from running the company in 2023 – though he still maintains a seat on the Rapha board) should really be seen as a trailblazer.

As he has alluded to in many interviews over the years, he struggled to attract investment for Rapha in the early days. E-commerce was just in its infancy and no one in their right mind was starting what would be a men’s only direct-to-consumer offering. Then there was the cycling fashion of the time – all bright colours and garish logos.

Mottram managed to see the wood from the trees and get Rapha off the ground – chapeau! 

Image Credit: Rapha

2. From 1 Jersey to Over 150 Different Products

In the heady days of the early noughties, Rapha hung its hat on one product—the Classic Jersey. Back then, it was called the Sportwool jersey, but the performance and design of today’s Rapha Classic Jersey aren’t a far cry from that first Rapha production run. 

The functionality (and quality) remains, as do the simple block colors and identifying asymmetric striped sleeves.

From humble beginnings, the Rapha catalog now includes over 150 different products—well, that’s how many we tallied up when we visited their website one evening. A staggering figure, really, when you think about it. From shoes to sunglasses, gloves to gilets, these days, there is far more to Rapha than plain cycling jerseys.

In their 20-year history, the number of releases, collections, collaborations, special editions, and limited runs must take the number of Rapha products into the thousands. 

While some bike riders say the quality of Rapha products has deteriorated over time, it’s not unusual for riders to be heading out in products that are nearly over 10 years old. Our 8-year-old Hardshell jacket is still going strong – well worth the £270 investment we’d say.

3. For the Past Six Years, Rapha Hasn’t Turned a Profit 

Yes, that’s right – for six whole years – over 2000 days of trading, Rapha hasn’t been able to squeeze a profit out of selling cycling clothing and accessories – that’s when retailing their bestselling classic jersey for £140/$170.

Whether you think that says more about today’s complex world of outsourced manufacturing, supply chains, pre-ordering, seasons, discounting, dropshipping—yadda, yadda, yadda—or you simply think it’s bad management, it’s certainly interesting to consider. 

With its marmite reputation amongst consumers and growth that went hand-in-hand with an increase in cycling popularity in the UK, Rapha has always remained excellent fodder for the general press and more run-of-the-mill cycling titles, so perhaps it’s a little unfair to criticize its financial performance. Indeed, not every company soars to over £130million worth of sales in under 20 years! 

In 2017, Rapha underwent a major change in ownership after a private equity company swooped in to buy the company for a cool £200 million. What followed was a splurge on making the Rapha business much more than an apparel brand—much more. The number of Rapha Clubhouses (dedicated shops selling Rapha) expanded rapidly, as did other parts of the business, including its dedicated cycling holidays.

All that admirable stuff being said, the most recent accounts released covering the year ending January 2023 stated that the holding company running Rapha ran up to a loss of £12 million – wowzers!

4. Palace, Brain Dead, Snow Peak: Collaborations Are Big Business at Rapha

Collaborations are big business in many industries today, and Rapha is no exception. Rapha has always looked beyond the cycling norm, and by partnering with other brands outside the straight-laced world of cycling, it has earned legions of new fans.

Skate brand, Palace, creative grouping Brain Dead, Japanese outdoor brand, Snow Peak – companies which you’d have bet your mortgage on having no link with cycling until Rapha came calling.

The success of these collaborations (sold-out collections sell for many times their RRP on websites like eBay) is another testament to the forward-thinking bods that have run over the years. Sponsorship of Team Sky and EF Pro Cycling (amongst other deals) have undoubtedly furthered Rapha’s appeal.

5. It Wasn’t Until 2021 that Rapha Produced Mountain Bike Clothing

Yikes, not until 2021! For 17 long years, Rapha held off those wearing baggy shorts and knee pads. 

Perhaps it was the mountain bikers who swore blind that they’d never be seen in anything with a Rapha logo on it, or it was simply Rapha who didn’t know their backside from their elbow when it came to manufacturing an MTB garment – who knows?

Image Credit: Rapha

6. Working at Rapha Means Riding Your Bike Every Wednesday Morning

Rapha’s staff rides have become legendary in cycling industry circles. Whether it’s merely a ploy to attract top talent or a tangible piece of their ‘internal culture’ (someone pass us the HR sick bucket, please) it certainly gets our vote. More bike riding on any day of the week can only be a good thing for employers and employees.

Cheers Rapha, here’s to the next 20 years. 

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