Is Rapha Worth It (and Why Do Some Cyclists Hate Them)?

In a way, perhaps they’re the Apple of cycling.

Formed in 2004 after founder Simon Mottram spotted a gap in the market for stylish cycling attire, Rapha are renowned for making beautiful, cutting-edge, high-quality gear. But many remain deterred by how expensive their products are, or the sense of pretentiousness associated with it.

Maybe that makes them less Apple, more Marmite: people tend to either love or hate Rapha’s products, with no real middle ground.

But this is no Rapha hatchet job. After all, Discerning Cyclist is all about cycling in style and Rapha’s City Collection is a wonderland in this regard, with beautiful stylish jackets, backpacks, polos, trousers and more that perfectly tow the line between form and function.

Yes, their stuff doesn’t come cheap, but if you can stomach the premium, you’ll get beautiful gear in return. It should also not go unmentioned that they pride themselves on their excellent customer service and returns policy (they even have a free repair service).

But, obviously, this all depends on your own circumstances and preferences, and you can’t just ignore the fact that there is an anti-Rapha audience out there. But why? Is Rapha clothing worth the money?

Why Do Cyclists Hate Rapha?

It’s important to first understand the story behind Rapha. Inspired by pictures of the 1950s St. Raphael racing team, Mottram honed in on the luxurious aspect of cycling fashion, bemoaning the lack of its availability prior.

A surge in sales arrived when the Tour de France came to the UK in 2007, coupled with the Cycle to Work scheme at the time, and a contract with Team Sky followed in 2013. It’s since then, really, that Rapha has become a worldwide name, but with greater publicity also comes a greater number of critics.

In January 2016, for instance, Rapha released a new ‘Shadow’ collection, with eye-watering £480 price tags slapped on the jersey and shorts. And as much as the range may have claimed to boast bespoke, extensively-tested yarn with state-of-the-art technology and unmatched protection against the elements, these figures are the real source of antipathy for some.

It’s not just the cost alone – cycling forums debating the issue are awash with Rapha sceptics labelling their marketing as exploitative or provocative, and their image as elitist and exclusive.

A lot of this, of course, may just be chalked down to class prejudice – which perhaps explains why Rapha riders are concentrated more in particularly affluent areas like London.

As Mark Bourgeois, executive director of a London-based listed property company, told the Guardian in 2016, it is “is far less ubiquitous in Yorkshire than it is in London. You rarely see packs of MAMILS [middle-aged men in Lycra] riding in head-to-toe Rapha, like you do around London.

“They [anti-Rapha cyclists] tend to be those who have been riding to a high standard since their teens. It’s possible they feel a certain resentment that Rapha has sort of stolen their sport and made it their own.”

Yet divisive as they may be, Mottram seems fairly unconcerned – “Some people love us, and some people don’t like us, and that’s fine,” he said to the BBC in a 2015 interview.

“But our stuff is really good, and if someone is going to spend, say, eight hours on a bike… then their clothing should be really good. I don’t want to make bad shorts or jerseys just to hit a [lower] price point.”

Is Rapha Clothing Worth It?

While DC is a big advocate of Rapha products, let’s do a little comparison.

Below, we’ll compare the Rapha Commuter Jacket – a ‘premium’ product of theirs – with a more entry-level variation from elsewhere: the BTWIN 100 Waterproof Urban Cycling Jacket.

What materials are each made of? What are their best features and USPs? How much do they offer in the way of style? Let’s take a look:

Rapha Commuter JacketBTWIN 100 Waterproof Urban Cycling Jacket
Materials‘2.5 layer fabric with waterproof membrane’100% recycled polyester (with polyurethane coating)
FeaturesWelted zip pockets for essentials
Integrated mesh back yoke for extra breathability around the collar
Full-length waterproof zip
Detachable hood with adjustable drawcord
Reflective print on the tail
Signature Rapha armband
Loop zip puller
Mesh lined upper back panel for improved ventilation
Close, relaxed fit, suitable for longer rides
Machine-washable
Taped seams and hood provide waterproof functions (can resist up to 2,000mm of water)
Vents on the sides to let air in
PPE-certified neon colouring ensures 360-degree visibility
Lightweight – weighs only 300g (in size L)
Windproof fabric coating
Compact – can be folded into back pocket easily

Colours AvailableGreen
Black
Dark Yellow
High-Vis Pink
Bright Orange
Chartreuse
Brown
Dark Green
Neon Yellow
Price£100£24.99

As a whole, the Rapha range probably has more going for it in terms of style, but the BTWIN coat compensates for that with extreme visibility in its neon yellow design.

Both cover pretty much all of the essentials, but perhaps Rapha has a more additional features to boast about. If, to you, it feels worth paying more than three times the price of the BTWIN coat, then you’ll certainly reap the benefits of a high-end coat.

But the truth is, while the BTwin probably just about keeps up with it’s Rapha alternative in terms of functionality, it doesn’t touch it when it comes down to style.

Beauty isn’t cheap, nor is it universally agreed. It’s why some paintings are worth millions and others are nearly worthless.

If you’re not bothered about their style and you scoff at their pricing, then no: Rapha isn’t worth it. But if you love the look of their gear (and you can afford it), Rapha is absolutely worth it.

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Matthew Chandler

Matthew Chandler

Matthew is a freelance sports journalist from Warrington, England. A keen cyclist, he is a regular contributor to Discerning Cyclist, as well as FourFourTwo, Click Liverpool and Royal Blue Mersey. See Matthew's Muck Rack profile

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