The Seven Year Itch

or my thoughts on Rapha

Has there been a brand which has polarised Cyclists the world over as much as Rapha? Well that’s a question that I’ve asked myself time and time again, so I thought I’d pop down some thoughts on the subject.

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Rapha is a brand of two halves, the first 

What we see in Europe (for this exercise I’ll include the UK*) and what we see in the States are two very different brands. The Europe version is squarely aimed at the MAMIL, well before the brand phrase was coined, this was the brand that gave these new, or returning, riders something that they could appeal to style wise. Subtle, acceptable and with the outfit co-ordination that allowed many to look better on the bike than off it, it was a success. Their different approach, a blend of retro, history and a great website drew the prospective customer into the world, which felt like the brand had been around for ever, but you must have missed it somehow.

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Part of that trick I think laid within using part of an old French Team name, Rapha Gitanne, so it confused the customer to where the brand was from. Many for a long time thought it was French, because of this, combined with the story of suffering over the Tour’s greatest climbs, and then topped off with a fair share of magic French words like Rouleur, Panache and reciting Cols like prayers off the beads of a rosary. In short, it was marketing genius. To be honest when they appeared on the scene I thought this was a breath of fresh air from the post first time fluro explosions that the Pro scene never really recovered from (although I do like some Team Kit From that Period) and used it to great effect to sell their plain, classy kit. Ironically it was a double edged sword for the Rapha folk as many of the little stories hidden in a back pocket had been drawn from the very Teams that the new ‘Chanel’ inspired sophisticated black jersey with a simple white band detailing came from.

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Both Simon and Luke had come from other industries and had not read the ‘rule book’, which allowed them to write their own. Scoffed, mocked and parodied by websites the world over they managed to create such a stir in an establised mature market which was in itself nothing short of a work of art. Since then there’s been a host of start up companies that have jumped on the bandwaggon as they opened a new door, to the establised closed (almost masonic) world of cycling. They didn’t always get it right, and I’m sure if you asked customers, dealers and ex members of staff they would all have a few stories to tell.

Because of their respective backgrounds Simon (marketing) and Luke (design) fueled by a passion for cycling (French, Italian and Belgian) they where able to create something fresh. Many riders have identified with this because of maybe one element of it, or the whole package. But I am grateful that some of the great stories of suffering and woe are probably now recanted as easily as who won the ’73 FA Cup.

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. . . now to the Second (2nd) Half

How Rapha is portrayed in the media and on their sites is very diferent from the USA and the UK. In the UK you have to be a certain A, B, C demographic to be considered ‘target market’, whereas in the USA it’s almost a question of how many tattoo’s you have, although I know that is a sweeping generalization, but the target rider is totally different. The two couldn’t be more different. I look at the ‘Continental Riders’ as this has created some amazing small films hi-lighting some of the unknown (to an audience outside the States) great treasures of the hidden dirt roads, climbs and towns across America. Maybe the common bond between these two social groups is the thing that really binds us together as people. The journey, great beer and a spirit that needs to escape, so maybe we aren’t that different after all! The Continetal experience has a slightly different flavour, Whiskey to America’s Burbon, and with each they have their place and time to be drunk.

I’m not sure I’m really a Rapha guy (I think some of it is a little over the top), but the element of style, sophistication and elegance which they have injected into Cycle Clothing can be seen from the most prestigious brands to new and up and coming start up ones. I have to doff my cap to the fact that the Lightweight Soft Shell jacket I had was one of the best cycling jackets I’ve ever had the pleasure to own. But they don’t always get it right, and some items leave me puzzled, but they have helped shape and guide their customers into loyal followers and to some degree remind me of 60’s Mod’s with their dandy fashions to other brands more practical Rockers attire.

Final Thoughts

I want to say thanks to Rapha, and for one thing more than most others. In their seven years so far they have invested back into the sport from Co-Sponsoring a UK domestic team, to a Stateside CX team and for puttng on many events big and small. You could say it’s all just marketing, and maybe there’s an element of that (and that’s ok folks) but really anyone who has invested in a Team, event or person knows that it’s difficult at best to measure that return on investment and normally the over riding factor and driver is a pure honest love for Cycling, and for that I doff my cap.

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<p>Rapha Yonretto #2, Izu no Kuni from RAPHA on Vimeo.</p>

* Footnote: All images have been taken from the Rapha site, as nobody can potray Rapha as well as themselves.

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2 thoughts on “The Seven Year Itch

  1. Great post Rich. There’s loads of quality clothing out there … but no denying they market it so well. I’m too tight to buy any of it. That’s almost certainly why I’m a cynic and don’t own any Rapha. Aldi do some nice Merino wool under vests though for c.£10.00. That sums me up 😉

  2. I have a simple view of Rapha: ask a non cyclist which clothing looks better, Rapha or a "normal" cycling brand, and they’ll give you only one answer. Never mind the internecine bickering of cycling’s hair-shirt faction, that’s a reason alone to wear the stuff.

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