It’s a generally accepted truth that Rapha make some nice kit. They also charge an arm and a leg for most of it. Aside from that, Rapha have proven adept at marketing a representation of cycling; mining the past for gritty truths, digging down until they hit a seam of glistening heroism, then selling it on for their slavering punters.
Their latest wheeze is a global cycling club with an annual membership fee of £200 and a limited number of members. Any application requires a 100-word tiebreaker describing ‘the perfect ride’. I could have a go now; “Any ride completed in its entirety without the presence of a ‘rider’ clad head-to-toe in rapha threads, astride an overpriced and underused bongo-rocket.”
There is a huge amount of ire aimed at Rapha, most of it from people who baulk at the constant self-mythologising, over-priced trinkets and endless epicness. The new ‘club’ consists of 16 ‘chapters’. Last time i saw anyone who was a member of a ‘chapter’ they were all heading off to do some motorpacing.
Like all modish industries, Rapha have a ‘brand manager’. I suspect they have a host of other 21st Century job titles on offer, . According to the Raphaspeak, each ‘chapter’ has a ‘concierge’ who is able to help the hapless Raphanaut navigate the mean streets of an unforgiving new urban environment and serve up a complimentary flat white, no doubt with some funkalicious latte art and grainy footage of Belgian hard men to inspire the current generation of weekend warriors. An identical Rapha in every identical global city? Check.
The motto for the new club is “Ex Duris Gloria” or something like that. There’s a startling disconnect between any notion of suffering and the reality of this enterprise. Rapha is just another bogus symptom of late era capitalism (although even the term ‘late capitalism’ seems irrevelant, the system just marches on in a rapacious, money-grabbing goosestep). It fits securely within Baudrillard’s notion of simulacra and simulation, saving the cycling principle for legions of soft-pedaling schmucks, seduced by a hideously expensive fluffing and packaged softshell heroism. Rapha have elevated the concept of suffering with no accompanying reality. It is the apotheosis of the hollowness of modern bike riding and the shabby, empty lives of the current wave of corporate acolytes, lured away from a life on the golf course by the promise of a new kind of perjured authenticity.
All this bluster belies one thing. Rapha exists because it reflects what certain people want, and they’re very good at it. They’ve also elevated the concept of monetary value over material usefulness to an artform.