Cycling the streets of New York poses its own unique set of problems, not the least of which is finding gear that doesn't make you look like a rolling advertisement. Fortunately, there are a few emerging brands that recognize the value in creating stylish, classic apparel with discrete branding. The British company Rapha develops high-performance clothing and accessories for the most demanding road racers and urban messengers around. From featherweight stowaway jackets to touring shorts that won't make you look like a sausage, smart tailoring, advanced materials and a decidedly non-geeky approach to cycle wear characterizes the label.
While capris went in and out of style years ago, the 3/4 pant remains a standby for the urban cyclist. Most bikers get around the chain issue by simply rolling up their jeans. For those willing to risk a raised eyebrow now and then, Rapha makes a 3/4 bottom as part of their Fixed range of apparel, pieces designed specifically to blend in with city styles. The Fixed Shorts ($205)—made from a water and stain resistant Schoeller Nanosphere fabric that manages to not look too techy—come with adjustable cuffs, zippered back pockets, and a slim foam seat pad.
The strongest weapon in Rapha's arsenal of urban gear is the Fixed Backpack ($145). I've always hated biking with an awkward bag clinging to my shirt and throwing off my balance, but I've been riding around the city with Rapha's pack for a week, toting my Powerbook and other freelance necessities from café to café, and I barely noticed it was there.
The Fixed Backpack is marked by a ridiculously slim profile that hugs your back, and a narrow width that enables you to knife through gridlock without worrying about catching any sideview mirrors. The outside is detailed with pin-dot reflective panels, waterproof zippers, and a series of back pads that will save your hunched spine. Inside, the suspended laptop pocket ensures a tight center of gravity, while a few carefully placed zippered pouches leave room for bare necessities. For those seeking a pared down commuter bag (on or off a bike), this is easily the best on the market.
Purchase Rapha gear on their site or through a select number of dealers such as Signature Cycles on the East Coast. They also publish an inspirational newsletter covering team rides and races, so sign up.
Also on Cool Hunting: Rapha x Paul Smith Cycle Jersey