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book reviews

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what i want, what i really, really want*

rapha merino training top

ever been really bugged that mountain bikers and bmx riders get all the funky clothing? perhaps not, but how many items of cycle clothing do you own that you could also wear to the coffee shop when you're out with the family?

on the basis of what i have sitting in the unruly pile at the side of the bed, not many, unless appearing as a fluorescent advertising hoarding is something that you consider a personality trait. however, all that has now changed. i've reviewed a number of other products from london based rapha clothing, all of which were cycling specific, if stylishly retro. well even more stylishly retro is their new merino wool training top, which is not only an excellent training top, but can easily be worn post cycle or apres cycle, or even not cycle at all (in which case, why are you reading this in the first place?)

for a company that has existed for just over a year, rapha have achieved that rare distinction of appearing to have existed since the early forties. in fact simon at rapha told me once that somebody contacted them to say they had been a fan of their clothing for many a long year and were happy to see that they were now available in the uk. so you really gain the impression that rapha has been a long kept secret that you have only just discovered.

and at least a part of this is due to the very high quality (and accordingly, high prices), and almost retro design of most of their clothing. in fact the merino training top under review doesn't have a rapha logo anywhere on the exterior of the garment and the only alert to its origin is a small label sown into the inside back, which has a rather fetching story about swiss rider, hugo koblet.

in contrast to clothing from the likes of assos (which seems a valid comparison, since it's in a similar price bracket) the merino top is a 'baggy' fit - at least the one we tested was. i'm about 5' 10" and fairly slim build, and the top under consideration was a large, chosen particularly because i'm rather apt to stuff vast quantities into the back pockets of my cycle jerseys, and figured i'd need a bit of movement room to accommodate this. so while this makes the top a bit 'flappier' than anything you'd get from assos and the like, it is only a training top and not something you'd be likely to wear in a time trial. it also has the flattering effect of making you look less like a pro-tour wannabe rather than a cycling enthusiast out on the sunday club run.

the quality is second to none, which is reflected in the price (a princely 150). it is constructed from double knitted merino wool and made exclusively for rapha in hawick, scotland. there are two colours available: a dark green or black, with white detailing on the collar, cuffs and waist, and a white loop on the left arm. whether you choose the small, medium or large, the cut is loose and, dare i say it, funky, with a three-quarter zip and a very neat and thoughtful dip in the neckband just under the chin. there are no rear pockets.

rapha merino training top

perhaps not unexpectedly, care and attention is slightly more than with 'normal' cycle clothing - you can't just chuck it in the machine then tumble dry, but, as they say, 'pride bears no pain'. i popped the top on for a rather cool friday morning ride and was somewhat surprised at how warm it was, and also more windproof than i'd expected. it's fairly easy to regulate the temperature with the zip and you can always roll the sleeves up if it gets too warm. only problem i found was at the cuffs. wearing a pair of rapha leather track mitts, the edge of the cuffs were scuffing on the velcro and giving me 'furry' bits just at the point of contact. admittedly this is a rather trivial point but i'd hate to end up with short sleeves through inattention.

i've worn it on a few rides since, under widely differing weather conditions (not difficult to achieve on islay) and it just gets better and better

there's no doubt that merino wool is flavour of the year, with a number of companies producing different layers in this wonderful material (rapha produce the best cycling socks on the planet out of merino and have also launched a merino base layer).

as to the styling, well everyone and his best pal have come out with retro style tops, if the recent bike shows are anything to go by. rapha's credibility extends to the fact that they reproduce this style in everything they do - fashion really has little to do with it apparently, but i was very interested in the fact that i was able to wear this top out for an evening meal without so much as a cry from the mrs to the effect of 'you're not wearing that!' can't say the same would have occurred if i'd put on my landbouwkredeit jersey.

it's a lot of money to pay for any type of clothing, let alone something you might only wear when you're cycling, but then colnago c40s don't come cheap either, and i only use that for cycling. these are apparently only made in limited numbers, so if you want one, i'd get in there quick.

the photos used for this review are rapha's because their people look much better than i do.

*with apologies to procycling magazine for nicking their heading:-)

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this website got its name because scotland's graeme obree built his championship winning 'old faithful' using bits from a defunct washing machine

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as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

this column appears, as regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.

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