Rapha, as we all know, makes some pretty nice stuff. I was a huge fan of their last denim offering after finally finding the right fit and was sad to say goodbye as the backside has finally worn out.
Then came a period where I was forced to rely on my standard jean selection, which, don’t get me wrong – worked well enough, but it reminded me that the difference a good, cycling-specific pair of trousers makes isn’t necessarily all marketing hype.
And so, when a couple of pairs of Rapha’s new jeans turned up, I was excited to get them back on and resume my regular programming.
But let’s back up for a moment.
When I jumped on-line to have a look at their new denim line-up, it appeared that Rapha had decided to change the magic formula. What I felt was a near perfect pair of jeans had been thrown out of the window and they had started from scratch with a few new models. Would they be as good? Would they be any good at all? They had to be, right?
I had read some of the reviews on their website and they seemed a bit more mixed than I was hoping for. There seemed to be a few people who felt that Rapha’s new line-up of denim didn’t quite meet the previous versions standard (perhaps that was early on – the reviews now seem to be overwhelmingly positive).
Like many of their other clothes, the sizes had shifted around too, so I told their still-great customer service personnel what fit me best in their previous jeans and trusted that I would get the best size/version of their current line-up.
I’m skeptical by nature, but let’s just say that I was curious to see if these new jeans would be anything as good as the one’s I had previously, sadly, laid to rest…
The trademark black bag had arrived, and I greedily tore it open.
Inside were two pairs of Rapha’s finest: one pair of the standard Indigo Denim, and one pair of their Premium Denim.
Today’s review will focus on the Indigo Denim, and a full review of the Premium Denim will follow in due course.
Let’s get right to it: these are nothing like the old jeans. The denim, the cut, and even many of the small details are completely different. The only things that look (and feel) similar to Rapha’s previous jeans are the button, rivets, and iconic pink hem on the inside of the legs. The writing is there, but it’s not reflective on (my?) Indigo jeans.
I don’t know why they felt the need to change, but I suspect it was, like most companies, for the sake of change. Product cycles, and all that.
What you have to do with these is leave all of your expectations at the door and evaluate them on their own merit. Forget about the old ones.
The first thing that struck me was the material. It’s nowhere near as heavy, sturdy, coarse, raw, or however you want to describe the old material. It feels more processed (softer) and slightly thinner, and I wondered, would it hold up as well over time?
What is then immediately apparent is that they stretch. A lot. Maybe not a lot compared to other modern jeans, but compared to the old, completely un-stretchable Rapha jeans, it’s a lot.
Stretch is a beautiful thing for pants in every context, but if you plan on being active in your denim, then it’s one of the best features you can ask for.
The other features are reasonably similar to previous jeans from Rapha, from the pink hem and “Rapha” logo in the leg, the detail printed inside the pockets, enough belt-loops (two in the middle on the back, which is actually something that bugs me when not there) to avoid that escaping waist-line from popping out from behind the belt, and the leather Rapha badge on the back.
The badge is a tan colour on the Indigo denim, and to me it gives these jeans a slightly more sweater-vest kind of aesthetic, which isn’t for me, but that’s both subjective and incredibly minor. I’ve got to say that the colour is a bit too… Indigo, for me, but then, really, what else would you expect? I assume that will be toned down with repeated washings.
One odd omission is the absence of a change pocket. I suspect I’ll somehow find a way to overcome the inability to segregate my change from other objects, but it’s a bit different. What’s new are extra, tiny loops inside the belt loops that are meant for attaching things like keys.
How do the Indigo Denim fit?
The final and most important thing that is different to the old Rapha jeans is the fit.
I was successful in sticking with the same leg length (now with three options) as well as the waist from the previous Sprinters Jeans, so you should be alright there. The waist has some give in it, so there is some extra tolerance there.
There are two aspects that are quite different, however.
The first is that these are definitely skinnier than the old Sprinters jeans, even though mine are the “relaxed” version, and they are also a more tapered fit. As I mentioned, there is ample stretch here, so that’s not a problem like it was for me with the old standard-fit jeans.
The second is that these have a much, much longer waist. The result of this is that you’ll either have to wear these like Abbot and/or Costello, or low-ride the crotch which kind of negates one of the benefits of a cycling-specific jean. A common feature of cycling-specific pants is the high-back, so I’ll assume that this was done to help alleviate the inadvertent on-the-bike butt-crack show.
In any case, though the Indigo Denim are certainly different, they still remain a comfortable, high-quality pair of jeans, but, in my opinion they don’t quite have the same feel of a high-end pair of jeans that the previous models did.
Are they any good on the bike?
So, how do they work? This is where they are actually better than their previous jeans, and for one reason: stretch.
The stretch hardly needs explaining, but where the extra room in the Sprinters Jeans freed up your legs much better than their old regular leg denim, the stretch in these Indigo Denim goes one step further and completely removes any restriction whatsoever. Nothing in the hips, knees, or thighs, and this is what makes or brakes a good pair of cycling jeans.
I must say that the high waistline doesn’t actually work very well on the bike. A high back, yes, but a high front actually sits pretty awkwardly on your stomach and I find it a bit annoying. I keep wanting to push it down, but that’s not really an option. I think it’s something I can live with, but something I would change if I could.
The other way the Indigo Denim are better on the bike than the Sprinter’s Denim is by virtue of being skinnier through the bottom (though there were, of course, skinny versions in the previous models). Whether or not you prefer the look off the bike, skinny is the way to go on the bike. Whether rolled up or down, there is no need to fret about your jeans coming into contact with your dirty bike, presuming you don’t put them there through carelessness.
As far as rain goes, there is nothing particularly quick-drying about these compared to anything else. And, though the standard Rapha pink strips inside the legs are there, the “Rapha” logo inside the right leg is not reflective, which I actually think might be an oversight on this particular pair. Maybe not. The website says it should have it, and what is there sort of looks like the prep-work needed to have the reflective finish to adhere to. Whatever the case, it’s definitely not reflective.
These are a bit complicated to assess, and I have conflicting thoughts about them.
Rapha’s Indigo Denim are a high-quality, comfortable pair of cycling jeans, but, especially when compared to the previous versions, they lack that extra something that sets them apart from the rest of the competition. It feels like they’ve been watered down a bit, and if you took the label off, you wouldn’t necessarily, immediately identify them as costing so much.
Don’t get me wrong – they’re good. They perform as expected in all the usual ways, but this new generation just feel a bit less special to me. Whereas I thought the Sprinters Jeans were a cut above, these, though good, are now mingling a little closer (though still slightly better) to the Cadence and Levi’s crowd. We’ll see if they stay there over time.
On the other hand, when I think about how they perform, they may actually be executed so well as to do themselves a disservice. They’re pretty standard looking, pretty standard feeling, but I really can’t fault them in any meaningful way (though I think the high waist is a mistake). When I think of the other brands I’ve tried, there are things I definitely didn’t like so much about them, and even the much loved previous version of Rapha’s denim took some persistence to finally get the right fit.
These don’t make you weak at the knees, but there really isn’t any legitimate way to fault them. So…
I’ll return at the six month interval for a long-term report, and in the meantime, I’ll be getting up a review of Rapha’s Premium Denim for your general consumption.
Overall score: If you couldn’t care less about brands and don’t have a small pile of money sitting in your denim account, these would still be on the list, but so far, aren’t as immediately or thoroughly convincing as Rapha’s old Sprinters Jeans.
All images: The Sticky Bidon