In what passes for cold weather in the record fall heat of Southern California, I’ve been wearing a couple of pieces from Rapha. Our mornings are still cool, cool enough to require long sleeves if you’re on the bike before 8:00 in the morning. I’m going to volunteer a piece of information I don’t put out there a lot: I’m not a big fan of long-sleeve jerseys. The challenge of the long-sleeve jersey is one of proportion. It seems that rarely are both the hem length and the sleeve length of the jersey correct. I’ve had jerseys that fit my chest, but the arms reached beyond my wrists and the pockets hung as low as those on my jeans. I’ve found other jerseys where the hem was perfect, but the sleeves ended about where my old concert baseball jerseys did—mid-forearm.
Even when those proportions are right, there’s another detail that can ruin a long-sleeve jersey for me—sleeve circumference. Most cyclists I know don’t have big guns, so having sleeves that leave room for biceps that can curl 150 lbs. seems kinda silly. For a lot of cyclists, you just end up with extra material that flaps in the wind. If ever I had a pet peeve, it’s fabric that flaps like a flag left out in a wind storm.
You’ll pardon me if I say I was flat-out shocked when I tried on the both the Long Sleeve Jersey and the Lombardia Jersey and they fit almost perfectly. At my chest they were fitted just enough not to bunch up when I leaned down and put my hands in the drops. The sleeves reached to the end of my wrists and the cuffs are cut on a slight taper so that you don’t end up with exposed skin between the cuffs and your gloves. The hem was expertly cut as well. My preference is for my jerseys to be cut just a bit shorter, but these have a very traditional fit, short enough that there’s no chance of me catching the back of the jersey on the saddle when I go to sit down following a standing effort. And yes, the sleeves were snug enough they didn’t flap. Holy cow; it was a veritable fit trifecta.
The jerseys share a few other features as well; they are cut from a 52/48 Merino wool/polyester blend which means they offer the temperature regulating adaptability of Merino with the fit and finish of polyester. It’s a great match on paper (or in pixels) but honestly, these are only the second or third wool/poly blend that I’ve ever seen that didn’t look like a shortcut straight to the junkyard. The two outer pockets are cut at an angle to give you easy access and they are also a bit wider than the center pocket. A slim pump sleeve shares space with the middle pocket; it’s a great idea, but getting a mini pump and a vest into that space is nearly impossible. There’s a fourth, zippered security pocket for something you can’t afford to lose, like say a house key, or your sanity. The hems sport a silicone gripper and elasticized draw strings to keep the jerseys fitting snug on breezy days.
Where the Long Sleeve Jersey and the Lombardia Jersey differ is in closure. Not that one of them has unresolved issue, mind you. The Long Sleeve Jersey features a locking, full zipper. As simple and straightforward as hamburger. The Lombardia Jersey, because it is meant to evoke the spirit of Giovanni Gerbi, features a button closure on the left shoulder (five buttons) and at the sleeves (three buttons each). Also helping to distinguish the $240 Lombardia from the $220 Long Sleeve is the embroidery on the rear pocket—a brief homage to Gerbi who was known as il Diavolo Rosso (the red devil)—and just below the collar. It’s a choice piece, there’s no doubt. There’s also exactly zero doubt that trying to button or unbutton the shoulder to adjust for temperature changes is utterly impossible, at least while on the fly. The buttons on the sleeves are a bit more doable and if you unbutton all three buttons, you can pull the sleeves up, effectively turning it into a half-sleeve jersey, which is definitely helpful.
I’ve found these jerseys to be terrific with just a base layer from low 50s to the mid 60s. Anything warmer and I pull a Wicked Witch of the West and melt. For colder temperatures, the addition of a vest or windbreaker is all you need. Both garments are best-suited to days where the temperature won’t vary by 20 degrees as we’ve been dealing with here. They are both starlet gorgeous. My wife says she loves how the Moroccan Blue of the Long Sleeve Jersey matches my eyes, but my son saw me in the Lombardia and said, “Ooh, cool shirt!”
It’s worth noting that while the very first Rapha jerseys I saw were well-made, I didn’t care much for the finish of the fabric and I liked the cut and fit even less. These are noticeably better than those first efforts. If these jerseys don’t last people ten years, it won’t be for lack of quality. For those who think $220 is too much to spend on a jersey, there are other good options. This is one of those occasions where the cost of this garment can easily be justified by how long it’s going to last. I’ve examined the embroidery, the seams, the fabric. I could foresee buying a steel frame to match either of these and retiring them both in the same season.