Rapha shakes up women's cycling apparel

Cycling apparel exists within narrow parameters – bibs and jersey, and that’s it. But not everyone wants the same thing. That’s why Rapha has come to shake up the traditions of women’s cycling apparel

This article was produced in association with Rapha

Ding, ding, ding, the Roubaix Velodrome bell chimed above the roaring crowd. The six leading riders gripped their handlebars, eyes firmly ahead, looking for the perfect time to launch the sprint which could take them to victory. The rider in pink, Alison Jackson, through gritted teeth, dared to go for it. The cycling world held its breath.

She wrestled with the bike with sheer determination, pushing herself to the limit. Every pedal stroke must have felt like it lasted for an eternity, yet the outcome unfolded in an exhilarating split second. And then, an eruption of pure joy exploded from the crowd. Against all odds, Jackson had emerged victorious. Raising her hands in disbelief, she became the first Canadian rider to win Paris-Roubaix.

Dropping her bike to the floor, she danced – celebrating the best way this TikTok sensation knew how. Her happiness was infectious, and people couldn’t help but smile about Jackson’s unexpected win. She shared tears and hugs with her teammates as they celebrated this memorable moment before she lifted the 12 kilogramme Roubaix cobblestone trophy above her head, etching her name in the cycling history books and on the rocks outside the famous velodrome.

The sport of cycling might look intimidating for an outsider looking in – tight lycra, high speeds, gruelling distances and lean bodies – but if you happened to stumble across the women’s Paris-Roubaix and saw Jackson dancing in her team’s iconic pink kit, you might have thought that this sport also looks like a fun place to be. But for some people wanting to get into cycling, there is a stumbling block – options, or the lack of them, especially for women.

As the saying goes, fashion is what you make of it, and cycling apparel is the same, but if brands only create one option for everyone, the sport will only attract a certain amount of people. Rapha wants to open the doors to everyone and anyone who loves to ride a bike by demonstrating that there’s more than one option in cycling.

Beyond the standard

Cycling apparel has always been very prescriptive of what a rider should wear. It’s either bib shorts and a short-sleeved jersey or long bibs and a long-sleeved jersey. Beyond that, there isn’t much scope for riders to branch out. But when it comes to other sports, there are often plenty of options. Even for yoga, for example, people have all different styles of tops to pick from to practise their warrior poses. But it has not been the same story for cycling.

When Fayrouz Salem joined Rapha in 2021 as head of lifestyle, she saw an opportunity to change things in women’s cycling kit. She felt there was a lack of variety available for women in terms of silhouettes that still performed on the bike but were not necessarily a cycling jersey. As a result, Rapha has now introduced a new range for women, including a tank-top-style jersey in both a full-length and cropped version, with a shorter version of its cargo bib shorts.

Rapha has taken inspiration from other sportswear brands with its new tank top, which has a more sporty look than your traditional cycling jersey. But the tank still features all the technical aspects you’d expect from a Rapha product, including two rear pockets and  an essential zip pocket for storage, the same lightweight fabric which Rapha uses in its core lightweight collection, a quarter zip for heat management and a close-to-body fit.

The cropped jersey is the same in terms of performance, but has a full zip and one large essentials pocket on the back. This is a first for the British brand, and it hopes that this cropped cut will open up the sport to more women through its range of clothing options that will enable riders to express their off -bike style on the bike.

To pair with the new tanks, Rapha has launched its cargo shorts in a shorter length option, named its ‘short shorts’. These are not a new style for Rapha; the brand had this shorter length option available once before in its Outdoor Voices collection, which saw great success, and with that in mind, the cargo shorts will now sit in its main range for women. The cargo bib shorts still have pockets on the side of the leg for extra storage and are quite high-waisted, so women will have good coverage when they are paired with the cropped tank.  

All three of the new pieces come in a range of colours – black, blue and green – so people will be able to mix and match their styles. Rapha’s drive is to live life by bike, and it believes that by offering people a more relaxed approach to cycling kit, the sport will look less intimidating for those who want to get into it.

“I wanted women to feel like, ‘Oh, cycling is actually for me, and I can wear a tank top, not a  jersey,’” said Salem. “By changing the outfit, hopefully we can start to open up the sport and make it look more fun, giving women the opportunity to relate to it better.”  

Cool collaborations

Rapha has always led the way with its brand collaborations, some more unexpected than others. Most recently, the British cycling outfit has teamed up  with Snow Peak, Paul Smith, Patta, POC, Palace and Mr Porter to create limited edition collections.

This year, Rapha has taken a different approach with its latest collaboration with high fashion clothing brand Shrimps. The London-based brand became renowned for its colourful faux fur outerwear that led the conversation on cruelty-free fashion in the luxury market. Ten years from its inception, the brand has continued  to grow and is now recognised by its colourful patterns, frill details and handmade accessories.

While the collaboration between Rapha and Shrimps hasn’t resulted in a faux fur jersey, the capsule collection features Shrimps’ iconic artistic prints and pleated frills. “The collaboration with Shrimps is really, really different,” said Salem. “It’s so fun and playful, putting Rapha on the radar of a completely different customer.”

Taking inspiration from Italian vineyards, the collaboration is very feminine, in pastel greens and purples, with some of the collection’s pieces featuring a bespoke Rapha and Shrimps grapevine print. The collection includes a non-padded skort, a long- sleeved mesh base layer, two cropped tank jerseys (using Rapha’s new silhouettes), a short-sleeved cycling jersey and a waterproof jacket in an eye-catching gingham print.

While the collection may not cater specifically to performance cycling, each piece  in the collaboration still embodies Rapha’s commitment to functionality and quality. The garments feature Rapha’s signature performance cycling characteristics, including sweat-wicking, breathable fabrics, storage pockets and comfortable cuts. These elements ensure that even for commuting and shorter distances, cyclists can rely on the reliability and comfort provided by Rapha’s expertise.

By venturing into the world of high fashion, Rapha shows that cycling apparel can be as much about self-expression and personal style as it is about performance. And this collaboration serves as a reminder that Rapha is not exclusively made for performance cyclists; instead the British brand invites people from all walks of life to explore the joy of cycling.

The top of the podium  

Rapha’s unwavering commitment to creating high-performing, technical apparel is deeply ingrained in the brand’s DNA. Over the years, Rapha has worked with professional athletes to continuously innovate its cycling kit and provide those crucial marginal gains when riders need them most.

To ensure its kit is worthy of WorldTour titles, Rapha boasts cutting-edge performance fabrics and close-to-skin pro fit (developed with insight from the pros). In fact, certain styles from the Rapha Pro collection have been directly influenced by valuable feedback from these athletes. “Anything on a pro team level is always tested and validated with the teams first, so that is where we can be really credible and say it is made for the athletes and tested by the athletes,” added Salem.

Access to this insight is invaluable to Rapha and helps the brand understand what is missing from the market. And this is not only for elite athletes but for those who like to push their own limits on the road. This is particularly true for women’s kit, which is still quite a bit younger in its development compared to men’s. Salem specifically highlights the importance of understanding the requirements for a cycling-specific bra, recognising the potential to enhance a rider’s racing experience. She added, “It’s something we are currently not doing, so with the focus group, I am really trying to understand the need for this.”

The knowledge gained from the pros directly influences Rapha’s research and development, enabling the brand to create top-tier kit that is accessible to all – giving everyone the chance to experience the thrill of riding, regardless of skill or ambition.

Cycling should be a place where everyone can find their true selves and experience the exhilaration of riding without limitations, and Rapha’s kit allows all women to do just that.

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