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Some of the best-performing outdoor kit uses natural fibers due to the unique properties that comes from evolutionary refinement. Merino is one of those materials and Rapha has utilized its own blend for its Explore Merino t-shirt.
The Explore range is obviously aimed at bikepacking and adventure riding, but the Explore Merino t-shirt can easily compete with many of the best best mountain bike jerseys if you're looking for something casual, comfortable, yet still packed with performance.
Design and performance
The jersey has a riding-specific fit, with rolled forward arms and gusseted side panels to give a better shape when on the bike. Rapha says that the cut has been specified for an ‘off-the-skin fit’, which in normal-speak means a casual t-shirt. Arm length is generous as is the body length too, with a subtly dropped tail. All the hems are made from the same material as the main body fabric, rather than being elasticized.
Rapha has developed its own Merino Wool and Nylon blend (52/48 percent) which it claims gives the Explore t-shirt all the natural sweat-wicking and anti-odor properties of Merino. The addition of Nylon is used to increase the durability, snag, and abrasion resistance and helps maintain the shape of the jersey.
There are some neat details as well. A loop on the rear of the t-shirt helps you hang it up to dry and there's a label inside with a wee story printed on it which can be removed and used as a tire boot in an emergency.
Branding is low-key, there’s a small reflective Rapha logo on the chest and two sections of stitching on the left arm subtly mimic Rapha’s trademark band – although if you don't know Rapha you probably wouldn’t even notice. The t-shirt comes in four colors; Black, Dark Navy, Dark Beige, or the wonderfully vibrant Brick we have here.
The fit is really great and the t-shirt sits very naturally when on the bike thanks to the rolled-forward sleeves. That means all-day comfort with no bunching in the armpits or shortening of the sleeves when riding, whether you're sending it on the trail or drilling it in the drops. The Explore Merino t-shirt might have a distinct bike-focused fit, although it can easily pass as civilian clothing too thanks to its casual loose fit. Sizing is pretty accurate, I opted for my usual medium size and was happy with the fit.
The material feels very soft to the touch too and strikes a good balance in material weight. In hot weather, the mix of Merino and loose fit helps keep stop things from getting too sweaty, and if it does get wet the t-shirt drys pretty quickly too. If you use it for bikepacking, the Merino deals with bad smell build-up pretty well too, especially compared to artificial fibers.
So far as I can attest to Rapha’s extra toughness claims, after dragging myself through many overgrown bushes and taking a few tumbles too, and there are no pulls or damage I can see. In fact, I have ridden at least 1000km of bikepacking and MTB miles in my test tee and it's still in great shape.
Soft to the touch, excellent fit, and all-day comfort means the Explore Merino T-shirt is a great option whether you are bikepacking, mountain biking, or just heading out for a casual gravel ride. The Merino material makes it versatile in a range of temperatures, perfect for our changeable British summertime weather or long days on the saddle too.
£70 seems like a lot for a t-shirt, although compared to others on the market it's only marginally more expensive and far cheaper than the priciest options. I feel the quality and consideration around the fit are certainly worthy of the price, as is Rapha’s after-sales repair support that comes with it.
Tech Specs: Rapha Explore Merino t-shirt
- Price: $95 / £70
- Material: 52% Merino Wool / 48% Nylon
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
- Colors: Black, Dark Navy, Dark Beige, Brick