In the next few days, I’m going to do something that I’m not entirely comfortable with. From the outset of this blog several years back, I’ve been a fond supporter of local bike shops, and have spent a considerable amount of time rallying against the onslaught of online retailing. It’s no secret that my bike transactions occur at one of the greatest local bike shops ever, and I’ve focused my efforts for the most part on reviewing products that are available for purchase at similar local shops. With rare exception (like the carbon fat fork I reviewed a couple years ago), the products I talk about are LBS friendly, and that’s by choice. In large measure, it’s a decision based on principle for me. When I need a tire, there are times when I could order it online, have it within a day or two, and maybe even save a buck or two. I prefer to go the LBS and buy, and support the careers of some awesome bike industry professionals, notwithstanding the slight increase in cost.
In the next few days, I’m going to talk about some kit from Rapha. I’m going to talk about it for a few reasons.
First, one of the things that makes me feel better about Rapha is that, in some small way, they try to be local. You may recall that Rapha came out to the Night Bison this year and made it just a little more awesome. They do support local events, and when they’re somewhere, they’re typically pretty cool about what they’re doing. In the interests of full disclosure, the Rapha dude gave me a discount card that I used to buy some of the stuff I’m going to talk about. If I could be a full-time paid shill, I would totally do so. For now, a modest discount will have to suffice.
Second, it’s good stuff. Seriously. It looks good, it performs well, it has proven to be durable.
Third, I think that Rapha is a direct competitor for the Gore brands that I have come to know and love. Sure, at retail, the Rapha is significantly more expensive. But if you watch their site, they do have regular sales and clearances that make owning a few pieces significantly more affordable.
Finally, I’m a sucker for their branding. I’ll readily admit it–I fall for the Rapha mystique. Their ride videos, their blog posts…even the aesthetic of their website.
Rapha is very polarizing–I completely get that. When I first saw Jensen wearing a pink wool jersey in the middle of summer on a 115 mile ride a few years ago, I was the first to question his judgment (but never his impeccable sense of style). Over time, I’ve come to appreciate just how good their stuff is. Not all of it perhaps, but everything I’ve tried.
I know it’s expensive, even on clearance. I regard their pieces as something of an investment. I’ve had cheap bike jackets that blow a zipper after a year of hard use, and even after repair, are never quite right. I’ve had nice bibs that perform well, but have one area where the cut and trim is just a little off, leaving me chafed and uncomfortable after a day of riding. For me, I’d rather pay a little extra at the outset to have a piece that will last a very long time, and perform without equal.
Haters gonna hate–I certainly know it. And yes, even I’m a little reluctant to embrace a brand that is only available to me via a plane ticket or an online purchase. But I use Rapha products, and I’m going to talk about my experiences with them. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll start selling through a select few local bike shops.