note: read the 2-month review here. spoiler: it gets better
Rapha makes clothes for cycling. Not only that, but, since the brands origins in 2004, they have been developing “the best performing and most stylish cycling clothes and accessories in the world.” Alright then. We definitely know what to expect.
I’m a Rapha virgin. I’m a bit thrifty, and although I do appreciate the fact that you mostly get what you pay for, I’ve usually opted for the middle ground for most things. Rapha has sales now and then, and as I was in need of a better pair of jeans, I took advantage.
Now, I’m always going to suggest that you support your local shop, but in this case there probably isn’t one. Their online service is quite good, in any case.
How they fit
Rapha knows detail. They celebrate it. It’s in their product, but it goes right down to their packaging. The receipt came in a black, heavy-weight paper envelope embossed with Rapha. The tags and the string they were attached to shared the same aesthetic as the jeans. The bag the jeans came in was nicer than it needed to be. You definitely get a sense that you have spent your money on a superior product before you even get to the product, so it was a good initial impression.
The jeans come in all the usual waist sizes, plus three leg lengths per size, which is brilliant. I’m sometimes stuck with getting a larger waist size to get a leg that is long enough, but not here. All of my other pants are anywhere between a 30-32 waist, where the 32 is bigger than it needs to be (definitely requiring a belt), a 31 being comfortable (Levi’s), and a 30 on the limit but still comfortable. I opted for the 30 with a 34 leg, anticipating a roll of the cuff.
It was a bit of a strange fit.
The waist was on the money. Directly below the belt line, however, everything was tight. Couldn’t get my hands in the pockets, tight. Couldn’t crouch more than half way down, tight. These had to go back (they come with a pre-paid return label for just that purpose), but did I go for the 32 waist or get the sprinters jeans in a 30, which feature a roomier leg? Rapha suggested I give the 32 a try, but I was a bit concerned if the waist was going to be too big.
The 32 is a pretty good fit. There is enough extra room in the waist to require a belt, but not enough to be overly concerned about – at first. Now, a month or so of wearing later, I’m wishing I went for the sprinters jeans, which blows my mind, as I am a weedy, lanky climber. They’re not big enough to make the waist bunch with a belt done up, but they are comfortably bigger than they need to be. I couldn’t wear them without a belt, put it that way. The extra room provides a bit more freedom of movement in the leg which is why I had to change them in the first place, and considering the purpose of these jeans, this is a good thing. So the fit ended up being a bit of a compromise, with the legs becoming just roomy enough, but the waist now bigger than I’d like it.
How they work
These don’t have the stretch that the Levi’s do. These are jeans, proper, made from a “proprietary fabric milled in Italy”, making them especially hard-wearing (we shall see), and apparently still stain-resistant and fast drying. I’m sure I’ll find that out soon enough, too. The denim certainly does look and feel high quality, and everything is finished of with the same detail as their packaging. The little rivets are Rapha branded, as is the button. There is the signature pink stitching along the waist-line and a matching pink grippy material around the inside of the waist to keep them in place. If you are ever having to remove them in front of someone that you don’t know really well, hang on to your strides, because grip it most certainly does…
One rear belt-loop is made of highly reflective material (on the right side, as per UK and Australian roads), and there is a bright pink strip of material on both sides of the inner-leg and the large reflective “Rapha” logo printed onto the right leg for when they are rolled up. There is detail inside of the right rear pocket, serving no purpose that I can tell aside from knowing that it’s a bit of class, along with the silky material lining the inside of the zipper. The change pocket is larger than the opening suggests and big enough to fit any number of items larger than coins (an iPhone 3 fits very snugly, for a point of reference), and the front pocket material is so nice that people may start to think you’ve got issues because your hands won’t want to come out.
On the face of it, these are jeans that may not have quite as many technical features as other cycling-specific jeans (loop for a mini-D lock, rear pocket flaps that can be opened to reveal more reflective material, stretchiness, etc), but they have the basics covered and do it with a very high level of fit, finish, and quality of material.
My impression of the Rapha jeans is that, rather than being a cycling-focused garment that you can wear all day, the balance appears to lie more in favour of being a high-quality pair of jeans that have some cycling features. Having worn them regularly now for a few weeks, here’s what I can tell you:
How they ride
I’ve had about four solid weeks use out of the Rapha jeans now, and, I have to say, I have mixed feelings about them, which makes me sad.
Without question, they are of a high standard. I am duly impressed with that. They are nice jeans to wear around generally, off the bike. Pretty happy with that. Pretty happy.
This may be no fault of the jeans, as such – it may go back to the fact that the fit still isn’t quite right. There is more room in the 32’s all the way down, which is to be expected, but a few things may be a factor in why I’m not totally convinced here. The thigh is still a bit tight on me, but the Levi’s were tighter. What is curious to me about the Rapha jeans is that there is a significant amount of resistance in the movement. I keep finding myself pulling them up all day because the legs stay exactly where they are when you bend your knees any amount, which means that your knees feel like they want to blow through the denim each time. What I can’t figure out is whether this is because these are going to take a number of washes and a lot more wearing to break in, or if that’s just the way they are, but I don’t think it is simply because they are a stiff denim. These have a strange, sticky quality to them. They’re not sticky to the touch, of course, but they don’t, as yet, have any ability to just glide over the skin. Maybe it’s that special, “proprietary fabric milled in Italy”. So, I’m not sure if it’s because they are tight, have a strange amount of traction for some reason, have absolutely no give (2% elastane, which is pretty low compared to most jeans and will require more washing in order to keep their shape) or some combination of all three (probably). This quality gets worse in the heat when your skin isn’t exactly dry, so these would suit an English climate a bit better than that of Australia, for example. I have found that the only way to take these off is to start from the ankles and pull them down from there in order to keep the material from bunching and halting all downward progress. On my legs, they refuse to slide down at all if you try to push them down from the top. From the pictures of me just standing there they don’t look all that tight in the thigh (or anywhere), but, like I said, it’s strange…
The part of the jeans that occupies the space between your bum and the saddle is spot on. No problem with seams being in the wrong location, so it’s all good here, and the pockets are deep enough to keep their contents from spilling onto the road. Pedaling, however, brings back the same problem of the high-traction material and/or fit. Every time the knees come up, the material around them resists and pulls, which continues all the way up to the hips, and if that was annoying just walking around in them, it’s more-so on the bike. Because they are a robust denim, they aren’t exactly highly breathable either, so, again, these may not be your favourite option for high-temperature, high-humidity trips on the bike.
I really think these are excellent jeans and that Rapha knows their trade par excellence, which is why I’m actually surprised to realize that I’ve had a lot of negative things to say about their performance and fit.
They are 100% in terms of quality, and almost there in every way in terms of their wearability, but that last 5-10% is oh-so important, and I would like to believe that it’s because I may actually have the wrong pair for me. I suspect that if there was more room in the legs then they wouldn’t grab so much. I want to believe that Rapha is good enough to have done this right, and the quality is so impressive that I absolutely want this to be the case, but these aren’t working for me. I mean, they’re really nice, high quality, and good looking jeans, and I could wear them around socially without too much trouble, but even off the bike they’re not ideal, and on the bike they’re actually more difficult to use than any other pair of normal jeans that I’ve ever owned. Sure, the Levi’s wore out in a hurry, but they were actually really nice to ride in. Hopefully I can get my hands on some sprinters jeans and see if that solves my problems (ideally, with a 30in waist).
This really didn’t go how I thought it would when I started writing this. Let’s see if the future reveals anything different. If I can get some sprinters jeans, I’ll see if that solves my problems, and if not, I guess I’ll find out if more wearing and more washing loosens up these jeans enough to make a difference.