This is no ordinary jersey, this is the Rapha Cross Jersey. Specially designed for the demands of cyclocross with a lightweight merino-rich fabric and a slim structured fit, the Sportwool fabric supposedly both insulates and breathes to keep you comfortable even when flailing through the mud. A padded shoulder for bike carrying run-up luxury and race-specific pockets add to the crossentric design, and for £130 it will clean your bike afterwards as well. Probably.
As it's designed for racing the Cross Jersey is cut podium slim and as Rapha figure that your engine's going to be running at high-revs whilst wearing it you won’t need a warm jersey so it’s constructed from a lightweight Sportwool fabric, think long-sleeve summer jersey and you get an idea of the fabric's weight. Slipping the jersey over a base-layer in the car-park and on the first warm-up lap it feels way way too light and downright cold but once the gun has gone and you’re up to speed breathing hard it’s actually spot on temperature wise, even when other competitors are in full-on Winter layers with ear-warmers and balaclavas.
Made from a 22% merino wool and 78% polyester mix it keeps you warm enough and wicks away sweat so doesn’t become suddenly cold and clammy for the bell-lap. And it’s natural material composition also means it's not going to smell the back of the car out on the way home, especially when it’s stowed away in it’s own little dedicated Rapha drawstring water and stain resistant bag where there’s also enough room for muddy socks, shorts and gloves to be stashed too. The frequent wearabilty without washing capabilities of the Cross Jersey's natural fabric might be compromised though as it's likely to be caked in mud after every use.
As you’re only going to be on a ‘cross bike for an hour if you’re doing it properly Rapha have done away with the excessive cargo-carrying three rear pockets of a normal jersey and replaced them with two, although they take up the space of just one as a zipped pocket sits behind an open one with both openings angled gently to the right to make the reach-around easier. The zipped one has a big O-ring pull loop on it to help using with gloved hands and is good for not losing car-keys, mobile phone and the loose change for a cup of tea and slice of cake at the finish, and the open pocket is big enough for an energy bar and an inner-tube and a multi-tool, although why you’d need any of those during a ‘cross race is a debatable subject, you could just about squeeze in a lightweight warm-up jacket in there, or a water-bottle if you feel the need for one and have a cage-free 'cross bike. On the inside of the open pocket is a little story printed on a sewn-in piece of fabric, it's got something to do with foxes.
The Cross Jersey is laden with the kind of detailing that Rapha revel in and is often appreciated by people that actually ride their bikes. The collar sits a bit higher than a usual jersey to keep those winter winds away as they cut across the sports field, and it incorporates a de rigueur zip-dock to stop chin chaffage from the Rapha logoed pull on the end of the full-length front zip. The cuffs are ever-so subtly tailored to cover the entire wrist when bent over the bars and though Rapha make great play about the padded-right shoulder to increase bike carrying comfort it’s pretty minimal when it comes to easing the suffering, and isn’t much use if you’re one of the few left-handed carriers.
Pink red and blue detailing strike across the back and shoulder of the jersey with an embroidered blue Rapha logo on the left sleeve to co-ordinate with the Rapha-FOCUS Cyclocross Team colourway. Similarly coloured 3/4 'cross bibs and a cycle cap are available for the matching ensemble as well should you wish, and an umbrella if you think your pit-crew/partner deserve one. These colours continue into the detailing in predictable Rapha style with a pink drawstring to keep the hem tight, and light blue detailing within the silicone hem gripper, even the embroidery over the padded shoulder is in team colours. Swish.
As a jersey it does it's job very well, the fit is superb and the material mix deals with the sweaty rigours of racing in a way that astounded initial scepticism, but most people are going to think twice about £130 for a jersey, let alone spend that much on one for the very time and effort specific and niche demands of cyclo-cross, and thinking about buying a jersey just for getting dirty and treated badly for an hour would make most people reach for the bargain bin for a top at a tenth of the price. And would it be churlish to suggest that someone dedicated enough to spend so much on a jersey for the rarified sport of cyclo-cross would be serious enough to be in a cycle club and want to wear their colours? Or their sponsors jersey even?
Rapha say the jersey is versatile enough for everyday cycling as well as racing, which seems to cut across the claim that it's specifically designed for 'cross racing. Heyho. Finding room in an day-to-day cycling wardrobe for a pricey lightweight long-sleeved jersey with limited cargo capabilities might prove tricky.
The Rapha Cross Jersey is a lovely bit of kit deep down, it has the level of detail and fit that you'd expect from the London boys and it works really well for a cold yet strenuous hour on the bike. It's a nice concept on paper and it actually works in practise too, but the price is galling for any cycling jersey as it is, let alone one that's so specific where the cost becomes instantly prohibitive, and it's certainly an amount of money that you really don't want to get dirty, or rip a sleeve in a muddy slide-out. And, though it's a nice touch, do you really needs a cute little kit bag for post-race clothes when a plastic bag will do?
road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Cross Jersey
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Rapha Cross Jersey has been constructed for the high-energy demands of cyclocross, and it meets those demands really well, but at a price, and too specific for much else.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
78% polyester and 22% merino Sportwool™ with four-way stretch, eyelet construction ensures excellent moisture transfer, itch free, antibacterial and odour resistant. Low-profile, right-shoulder pad prevents bike top tube rubbing, angled pocket zips allows easy access, drawstring bag for stowing post-race kit.
It performed very well in the racing it was designed for, but it's a lot of money for an hour.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fit, the Sportwool.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No - I couldn't justify spending that amount
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No, I'd point and tut with them though.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun