Rapha is a premium cycling brand that started life in a London park in 2004. Founder Simon Mottram wanted to create clothing and accessories that could be worn atop a bike with pride – high-quality materials that would perform under road-racing conditions while looking good – from Merino wool arm and leg warmers to leather bike gloves handcrafted in Somerset. In 2007, the brand collaborated with designer Paul Smith; by 2010 the Sunday Times ranked the business as one of the 100 fastest-growing companies in the UK. This year, Rapha became official clothing sponsor to Team Sky Pro Cycling. They’re a force to be reckoned with in the cycling world – the Mr Porter of spokes style.
Sydney’s Crown Street store joins a selective list of international branches: London, Osaka, San Francisco and New York (opening soon). Each boutique organises local rides, races and events and Rapha stocks a discerning collection of apparel from base layers and jerseys to tailored shirts. However, Rapha is no longer just about the clothing. The store-cum-café is designed as a resting point for two-wheeled commuters, casual riders and passersby. And it's the culture of Rapha – post-ride protein shakes, pre-dawn espressos and halfway-home glasses of Young Henrys (coming soon) – that is attracting a buzz with Sydney’s cycling crowd.
The racks of clothing and shelves of accessories wrap around the café, which sits on both levels of the store. It’s open seven days a week, starting early and closing late. Imagining we’d mounted our fixies, Time Out sampled the Coulommiers cheese board, with green olives, walnuts, gherkins and honeyed crisp bread. It was one of the more indulgent options on the chiefly breakfast and light-lunch menu. There are all the usual barista-made coffee options, wholegrain porridge and seasonal fruit, pastries and fruit-toast packed with sweet glazed figs. For a heartier refuelling choice, there are Black Angus steak or Ploughman’s sandwiches, but the one that had us dreaming of oiling up the dusty bike was the musette bag: an on-the-go picnic of fruit, protein bar, coconut water and a fruit and nut log ($10).
The limited number of cycles in store, displayed as cycling eye candy rather than for purchase, says a lot about the romance behind Rapha. Buying a raincoat, shotting an espresso, bracing the morning chill are all part of the story. If you’re looking for new wheels we suggest you look elsewhere; if you’re looking for a new place to brunch and browse, point your handlebars to Rapha.