New to Rapha’s gravel and bikepacking clothing range for AW20/21, we put the Explore Long Sleeve Pullover to the test.
After trying out a selection of the first Explore kit, especially the Rapha Explore Fleece earlier in the year, we were keen to find out whether Rapha had made improvements with their second autumn/winter range. Introducing the Long Sleeve Pullover; a combination of insulated fleece and windproof materials in a loose cut with minimal detailing, available in men’s and women’s sizing from XS to XXL.
Tested over a series of rides from long gravel day outings to MTB sessioning, from warmer autumnal days and drizzle into the first cold snaps of winter, we can share with you our thoughts on this new addition to Rapha’s range.
The most noticable part of the Explore Long Sleeve is the use of a soft and very warm gridded fleece material, named Polartec® Power Grid™. This fabric has been selected for being highly insulating but also breathable, thanks to the grid pattern of tiny holes, similar to that used in the Explore Fleece.
Contrasting to this soft fleece, the shoulders and outer arms feature windproof panels on top of this fleecy shell. Assuming the on-the-bike position, it’s these areas that I think of as the ‘leading edges’, and are more prone to chilling from the passing cold air.
Besides being windproof, this material has been wonderfully water repellent too, which is really handy for changeable weather and autumn drizzle, as well as road spray and puddle splashes!
Sections of the cuffs and the rear hem are finished with a light patterned elastic, to give a slightly more snug fit but without being restrictive.
If it weren’t for the slightly rustling windproof panels, you could totally double this up as a casual top for off the bike, but those really do come into their own too.
The fit is a loose, generous and non-restrictive, ideal for off-road riding where you might need to be more dynamic to tackle more challenging terrain.
I tested a women’s size medium and it was a little on the big side perhaps, but true to Rapha’s usual sizing as I’m usually between a small and a medium for their jerseys.
For milder days, it can be worn as a single layer on top, or paired with an outer shell layer for colder wintery days. Although made of an insulated fleece fabric, the pullover itself is very thin and not bulky.
Aside from the clever material choices, there are very few features to note, which in itself is not a bad thing.
There’s a single zipped pocket on the right upper arm, with a welded zip opening and pocket measuring 20 x 10 cm. Although that’s generous for most modern phones, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, as the fit here is loose and not suitable for any heavy items.
A card or few notes would be fine, although I’m sure you’d have other places to stash that if you were heading off-road with all your tools, spares and snacks to carry too.
Having slated the pocket; there’s no real disadvantage to featuring it and not using it.
The keen-eyed among you will notice a small bright pink loop on the reverse, which Rapha states ‘makes drying the top easier after the ride’. I don’t know about you, but when I get home it goes straight in the laundry basket, if not the washer, especially as it’s a synthetic 84% Polyester/ 16% Elastane blend.
Perhaps another unnecessary feature, but not a disadvantageous one.
Branding and details are subtle for the pullover, and a choice of dark colours are welcomed when potentially staining mud is inevitably involved.
In the men’s fit, you can choose from either navy or a deep green, and women can choose between navy (on test here) or purple with navy sleeves.
All the colour options feature Rapha’s four ‘signature stripes’ stitched across the chest, as well as the Rapha logo printed in a reflective logo on the left chest.
Explore Long Sleeve Pullover verdict
When I think back to testing the Rapha Explore Fleece last spring, I can see some vast improvements here.
The fleece was bulky, with a large gridded fleece pattern that the wind whistled through while riding through the cool air.
In contrast, the new pullover is thin and light, making it a more favourable layer for bikepacking, and the gridded fleece is much finer. This is really warming, and when combined with the thin windproof material on the ‘leading edges’, eradicates the cooling effect that I previously experienced with the fleece.
The main issue I’ve found with the pullover hasn’t been the relaxed fit or the combination of materials, but finding the perfect conditions to wear it in! In other words, the insulated material works so well that it’s pretty hot even in pretty chilly weather.
When I think back to the depths of last winter, there were a few snowy or very cold rides where I wore an insulated jacket, and those are the kind of rides where I see this mid layer really excelling in.
Dependant on where you live and ride, £120 may be good value if you have plenty of opportunities to wear it, or less good value if you’re climate is a bit warmer, or if you tend to run hot like me!
The dark colourway is a clear winner. This top has been through the wash maybe a dozen times already, usually in a very mucky state, and always comes out in top condition.
So if really cold weather riding is on the cards this winter, I’d say it’s worth a look at least.
Based up in Peebles in the Tweed Valley, Scotland, ADVNTR team member David has also been putting the Explore Pullover through its paces.
Alternatively, the Explore Long Sleeve Technical Tee features the same relaxed cut without the insulation for a little over half the price (£65, €75, $90) in a few more colour ways for more versatile layering.
Rapha Explore Long Sleeve Pullover£120 €145 $165
- Very warm insulating gridded fleece material
- Generous, non-restrictive fit
- Windproof sleeve panels work well and are water repellent too for light rain and splashing
- Shoulder pocket is pretty useless
- Only suitable for niche weather conditions
Last modified: 30th November 2020