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No Stone Unturned

Testing Rapha Performance Trailwear on the toughest of terrain.

18 June 2021

If cycling is a spectrum, mountain biking is on the ragged edge. On trails littered with rocks and roots, bordered by trees and surrounded by wilderness, riders push themselves and their equipment to the limit. Add in the potential for extreme heat, cold or torrential rain, and your kit had better be up for the challenge.

To make sure Rapha Performance Trailwear is a match for any terrain and all weathers, we work with elite athletes and expert wear testers around the globe to put every product through its paces. And just like our approach to riding, our wear testing philosophy is all about putting in the time and effort and focusing on fine details to reap the rewards of a better product further down the line.

Enduro World Series rider Ella Connolly, who calls the Scottish Highlands home, trains with the consistency that can make a real difference when testing prototypes. “Every time I ride my bike, whether it’s for training or for fun, I’ll wear the same pieces of kit,” she reported back.

“I love putting together a little report after my ride”
 

 

“I make sure to try them out in different conditions too, which isn’t a problem here in Scotland where we have very changeable weather. It can be sunny one minute and pouring with rain or snowing the next but consistently riding in the same product gives you a sense of how it works in different conditions.”

This variation is something fellow Rapha MTB athlete and Olympic medallist Jill Kintner also focuses on when testing her apparel. “We’re in Bellingham, Washington so we have lots of forests, brown dirt, lots of roots and steep trails. The weather tends to be quite cold so I’ve done extensive testing on jackets, pants and gloves.

“But we’ve actually done testing in a broad range of conditions as we went down to Santa Cruz a bit. It’s a fifteen hour drive but it’s worth it when you get there as it’s perfect sunshine everyday so you get a chance to try out the technical fabrics in warm, dry conditions too.”

Had it not been for a hand injury sustained in training, Jill would also have done some testing on Rapha North America’s home trails in Bentonville, Arkansas, where some of our other wear testers have logged many miles. Wherever she’s reporting back from, be it a race or a training ride, Jill views wear testing as an extension of her race preparation.

“It’s been awesome working with a dedicated wear testing coordinator”
 

 

“I’ve done tonnes of testing on other aspects of my race set up – things like suspension settings and bike set-up – so it’s great to extend that to apparel,” Jill told us. “The essence of my process is exactly the same – to go out there, do as much riding as I can then come back and give my two cents.”

While Jill’s feedback can take many different forms, Ella has become a prolific trailside filmmaker. “I started by filling out spreadsheets but soon found that recording short videos was a much more efficient way of sharing feedback.

“No matter what trail you’re riding, you can always stop at the side to record something and it’s much easier to show the fabric or feature that you’re talking about too. If something has ripped or faded slightly, or if the fit isn’t quite working somewhere, it’s much easier to show what you mean in a video.”

As well as having the freedom to feedback in any format – from handwritten notes to voice memos and videos – all Rapha wear testers have a single point of contact at HQ in Wear Testing Coordinator Hamish Low. And no matter where in the world they’re based, Hamish deals with every tester directly.

“This is the first time that I’ve had a trail short that fits everywhere”
 

 

“It’s been awesome working with a dedicated wear testing coordinator,” Jill told us. “I love putting together a little report after my ride because you can see things changing and improving. With one guy running the show, you know that he is taking the information on board and can do something with it down the road.”

For Ella, who has often taken her kit to a tailor in the past, the most significant changes were in fit. “Usually shorts that fit around my legs tend to be too wide at the waist so I get them taken in,” she told us with a smile. “The tailor I go to tends to work more with office shirts but they’re always happy to branch out into mountain biking!”

“This is the first time that I’ve had a trail short that fits everywhere but I don’t take it for granted. Initially they were a bit too short for me so there was a gap between my shorts and my knee pads. It’s only through the feedback loop within the wear testing programme that we’ve been able to get the fit dialled and with the ergonomic stretch band around the waist, it’s a fit that’ll work for a lot of different body shapes.”

“I found that recording short videos was a much more efficient way of sharing feedback”

Having both played key roles in the development of Rapha Performance Trailwear thus far, both Ella and Jill are both eager to return to competition and to race in Rapha for the first time. When we spoke to her, Ella had a long journey, complicated by Covid-19 restrictions, to the first EWS race in Austria while Jill was waiting for her hand injury to heal.

After such a long break from racing, nothing will keep either rider away from the start hut but both Ella, Jill and the rest of our MTB wear testers will continue to provide invaluable feedback on the next generation of products. Stay tuned later in the season for race updates from our elite athletes and more insights from the Rapha wear testing programme.

 

Men's Trail Short

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Trail Technical T-shirt

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Women's Trail Short

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