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La Maglia Nera
Since its launch, the Rapha Classic Jersey has brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘black sheep of the family’. Not only is it made from a fabric rich in merino wool (baah…) but it’s also a product we at Rapha couldn’t be more proud of. Its arrival on the market back in 2004 was something of a revelation. A bold claim, you might think, but one we believe bears scrutiny.
For one thing, the jersey offered a refreshing change in a market more accustomed to cycling apparel that was, at best, satisfactory. Early prototypes of the Classic Jersey were tested by some of the hardest cyclists in the world. Not pro racers but London bike messengers, those modern day ‘convicts of the road’ who often clock more miles in a week than most pro racers.
The first thing to set the finished product apart was its appearance. Unlike the day-glo jerseys that now (hopefully) lie stuffed in smelly drawers up and down the land, this jersey was black. Like the Batmobile, beneath its jet black, minimalist exterior lurked technology, function and form in perfect harmony. In this case it was Rapha’s obsessive attention to detail and exceptional functionality hidden beneath a brooding exterior.
From the very beginning, the Classic Jersey began to garner plaudits. “Attention to detail is impeccable”, was the verdict of Procycling magazine. Bill Strickland, meanwhile, Editor at Large for US behemoth Bicycling Magazine, did us the honour of hailing the jersey as “the Eddy Merckx of bikewear” (we assume he meant all-conquering, rather than getting on a bit, retired and Belgian). That nice Mr Strickland went further, examining the jersey in microscopic detail before proclaiming that “Rapha has created the best bike jersey the world has ever seen”. The Times (London) was, as you might expect, more sober in its praise, describing the Classic Jersey as “a pleasing change in contemporary cycle clothing.”
Key to the jersey’s ongoing success is the fabric. Amateur riders and racers don’t have such luxuries as team cars, water carriers, mechanics, and soigneurs – they need kit that performs even better than that worn by the pros. And like a metronomic domestique, the ever-reliable Classic Jersey never lets you down. When you ride hard you need a fabric that breathes, insulates and wicks sweat without breaking, er, sweat. The Sportwool fabric that is the mainstay of the Classic Jersey works so well you could be forgiven for thinking all riding jerseys were created equal. Buyer beware, for the days of zebra-striped polyester, when a hideously clammy body seemed a fair trade for being cosmically aligned to the spirit of Mario Cipollini, are not so long ago.
And still the praise kept coming. “The [Classic] Jersey is simply perfect”, said Cycling Plus. Another well-known journalist was so taken with the Classic Jersey that he found himself spending ever more time on his bike. “When my wife ends up a cycling widow and I grow a third testicle, we’ll know who to blame, won’t we?,” he concluded. Again, we’re pretty sure he meant it in a good way. At least for us.