When Rapha first came onto the scene more than a decade ago, the British cycling clothing company was a revelation. Its tasteful, pared back styles and muted branding were in stark contrast to the often garish designs pedalled by the handful of continental European brands that had cornered the market until then. Fast forward to 2019, however, and things are different.
Rapha has been sold (in 2017 for £200m) to a firm run by the heirs to the Walmart fortune and is eyeing international expansion. Perhaps inspired by its success, and by the swelling ranks of Mamils (that’s ‘middle-aged men in lycra’) there has been an explosion of new cycling brands that hope to cash in on discerning rouleurs’ desire for clothing that sets them apart.
Of course, some of these relative newcomers are better than others. So, as the Tour de France approaches, Spectator Life picks out some of the strongest recent additions to the sartorial peloton.
Albion is a British brand from relatively humble beginnings that favours muted tones and designs that are pleasing in their simplicity. So far, so Rapha. But where Albion differs is in its embrace of it own native cycling culture. (Rapha is even named after a now-defunct French cycling team.)
That extends to making kit that’s suited to long rides in British conditions. Spectator Life trialled Albion’s winningly simple bib shorts – which, at £110, offer quality and comfort that some pairs at twice the price struggle to match – and also took its lightweight gilet for a spin. It’s water and wind resistant, but packs up to about the size of a spare innertube, so can be slipped into a jersey pocket in readiness for whatever the great British summer brings.
‘Once you pedal in a pair of our Luxury Bib Shorts,’ the website says, ‘there is no turning back.’ It might just be true. Brandt Sorenson creates bespoke technical clothing for cyclists and runners by asking customers to enter up to 11 measurements online when they order. Three to four weeks later, they receive custom-made clothing manufactured by hand in the brand’s Los Angeles workshop.
As well as performance and fit, there is a sustainability angle to the made-to-measure model. Brandt-Sorenson says that ‘poor fit is the backbone of the throwaway fast fashion culture,’ adding that this environmentally unfriendly way of producing clothing has been made acceptable by factors such as ‘endless shipping exchanges,’ ‘clearance sales,’ and ‘low costs.’ Brandt-Sorenson’s MO is intended to alleviate some of these symptoms. And when it comes to cost, it’s certainly successful: jerseys and bib shorts are priced up to $380 and $520, respectively.
Café Du Cycliste
What would an upmarket cycling clothing brand founded on the Côte d’Azur by a former world champion kayaker look like? Well, Thanks to Café du Cycliste, we know: breton stripes, eccentric multi-coloured designs and quirky details like casquets (cycling caps) with orange translucent visors.
Perhaps the most ‘Café du Cycliste’ thing that the French company has done, though, is its recent ‘L’Atelier’ collection, which consists of limited edition runs of unusual items. For instance, the blouson-like Octavia jersey, which comes in both men’s and women’s cuts, is made from a ribbed velour-like material with a floral print and includes subtle hints of metallic thread. In total, only 200 of these jerseys have been made, so the chances of being caught wearing exactly the same thing as someone else on the group ride are, thankfully, minimal.
Pas Normal Studios
‘Pas normal’ (not normal) was how the French began to describe Lance Armstrong when his superhuman performances in the Tour de France first raised Gallic eyebrows in suspicion. But now the phrase has been commandeered by a hipster-friendly brand from the city where cycling is perhaps most normal of all – Copenhagen.
Pas Normal Studios doesn’t cater to the Danish capital’s legions of commuters, though. Its high-end technical clothing has that characteristically simple Scandinavian aesthetic and is made for riders who want to travel far and fast.
Fashion designer Hideto Suzuki took up cycling as a way of escaping the stress of life in Tokyo, but the range of garments available wasn’t to his liking. His response was to create Pedaled, a brand that emphasises the typically Japanese values of balance and harmony in the design of its products.
Suzuki designs Pedal Ed’s wares from Tokyo (although they are now manufactured in Italy) and uses only colours that occur naturally in nature. In recent years, the brand has hitched its wagon to the growing gravel and bike-packing scene, creating lightweight clothing with strategically placed mesh pockets to stash whatever you might need for taking on feats of endurance – such as the 4,000km, unsupported ‘Transcontinental’, a race that counts Pedal Ed as a sponsor.