The world has changed somewhat. No, I’m not talking about that. I’m referring to the fact we're wearing loose jerseys riding, especially on gravel bikes. The riding is loose, and the clothing imitates it. I’ve been an early adopter of this style and like to have a looser fitting tee or long sleeve when on the gravel roads (plus, you don’t look like a plonker when you turn up to the pub for a refreshing sports drink, read: beer, afterwards) but a cotton garment simply won’t cut it when pedaling for hours in the saddle. For this, you need something that looks like a tee but has the ability to wick away the sweat and, with the onset of the darker months, a longer sleeve length makes more sense. Enter the Rapha Windproof Explore Pullover. Some would say Rapha are the leaders and innovators within gravel scene attire and, namely, their sponsored rider, Lachlan Morton, set trends early on with a bib short and a tee. This style is not for everyone (and you can’t stash treats in the back pocket) but with the explosion of bags on bikes it seems this style isn’t going anywhere.
The pullover is designed as an insulating layer for combating milder conditions, a standalone outer layer or, if you’re taking on the bitter cold, paired with a jacket. Rapha has always had strong attention to detail, and they aimed to create the pullover to be quick-drying, with ample insulation and a windproof barrier. The material utilized within the jersey is a gridded fleece fabric, called Polartec® Power Grid, which claims to be as insulating as it is breathable. Windproofing has been added to the shoulders and arms, to keep your temperature in-check and regulated. This addition is clever; I’ve experienced it before with other products in the Rapha collection and it performed really well. Like I mentioned earlier, these tops don’t have the traditional pockets in the rear, but this allows for more versatility off the bike. There is, however, an ‘essentials’ pocket on the arm allowing quick access to your stashed goods.
On the road - the gravel road, that is - the pullover was comfortable. I immediately liked the relaxed cut. You certainly wouldn’t feel out of place wearing this in the coffee house before your ride, or the pub afterwards. I suppose this is its appeal – good on or off the bike. The second thing I noticed was the fabric; it felt warm but also breathable, and this became evident when riding over multiple hours. I used it for our trip in Marlborough, featured in this issue, where the autumnal weather meant for changeable conditions – think cold mornings, mild middays and then afternoon chills with a touch of wind. Having this garment, with a base layer, was all I needed for the whole day. In the mornings, I layered up with a down jacket, while in the middle of the day and afternoon I just rode with it as the outer layer, until the sun went down behind the mountains. Thirdly, the windproof arms were not only noticed but welcomed. Having this addition on only the arms makes sense. It kept my arms and hands warm (due to better blood flow) whilst still allowing other parts of my body to breath. As mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of this fabric and it’s a great addition to my kit, especially hen it comes to our changeable weather. Lastly, the essentials pocket wasn’t really used as I had bags on my bike, but I trust riders would use it or be a little frustrated with no pockets in the rear.
The pullover has a subtle style; it’s thin and light, making it a more favorable layer for bikepacking. The gridded fleece is really warming, and when combined with the thin windproof material it regulates well. The main issue I found was whether to wear it on or off the bike as it looks fly in both situations. The cost is relatively high, but the performance of the fabrics and the versatility of the pullover makes it worth it. Without a doubt I’ll be pulling on the pullover (no pun intended) many more times throughout our darker months.
Supplied by Rapha / RRP: $210AUD
Reviewed by Liam Friary