The 1940s and 50s are often thought of as a golden era of cycling. Names like Coppi, Bobet and Anquetil spring to mind as icons of those years. Cycling and all its peripheries have come a long way since those hazy days, but in recent times the fashion and equipment of the era have had a renaissance, with cyclists clambering for classic frames and clothing brands introducing traditionally styled kit. One of these latest offerings is the Rapha Classic Polo, a slim-fitting design that harks back to the classic jerseys of this golden age.
The smart-casual polo is from Rapha's City range of clothing that is designed to look good both on and off the bike, with a sprinkling of cycling benefits.
The fit is slim while being loose enough to be comfortable on the bike; it's not an obviously 'cycling' cut but the back is dropped ever so slightly lower. The short sleeves are also elegantly slim and the wide, pronounced cuffs fit snugly around the upper arm. For Rapha aficionados familiar with its previous products, the cut is reminiscent of its (now archived) Merino Shirt.
The jerseys of the 1940s and 50s were most commonly made from trusty and dependable wool. The Classic Polo draws on this influence, but with a modern twist. It is constructed of a merino/polyester blend, with the proportions being 68/32 in favour of the wool. It's really comfortable against the skin and looks good too. The wool brings with it its usual cache of characteristics among which are breathability, durability, and anti-microbial properties, though the blend of materials mean these features are slightly muted in comparison to a 100 per cent wool shirt.
The Classic Polo is fairly minimal when it comes to details; its beauty is in its simplicity. There is a simple buttonless collar made from the same material as the main shirt, and a narrow, short open placket which is also devoid of any fastening. The absence of buttons gives a casual look and is welcome in warmer weather, allowing air to circulate, but it forfeits the option of buttoning up against a chilly breeze.
The front of the jersey features two chest pockets designed in the size and shape of the trademark Rapha horizontal stripe. They are simple flat panels with a small overlapping flap at the top, but with no secure fastening. The pockets look good, and have a romantic notion behind them harking back to the jerseys worn by Tour heroes of the post-war era, but in a practical sense they are pretty useless. Whether you're on or off the bike they don't serve a lot of purpose.
On the bike, anything in them pulls the front of the jersey down and it sags and swings about in front of you, and being unfastened the pockets don't offer much peace of mind either. Off the bike, anything bulkier than a ten pound note just looks strange. The only time it could be argued they'd be genuinely useful is when riding a recumbent, but quite frankly that's clutching at straws. The pockets definitely seem to be a case of form over function.
The Classic Polo is really comfortable to ride in; the simple design combined with the merino blend makes it lightweight and pleasant against the skin. It's breathable in warmer weather, wicks away moisture well, and stays fresh for a few rides.
Off the bike the polo looks great. It falls slightly nearer the casual end of the polo shirt scale but doesn't look out of place in the office, pub, or in the back garden with barbecue tongs in hand. There's nothing that says 'cyclist' about it, unless of course you happen to be hanging out with fans of 1950s cycling couture.
The Classic Polo comes in three different colour options: the light blue colour we tested, cream, and black. And the sizes range from X-Small to XX-Large, or chest sizes 33-45+ inches. There's nothing unusual about Rapha products and weighty price tags, so the slightly salty sum of £95 probably falls about where you might expect it to within the Rapha range. But when you start to look around at similar offerings from other brands, the price seems too high for what the shirt has to offer. Vulpine's similarly pitched polo shirt is £16 cheaper, is pure merino and comes with a few neat features, and Howies sells its merino blend polo shirt at less than half the price. That £95 just seems a stretch too far.
Stylish polo shirt that performs well on and off the bike, let down by the unusable front pockets and hefty price tag
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Classic Polo
Size tested: Medium, Grey
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Rapha Classic Polo is a slim fitting polo shirt/jersey that's part of the Rapha City range. It's for the 'cyclist about town' and is designed to look good off the bike and well as working well on it.
Rapha says: "An original polo with a classic aesthetic. A slim-fitting but casual polo neck in a merino-rich fabric that takes its style cues from the golden age of cycling. Two large front chest pockets recall the woollen jerseys worn by the superstars of the 1940s and '50s."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Rapha says: "The Short Sleeve Polo has a buttonless collar and a narrow placket, for a clean, minimal aesthetic, and the cut is derived from now-archived Merino Shirt."
Soft and breathable fabric
Narrow collar and placket
Two chest pockets
Well made, neat and tidy stitching that's robust as well as comfortable, and a double-stitched hem. The usual high standard expected from Rapha's kit.
In terms of all-round performance it works really well on the bike as well as off it. The only thing that lets it down are the front pockets; they're an aesthetic nod to the era it's modelled on but otherwise pretty pointless.
Super-comfortable on and off the bike.
I really can't find any reason why this polo shirt should cost £95. I've searched for reasons to try to justify it but I just can't. There are plenty of better value and better specced similar items available from other brands. Even when held up in comparison against other Rapha items it seems too pricey.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It gets full marks in the looks department: understated and stylish both on and off the bike. In terms of performance the materials and fit work well and it's feels good to wear when you're spinning the pedals.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The simple style, the fit and general performance on the bike.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The price and the kind of pointless front pockets.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No, maybe at a lower price.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No
Use this box to explain your score
It is a really stylish polo shirt with a great fit and is super-comfortable to ride in, but it's hard to ignore the concerns about value, and the front pockets seem to be a case of form over function.
About the tester
Age: 29 Height: 5'10 Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: KHS Flite 100 Singlespeed/Fixed, Genesis Equilibrium 20 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed
Oli has been a road.cc staffer since day one. He's the graphic design and photography force behind the site, and has got a keen eye for good quality, well designed cycling kit. You'll find him on his bike everyday whatever the weather, he's got a penchant for a steel frame and has had 'fit mudguards' on his To Do list for nearly 6 years now. Likes: cold toast, gin, rugby. Dislikes: fitting mudguards.