Rapha Cross Bundle ensemble © Josh Liberles

Rapha Cross Bundle ensemble © Josh Liberles

by Josh Liberles

British cycling clothing company Rapha has redesigned their original Cross Kit (reviewed in Issue 5)  for the 2009/10 season. Rapha apparel is well-known for their subdued, classic styling and quality construction. Their cyclocross garb is no exception.

The “Cross Bundle,” which is also available as separate items, consists of the Cross 3/4 bib knicker shorts, the Sportwool Cross Jersey and a merino hat all nicely wrapped in a stash-bag.

Rapha constructs their Cross Jersey from a wool / synthetic blend (78% polyester and 22% merino wool) for a great mix of warmth, durability and moisture wicking. The color is a classy racing green with red accents. The merino lining takes some of the bite out of chilly autumn days, but the jersey falls into the midweight category. While it wouldn’t be my first choice on a 70-degree cyclocross course in Los Angeles, it’s well-suited for pushing full gas in more typical ‘cross climates.

Padded shoulder takes the edge off © Josh Liberles

Padded shoulder takes the edge off © Josh Liberles

Note that this isn’t just a nice longsleeve jersey with the name “cyclocross” attached for marketing purposes. The right shoulder boasts a thin pad – minimal enough that you might miss it, until you hoist your bike up there for a run-up. It’s a nice touch, just enough to take the edge off of a frame impact. The pockets, too, are minimalist but perfect for the ‘crosser. The main pocket offers enough room to cram a water bottle and a light jacket while out training or warming up for a race while a small zippered pocket has room to store a small wallet, a bar or other essentials.

Bib knickers, generally, are one of my favorite cycling garments. Rapha’s cyclocross version is perhaps slightly thicker than a typical bib short, but definitely would fall into the “race weight” category – lighter than their previous, toasty-warm version. The leggings will extend to a bit below the knee and the bib straps are made of a nice, very breathable mesh to offer a balance of slightly increased protection from the elements, performance wicking and overheat-prevention.  A neoprene-cushioned zip-pocket in the back of the bibs offers room for your keys and an ounce of prevention against stabbing yourself with them.

The knickers are black-based but feature matching red accents below the knee and racing green mesh on the bib straps.

Rapha's Belgian-style winter hat, here with earflaps up © Josh Liberles

Rapha's Belgian-style winter hat, here with earflaps up © Josh Liberles

The hat that Rapha sent me to test is actually a little different from the merino one included in the Cross Kit, which was out of stock. I demoed their Belgian-style Winter Hat, which has quickly become one of my under-the-helmet faves. It too is a Sportswool blend: 25% merino wool, 61% polyester and 14% Elastane. The result is warm, stretchy, not itchy and, dare I say, stylish enough for off-the-bike use. Fold-down ear flaps are always a nice feature and it’s a great addition for warming-up, post-race or training days.

The one feature the hat’s missing is some sort of windblock on the front panel. For the relative low speeds and intensity of cyclocross, however, this may actually turn out to be a boon.

Rapha 3/4 Cross Bibs - Airy mesh straps and durable lycra

Rapha 3/4 Cross Bibs - Airy mesh straps and durable lycra

Sizing:

At 5’10” and pushing 155 pounds in winter, I’m usually on the Small/Medium cusp for American super-sizes. The Cross Kit, especially the bib knickers, runs a little big, even by U.S. standards. The medium jersey and knickers were slightly on the roomy side for racing action, but great for a training kit. Depending on how you like your gear to fit, you may want to opt down a size if you’re close.

The Verdict:

The Cross Kit finds the sweet spot between lightweight and cold-weather gear, perfect for a day on the cyclocross course or out in the woods. If I were an unattached rider and didn’t feel like donning a super hero’s skinsuit, this would make an excellent alternative. It’s perfect as an extra training kit as well, for those who need a break from  their NASCAR-esque, logo-plastered norms.

I’ve worn the kit enough times that it’s seen a crash or two. Although I managed to scuff my knee and side up in one incident, the lycra and wool between me and the ground held fast, attesting to the garments’ durability.

Rapha Cross Bundle gear stash bag © Josh Liberles

Rapha Cross Bundle gear stash bag © Josh Liberles

The stash bag, although it may seem superfluous, is actually a nice cinched storage place for muddy-gear when driving home post-event.

At $415, it’s tough not to stumble on the price tag for the three pieces. That combo price actually represents a $60 savings over buying the items independently – which equates to getting the hat and a sawbuck for free. Perhaps wearing the kit is akin to riding a silk tubular. Although the price is steep, I will say that for those with the cash and an eye towards subdued style, the quality is excellent. It also just might be the ultimate gift for the cyclocrosser who has everything.

For more info:
Rapha Cross Bundle: http://www.rapha.cc/cross-bundle/

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