I'm a sucker for grey tops and just love the casual look of Rapha's Women's Merino Zip, with its black 'armband' the only outward giveaway to its cycling pedigree. But it's more than just a looker – there's a windproof panel hidden behind the front and it works really well.
Pros: Casual looks and windproof, stylish design
Cons: No protection from zip, washing/drying...
Many's the time I've ridden in a casual woolly jumper and felt a chill wind getting through, but here the cold stays out and you stay warm. It's not a hugely sophisticated solution – it is, literally, a 100 per cent polyester panel sewn in all the way round the front of the jersey, from the top of the shoulders down to the seam of the hem. But it works.
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There's a very slight rustle, but it is slight; if you work in a library it might make you self-conscious, otherwise, you're probably the only person who'd notice.
To all intents and purposes it's a wool jumper with nothing 'cycling' about it, apart from the telltale armband (to those in the know). It could be mistaken for a lambswool jersey from M&S (okay, it couldn't, but you know what I mean). The 'double knit' merino – not lambswool (the clue's in the name) – is quite a tight weave, so even though the sleeves aren't 'windproofed' in any way, they do a pretty good job of keeping out chills too. It's soft against the skin too, no itchiness.
The cuffs are a little giveaway to its cycling heritage, but only if you fold them back to reveal the 'signalcuff', as Rapha calls it. As well as the wide pink band there's an accompanying 1cm width band of reflective stitching. Every little helps...
I only really have two bugbears: one is the zip. I like the look, and the ring pull, but there's no baffle and I have caught my skin on it a couple of times. Ouch.
The other is the washing – although to be fair it's no different to any other expensive woollen top. Treat it with care. If I paid £120 for a wool jersey there's no way I'd put it in the machine, I would always wash it by hand. But the instructions say it can be machine washed, so in the interests of testing I put it in on a wool cycle, 30 degrees, slow spin...
> Buyer's Guide: The best casual cycling kit for commuting
Then it came to drying it. The instructions on the label say 'dry flat' and the instructions on the website say 'line dry in shade'. I went for hanging it on a clothes hanger outside on the line, though it was a sunny day. It wasn't quite fully dry in an afternoon, so I then laid it flat on an electric airer (one of THE best things I've ever bought) and it was dry by the morning. You can iron it too, but I didn't think it needed it. After all this it has survived unscathed, no shrinking, no bobbling.
It's not a jersey you'd choose for a 100-mile sportive, it's for cycling round town (and village), to the pub, between offices, to the library (remove at the door), to the cafe... If you like the look and can afford it, buy it. If you can't afford it, stick it on your Christmas list. You'll love it.
Lovely casual looking cycling pullover with a very slightly rustly but welcome-on-cold-days windproof front
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Make and model: Rapha Women's Merino Zip
Tell us what the product is for
Rapha says: "A soft, warm, double-knit merino jumper with a windproof front panel, designed for city riding on cool days.
"A beautiful casual merino knit layer with windproof features
"This stylish yet functional merino knit layer is designed for city riding, but is equally at home off the bike. With a short zip and high neck, the Women's Merino Zip is made from a soft, double knit merino wool that will accommodate a base layer or t-shirt underneath. The front of the jumper is lined with a windproof panel, making it the perfect layering piece for casual riding in the cold.
"At the end of each sleeve, a double layer 'signalcuff' features both hi-vis and reflective yarns, which can be revealed to offer added visibility when riding in low light. Simply turn back the cuff to reveal the hi-vis bands."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
From Rapha's website:
Soft, double knit merino yarn offers comfort and warmth
Front panel lined with windproof fabric for protection against the elements
Reflective 'signalcuff' for visibility in low light
Short zip with Rapha-branded ring puller
Contrast tonal Rapha armband on sleeve
90% merino wool
Front panel lining:
Machine wash 30C
Do not leave wet
Line dry in shade
Wash dark colours separately
Use mild detergent
Do not tumble dry
Steam iron only
Rate the product for quality of construction:
Rate the product for performance:
Windproof panel blocks wind very effectively at the front, and the closeknit weave means the sleeves aren't too draughty either.
Rate the product for durability:
Early days, but no signs of bobbling.
Rate the product for fit:
It's 90% merino, 7% nylon and 3% elastane, so there's a bit of stretch/cling to it.
Rate the product for sizing:
Rate the product for weight:
Rate the product for comfort:
Zip at the neck is the only sore point (occasionally).
Rate the product for value:
It's Rapha; it's high-end. It's a well-designed, beautifully made cycling jersey that does a great job of combining casual looks with actual usefulness on the bike on cold days. You're paying for very good quality, great looks, and a real performance bonus.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
There's quite a list of instructions on the website, including 'machine wash' – but I would never choose to put a £120 woollen jersey in the machine. However, in the interests of testing, it has survived a machine wash and a line dry (mostly) without shrinking.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Ever wished your woolly jumper could keep the cold wind out when you're whizzing around in civvies? This looks casual while the front windproof panel keeps out chills. It's very slightly rustly sounding; if you work in a library it might be annoying but otherwise, not an issue.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The look, mainly. The grey colour. And the armband. The slightly raised collar. The pink cuffs. The windproofing in what simply looks like a wool jersey...
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The care you need to take when washing it.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Christmas is coming...
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's a high-quality garment, with the windproof front a real benefit for cycling on cooler days while maintaining a casual look. The price is pretty steep but not outrageous compared with high-quality jerseys on the high street (and they don't tend to have windproof panels in the front).
Age: 51 Height: 169cm Weight: size 10-12
I usually ride: Vitus Venon My best bike is: Paulus Quiros
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: commuting, sportives, general fitness riding
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