Friday, December 19, 2008
Product Review: Rapha Arm and Knee Warmer: All Flash, No Substance
As some of you may know, I can be a bit of a dandy. I have collections of cashmere sweaters and handmade scarves; my belt, watchband and shoes almost always match; if I wear sneakers and a hat, they match; I have an Italian shoe fetish, both on and off the bike; when times are good, I buy clothing at Boston’s finest establishments. I race a custom white IF with matching accouterments, which also matches my team’s white road kits. My cross bike matches my team’s cross kit, thanks to Croth, JD, and Igleheart. In short, I am a sucker for finery. I am willing to drop $1000’s to look good when winning or losing a race. I believe in panache. I’d rather lose with style than win without it.
Given my proclivities, Rapha seems like a logical clothing choice for me. They are the “Gucci” of cycling clothing. Since I am a competitive cyclist, my bibs, jerseys and caps are chosen for me by my team. But I am so maniacal about aesthetics that I took over the clothing order so that I would have some say in design.
The Rapha arm and knee warmers match my team’s black and white kits. When I saw them online, I didn’t even blink at the combined $120 price tag. I thought that they would look so hot and so PRO, that I would never regret such a purchase.
I ordered them from the Competitive Cyclist instead of from Rapha directly. They were equally priced, but Rapha was charging more for shipping to the US and I had heard horror stories about Rapha’s US customer service from my good friend __________. (I don’t want to call him out, but he is welcome to leave a remark in the comments section).
They arrived quickly and were well wrapped in protective cellophane. The environmentalist in me balked, but I would be the first to complain bitterly if there was even the slightest smudge on the fabric.
The material was soft to the touch and was tight when stretched onto their intended locations. On initially putting them on, they fit snuggly but comfortably.
I wore them around the apartment for a couple of hours and they seemed comfortable and remained in place.
I assumed that the price of these warmers would be justified by their durability. Not so. In short I am very disappointed by the quality of these Rapha products. On my first ride, a thread at the bottom of the left knee warmer came loose and waved in the wind. I carefully snapped it off. Next ride a thread popped on an arm warmer. These things have been popping threads periodically ever since.
They have not actually started coming apart, though this may have more to do with my own vigilance in repairing them than to do with Rapha’s quality. I have been throwing stitches into these ever since I realized that there was a chance that they might split a seam. While I don’t mind fixing a hole, or stopping a tear, I object to having to augmenting the shoddy sewing job on an expensive item of clothing before washing them.
My next complaint has to do with stainsetting. There are white stripes on both of these items. And the white stains easily and permanently. My team’s road kits are white and I have succeeded in keeping them gleaming white, even after racing the muddiest cross races in New England.
Being a dandy, I know how to launder my clothing properly, whites with whites. The white on the Rapha warmers was irreversibly stained on the first rainy ride. And they keep getting greyer as time goes on. I have also noticed that the same thing has happened to other rider’s Rapha warmers (here in NE we have a great Rapha Continental Squad representing the goods), indicating that the phenomenon is not limited to my warmers.
The arm warmers stay in place well and are comfortable for an entire day’s ride.
I find that the silicon gripper at the top of the arm warmer keeps them in place well, even when the jersey is not snug against them. They fit perfectly and are just the right mix of warmth, softness and breathability. They also provide wind blocking and warmth when very wet. But they also resist saturating, such as when riding in drizzle. After a year of use, the arm warmers have retained their original shape. I am happy with the fit and fabric of the arm warmers.
The knee warmers are another story entirely. They are garbage, a frustrating waste of money. Rapha claims that the knee warmers are right/left specific, but they fail to include an indication of which warmer is for which knee in their packaging. Furthermore, I have switched them around and found no difference in fit or performance. And the extra stitching that they use to “articulate” the knee warmer are just more shoddily sewn stitches that pop and need mending.
The knee warmers share the arm warmer’s silicon gripper on top, which works well to keep the knee warmers from slipping down. But there is no gripper on the bottom of the knee warm and it subsequently rides up.
I have experimented with different ways of wearing these warmers and have found no method or position keeps them in place. The bottom always slips and the warmer bunches around the knee. I have used a number of knee warmers, cheap ones included, and I have never experienced this before. I asked advice from other Rapha wearers and they concurred that the knee warmers are rubbish. Notice that on the Rapha Continental site, the riders are seldom pictured in knee warmers.
I wanted to like these warmers. I wanted to enjoy wearing them. And I really wanted for their quality to justify their cost. Rapha has failed on all fronts. The warmers look like terrible up close because the fabric is not stain resistant; the quality is much lower than is found on items that are less than half their cost; and the knee warmers are poorly designed and fail to meet even a minimum performance standard.
You will still see me wearing these warmers because after buying them, I can’t afford to replace them. The dandy in me would like to replace them with a higher quality item, but the accountant forces me to continue to use and mend these subpar offerings from the “Gucci” of cycling.
The “Gucci” of cycling is actually a perfect descriptor of my Rapha items, like Gucci, they are all flash and no substance. After getting bilked out of $120, I would not even consider purchasing one of their truly pricy items, even at deep discounts.