Rapha’s Trail range has been well received and is growing in scope all the time. Their new Trail Merino T-Shirts deliver more weather versatility and stink protection than pure synthetics, but dry and wear better than pure wool. Double shoulders help them hold shape too but the Rapha logo comes at a cost.
The cut of the T-shirts is more structured than you might notice at first. The shoulders have a front and rear seam rather than a conventional single seam right on the crest and the fabric between the seams is doubled up too. The underside of the arms uses a long triangular insert to avoid bunching in the armpit or pulling when you stretch for the bars. The open collar is piped and the cuffs on the long sleeved tee are scooped and shaped. You get Rapha’s signature left sleeve contrast fabric panel on short and long sleeved versions and a small ‘wind at your back, sun on your face” motto tag on the inside front hem.
While their called ‘Merino’ the ‘Performance Merino Off Road Wool’ is actually a 52 percent Merino, 48 percent Nylon blend, using RWS certified (Responsible Wool Standard) wool sourced from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The short sleeve comes in four colors, the long sleeve in two and there are 3/4 sleeve tops (£95, two colors) and fitted tanks (£70, two colors) in the women’s range.
While there are a vast range of Merino or Merino mix T-shirt options from bike brands or just general outdoor brands, the clever cut of the Rapha tops makes them noticeably better fitted on the bike without looking weird off it. The Performance Merino Off Road Wool mix still retains a lot of the warm when wet and stink fighting performance of pure Merino, but it dries noticeably quicker if you get damp from rain or sweat. Skin feel is excellent with none of the itch some sheep derived shirts can create and it wicks fast enough and retains warmth well enough to use as a base layer too, though pure synthetics will still disperse moisture faster. The double shoulder helps the shirts stay in shape and extends lifespan if you’re wearing a back pack. The mixed fabric can be machine washed at low temperature too so it’s not as needy as some blends we’ve used on laundry days. The way Merino can stay bearably fresh even after several rides reduces washing frequency and makes them great for multi-day adventures and/or rides that end with an extended social session. The casual styling works really well in this context too, so despite the 'Trail' tag they're great for gravel cruises and bikepacking too.
Merino mix tops make a lot of sense for mountain biking, especially in variable weather climates like the UK where their retained warmth when wet is particularly useful. Rapha’s blend is soft and clearly has a lot of Merino’s natural gains without the delicate, demanding wash, slow dry and shape loss downsides. The cut is really good too and the is wool ethically sourced, so while you are paying a premium you’re getting top performance and a clear conscience rather than just paying extra for the name.
Tech specs: Rapha Trail Merino T-Shirt
- Price: Short sleeve $115 / £90 / €105, long sleeve $130 / £95 / €115
- Sizes: XS to XXL
- Colors: Deep Blue (tested), Dark Grey, Olive Green, Pale Green