Gravel racing is a discipline which puts unique requirements on equipment. Usually, it takes place over long distances which riders complete largely without the support offered in a road race – there's no team cars or roadside assistance. This means that riders need to carry plenty of spare tools and parts with them, as well as the clothing and sustenance to get them through events which are often over 100 miles. But, of course, it’s still a race. Performance and aerodynamics still need to be considered to get every advantage over competitors, this has given cycling apparel brands something to think about.
Rapha’s latest addition to its Pro Team range is the Gravel jersey, designed to hit the sweet spot between a garment which is suitable for racing fast, while also adhering to the requirements that this radical new discipline makes on racewear – for example, lots of storage solutions and comfort for all-day adventures. It’s a jersey which takes elements from the Pro Team Aero and Crit iteration but with adjustments and additions that make it well-suited to the demands of gravel.
Similarly to the Crit jersey, the Gravel jersey has a textured, aerodynamic fabric across the sleeve and shoulders to reduce drag and ensure that riders are as efficient as possible over long distance races. Under the arm and across the front of the jersey, however, Rapha has used a lightweight, breathable fabric which aids airflow and ensures efficient temperature regulation in the hottest of conditions.
This thin fabric isn’t carried out through the top, however, with a thicker material being used on the rear of the jersey, the bottom of the jersey and on the pockets. Rapha explains that using a lightweight material here wouldn’t have given the required security to loaded rear pockets. “We’ve used a high-power lightweight woven fabric to hold the pockets tight to the body without being restrictive,” says Harry Osborn, designer of the new Gravel jersey.
The men’s version of the Gravel jersey features a ¾ length zip, meaning that it can be unzipped in hot conditions to aid ventilation with the pockets still remaining stable over rocky and uneven terrain. Following feedback from female testers such as Maghalie Rochette – professional Canadian cyclo-cross racer – the women’s version of the Gravel jersey has a full length zip so it’s easier to get on and off. A ¾ zip on the women’s iteration would have required riders to remove the jersey over their heads, hence needing to also take off the helmet, during nature breaks – a time consuming process in a race especially.
Sun protection was clearly at the forefront of designer's minds when creating the Gravel jersey – it also features a raised collar at the rear to protect skin from UV rays. The jersey’s back panel is also said to offer a high degree of protection against the sun
The highlight of this jersey is the innovative five-pocket configuration, providing one of the most advanced storage solutions within cycling clothing on the market today. In a race or long distance ride, this is a huge asset, allowing enough space for a plethora of tools, inner tubes, bars and gels. It allows riders to take on all-day adventures with no compromise, true to Rapha’s promise of giving riders “complete self-sufficiency.”
What impressed us even further was Rapha’s ability to create a garment with so many storage options without adding bulk or huge amounts of additional material. When on, the jersey feels almost lightweight as the Pro Crit iteration, wicking sweat efficiently and being extremely breathable in hot conditions. Despite the tight fit of the Pro Team Gravel jersey, it still allows a wide range of movement and flexibility which is important when riding off-road especially.
It’s a testament to Rapha designers that they’ve managed to keep the brand’s classic, stylish look on a jersey with so many additional features. The striking blue colour of the women’s Gravel jersey is eye-catching and the orange zip gives a pop of energy to a garment which epitomises spring and summer riding.
Overall, the Pro Team Gravel jersey is a refreshing take on clothing made for gravel racing. Instead of a move towards baggier, more traditional off-road apparel, Rapha has created a garment which still has its identity in high-performance cycling while making it suitable for long-distance events which require additional storage.
Though Rapha markets the jersey as made for gravel racing, it could be worn on long or short road rides in the summer months too, with its impressive temperature regulation and comfortable fit. At £200, it’s more expensive than some of the British brand’s other jersey offerings, but it’s been the one we have been reaching for the most recently thanks to its versatility and practicality, so we’d ascertain it is worth the investment.The Rapha Pro Team Gravel jersey will be available to buy from the 21st June. You can find out more about the design process via the link here.