Monday, March 15, 2010

Rapha becomes an adjective. Branding within the world of cycling (an epic post, of epic proportions).

Things have been busy around the Cycling Inquisition office lately. Due to the rising popularity of the blog, I find myself spending most of my days fielding offers for personal appearances as well as possible book deals. Tedious as this may seem, I press on, and still try to create enough earth-shattering content for all of you, my beloved readers. To be honest, however, the only downside to being this busy is that I sometimes lose track of what's important, which is basically scouring the internet for imagery, video or current trends in cycling which the world badly wants me to comment on. Lucky for you, I had a small break from signing checks this morning (I'd like to offer a formal thanks to Peggy from accounts payable for keeping me sane in the last few weeks) to find one such item of interest, so let me tell you about it.

Peggy from Accounts Payable (showing off her new cubicle), the unsung hero of Cycling Inquisition.

The item on the internet that recently caught my eye was a comment made on the What's New blog. In response to this post, which according to one reader seemed to dwell a bit too much on the aesthetics and beauty of cycling, the reader commented:

"This post was even more Rapha than usual."

Brand as adjective

From the time that Rapha was launched, the company has had almost as many detractors as it's had supporters. As such, the comment that was posted on the What's New blog is itself not all that surprising. On second thought, however, I realized that this was the first time that Rapha— the word—had been used as an adjective, at least to my knowledge. I assume such a thing has happened before, and it probably didn't register with me as I read or heard it. For some reason, however, this comment stuck out in my mind. The tone of a post on a blog, not a jersey, not a photograph....a post, was "Rapha". The person making that comment used the word as shorthand, assuming (correctly I might ad) that those reading it would understand what he meant. Although he used the term in a negative light, its mere use shows the strength of the Rapha brand— a brand that the company has managed to create in an amazingly short period of time. I know the very word, "brand", is nauseating to many (and perhaps rightfully so), but its existence within the world of cycling is in its infancy, and is thus worth looking more closely into.

Say what you will about Rapha and their recent success (most have, and will continue to) but to me, this is an unprecedented moment in cycling and branding. Is this a good thing, a bad thing? Does branding at this level belong in cycling? Honestly, that's not of much interest to me, but the fact that Rapha and its image have become so ubiquitous that such a comment could be made (and understood) is interesting to say the least. After all, how many other brands in cycling would have the same honor (if you can call it that)? How many other brands in cycling can easily become adjectives? Even storied brands, or sizable ones can't make this claim. If you saw a guy on a bike dressed in a certain way, or riding a certain type of bike, could you say he was any of the following?

- That guy was so Pearl Izumi
- The magazine would be right up your alley, it's really Castelli
- I don't know about that dude, he seems a little Santini to me
- I don't like riding with him, he's so Giordana

You get my point. Sure, some other brands paint more of a picture in our minds. Assos, for one, certainly does. This is perhaps due to its pricepoint, and the type of people that can normally afford that clothing (insert joke about dentists, Cervelos and doctors with fancy bikes who ride slow here). But even Assos does not portray a very clear image in our mind. Even bicycle makers who've been around for a significant amount of time haven't managed to encapsulate their brand as successfully as Rapha has. Bianchi, for example, has been around as a bike maker for much longer than any of us have been riding bikes. Sure, the name alone conveys certain imagery. For some, Bianchi is synomymous with Coppi, or perhaps Pantani. This may be true, but if I tell you that I read an article in a magazine, and it struck me as overly Bianchi-like...I have every reason to believe that you wouldn't know what on earth I was talking about. Was it overly Italian? Was the text printed in a weird light green (celeste) color? Was it written in Italy but printed in Taiwan? Who knows.

To many, Bianchi is synonymous with Coppi. To me, Coppi is synonymous with this nude centerfold. Check out his sexy slippers! Hubba, hubba. (As seen here)

So while sizable companies have not managed to create such a strong brand (sorry to keep using that term) other companies have, but only unwillingly. Take Primal Wear, for example. If someone told you that a bike shop was not worth going to because the stuff they stock and its clientele was overly "Primal Wear", would you know what they meant? Sure you would. So oddly enough, Rapha and Primal Wear have a good bit in common. While Rapha has worked hard to craft an image, Primal Wear has created one largely without even meaning to. Funny how things work out sometimes.

A blank canvas

How can it be that a longstanding brand such as Bianchi has not managed to craft such an overt and precise image as a relatively young company like Rapha? While Rapha's products and marketing materials are consistently loaded with brand-correct messages, other companies within cycling offer us their products and little more. Sure, they spend money on advertising too, and they try to let us know about their heritage, but by and large companies in cycling allow us (the customer) to project our feelings about riding on to their products. Their clothing, bikes, helmets or pedals are not as jam-packed with a certain attitude or take on cycling as Rapha is.

For example, what imagery (if any) do Shimano M520 SPD pedals bring to mind? Any at all? Perhaps you think you could use them for your mountain bike, or your commuter bike...but that's about it. No imagery of "epic" rides, the Alps or spring classics are conveyed by the mere mention of the pedals. Even their name is utilitarian and a bit archaic. The pedals do not have a meaning or message beyond themselves. They are pedals, and they are largely a self-contained unit. Done. Compare that sentiment to any of Rapha's offerings, whose descriptions alone tell you everything you'll ever need to know about the inspiration that brought about the product. In doing so, Rapha has created an image for you, unlike the Shimano pedals, which comparatively feel mass produced and uninspired. Sure, they are just pedals. But a jersey can also be just a jersey. In Rapha's case, however, nothing is left to chance. Even their corporate color (pink) is very telling. Yes, pink holds a meaning within the sport (the Giro), but more importantly it's not yellow...that other color within cycling. Yellow is the color of the Tour. It's the color of the race that your co-workers have heard of. It's the color of Livestrong. Pink is Rapha. This is not to say that the Giro is some underground event that no one has heard of...but the subtle difference between the races is enough to make a clear distinction. See what I mean?

In the end, I believe that it's this type of difference that makes people fall on either side of the fence when it comes to Rapha (although for some, pricing is involved also). Up until now, most cycling products were blank canvases, clean slates on which we could (if we even cared to) project our views on cycling. We used these products in the way that suited our needs, and thus wrote our own story as we went along. The handlebars that were scratched during a bad fall. The frame that was with us during that awfully long ride in the rain. Cycling products have always been, comparatively speaking, largely utilitarian. Sure, 1980s jerseys and the colors of some frames back then reflected general trends of the time, but only in a half-assed manner that makes today's cycling companies seem downright design-obsessed.

Today, newer and younger companies in cycling spend a significant amount of time telling us what they are all about. They tell us who their products are for. Their messages speak of singularity, not of plurality. Their messages are specific. Rather than the blank canvas I mentioned above, these companies offer us a paint-by-number option (at best) through which we can merely admire their take on the sport. This is not something that makes Rapha evil. It's merely a matter of how marketing, design and business savvy has trickled down to small companies in nearly every niche market.

Depending on how you feel about that aspect of business coming into your neighborhood (that "neighborhood" being cycling), your take on those companies will vary. Perhaps you feel that cycling was always a bit of a refuge from the world of marketing, at least in the levels that are common in other sectors. Yes, I know that bike manufacturers have long created their own idiotic terminology for the numerous kinds of pseudo-technology that are on their frames. But compared to what goes on outside of the cycling world, these attempts seem largely clumsy and uninformed.

So while cycling has had aspects of marketing within itself for some time, it's not until recently that these objectives began to be executed in the direct approach that we see today. This, I believe, was the undoing of Rock Racing within the cycling arena. Like the Rapha/Primal Wear connection, that of Rock Racing and Rapha may seem unusual at first. But look closer. While most teams in cycling are merely a collection of riders along with a sponsor, Rock Racing was a good bit more. Traditional teams are commonly made up of cyclists who wear a certain jersey. These individuals hope to eventually portray an image based on their performances (Quick Step in the classics for example, or US Postal at the Tour). Through their wins or losses, the manner in which they behave at races, the public will decide how they will view them.

Rock Racing, on the other hand, came out of the gate with an image, a forceful one. How could they have an image (such an overt one) already? While such a brand launch is common in the fashion business, it certainly seemed at odds within the world of cycling. I'm certainly not proposing that Rock Racing and Rapha have multiple commonalities, but I think both brands show how some within cycling prefer the brands they support to be a bit more nebulous, and thus open for interpretation. While Michael Ball often said that he wanted to bring aspects of his world (fashion, design etc) into cycling, those who opposed Rock Racing often sited those very things as the reasons they they disliked them. There were others, surely, but the brand's overtness sure seemed to rub many the wrong way. In the end, I would venture to say that the image that Ball crafted (along with many decisions that went with that image) became the team's undoing. Although we'll probably never fully know what happened with the team's applications for licenses (money, rider signings etc), it's clear that the UCI views the sport in a certain light. Those who choose to portray a different image, and make choices accordingly, may not be allowed to play ball (no pun intended.) I'm getting sidetracked though, so allow me to get back on track. But first let me tell you about frame makers, and how they fit into branding.

Frame Builders/Makers and Branding

Another segment within cycling products that is fond of telling you exactly who they are, rather than building a brand over time, is that of frame makers. This should come as no surprise, since the idea of a frame maker can be easily loaded with messages without much thought. The rebellious artisan, the bearded recluse who works in a far-off workshop, the mathematical stickler whose obsessive compulsive disorder can be channeled for your benefit...these are all images that are often created and fueled over relatively short periods of time, and yet they tell us about the person and their products, without us having ever touched or (more importantly) ridden one of their frames. Thus, the word "brand" has suddenly gone from being a term used almost exclusively by designers within the realm of corporate identity, to something that your next door neighbor and your aunt Sally know about...and will gladly advice you on.

Cycling is a personal affair

So why do so many (or perhaps such a vociferous few) dislike Rapha? Again, the answer can be as simple as pricing, but I think it all goes back to the blank canvas I mentioned above. For some, having a perspective or view of cycling presented to them by a company is not a comfortable exchange. Many believe that no overt messages should be conveyed with these products at all. Within that school of thought, the "brand", if there has to be one, should simply be built on the history and reputation of the company's products. This is how things were, but boy has the world changed. Just as technological aspects of other industries find their way into our frames and components, so too have marketing, branding and design. In the end, I see why some object, and it's largely because of the very personal relationship they have with cycling.

Cycling is, after all, a very personal undertaking. At the risk of sounding too "Rapha"-like, many of us spend hours riding alone, in silence. Even when riding with others, large portions of time are spent silently turning the pedals. Depending on the type of work that you do, or the type of home life that you have, these hours are precious ones because of the silence that is inherent in riding. In my case, at least, I often manage to block out everything else that could possibly go through my mind while I ride. I really only think about riding, which is a significant achievement for an overactive mind like mine (just look at the "epic" length of this post for proof of that).

The moments we spend riding are some of the few quiet ones that we have in our day. Riding is sometimes very difficult, and yet we often struggle alone. This is my take on cycling, and I may be way off. I'm also open to the suggestion that my interpretation may be incorrect because I'm relatively new to actually riding a bike. Still, all these descriptions (whether you find them to be cheesy or perfectly accurate at all) speak of a very personal activity. As such, I suspect that having someone else's take on what riding means, will make some feel uneasy.

I for one, don't care much either way. I'm normally a proponent of design (though not necessarily branding), and admire the work of anyone who manages to get a company off the ground. I prefer objects that are designed to look and function as simply as possible (even if arriving at those solutions is a difficult and complicated endeavor), so I can't completely fault many of their offerings based on aesthetics alone. Most cycling attire is insanely ugly these days and Rapha (though some of you may disagree) has come up with a better solution. A far better solution actually. Additionally, I must tip my helmet (if you will) to any company that supports cycling, one that makes the sport grow, and one that offers a different take on a long-standing activity like riding a bike.

Sadly, I think that many will disagree with me. After all, the typical roadie views the hipster on a fixed gear bike with disdain, he mocks the guy on a cheap road bike for wearing tennis shoes. You simply can't win. There are so many rules, so many ways of enforcing them, so many schools of thought and so much petty anger within cycling. I say this as a person with a significant past in the world of punk rock and hardcore...which (in case you don't know) is filled with nothing but rules, petty anger, and conflicting schools of thought. I'm telling you, if someone who was around to see the straightedge movement take on Hare Krishna beliefs as well as veganism, socialism and pseudo-anarchist thought is telling you that cycling has way too many rules (and way too many idiots preoccupied with them) as well as diverging schools of should listen. If, by the way, you don't know what I'm talking about...don't worry. You're not missing anything.

As I see it, this all gets back to cyclists wanting cycling to stay small, and not spread or grow in any way...although they would never admit it, and often profess the opposite. In reality, they want to remain special, and unusual within their surroundings...while at the same time wanting to limit and control the way that cycling is portrayed. As I wisely wrote in one of my earliest posts:

It all gets back to cyclists wanting to be part of a secret society, like the Masons. You see, like the Masons, cyclists seem to want secret symbols, and would like their favorite sport to remain virtually unknown...while at the same time crying that there's not enough cycling coverage on TV. Oh, they'll tell you that more people should ride bikes, but god forbid if a guy with a triple crank or 105 shifters gets close to them. Cyclists complain about the lack of safety on the roads, but still want to be seen like oddballs, and enjoy being "weird" because they shave their legs. Well, you can't have it both ways...I'm sorry.

If cycling DID become way more popular, it it grew to be widely accepted (let's just pretend) would some cyclists lose interest? Is the relative oddball nature of cycling its appeal to some? If cycling became as popular as the NFL (or soccer/football in other countries), and your pick-up truck driving neighbor gave up his Green Bay Packers sweatshirt and traded it in for some Rapha gear...if he even got himself a would you feel? Less special? Would your secret club feel less secret? Would you mock him because he wouldn't be worthy of his bike? Is owning a Colnago a secret club? Are you special because you own one? Nonsense. I for one, would be thrilled to live in such a world. I would love to see random people buy bikes for whatever reason. Is the ownership of certain goods limited to those with certain credentials? Should your commitment to cycling be at a certain level before you are allowed to buy certain goods? Should we legislate this by instilling further Category systems for retail? I understand that some may try to "buy" their way into cycling. That may be silly, but is it that bad? Is another person on a bike (even if they ride it very little) such a horrible thing? Who cares.

Branding and design within cycling
The strength of Rapha's brand (whether you see it as a good or a bad thing), should come as no surprise. The company was founded by two individuals with slightly unusual backgrounds within the world of cycling apparel, as was pointed out in this article:

From the beginning, design was going to important to Rapha. Its founders come from the marketing and design sector – creative director Scheybeler had worked as an interaction designer at dot com consultancy Sapient and at brand and digital media consultancy Rufus Leonard. He was involved in some of the high profile internet ventures of the early 21st century including the first internet ventures of major high street banks and travel companies. MD Simon Mottram had left his early accountancy training behind to become a specialist brand consultant, working for, among others, PricewaterhouseCoopers, branding giant Interbrand and Sapient, where he and Scheybeler met.

So as you can see, Rapha's corporate DNA (if you'll excuse my use of such a terrible term) is vastly different from that of other cycling companies. This, I would argue, is a sign of the times. While some prefer the idea of the products they buy (bikes, clothing or whatever) to have been designed and perhaps even produced by a reclusive genius in a dusty workshop, Rapha was a different animal from the beginning. With backgrounds in companies like Sapient and Interbrand, Rapha's founders came to the table with a significant amount branding savvy, particularly for an industry like cycling. In a sense, they came with bazookas to a fistfight. I say this because, much in the same way that bicycles function as they did at their inception (more or less), so too does the marketing and branding that surrounds those products.

Rapha, I believe, is not an anomaly in their industry. Instead, they are probably the first of many such companies in the marketplace. This may upset some detractors of their marketing, styling or pricing. If you are one of those people, I urge you to consider the following: Why do you care? Riding is a personal affair. Why get worked up about the manner in which a company chooses to portray your activity of choice? I say this because it has always struck me as funny that cyclists can ride through crowded cities (as drivers and pedestrians mock them) wearing little more than a wrestling singlet and not care about how the world views them—but the moment that anyone portrays cycling in a different way than how they see the sport—they feel as though they are under attack.

Yes, I know that I've made jokes and references about Rapha in the past, but I assure you that I don't spend a minute thinking about such things. I guess they offer products that people like. They offer a different take on cycling, one that resonates with many. Rock Racing kinda' did too. Rapha supports a team, and they host events that allow people to have fun on their bikes. It may not be your cup of epic-tea, it may clash with your views...I understand. As I see it, riding bikes is good, and people having fun on their bikes is great. Yes, it's the personal aspect of riding that makes the activity so great for me. But it's for that reason that the manner in which others view cycling (or choose to portray it) matters little to me. Your riding experience really has nothing to do with mine, and that's okay. It's for this reason that I urge some people to not think too hard about other people's bike (because it's "too good" for them, or because its from Wal Mart), their components, their jerseys or whether they are worthy of the expensive wheels they may have.

Don't do a mental audit of other people's belongings. Don't tally up the cost of someone's stuff. Don't add up how much others spend, don't count their money and how they spend it. I say this not because it's a futile and tacky thing to do...but because it will take precious moments away from the one thing we all love to do: ride our bike.


  1. This essay is so rapha... I hope you didn't expect us to read the whole thing.

  2. I think what's irksome about it to some is that the Rapha advertising is a bit of a mockery of the fantasies we all have in our heads, about ourselves. They studied us, figured us out, and told us a great tale of epicness. Then some bad stuff happened and now we feel like a ho.

    Or maybe I'm just projecting.

    Do you remember when people who went to clubs started wearing Fred Perrys, flights, and DM's? Nice, clean, new ones?


  3. Rapha has some beautiful if overpriced clothing.

    Rock Racing brought a new team and new $$$ to a struggling sport in The States.

    Coppi had scoliosis.

  4. great post lucho,

    i think you are right about some cyclinst loving the exclusivity of cycling and the feeling that they know something others don't.

    lets be honest, leg shaving (of which i am guilty of) is not done because of any of the reasons we might give, it is done to show a level of committment to a specific genre of cycling- roadies. kind of like a less permanent tattoo "i am prepared to change my body (and face gay gibes) in homage to my sport."

    cycling is a good, healthy, environmentally friendly passtime, but it can make us (myself included) overly self-riteous when faced with v8 driving bogans/red-necks/wankers (insert regional putdown here) who think they own the road and that cyclist should pay road tax, ride on the pavement and only venture out of the house between noon and 2pm.

    as for the rapha ads, i find them extremely pretentious. the scpeal, the riders without helmets but with mustaches, the liberal use of the word epic. and then there are the assos ads, made by someone in their factory who was useless on a sewing machine, but couldn't be laid off (i'm saying their ads are pathetic).

    however, my older, richer, more generous, sponsored brother recently gave me some of his cast-off rapha and assos bibs and tops. they are simply that much better than any of the other brand name stuff i own. shame they cost such a stupidly large amount of money.

  5. i will bet money the above post is from australia.
    Also, i think Rapha is a wank fest. I'm originally a roadie and so shave my legs. However i also ride fixed gear bikes, sometimes in cut offs, 100km plus just for the heck of it. Riding should not be about the gear you can afford, but rather the riding itself. Sounds obvious, but it's worrying how it is forgotten.

  6. Anonymous 12:08,
    You're right. This post's length is certainly epic. Sorry, I've never been accused of being brief and to the point.

    It's funny that you mention the lack of helmets, and the manner in which many dream of looking like. When I picture myself as I look on my bike (which I don't do often, I swear) I don't picture a helmet. Perhaps it's because I grew up watching cycling before helmets. The ads really portray an image that few if any could live up to...not just because of the expense of the attire, but the places where the riding takes place etc.

    I think you're right about Coppi. Mother of mercy, perhaps the arrows and the text point to his physical problems at the time...but he looks rough.

    give me your brother's info! I need some new jerseys. come on. share the wealth!

  7. Peggy in accounting has good taste in HC bands.

  8. I bought a Rock Racing 'Here To Stay' T-shirt, and even had the lady put it in a Rock Racing plastic bag (I never get anything put in a plastic bag) for the simple reason that one day I would be able to sell it and put someone's kid through college.

    I have not bought anything from Rapha.

  9. Enjoying a Sunday ride in SoCal's "Back Bay" (where you get off the hideousness of the car traffic on PCH) some type A-hole you well describe in the above rode by me (at a not impressive 22 mph or so (yes, I checked dammit) and said to his companion: "Most of the people here aren't even competitive!" I was at near the end of the ride with some hills I wasn't looking forward to and the wind was kicking up, but even still my buzz at being alive, on a bike, in the sun, with less smog than usual was all the protection I needed. Far more than $350 bib shorts, $400 shoes and a $5000 bike. My gear is less-than-epic but I at least am able to enjoy myself. I don't call riding and loudly denouncing everyone you meet pleasure.

    Its all too human: groups exist to define who is "in" and who is "out". The "in" cant' count any any real benefit (and in the case of advertising in fact is seduced into paying for the privledge, while the "outs" are worthy of anything from distain to genocide, depending on the agenda of the "ins". And beyond this pathetic fantasy: you are alone. Might as well enjoy it when you can.

  10. i look forward to seeing peggy from accounts payable 'picking up change' (an apropos dance, i guess) at a local hc show soon.

    also, i cant believe you let her dress that sexy at work-- seems like it might distract her coworkers. i mean just look at the zipper on her mom-jeans... epic!

  11. Helge,
    Glad you noticed Peggy's poster. It's because of her awesome musical taste that we hired her.

    I'm with you. Ride, be happy...the rest is just details. This may sound like a childish/naiive/overly simplified approach to life...but I strive for it whenever I can.

    Peggy's style of dress came up in her last review. I told her that the zipper in her jeans should be at least 18" long...not the sexy and not-work-appropriate 16" that she's been flaunting around the office. not cool.

  12. I had an epic ride named Peggy, once...

    Nice post, Lucho. Food for thought, which I generally avoid on Mondays, but hey, gotta stay fresh.

  13. Branding has become a loaded term these days. It's really just communicating an emotional message both verbally and non-verbally. The reaction to it in cycling is much like the back and forth of groups of fans of Microsoft, Apple, and UNIX. In the end they are just computers and what matters is what you do with them. I ride with both a $20 pair of shorts from a big box store and a rather expensive pair of bibs. In the end they serve exactly the same function: Keeping the minivan full of children behind me from having to stare at my bangers and mash as I grind up a hill. Those who hate on brands like Rapha have just found them a conveinent vessel in which to project whatever emotions or ideas they choose. That said, in a world full of real suffering and actual injustice you really look petty and out of touch if you are getting worked up over clothing. Excellent writing as always.

  14. I like Rapha, I just cannot afford Rapha. It reminds me of J. Peterman - clothes with a story, in order to boost the price.

  15. Fuck me. I have a headache after reading all that. Fuck me again. Lots of good points, tho.

    Here's my take on this shit: I have no problem with Rapha. As a designer I appreciate what they do with the products and their marketing. My issue is with the assholes who think that because they are wearing Rapha, they are better than me in my ugly Pearl Izumi long sleeve. It's ugly cuz it was on sale. I paid $13.88 for an $80 jersey cuz I'm not rich. Oh, if I were rich, I'd prolly buy Rapha stuff. You see what I'm getting at? My issue is with the jackholes who can afford Rapha, because I wish I was one of them, because that'd mean I have $300 to throw away.

    But then again, WTF do I know about anything cycling. I went for a ride with Lucho last weekend and he dropped me like I was riding a 50lbs Huffy on every climb. It was embarrassing. Please don't tell our mom. I don't think she can take any more disappointment from her elder son.

  16. Let's ride bikes!

    It's definitely not about the price tags.
    There is one bike that I wish I had the chance to ride, maybe someday I'll get that chance. That bike would be the one you rode at cyclovia in Bogota. That was one sweet ride, but mostly because of the experience. But that's the point isn't it, just go out and ride your bike. Thanks for the great post.

  17. Mark,
    Thank you for the nice words. The bike I rode in Bogota had multiple speeds, which was a real plus, and weighed in just shy of triple digits. Funny how on paper that would add up to a horrible bike and thus a horrible ride. Nothing could be further from the truth. it was one of the nicest rides i've ever had. money can buy lots sometimes, but it's amazing how much you can do with very little.

  18. All I know is that I'll pay reasonably good money for my taint to not be (completely) destroyed after a good 100k or so… and I won't be looking to Rapha for that

  19. This rapha talk is humorous. Some of the folks I ride and work with have on more than one occasion used the term to brand a type of person in the bike shop or out on a ride. I think it's an obvious choice in a post Seinfeld world for the more sarcastic of personalities.
    The funny thing is the clothing is not all that. You can do way better for less. Fools buy the whole deal hook line and sinker. Would you complain after getting rooked on some fancy overpriced jersey. No cause you look dumb for getting duped. And so it goes.

    To build upon SkullKrushers thoughts. Clothing marketed to assholes is surely being conceived and pushed by assholes. Seriously when they try that hard you have to be suspicious. Because in the end it's all about getting some miles in, right?

    That shit is for the pretty boys who worry about all the wrong things.

    Judge poster: I thought it was 'shopped in like the screen looks on the desktop there. I used to love the punk and hardcore as a teenager. I can't even listen to that stuff anymore. So terrible. As a teenager not so much but as an adult. Terrible. Metal on the other hand has aged much better in my mind. I have no problem with the 80's metal. I still love much of that music. Remember album covers.
    Yeah, album covers. Nice.

    As always Lucho good work with the entertainment. I did have to skim this one though. The South American tales of cycling and you have me hanging on every word though as that is edutainment told with passion and detail.

    Moar pleese.


    Jim-Not the other Jim up there in the earlier post.

  20. i don't feel as special anymore. So many comments after each post! I miss the days of your early work, just post MI, where it was nothing but cyclist metal fans. From memory there were 4 of us.
    Speaking of Rapha, i totally raced a Rapha guy home. It was a draw.

  21. Jim-Not the other Jim up there in the earlier post:
    I know what you mean about the HC vs. Metal aging thing. I'll still listen to some Agnostic Front once in a while, but just to reminisce, but I still listen to Slayer to rock out. Let's not even mention crust or grindcore... I listened to Doom the other day and almost barfed at how bad it was!!

    Death Race:
    I know how you feel about CI getting all popular and commercial. My bro is a sell-out, but you think YOU have it bad? I remember when I was the ONLY one who listened to his BS. Those were the days. Haha! If it's worth anything, I'll always remember who the original Metal Inquisition --> Cycling Inquisition were!


  22. Death Race,
    Don't worry. There's enough Lucho to go around....and in the words of Sarah McLachlan: I will remember you

    Nah, but really, the number of readers has been pretty stable since about christmas or so. People seem to comment more now, but only on certain posts. i seem to post real clunkers from time to time, but hey...they can't all be hits. just ask Celtic Frost.

  23. "hey...they can't all be hits. just ask Celtic Frost"

  24. I just think it's funny how often "asshole" gets tossed around. If you don't want it, don't buy it. Big deal, right?

    I own a few of their items myself. They are overpriced but quality products that keep me comfortable on 200-600K rides. I have certain needs to keep me from being a total wreck on a ride like that, and Rapha (among others) fit that bill. The design got me looking, the quality kept me wearing.

    Like it or not, Rapha at least has some other companies reassessing their overall aesthetic. You may not care, but I'm personally sick of a boat load of sponsor logos and horrible swoops all over jerseys.

    Above: "Those who hate on brands like Rapha have just found them a conveinent vessel in which to project whatever emotions or ideas they choose. That said, in a world full of real suffering and actual injustice you really look petty and out of touch if you are getting worked up over clothing." Nailed it.

    Wonderful blog post, as usual.

  25. Robert,
    You bring up a good point. The aesthetic qualities are certainly more up my alley than big stupid logos and swooshy things. i've noticed a few small companies starting to pick up that look, so perhaps some big ones will also. have you noticed how hard it is to buy a decent jersey with one solid color? i know they are out there, but most are really horrid, extra shiny and the colors are horrible. i don't want to sound like a fashion diva here...but jesus, you really have to look in order to find jerseys that look half-way normal.

  26. "Rapha at least has some other companies reassessing their overall aesthetic."
    You got it right and hopefully that means there might just be a chance to find a decent jersey in the sale bin soon!

  27. Celtic frost blow. And skullcrusher, don't bag out grindcore!
    Im gonna go listen to show no mercy...wearing rapha.

  28. Another important element in the Rapha debate is determining who is Rapha's audience. For the most part, those who shop from Rapha care about how they look off the bike. It's not much different from Outlier or Swrve, only they spend more on advertising (and their clothes are slightly more expensive).

    If Rapha is guilty of anything, it's demonstrating how hideous most cycling clothes are. They found an impressive niche market that had until recently been completely overlooked by apparel companies, and they've exploited it quite successfully. Many of us want somewhat technical clothing without looking like we're wannabe protour riders. If Rapha starts (or encourages) the trend of combining fashion with function, we'll all be better off.

    The clothes are expensive, but cheap is cheap.

    Great post, Lucho.

  29. I found this post pretty interesting. I work for a brand agency and I own a not insignificant collection of Rapha clothing, even though they don't (yet) sell anything to properly fit us women. I'd also like to point out that having only discovered the joys of cycling in the last 5-6 years, I don't think I have an elitist or stuffy attitude to anyone else riding on two wheels, in fact I spend a lot of my time (often successfully) convincing non cyclist friends and family to take up cycling.

    While out on a ride on my own one Sunday, I merged for a few miles with a large club run, and had one guy make a snide comment about my Rapha jersey and gilet, and suggesting I had money to burn.

    I don't in fact have money to burn, and I felt compelled to defend myself for wearing such items by explaining that I don't have kids, nor do I smoke or drink (well not much) and cycling is what I choose to spend my spare pennies on.

    Later on that day I reflected on the comment the guy had made and thought to myself 'jackass!' cause who's to say he doesn't have a giant DVD collection? Or a really nice sofa? Or an Audi? And who's going to see it and make a snide comment about how much money he has to burn?

    In summary:
    Rapha wearers - don't make nasty comments to/about cyclists wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes.
    Cyclists wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes - don't make mean comments to Rapha wearers 'cause one of them might be me, and I'm actually a really nice person. there.

    I really enjoy reading your blog by the way.

  30. Normally I wouldn't say anything, but since you did it twice in one post I'll point out that lose is spelled with one o. Keep up the quality cycling blogging.

  31. Sera,

    Thank you for the comment. Again, you nailed it. How on earth does someone get the balls to comment on what another person is wearing, or how they spent their money? Christ almighty. I get it, a little thought in the back of your head may be triggered by some things...I get it. But how does that get formed into words and come out of your mouth...and why? Sera, I don't smoke, drink and have unbelievable guilt about eating out and even buying brand name cereal. For god's sake, if anyone wants to get into a pissing contenst with me about how I spend my money...well, I may win. Be that as it may, I just find the whole topic tacky. So...everyone, ride your bikes and have fun. Don't question how others ride and why.

    I'm fixing the typos right now. There are lots of simple words in the English language that give me trouble. You just discovered one of them. ha ha.

  32. This is NOT a dis on anyone commenting about this topic. I actually love reading ppl's opinions, but I do find it interesting that a post about Rapha, branding and "fashion" or whatever gets more comments than any other. I guess it shows how much we all care about it. And we all do. C'mon, let's be honest.
    I'm no fashion Nazi when it comes to cycling (although I am one when it comes to street clothes, I must admit), but one of the reasons I just bought a new bike (and Lucho can attest to this) is 'cuz I didn't like the color of my old one and the fact that I'm riding an American bike kinda bothers me. All these little things are a part of cycling. Like I said, let's be honest, we all care. But, why shouldn't we? Like Sera said, we spend our hard-earned $$ on this "hobby", so why not buy the "best" (whatever that means to each of us) we can afford? I mean, I could buy cheaper stuff, if quality wasn't an issue, but would I feel "comfortable" wearing it? Honestly no. Call me superficial, but we all are and I don't feel comfortable wearing K-Mart gear, just like some don't feel comfortable wearing Assos, 'cuz we feel it doesn't reflect who we are as cyclists. If wearing cut-offs and a flannel reflects who you are as a cyclist, then fucking do it. However, don't be offended or surprised when ppl comment on it, because you are choosing to wear that knowing full well there's gonna be that reaction. Ppl who wear cut-off or Rapha KNOW there is a stigma attached to their choice, so let's not pretend that if I buy a Rapha jersey and someone comments on it, that it'd come as a surprise, you know?

    Like i said, I'm a stickler when it comes to street clothes and spend a lot of money on sneakers. I could buy a few Rapha jerseys with the $$ I spend on one pair of limited edition adidas. I like wearing expensive sneakers, so I'm guilty, too and I think (again, as Sera pointed out) that we all have 'dumb' things we spend our money on. Dude, Lucho and I just spent a lot of $$ on the Paris-Roubaix trip and to ppl in my job that is the biggest waste of cash. So, it's all on how you look at it.

    In a way, I can't wait til tomorrow, so we have another silly topic to discuss.


  33. I've got a Rapha t-shirt which is nicely cut, is made of good quality fabric and seems worth 30 quid.
    On the other hand their marketing is total bollocks. Seems to me that most people aren't annoyed by the price it's more the pretentious shite they talk on their website.
    On the other, other hand, when you see the all show no go people with all the most expensive kit and are rubbish at that chosen activity it's hard not to sneer. A friend did a triathlon a few months ago and some tubby guy with a bike worth a few grand asked her to pump up his tyres. Okay, bad example, seeing as it involves triathletes...

  34. Rapha, Rapha, Rapha...

    I admit, I bought into their "Essence and Pain of Cycling" mantra and loaded up on their stuff. And then, reality struck: inconsistent sizing and fitting across product lines, very uneven product quality across their pieces-some perfect, like their winter jersey or their club jerseys-some terrible, with fading colors, poor craftsmanship or materials that just fall apart in no time.

    I don't hate Rapha, I am just hugely disappointed by how much effort goes into branding and self-promotion and how little seems to go into creating a consistent quality product line. Some will criticize Rapha because they deem the brand's communication pompous, some will complain about the pricing... I just think they are all about branding and not enough about quality. And even the branding is now getting soooo tired, boring and repetitive-anybody that's not yet sick of their endless world tour photo shoot saga. Yawn... And so contrived.

    Give me Assos, any Assos product, any day, with their awful ads, ridiculous slogans and awful website. Product quality, across the product range, is at the core of what they do, it's their obsession while Rapha's obsession seems to be taking pretty pictures of slightly anorexic guys riding across a nice landscape.

  35. I forgot to mention the all important male model factor when it comes time for purchasing any clothing. My wife LOVES the Rapha catalogs. It is an easy sell when I "need" a gilet or whatever.

  36. Another cycling company that has successfully established an identity/brand: Rivendell

    Ironically, Rivendell is the Bizarro-Rapha in their anti-establishment, do-what-you-like approach to cycling. But, like Rapha, they have an equal share of haters and cultists. AND they tap into that same romantic image of old-timey cycling.

  37. Yes Simon, you're totally right. I could easily see a bike, a shop or a person described as "very Rivendell"...I would completely understand and know was meant by it.

  38. Lots of very valid points, well examined. A solid post. Cheers!

  39. Sera, the guys from Rapha aren't in the slightest bit interested in girls riding (I have met several of them), it doesn't seem to fit their stereotype of the ideal cycling world. You sound like an amazing woman, ride on!!

    Swrve at least manufacture their clothes ethically, gets extra points from me!

    People I suggest you vote "with your feet" if you don't like the Rapha ethos spend elsewhere. But surely there is enough division and elitism in the cycling world and we don't need to spend time analysing each others' clothes as well as bikes... get out and ride!

    Ride safe, wear a helmet!!!

  40. A pedant writes:

    "The magazine would be right up your alley, it's really Castelli-like"

    You're using 'Castelli' as a noun there ('Castelli-like' is an adjective phrase) - this example should be 'it's really Castelli'.

    HAND :)

  41. Anonymous,
    crap, you're right. english is no my third language and such mistakes happen. i will make the change. thank you sir.

  42. Rapha's so called “worldwide pricing” is a genuine rip-off for non-EU customers.

    I have to pay an “international price” that is much higher than UK domestic price simply because I live outside the region. Not to mention the fact that the price I paid was higher than non-VAT RRP based on UK prices as well.

    Someone lives in the UK can buy their Country jersey that’s on-sale for USD$124.75. I live outside EU and I had to pay USD$135 for it?

  43. Mayhaps a bit late to the party here, but a year on, I found this article while googling "Rapha wanker".

  44. Cool article on branding and advertising. All the Rapha haters should get a life. If you like a Rapha article of clothing and it fits you great and you can afford it then buy it. All the judgements pro and con based on whether you like the image or not are ego blatherings.

    We should just appreciate the products based on how much we like them and how much use we would get. I like to use the price per wear calculation. If a shirt costs $10 and you will wear it twice that is $5 per use. If it costs $200 and you will wear it 200x it is $1 per use. Which is cheaper?

  45. I somehow made my way to this post. It would be good to revisit it. I could bet on that many of the early Rapha haters are now mocking of whoever doesn't wear a black jersey with a pink stripe in the sleeve.

    I guess the Lucho guy there is Klaus. Best,

    Mateo Uribe

    1. Mateo, you may well be right. My, how things change.


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