A cyclo-cross specific jersey? Really? Scoff if you must but Rapha's Cross Jersey does manage to address a few issues inherent to 'cross racing that other disciplines typically wouldn't have to deal with.
For example, the stitched-in pad on the right shoulder does a good job of ameliorating the pain of long run-ups – not to mention staving off bruises in that area afterwards – and there's little need for storage during races so pockets are minimal.
Last year's single zipped pocket (handy for car keys while you're on course) is now supplemented by an open piggybacked pocket that's perfectly sized for a bottle during warm-ups. The usual lateral pockets are eliminated so there's no extra material to snag on your bike when running barriers or fill with mud on especially nasty days.
Since 'cross events are typically held in cool-to-cold weather, Rapha wisely build the Cross Jersey with a mid-weight Sportwool material (78 percent polyester, 22 percent Merino wool) that does an excellent job of keeping you warm and comfortable in moderately cold conditions but with excellent breathability – a key factor when you're anaerobic for nearly an hour.
Other details are also well thought out. The lower hem is lined with silicone to help it stay put, there's a drawstring to seal drafts, the asymmetrical cut to the cuffs smartly seals the gap between jersey and glove, and even the seam that joins the high collar to the main body is lined on the interior to prevent skin irritation.
More fundamentally important, however, is the superb tailoring that yields a natural fit and feel across your body when hunched over the bars and excellent construction quality – at least two dozen machine washings in there's nary a hint of wear.
As is typical with Rapha, the aesthetic is pleasingly classic without going over the top, with an understated dark green body, black side panels and a trademark red band across the left arm. Whether or not it appeals to you, it's certainly distinctive.
With all that being said, the Rapha Cross Jersey suits its intended audience very well – albeit with the familiar premium price – but its versatility is also notably limited outside of the arena.
Those side pockets that are eliminated for 'cross would be convenient for general training rides and without them riders are forced to either go without, stuff everything into a saddle bag or don a hydration pack. The shoulder pad isn't necessary outside of 'cross, either, but there's little clue it's even there save for the subtle quilting.
Do we love it for 'cross? Absolutely. But just be wary of the Cross Jersey's specificity before pulling out your wallet.