Testing Rapha’s New Bikepacking Gear
The style-centric bike apparel brand is branching out to saddlebags and even an insulated sleep system
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Earlier this fall, Rapha quietly unveiled a line of bikepacking equipment as part of its existing Brevet collection. Though it has been active for years in the world of distance cycling known as randonneuring, the British outfit has mostly steered clear of equipment in favor of its bread and butter: apparel with a premium on style. (The company did release a pair of bike bags two years ago, which were Rapha-branded models made by bikepacking stalwart Apidura.)
Rapha’s decision to shift to the grittier realm of bikepacking seems at first like a major departure. But according to the company, the push into equipment for multiday riding is a natural extension that stemmed from one of its employee’s back-to-back races at the Transcontinental. “We used those opportunities to develop products aimed at helping with the challenges he faced spending weeks at a time on the bike,” says Alex Valdman, creative director at Rapha.
These days, pretty much every major brand is building bikepacking bags and gear, so I was dubious that there was space in the market for Rapha. Having said that, I’ve been heartened to see that the company took some unique design approaches to the segment. Beyond the obvious demands of frame and pack bags, Rapha’s Brevet gear includes apparel with cargo space, multiuse clothing with antimicrobial treatments to resist odors over multiple days, and a super-breathable chamois that the company says will stay comfortable during weeks on the road.
Here are my impressions of the new kit after a two-night bikepacking trip in southern New Mexico.
Good bags are the foundation of any bikepacking system, and for the most part, Rapha has crafted a solid if not wholly revolutionary setup. I tried three models, all built from a polyurethane-coated ripstop nylon finished with heat-welded seams and rubberized zippers for a seriously rugged feel and completely watertight finish.
The Waterproof Bar Pack ($115) is a standard dual-sided tube design that was big enough to carry my tent, sleeping pad, and the Rapha sleep system, with space leftover for clothing and food. The built-in straps are narrowly set so they don’t interfere with brakes and shifters. There are two adjustments to ensure a solid fit around any top tube or fork. The stripes on the front of the bag provide lots of reflective visibility for night riding.
The Waterproof Frame Pack ($115 for size medium) carried my shock and tire pumps, tools, spare tubes, and other sundries. It has a stiff top frame with three straps for attaching to the top tube, plus a strap each for the down and seat tubes. While one of the top straps can be moved fore and aft, the bag would have been more versatile if there were daisy-chain attachments across the entire top to allow for positioning the straps wherever you want them. And while I managed to squeeze the shape onto a hardtail mountain bike, this design is probably best suited to road and gravel frames.
The Waterproof Top Tube Pack ($65) is a gas-can design that affixes behind the stem via two adjustable top tube straps and a stem strap, which I wished was a few inches longer. Though on the small side, the bag was big enough to carry all my sundries, plus enough bars and food to keep me going for five hours at a time. One small oversight: It’s a pity Rapha didn’t include mounts for top-tube braze-ons, which are becoming increasingly common gravel and touring bikes.
One very odd move on Rapha’s part: The company didn’t release a full-size seat pack with this collection. It is making two sizes of small seat bags, built from the same materials and with the same finishes as the rest of the set. But with just enough space for a tube, tool, and CO2, these bags are only for day rides, not bikepacking. Rapha says it will unveil a bikepacking seat bag in two sizes early next year. Until then, this set feels incomplete.
Unsurprisingly given Rapha’s apparel heritage, the Brevet clothing items I tried were among my favorite pieces of the entire line. I’ve already raved about the company’s previously released Brevet cargo bibs, and the new Explore Cargo Winter Tights with Pad ($325) bring the same excellent feature set to cold-weather gear. These heavyweight, fleece-backed tights stand out for their wide, thick, super-comfy pad and reflective details, including a stripe across the lower back, logos on both legs, and full swaths on the calves. I really liked the mesh panel on the right quad for fast access to food or maps and the weatherproof zip pocket on the left quad, which barely fits my iPhone X. There’s also a pair of pockets in back (one mesh, one zip), which I liked well enough, though the zipper was uncomfortable with a hydration pack, and I wanted both to be deeper to fit rolled-up clothing.
I paired the tights with a number of tops, including an updated version of the merino-blend Brevet Long-Sleeve Jersey ($190), which is as hardworking and refined as it has ever been. But the new piece that really stood out to me was the Brevet Base Layer ($80). It’s soft as silk, so light and stretchy you barely notice it, and constructed with a silver-coated yarn that kept it odor-free, even after two hard days of riding. I also liked the new Technical T-Shirt ($75), which brings Rapha’s understated style to a loose-fit aesthetic. The hyperlight polyester fabric meant I had to layer this with several other pieces on my early winter bikepack, but it should be excellent for sunny, hot climes next spring and summer.
The most novel part of Rapha’s bikepacking gear is the new sleep system, which consists of a jacket and half sleeping bag that are intended to be combined to create a super-lightweight shelter on the road.
On its own, the Explore Down Jacket ($295) has become one of my favorite puffy coats for backcountry adventures. The trim cut prevents it from flapping in the wind. It’s also extremely light (254 grams in size medium), packs down to about the size of an orange, and provides surprising warmth given how diminutive it is. The high fleece-lined collar seals in warmth, and the snap-off hood is tailored for excellent heat retention.
The unique Explore Down Sleeping Bag ($330) has an uninsulated nylon top portion (meant to layer over the down top) attached to a baffled bottom that uses the same 850-fill down as the jacket. The half-zip makes getting in and out easy, a drawstring at the waist seals in heat around the bottom of the jacket, and a second drawstring closure at the foot of the bag makes it possible to vent should you get hot. Like the jacket, the sleeping bag is extremely lightweight (333 grams), which means you get a full sleep system for just over a pound.
The versatility is great: Using the your jacket as the top half of your sleeping bag means less to carry. However, this system is neither weatherproof nor terribly warm (rated to 60 degrees Fahrenheit). Unless you travel only in warm, dry climates, you probably need to pair it with a bivy sack, like Montbell’s awesome model. On my trip, with overnight temperatures dropping below freezing, even with full merino long underwear and the bivy, I was too cold to sleep. (About halfway through night one, I switched to a warmer sleeping bag that I brought as backup.) Having said that, I do love the jacket and the concept of the sleep system, and for superlight adventures where I know the weather won’t be bad or for racing situations when I want to go fast and light but need protection in case of emergency, Rapha’s system will be my go-to choice.