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Rapha Explore Gore-Tex hooded pullover review

1 Nov 2019
Verdict:

If it sorted its sagging pocket and baggy arms, this would be an almost-perfect product

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£250
For 
Extremely waterproof • A good final layer • Nice reflective designs
Against 
Not enough pockets in the right places • Arms are cut too big

The Rapha Explore Gore-Tex hooded pullover is the latest piece of the brand's adventure puzzle. Starting with technical t-shirts and bibshorts with side pockets, it's part of a push from the luxury British brand to appeal to the hip, adventure type. The Taylor Phinney's of this world.

The new Explore pullover is a relaxed half-zip that uses Gore-Tex technology to keep you dry, claims to keep you warm and comfortable and can even be converted into a pillow leading to Rapha claiming it is primed for 'year-round adventure' both on and off the bike.

So on face value, it's a bit of a jack of all trades. But is it a master of none? 

Waterproof, warmth, breathability

Anybody who has previously used Gore-Tex products will know that its slogan of ‘guaranteed to keep you dry’ is true news, not the fake guff so often pedalled when talking waterproof.

I found its magical membrane three-layer construction to prove impervious to even the most torrential downpours. Beading the water on top of the jacket it wouldn’t soak in and cause dampness, it would just simply run off.

And while I didn’t test it to the extremes of standing in the rain for five hours (because who’ll do that anyway?) I did wear this jacket to the football recently (after all, it’s designed to be worn off the bike too) and it did prove tough enough to keep out a whole 90 minutes of rain as well as a further 60 minutes of showers as we attempted to wade through the crowds to get the train home.

The storm hood also does the trick at keeping your dry. It’s tight to the head, and while it makes you look like an infantile turtle, it fits underneath a helmet and prevents any openings that could potentially let in the wet. And the locked zip, that keeps all water out too, which is definitely worth a mention.

Being so thin, do not expect the Rapha Pullover to be your saving grace against the most bitter of temperatures. But then again, it was never designed to be. In fact, with its a loose fit, it’s better off acting as a final layer over a base layer and winter jersey on the bike and a shirt and jumper off it.

Even with said layering to keep you warm, I cannot say it went too far the other way either, producing your typical boil-in-the-bag feel like some waterproof jackets. This pullover is breathable. 

Fit

Rapha describes the fit as a ‘relaxed all-terrain fit for comfort on and off-bike’ and I’d say that is a pretty spot-on assessment.

The body of the pullover is your traditional box-cut, no shaping, just a square fit that’s designed to be loose and unrestrictive for when you are spending those long days exploring the wilderness in the saddle.

For the average whippet cyclist, you may find your usual size is a little too baggy, even when taking to account it's a ‘relaxed fit’ and you may find yourself preferring a size down.

For me, the large did the trick which was ‘sizing down’ according to Rapha’s sizing chart. I found it was still loose enough to be comfortable and be worn as a final layer but fitted just enough to not billow in the wind and act as a makeshift sail when riding.

The arms do bunch like the sleeves of a Tudor monarch, however, which is fairly annoying when you ride. The material continued to gather around the upper arm and catch on the chest of the jacket, proving a tad restrictive at times. Probably my only concern in terms of fit.

Storage

Now I need to pick up on the pockets. Rapha has only used one for the Explore pullover. It’s large and on the chest and has internal mesh dividers to keep your Camus novel from your coffee scales and your moustache oil from your emergency avocado.

In practice, it makes sense. A large, easy-to-access pocket that’s not on the rear of the jacket, which when loaded, will sag below your saddle.

Yet in reality, the front pocket just creates an unwanted sag on your front which, when riding, gets in the way of your knees when pedalling. Even with just a phone, the jacket’s relaxed-fitting meant the front would droop down getting in the way.

To my mind, this can be solved by making the pocket tighter, therefore meaning there is less material to sag. Then to counteract the lost storage, add a small rear pocket, big enough for a phone or some food, in order to distribute your things accordingly.

In fact, I once had a Fed Perry x Bradley Wiggins pullover that had this combination and it worked a treat.

Also, a pullover designed for off the bike, like Rapha wants this to be, should have a kangaroo pocket on its torso to keep your hands from the cold and allow you to employ that Liam Gallagher leaning-swagger when walking down the road.

Honestly, pockets are vital for giving your hands purpose and without them just make you feel all awkward.

Extras

Rapha usually does the small things well and there is no exception with the Explore pullover.

Across the jacket, there are hi-vis details like on the chest and rear to keep you seen when riding at night and a neat piece of cord on the rear of the hood which allows you to hang up the jacket without having to hook it on the hood itself.

There’s a brushed microfibre material on the inside of the hood for comfort. It’s soft, preventing irritation and is lovely material to cosy up to when falling asleep on the train home, as I learnt firsthand.

Buy now from Rapha for £250

However, the biggest extra of them all is that this pullover actually doubles up as a makeshift pillow. Neatly folding into its own front pocket, the jacket soon becomes a ‘stuff sack’ for you to rest your head on during those overnight rides. A clever piece of design that, again, on a commute home from work, worked a treat.

Now, because this pocket doubles up as a pillow, you may think it contradicts my call for a small front pocket but I don’t think it does. I still think you’d be able to fit the entire jacket in itself with a tighter pocket and, if anything, the fact it's so tightly packed may result in a firmer makeshift pillow, just how I like it.

Price

Reading £250 on the price tag may be enough to make even Rapha’s most devout customers choke on their almond milk, but for a Gore-Tex product, it’s about on par with its competitors.

Berghaus Gore-Tex jackets are north of £200 and a Patagonia equivalent is over £300. Even cycling-specific Gore-Tex wear like the Castelli Idro is priced around £200.

There are some competitors using similar Gore-Tex technology that are cheaper but chances are the overall quality will not be as good. Plus, you know you’ll be paying a slight premium for the Rapha logo but that’s how things go for a premium product.

Conclusion

If you want a jacket for life on and off the bike which can be used for bikepacking adventures, a day of walking and trotting down the pub, then the Rapha Explore Gore-Tex pullover certainly does the job.

It keeps you dry, it layers to keep you warm, the reflective details keep you seen and the fact it doubles up as a pillow is pretty brilliant. Although, with its baggy arms and sagging pocket, you could be left frustrated by some of this jacket's finer details.

The Rapha Explore pullover is a jack of all trades and luckily it's a master of some.

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