Rapha launched its explore range earlier this year, bringing out a tight range of kit designed for the kind of riding that we are into over here at GritCX – not heads down racing, but long rides, exploring new-to-us areas.
The original t-shirt and pocketed bib-shorts are still in the range, but as summer turns to autumn and winter, they aren’t going to cut the mustard as the weather turns foul.
Cargo Winter Tights – £240
The logical thing to do was to bring out a full-leg cover version of the Explore shorts, so that’s what Rapha has done. The Cargo Winter Tights take the “radical” pocket design – side pockets on the legs and add large reflective panels on the lower leg and a warm fleece-backed fabric to “keep you warm, well-stocked and visible on winter adventures”. We’ve been using the bib shorts all summer and were really impressed with the pockets. We used them much more than expected, and love still having some on-person storage when not using a traditional pocketed jersey.
The Cargo winter tights have gone a step further by adding some waterproofing to the leg pockets, and building in some larger pockets on the back. They also have all the features that you’d expect from Rapha kit – its super-comfortable pad, clever reflective detailing and a pink stripe so everyone knows that you’ve just spent a huge amount of money on your pretty kit.
Realistically though, assuming you can afford it, the Explore Cargo Tights are more than a few pockets slapped on a pair of winter bibs. There’s no getting around that long adventure rides in winter can be a bit grim. Anything that adds a little comfort and practicality is worth its weight in gold when you are tired, the weather is closing in and there’s many miles between you and a real bed. We are looking forward to putting them to the test on some suitably long winter rides.
Explore Down Jacket – £220
You’ve ridden all day, and some of the night to your destination. You are cold, hungry and tired and all you want to do is curl up and sleep. First of all though, you need to make food, sip whisky and hang out with your mates. It’s times like this that an insulated jacket is an absolute winner. They pack small, and add a huge amount of warmth for their weight/bulk. Rapha’s take is an 850 fill power, ethically sourced down jacket, with a DWR coating.
It comes with a detachable hood and wee little stuff sack (we’ve got our hands on a medium test jacket and it packs down to apple size). Down obviously has some downsides – it doesn’t like the wet, and is harder to wash than synthetic insulation – but it wins the day when it comes to out and out warmth-to-weight ratio. £220 is again a fair chunk of cash, but on paper at least, it comes in at a similar price to other brand’s jackets with the same quality/quantity of down.
Explore Down Sleeping Bag – £245
Yes, you’ve read that right. A Rapha sleeping bag. Not only that, Rapha has really gone to town with this. Pied d’elephants have had a bit of a cult following amongst alpinists for years. It makes sense that if you have a down jacket and want to travel as light as possible, you don’t need another layer of down on your top half. Therefore, a half-bag cuts weight without (theoretically) over-compromising comfort. Rapha has taken this a step or two further. The Explore bag is actually a full bag, but only contains insulation (the same down as the Explore jacket) in the lower half of the bag.
Designed as a sleep system to be used in conjunction with the jacket, there are a couple of other clever ideas up its sleeve. The toe box is open, allowing you to stand in the bag without getting the bag dirty, and we guess, if you are at the sharp end of a bike packing race, you can crawl in and sleep without even removing your shoes. If you are prone to cold feet, there is a draw string to snug things up. In a quick living room based test, there was enough room for Tech Ed Tom (6ft) to lie in the M/L length bag, with the foot box done up and hood pulled over and not be too squished.
There’s a half length zip, to allow you to sit around with your legs covered, but body out of the bag – handy for that first brew of the morning. Tom’s heading to the hills this weekend to put the Explore sleep system combo to the test. He’ll report back next week…
All items available from Rapha.