When I first heard about Rapha jerseys, I was openly incredulous that anybody would spend $195 dollars for a woolen cycling jersey. Why would anybody spend such exorbitant amounts of money on what was essentially workout clothing? And upon further examination of their other products, I was flabbergasted to discover that they sold glorified handkerchiefs for $55 and "grand tour" cycling gloves for $160!! In my mind, I began to form an opinion that Rapha-wear was for those who had more money than sense.
Unfortunately (for my bank account), sometimes curiosity gets the best of me. So when I had a chance to buy a Rapha jersey on sale (still expensive), I decided to see why people liked their products so much. The problem with expensive products that are well-received and highly-reviewed are that... well, they're really good. It turns out that consumers tend to be pretty smart most of the time.
So what makes a Rapha jersey so nice? One could search the internet for reviews but here are some of the reasons that have been noted:
- They are exceptionally comfortable. This is probably for a multitude of reasons. Smartwool (a mix of polyester and wool) is lightweight, breathable, and regulates temperature better than man-made fabrics. The cut on these jerseys is very comfortable and the seams inside are flatlock stitched to reduce any possible irritation. The overall production quality is incredibly high.
- The details are well thought out. For something as simple as a jersey, the thoughtfulness of the design can vary quite significantly. It is virtually impossible to fault the functionality of a Rapha jerseys. The pockets are well-designed and easy to access while on the bike. There is a little flap of fabric at the neck that covers the zipper so it doesn't chafe against the skin. These seemingly minor details are often ignored by other manufacturers but actually make significant incremental improvements to usability and comfort.
- The designs are classic. Many of the jersey designs that come out now are flashy and plastered with logos and branding. Rapha has always focused on designing their clothing with a nod to the more classic designs of the past. If being a living billboard isn't exactly your style, these jerseys will fit the bill.
Torm (spelled with a slash through the o... which I can't seem to figure out how to type in Blogger), is another British cycling apparel manufacturer that I read about through various cycling forums. Much of the initial buzz about this particular brand was that it boasted "Rapha-esque" design and quality at a fraction of the price. I was intrigued so I decided to try out one of their jerseys.
The above jersey, named the T1, costs £45 or about $71 as of today's exchange rates. It is also made of Sportwool, though by feel it is a slightly thicker fabric than what is used by Rapha. Probably not suitable for the hottest of days but certainly comfortable enough for most of the year. The seams inside are also flatlock stitched and the zippers are lined, just like the Rapha jerseys. In fact, outside of the fact that the Rapha jersey has a full-length zipper while the Torm jersey is a half-zip, I don't think I can tell any differences in comfort while wearing them on the bike. (Let me also confess right here that I have no idea what flatlock stitching is....)
In terms of functionality, when you look at the back of the jerseys there are more similarities than differences. In fact, the Rapha-philes will accuse Torm of copying the pocket design. Whether this is true or not, I have no way of knowing. Functionally, the two jerseys are identical. The angled pockets to allow easy access, the rings on the zippers for (supposedly) easy use, and the reflective strip to increase visibility. In fact, Torm has an additional zippered pocket on the left side. I never use the zippered pockets because they're tiny on both jerseys and I am sure I'd fall while trying to work the zippers. If you can use them, more power to you. And no, I don't iron my cycling jerseys.
So ultimately, what do I think? I think both products are exceptionally good. Here are my points for both jerseys:
- A class leader in cycling apparel. Probably only matched by Assos. But, like any other consumer item that is considered to be at the top of its class, you will pay for its cachet. Whether it is "worth" it to you is an individual decision.
- In the world of cycling snobbery, wearing Rapha will either say that you've got great taste or no sense. These are not mutually exclusive. That said, if you're wearing $500 worth of Rapha gear and can't get up that category 4 climb without wheezing like a hippopotamus, someone will probably make fun of you.
- There are some Rapha products which still aren't manufactured and matched by brands like Torm or Shutt VR. Their excellent Softshell jacket comes to mind.
- Rapha has a very cool website with some great videos and cycling tales.
- Torm jerseys provide 95% of the quality, design, and features of a Rapha product at a fraction of the price. I have used my Rapha jersey for a long time and it still looks new. Whether the Torm jersey will stand up to heavy use and washing remains to be seen.
- You have to order Torm jerseys from the UK. So take out your calculators and figure out the exchange rates. And expect to wait a little longer for delivery compared to Rapha clothing, which can be bought from retailers in the US.
- Torm seems to only have black, white, grey, and red in their color palette at the moment. If you don't like those colors, you might be a little disappointed.
- Some snob in a full-on Rapha kit and the latest carbon frame may make fun of you at some point. Which is fine as long as you drop him on the next climb. If you can do it on a steel-framed bike with a standard crank and an 11-23 cassette in the back, even better.
In all honesty, both are exceptional products that I've enjoyed using and I'd recommend either one to anybody who asks, with the Torm jersey being a tremendous value proposition.