I rode in today wearing my 06 Stowaway Jacket. I still love the way the pink accent stripes jump off the gray fabric and the asymmetrical zipper gives it a striking look from the front. By 2008 Rapha standards the tail is a little generous, but that's easily solved by folding the back end up into the jacket in the same manner as the Classic Softshell (there's no velcro retainer of course). I've detailed previously how this Jacket excelled at repelling moisture but didn't breathe as well as I'd like.
Rapha addressed this with the superb second and current generation Stowaway. Elsewhere in the line, Rapha's designers have been working hard with dozens of subtle improvements in seams, facings and seals. The slant of rear pockets. The choice of fabrics. Refining the tailoring so that many of the pieces look just as classy off the bike as on. All of this bodes well for the company if it decides to step sideways and produce more "lifestyle" wear, which I hope it will.
I've exchanged several emails with Creative Director Luke Scheybeler about bits and pieces and either the team is already working on a solution or they're prepared to listen. Continuous improvement is a popular phrase bandied about by companies. In truth most are just paying lip service to an idea they never truly embrace. Rapha, on the other hand, seems to have this ideal woven into the very fabric of the company. Perhaps because they all ride and they know the difference between a podium piece or a middle of the pack offering.
The fact Rapha gets things right so often is rare these days and that's one of the reasons I collect the brand. It doesn't mean I like everything in the line. I don't own a pair of arm warmers because those vertical stripes just don't work for me. Luke told me they've already got an updated arm warmer in the works. Maybe we'll see them in the spring.
And then there are the new Softshell gloves. Over the last 18 months I can only imagine how much energy has gone into these things. Last year Rapha's quality control rejected the lot and we never saw them for winter 2007. This year the samples I tried on at Oregon Manifest were perfect, but my production pair don't quite measure up to the level of finish I saw in Portland.
I can't fault them for the way they function. They certainly proved their worth on the cold, wet and windy day I attempted Otto Miller with Slate and Daniel. It's just the internal seams could be less noticeable. And though I suppose I could have sent them back, I'm sticking with them to see if this changes with repeated use... either way I'll let them know.
Such is my belief in the people at Rapha that I'm willing to take one (occasionally) for the team. The way I look at it I'm making an investment in the brand that will pay stylish dividends in the year's ahead. That may sound strangely altruistic, but it's actually quite selfish.