Simon Usborne: Rapha has a fiercely loyal cult of fans, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Smith and, er, me
Saturday 25 April 2009
Cyclists are keen, aren't they? Always "keen", like fishermen or stamp collectors. "Keen" but, crucially, never "cool". Bikes are partly to blame – dorky fold-ups and hulking hybrids are crimes against good taste – but the clothes are worse. Anyone for a luminous tabard, Lycra tights or, horror of horrors, a pair of bib shorts with a chamois gusset? There are few sports of such intrinsic beauty so beset by fashion disasters.
Sometimes it can't be avoided – I will tolerate the derision of flatmates if I'm heading for a 60-mile ride but there should be no reason to cycle around town looking like a budget Lance Armstrong or the love child of Albert Steptoe and a lollipop lady.
Which is why, as we saddle up in record numbers, recent weeks have seen a boom in functional and fashionable bike gear. High-street style barometer Topshop recently began peddling accessories by Cyclodelic, whose retro saddlebags and caps look to be aimed at the hipster market. In the same week, Evans Cycles launched threads by Bspoke, whose clothes include bike-friendly features such as "pack-away spray flaps".
April has also seen the launch of Rapha's spring/summer range. By evoking the spirit of a bygone age of cycling and producing beautifully crafted gear, this London outfit has created a fiercely loyal cult of customers (they include Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Smith and, er, me). Much of the firm's new range of fist-bitingly expensive shirts, jerseys and shorts is almost too good to submit to grimy roads.
Rapha rides that fine line between style and pretentiousness and the firm, whose catalogue includes silk scarves and tweed caps, has as many detractors as devotees, something its founder, Simon Mottram, relishes. I talked to him recently at the launch of his most outlandish garment to date – a £3,000 bespoke suit for the gentleman cyclist made with the tailor Timothy Everest.
Even Mottram doubted anyone would be keen enough to cough up for the tweed number. But however many he sells, he reckons pushing the boundaries will stir the industry and drag along the chasing peloton. It seems to be working. Let me know if you spot any other contenders in the race to rescue cycling from fashion hell.
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