The Rapha Cycle Club is pretty fast for the average cyclist. By that, I mean that if the legs don’t cripple you after a ride of several laps around Regent’s Park at 17mph, after you put in a hard day’s work in the daytime on Thursday.
The emphasis here is on “hard day’s work” because Rapha the luxury cycling wear, around which the sociality of the club rides – and thus, brand loyalty, is formed – is targeted at professionals like me who can blow £200 on a windproof jacket at a whim.
But professionals like me are also not in our 20’s anymore. We did our fair share of amateur races in our prime, and now just want to de-stress from work, and not necessary by going to the gym. I was warned about the physical prowess of the Rapha boys well before I decided to commit to this group. Hell, Rapha cc is just down the road from where I work. I have no frigging excuse not to go there.
Having retired (or have I, really?) from the crazy, super serious world of amateur rowing that I escaped and returned to numerous times for eight sodding years, I decided to return to my childhood recreation: cycling.
“Rapha?” Said the tattooed sales guy who served me at Evans Cycle off Great Portland Street. “They’re fast. You could try some of the West London clubs if you live there”.
Like London Dynamo? I countered. They require members to do a minimum of 24 minutes a lap around Richmond Park.
His eyes widened. “Ah, that’s a bit of an exaggeration,” he said. “24 minutes. But Rapha is fast.”
He wasn’t kidding. My first ride with Rapha commenced in heavy rain, where the group leader decided to take us to Swain’s Lane. It was actually fun because we had to do hills and I love hills. Because I am below 50 kg, I could sneak up slowly behind the guys and overtake in a sprint. And then they kicked my ass big time with their weight as they stormed down the hill. But that made the ride in the rain, around Swain’s Lane, so much playful and fun.
The rides around Regent’s Park, when the weather was fine, were different. The Rapha boys, I’d like to emphasise, are very friendly, not to mention well-educated. But these are tall, strapping young men with very very long arms and legs. A skinny, teeny woman like me has no chance keeping up with them. Yes, there is a woman’s ride, but even that is fast. And I’m the type of strong-headed individual who likes to keep to my pace and won’t be hurried. Aggressive, but never crazy about keeping up with everyone if I can’t (a trait that drove numerous taekwondo and rowing instructors mad. Can you imagine me coxing? I just would not listen to instructions).
But one thing I find very attractive about the club is how inclusive it could be. Anyone can be on the ride, as long as you satisfy the basic requirements of having a road bike, lights, and can do between 17mph and 25mph on Thursdays – possibly faster for the weekend rides to Surrey or Essex. I even had a mate turning up with his own homemade fixed gear bike. In a pair of jeans. And Rapha cc, otherwise known as ‘the club’, serves foods and drinks until 8.30 pm on weekdays. So I can always stop there and have a bite to eat on my cycle home from work. It’s either Rapha or one of the joints at South Kensington that doesn’t mind having a patron in cycling gear. I feel less awkward at Rapha, as you would imagine.
Also, the guys are pretty good at teaching you a thing or two about urban cycling. I enjoy following the boys through the traffic the most and see the way they interact with each other and react to the traffic. Cycling in a pack through Central London is different than cycling in pack in Richmond Park.
Should the speed of these long-limbed specimens scare off the feeble cyclists, the casual commuters, from getting to know Rapha? Hell no. Look, I am not cycling all the way to Look Mum No Hands on Old Street to watch the latest cycling competitions on cable TV. Rapha cc is the nearest place where I could watch these. I do not have a TV. Never had one since 2006.
A cyclist, a former sculler with even longer arms and legs who came to one of the rides, asked me if it was compulsory to wear a Rapha kit for the ride. No, I said, although I haven’t bought one myself. But I will soon enough. If not one of the bright pink waterproofs, possibly one of the travel services it organises. It’s not going to be cheap. A date I brought to Rapha cc was shocked when he saw the price tags of the clothes.
Rapha the ride, like Rapha the clothes, is for you cyclists who feel entitled to something absolutely indulgent after a hard day’s slog at the office. Ok, spoofs have been made of its aspirational brand. And they are hilarious. But really, if it’s your ass you’re putting on the bike day after day on the treacherous streets of London to commute to work, you can damn wear anything you like. No drivers are going to check out your branded kits that closely.
And they’d better not.
GLUE RATINGS: ★★★★☆
Rapha Cycle Club London. 85 Brewer Street, London W1F 9ZN. Club rides: Thursdays, Regent’s Park. Departs at 6.30 pm. Saturdays, Essex and Surrey. Departs at 9 am. 020 7494 9831. firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.rapha.cc/cycle-club @RaphaCycleClub