Over the years as the potshots have ricocheted around it, Rapha has resolutely gripped onto its premium pricing perch, defiantly refusing to give any ground to those who would brand it elitist, or sniffy.
So what are we to make of Rapha Core, the new, more affordable range? The purists must be puking in the gutter at this new capsule offering of shorts and bibs. “Something the peasants can afford? What is this atrocity?” It’s enough to have them tearing off their Rapha bar tape in disgust.
They might well console themselves in the knowledge that Core is a somehow substandard line that fails to meet the stringent standards of fit and quality that Rapha has built its reputation on.
They might, if that was the case.
The thing is that despite what many might think, the people behind Rapha are as normal as you and I. Just like us, bikes and cycling occupy their every waking hour as they go from day to day trying to earn a living. Some of their customers might live in Chelsea mansions with a bike for every day of the week, but they don’t. It is from among these very devoted employees that the Core range was born.
Rapha themselves are at pains to point out that despite the lower price point, Core is not a cheap version of its clothing. It is more intended for “putting in the hours” on midweek training rides and the like. It turns out that a lot of Rapha customers regard the brand’s kit as a sort of Sunday best, to be wheeled out only on special occasions, which almost makes a mockery of the reason Rapha costs more - because it lasts longer.
To say that Core was a no-frills version of Rapha would also be missing the point, because there’s no less attention to detail in Core than there is any other line. Instead the savings are made in production techniques.
There are, for instance, only two types of fabric used in the construction of the jersey as opposed to five in a pro team jersey. Then there are savings in the manufacture itself. The trademark armband is actually just the sleeve sewn to look like a band, as opposed to being a separate piece of material. This saves time and therefore money in the production process.
Rapha say they also lowered costs by manufacturing in larger volumes than usual and the block colours serve a dual purpose - to lower the cost of using multiple dye techniques, and make Core a more versatile option so it can be combined with kit from other brands.
“It is like having staple clothing in your closet,” say Rapha.
There are areas where costs have not been cut. The quality of manufacture is as sharp as you will have come to expect and the fabrics are tried and tested and already used in other Rapha garments. Most importantly the chamois padding is the same as used in all Rapha bib shorts. “There are some areas where you don’t compromise,” insist Rapha.
So you get Rapha quality for a fraction of the Rapha pricing, pitching it against the middle market brands.
When you compare Core to what else is available, the value becomes phenomenal. The kit is superior from fabric to cut and comfort. This might raise eyebrows as to how rivals can justify their pricing although Rapha insist they are only capable of producing such a range because of the volumes they are now in a position to produce, an option not available to smaller operations .
Once you get it on, there’s really not an awful lot to tell Rapha Core apart from the mainline collections. There is nothing about the kit that makes it feel cheap, or lacking in quality in any way. You still get the three pockets around the kidneys, the little zip pocket for your valuables, the gripper around the hem and the zip garage at the neck. There’s even a little story inside, as with all Rapha garments.
The hem grippers are slightly different - wider - and more in line with what you might find elsewhere and your colour options are limited but that’s the only difference really.
The only real issue we found was the height of the rear pockets up the back, which required a little too much contortionism of the arms to access. As little as a centimetre lower would have made all the difference, but we’d rather the pockets too high than clanging around our backsides and getting caught on the saddle.
Fit is as per your usual Rapha size, but is based more on the club jersey cut than Pro Team and the shorts are modelled on the classic cut.
On a final note, if you find the palette of the Core range a little limited, hang on a little while. We understand Rapha will be using Core as the base style for its next line of replica jerseys.
Summary: Rapha’s new Core range represents astonishingly good value cycling kit. All of the Rapha quality but for a fraction of the cost, this new range is going to be a wake up call for the myriad mediocre cycle brands offering up inferior but more expensive products. For the weekday training and commuting market this is aimed at, Rapha have totally nailed it. Bravo all round. The only downside for the purists is that this kit is going to fly out.
5 / 5