When the clothing company Rapha turned ten, founder Simon Mottram asked if I could give him a quote for a commemorative book he was putting together for employees. I tried but couldn’t stop at a quote. Damn if Rapha hadn’t meant more to me than I’d known.
Two-thousand-and-four was the year I saw Rapha, the first Rapha there ever was, that now-iconic original black jersey. I knew the jersey was something extraordinary. Who wouldn’t? The aesthetic that we now consider established — classic without being retro, timeless without being safe, simple without being plain — was revolutionary. And the attention to detail astounded me.
But it was the idea of Rapha and, later, the expression of that idea, that helped alter who I am on the bike, and in my words, and in my life. Glory through suffering. The beauty of the ugly moments. The voice of the silence we all hear. The pure, near-embarrassing yearning to be: to be aware and appreciative of the working of our body and the pack around us and every moment that mattered, and to, goddamit, be — to actually become — that rider perched post-ride with feet on the loo in some private desolate noble despair, or to be the one looking up stricken and beatified at the cross on the hillside.
I was not alone, none of us were. We had found each other. I rode better than I ever had before in my life, and I wrote that way, too, and some of that magic year, maybe a lot of it, has stuck with me, and I have never been the same. And in the way that punk was never about the clothes but cannot be prized apart from them, some important and mysterious part of who I am is enmeshed with Rapha. And the only real thanks I can give for that is to ride in homage to how I should have done so all along.