I was at a bike race this time last year in Ipswich. The event was won by a
domestic team sponsored by Rapha. All five of their riders took to the
podium dressed entirely in the black garb of their sponsors. They looked
astonishing, oozing existential class.
As I gazed up at the podium, a lady from Ipswich council nudged me and
whispered: ?Look at that kit. Isn?t it just something else??
I agreed with her. It was indeed something else. Then she whispered again,
?Italian style, you see. They just do it right.?
I smiled back. I didn?t have the heart to disabuse her of her mistaken belief
that Rapha was an Italian heritage brand. Because the fact is that they are
scarcely 10 years old, and were dreamt up by an extremely clever designer
Simon Mottram, the man behind the brand, once gave me a guided tour around his
airy, espresso-steamed premises, and told me how it all began. Growing up
loving cycling, but hating the unaspirational, nerdish, cul-de-sac that was
the British cycling scene, he yearned for the twinkle and sparkle and
grandeur of the C?te d?Azur. For Mottram, cycling is classy, sophisticated,
epic, stylish, foreign; everything that was not available back home. So,
after making his name in design, he acquired the rights to use the logo of a
defunct French cycling team from the late Fifties. He liked the rolling
sound on the two syllables, thrilling to the aspirated plosive of the ?ph?
at the heart of the word ?Rapha?. And then he made some beautiful,
minimalist kit to go with the name, and a whole cultural movement was born.
Metrosexual London lapped it up: advertising executives, bankers, lawyers,
media types, doctors, architects. They all loved it. Soon they were
everywhere: the ?Raphia?; a Masonic affiliation of cycling-obsessed
notables, meeting for secret rides in Regent?s Park, or booking chalets in
the Alps for epic weekends of networking and climbing. The Middle Aged Man
In Merino (MAMIM) was a cut above the more well-known Middle Aged Man in
It is not cheap. Their yak-leather shoes (seriously) retail at ?300 the pair.
Their simplest merino base layer (T-shirt to you and me) starts at an
entry-level ?50. But, mostly, the stuff is worth it, especially those base
The Rapha Merino base layer, in black and blue
I have two which I have owned for years, and wear on almost every ride. The
reason being that 1) they are very, very, comfortable. And 2) because they
are undergarments, I don?t have to show the logo. To publicly sport the
Rapha logo is to make a very definitive statement. It is an act that comes
And now this luxury name has done a deal with Sky. This is their first venture
into the mass market, where chains like Evans are allowed to sell their
stuff. It represents a risk for a brand which trades on its exclusive
appeal. ?It?s a classic dilemma,? according to Mottram, a man who is as
protective of his image as he is aware that it?s not everyone?s cup of tea.
The Marmite model might be more accurate. The brand provokes extraordinary
emotional responses in its followers and its detractors, of whom there are
many. You either love it or you can?t afford it. (Joke.)
In fact, Rapha takes its name from an aperitif called St Rapha?l. It should be
served with ice, and sipped as you watch the sun slip below the horizon from
a caf? on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. As images go, it?s a hard one
On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation?s Cycling Soul by Ned
Boulting (Yellow Jersey) is available to order from Telegraph Books for
?8.54 plus p?&?p. Visit
books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514
The cult of Rapha: the stylish cyclist’s favourite brand – Telegraph.co.uk