Rising UK fashion brand Rapha is known for its adherence to a strict style code, so Tim Burt infiltrated the weekly London club ride to learn more.
You might expect Rapha London Cycle Club’s weekly ride around Regents Park to be an event only for those uber-cool Rapha-elites who you see whizzing by, immaculately dressed, on the daily commute. Time to learn the truth.
Try asking your friends to accompany you on a Rapha ride. ‘I’m not cool enough’ and ‘that sort of thing is for people with three-day growth and little cycling caps’ are the replies you’re likely to get.
Part of that impression comes from Rapha’s status as a premium cyclewear brand. Started in London in 2004 by Simon Mottram and Luke Sheybeler, the brand has been hardcore cyclists’ equivalent of a fashion house – expensive, influential and enviable. In August it was announced that Rapha will be producing cycling clothing for Team Sky, so it looks like if you haven’t heard of the name by now, you almost certainly will have come 2013.
The problem is, for the outsider and the cynic at least, that reputation carries with it an idea of exclusivity or even, perhaps, snobbishness. So you can understand why, if you don’t exactly see yourself as an advert for cycling cool, you might feel like a bit of a fraud breaching the Rapha sanctum to join the gang for a ride.
Arriving at the store on Brewer Street in Soho just after 6pm on a cold Autumn evening to see there were already a couple of the other riders there, it wasn’t a shock to notice a few immaculate beards and riders looking simultaneously professional and the height of fashionable cool.
A gang of eight, we set out from the shop through the streets of Soho and into the rush-hour traffic of Regent’s Street, before heading up to Regent’s Park.
Once we got into the park and on the loop, the pace was upped and the first preconceptions fell away. A former marine at the back of the pack, who was also on his first Rapha ride, struck up a conversation and chatted about all things cycling, from he-who-must-not-be-mentioned to our commuting tales.
Then, a bit of compassion: on my single-speed with flat bars, I think everyone knew that it might be a bit of a challenge for me to keep up, especially as time wore on. One of the leaders dropped back late on to check how I was doing, telling me I was doing well and I’m sure when he breezed back up to the front, slowed the pace a little to make sure I kept up.
It then got to the last lap and the pack really put the hammer down, cutting stragglers adrift – but like gentleman they waited for the rearguard to catch-up and we headed back to the shop where everyone had a chat, got their Rapha loyalty card stamped (if you go six times you get free oversocks) and some enjoyed a coffee before we all headed out into the night.
So, stereotypes shattered and a true appreciation of what a welcoming bunch the Rapha gang are, I rolled home to ease my aching muscles. Now to work out which relatives might be feeling generous this festive season…
The London Rapha Cycle Club run their Regents Park ride every Thursday between November and January. For more information click here.
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