Regular readers will not have missed my tear-jerking piece about cycling-induced holes in my tweed trousers recently, and ensuing discussion about:
- a) how silly I am to be cycling in tweed trousers and
- b) how I should abandon my fetish for tweed and consider more appropriate cycle-wear, such as
- c) a pair of Rapha cycling jeans.
So, never one to turn down a good suggestion (i.e. get more trousers!) I find myself with not just one, but two pairs of trousers appropriate for cycling from well-respected British maker of cycle-gear Rapha. Two pairs, you say? Well, yes, and two very different pairs, as will become apparent. I’ll look at them in order though, so as to keep the review easy to follow. I’ve also colour-coded the trousers, in cabernet and dark olive. Presentation is said to be half the meal, or something like that.
First of all though, let’s stop for a minute and consider what might be desirable properties in a pair of trousers made specially for the purpose of riding a bicycle. Are looks, fabric and fit all-important, or might a hard-wearing, quick-drying pair of trousers with allowance for flexing thigh muscles be what we’re after? From my own experience, cycling hard in a pair of heavy-weight jeans that are fairly tight-fitting over the thighs can be painful. As the muscle volume increases under work, the fabric of the trousers flexes absolutely not at all. Plus, as mentioned before, the rub rub rub against even a smooth bicycle seat will wear fragile fabrics mercilessly, so something rugged is vital. Heck, even heavy blue denim will develop wear marks on the butt long before wear shows elsewhere.
I’ve previously made the point that for my 20 minute ride to work I’m not too keen on changing at either end, so what I wear when I leave the mansion of a morning is what I’ll be wearing when I arrive back at sundown. This means that anything that looks too much out of the norm, such a the typical sportswear, is out of the question.
The first pair of Rapha trousers I’ve tried are the promisingly titled “Cycling Jeans“. To the untrained eye these could actually be mistaken for regular walking about jeans, though available in more colours than the regular blue. The fabric even feels like regular denim. When you start looking more closely though, the differences show and it’s evident that thought has gone into the product. The cut is a pleasing slim fit, with tapered legs to ensure there are no flappy bell-bottoms to get caught in the chain.
All the features you’d expect in a pair of jeans are here, the traditional 5-pocket layout, the rivets to strengthen pocket corners, the belt loops and so forth. With a difference though, like the extra strong loop on the right hand side, in a reflective fabric, strengthened to allow you to hang your D-lock from, or the rubber on the inside of the waist that helps keep your shirt tucked in, or the shape of the pockets and the high rise of the waistline.
What you’ll probably notice the most if when you turn up your trousers legs though. Where you would expect the selvedge fabric edges to show there is hi-visibility edging. In vibrant and very visible pink. Turn up the leg further and you find the Rapha logo in reflective lettering. Clever. Especially for those of us that cycle in the dark and always mislay or forget our reflective gear.
Most quality jeans these days are all about going back to the roots of the denim, with points scored for being the most retro of cut and artisan and vintage of weave, and of course as Japanese as possible. What Rapha have done is go entirely the opposite way and developed their own high-tec denim fabric in collaboration with Mectex in Italy. Mectex specialise in fabrics that stretch, and while that may not sound like a manly property for your trousers it does make them incredibly comfortable. Read the full story here, it’s quite and interesting read.
Apart from being stretchy the fabric is also intended to be fast-drying and stain-resistant. Sounds almost too good to be true, right? As luck would have it I got caught in the rain while field testing the jeans on my way home today and got nicely soaked. From my experience of my regular heavyweight denim I know that if properly soaked in the morning, a quite miserably damp day is ahead, as denim takes a long time to dry out, even with the beneficial effects of being worn. I’m pleased to report that after almost 3 hours, the Mectex denim has gone from being totally soaked through to being almost totally dry. A definite result!
While looking around I did notice owners of these jeans being upset about them only lasting a year of every day cycling. This sounds to me like quite remarkable longevity, and considering how Rapha apparently replaced them at no charge they can only be considered remarkable value for money.
I actually like the cycling jeans a lot, and not just for cycling. They fit well and are comfortable, and the little bit of stretch in the fabric does make a difference to comfort.
If I could grumble at all it would be about the colours. The cabernet colour is quite a conspicuous and daring choice for me and I am finding it a little hard going. In fact, these are a rare pair of trousers that actually get commented upon. The sort of comment that goes “red trousers?” accompanied by a single raised eyebrow.
And the pink edging does not help matters at all. Not in the slightest. I normally wear my jeans with a bit of a turn-up, but these I have to wear straight (or “stacked” as the jeans aficionados would say) as the hi-vis pink is that obvious. A silver reflective would have been easier to live with!
The second pair of trousers are the “Touring Trousers“. Now, given how they are described as for cycling in “autumn and winter conditions” I was very much looking forward to putting these through their paces in our currently mild winter conditions. I’ll get back to this a little further on.
The touring trousers are a quite different take on what a pair of cycling trousers might be. Where the jeans are very much like jeans, but with a few special features, the touring trousers are very much more purpose made for cycling. For starters there is a very obvious butt-pad, or reinforced seat panel in cordura, to provide extra protection from wear in the same as way cycle shorts usually has. This is a good idea, but is somewhat obvious and to most eyes probably not an attractive design feature.
The pockets are generous and well shaped, with one at the front and one at the back having useful zips to keep them closed. The waistline has the same rubberised inside to keep your shirt in place. And the legs have the same pink high-visibility edging and logo.
The fabric this time is a technical fabric described as “a robust, mid-weight Schoeller 3xDry cotton-rich fabric”, providing “insulation and excellent moisture management”. Now, I have no reason to disbelieve the claim regarding moisture management, as this is a quite lightweight, thin fabric that will hold little moisture and will dry very quickly. Granted, I didn’t get caught in the rain on the day I tested these, so I don’t have real world experience of it, but sometimes you can just tell. Something I did notice on these was that the material creases noticeable, something that isn’t a problem with the jeans.
What I do have an issue with is the claim that they provide insulation and are suitable for autumn and winter use. Maybe if you live somewhere where the winter is more like a balmy spring day, but even on a mild winter day here (and by mild I mean in single digit centigrades), these are very cold trousers indeed. I will give them another try, but this time with proper merino wool long-johns underneath.
Credit for design and fit though. Like the jeans they are pleasant to wear all day, have the necessary pockets and I like the slim legged fit. During wear I received no cheeky comments about the reinforced seat panel, so either my butt is of less interest to my surroundings than I might fear, or the seat panel is less obviously visible. At least it’s not in hi-vis!
A word about sizing: Both my pairs are marked as a 34″ waist. The cycling jeans measure 36″ and the touring trousers measure 35″. As always, measure your favourite pair of well-fitting trousers to find out what size you really are. Don’t be fooled be vanity or inaccurate sizing.
In summary, the touring trousers are great cycling trousers, as long as you don’t expect them to be suitably warm for cold days. In fact, the cycling jeans are much better in this respect and I’ve quite happily cycled in -5C wearing them, and lived to tell the tale.
Both trousers are made in China, the jeans of Italian denim, the touring trousers of possibly Swiss fabric.