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Another Fine Mesh
Love thy sheep, but in particular love thy merino. Rapha’s reputation for superlative products is built, in no small part, on the pioneering use of merino wool in its fabrics. And a woolly wonder no rider should live without is a merino base layer.
Naturally breathable, comfortable and odour resistant, the interior of merino wool fibres retain water without the fabric being damp against your skin. Conversely, the outside repels water. Thus, a close-fitting Rapha Merino Base Layer is the best thing to help regulate your body temperature when riding, regardless of the conditions. In the cold, it traps a layer of air against your skin, which your body heat then warms, keeping you insulated in the process. In warmer conditions, because each and every fibre is breathable, excess moisture is released through the fibres and then evaporates. To reiterate the point, merino wool is a natural performance fabric that works with your body and skin like no other. It’s a scientific fact.
At New Zealand’s University of Otago, a group of athletes were monitored during a range of exercises in varying conditions, first wearing merino garments and subsequently wearing garments made from 100% polyester. In cold conditions, all the athletes displayed a lower heart rate during periods of exertion wearing merino compared with polyester; and their heart rates in hot weather were, relatively speaking, lower still. Similarly, the onset of sweating happened much sooner when the polyester garments were worn, particularly in cold conditions.
Which is not to say we eschew synthetic fibres entirely here at Rapha. Indeed, Rapha’s Pro Team Base Layer is made from mainly polyester fibres but thanks to its ingenious mesh construction, has rapidly gained popularity among cyclists riding in hot conditions. Thanks to the structure of the fabric, which offers exceptional moisture transfer, many riders now prefer it to Rapha’s regular Merino Base Layers – no small thing given the latter’s own exceptional performance. Yet, while the manmade yarns allow the Pro Team Base Layer to be both extremely lightweight and durable, it doesn’t compare to the comfort and naturally anti-bacterial properties merino provides.
So, the Rapha design department sat down and developed a base layer marrying the best of both worlds. We spoke to Graeme Raeburn, Rapha’s Chief Product Designer, about the new Merino Mesh Base Layer.
What was the concept behind the Merino Mesh Base Layer?
The brief was to create a lightweight merino underlayer that’s a great all-rounder for warm weather where regular merino is too warm. But we also found the material works exceptionally well in cold weather, when used with other layers and, in particular, a windproof layer on top. The mesh construction traps the air, which helps maintain your core temperature and helps you stay perfectly insulated.
The mesh fabric is rather unique, correct?
It's a proprietary merino-polyester mesh, developed exclusively for Rapha using high-quality New Zealand merino wool. We’ve combined the merino with a synthetic yarn to make a lightweight but strong construction. Because merino is a ‘short-staple fibre’ (i.e. a hair) it has to be spun with a continuous filament yarn – if it was pure merino it would be very weak and unstable.
This combination allows us to make a light, open mesh: the merino provides great temperature regulation, anti-odour and anti-bacterial properties and comfort; the polyester, meanwhile, offers great moisture management and strength.
We understand it’s taken some time to develop the fabric?
Yes, we’ve created a very innovative material exclusively for our use, taking about two years of development. I also think it’s a brilliant travelling piece, being quick-drying and lightweight, it packs away easily. I used it on the Rapha Continental ride in Wales (Cymru) in pretty Arctic conditions and pairing it with a Rapha Race Cape, I stayed very comfortable.
Will you still be using the regular Merino Base Layers?
Of course, they’re perhaps the most versatile product we make.
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