Caped Crusaders

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BANNER PHOTO: Timm Kölln

The rain started near the Aubisque, then a dense yellow fog settled over the mountains: visibility nil. The roads were awash with glacial rain and layered with gluey mud. The wind howled at gale force and bursts of lightning exploded behind the mist like artillery shells. In this Dantesque scenario some riders ploughed on as best they could, while others abandoned their bikes in doorways.

The Italian Ottavio Bottecchia, winner in 1924 and 1925, was frozen stiff. Wearing a coal sack as a make-do ‘waterproof’, when he finished he rode straight off the mountains to the station at Bagnères and caught the train home.

From The Beautiful Machine, by Graeme Fife

Weatherpoof performance apparel in the pro peloton has come a long way since the days of tweed trousers and hessian coal sacks. In the beginning, Grand Tour supremacy was decided between individuals who, in inclement weather, could prove hard to identify. Only when the sport became more widely photographed and reported did matching team colours, and consequently team names and sponsor’s logos, begin to appear on riders’ jerseys. Differentiating between riders – especially those people wanted to read about in the newspapers – became vital for race organisers and the press.

The explosion of advertising in the 20th century helped establishing road racing at the very pinnacle of sports marketing. As the sponsorship fees got fatter, so the racing got faster and the jerseys brighter. Advances in technology led to the advent of plastics-based materials that were both lightweight and watertight but when the heavens opened and the cagoules were handed out, race numbers and sponsors logos still needed to be seen. Thus, the see-through jackets or ‘rain capes’ became de rigeur in the peloton from the 1960s onwards, functional apparel with a uniquely pro aesthetic.

As road riders, we are inevitably influenced by pro-racer style. Is it because we associate these transparent sheaths with racing into snow blizzards, with epic heroics and those days in May when the weather can suddenly alter the dress code? Almost certainly.

For the road rider, the wind is either a guiding hand or a powerful opponent. At some point, you will need protection from it. Rapha’s latest interpretation of the pro racer’s jacket is lightweight, windproof and water resistant. Below, Jeremy Dunn explains how both a pro aesthetic, combined with the latest performance fabrics and modern construction methods, helped Rapha create a truly directional piece – for the city streets and the roads beyond.

The Best of Both Worlds – The City Wind Jacket

At first glance it looks like something straight off the backs of any professional bike race. Especially one in the rain. You know the jacket we’re talking about. The semi-transparent ones that appear, seemingly from nowhere, just as a drizzle sets in. Pro cycling’s rain slicker of choice, it can be packed easily into a musette or pocket but springs to life at the first hint of precipitation. The one that still allows the sponsors and race numbers to show through.

But the traditional racer’s rain jacket is a pretty utilitarian garment. As with all things Rapha, there had to be room for a more stylish and technical piece to pick up where the basic slicker left off. Based on the Classic Wind Jacket, the City Wind Jacket is every bit as versatile as its Classic counterpart, perfectly suited to a multitude of riding environments, urban or otherwise.

In The City

Our first opportunity to test this piece came in the blustery winds that buffet San Francisco. Riding the city streets for the Rapha feature A Day In The City, the new City Wind Jacket was one of the most anticipated pieces to make the journey with us. We found it performed brilliantly with a Merino T-Shirt underneath but not to be outdone, the Gingham Long Sleeve Shirt looked great, too. The checks show through and add a bit of colour to the silvery exterior and the longer cut of the jacket makes the perfect camouflage for errant shirt tails. The Jacket also packs into the rear pocket of the Rapha Jeans, so it’s ideal for a night on the town.

On the Road

March’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show, or NAHBS as it is affectionately known, was where the City Wind Jacket proved its worth on longer road rides. Stepping out of the hotel on our first day it was disappointing to see the clouds rolling in; California is a state not known for its storms but the City Wind Jacket coped admirably. Riding into headwinds on the banks of a levy, the fabric provided great insulation and the softly spotting rain presented no challenge. Once again, the versatility of the jacket was matched by its storability. You can stuff rear jersey pockets full of food and tools and the stretch in the jacket’s fabric will happily accommodate them. No need to hand it to the nearest gregario and hope he makes it back to the team car. When the temperatures rise, simply remove the jacket, fold into a neat package and add it to your pocket cargo.

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