Rapha Cycle Club is altering my mental image of what a biker bar is. For one thing, the walls are all really white. For others, I can shop, I can order a cup of Four Barrel and a Telltale Preserve croissant, I can watch the Tour de France – but I can't have a beer.
That's because it's a clothing shop, mainly. But as manager Emily Haddad (who Rapha imported to SF from her gig at an Austin bike shop specifically to work at the new space) tells me, it's so much more.
“It's a bar, but one where everyone's drinking coffee.”
It's also a bar where everyone's drinking coffee that opens at six a.m. on some days – those being when the Tour de France is on TV, or Italy's equivalent the Giro D'Italia. On those days Haddad says there can be twenty bikers in the sleek Marina storefront, sitting and standing around the long, low table in the middle of the room that's speckled with vintage biking photos and ephemera, watching the race and chatting amongst themselves.
Rapha is a British cycling clothes brand that debuted in 2004 with a multimedia exhibition called “Kings of Pain.” It now has an office in Portland, Ore., has opened a similar "social shop" in Tokyo, and a mobile club -- a van with similar intent that is cruising Europe this summer, stopping in places like Alpe D'Huez, France. The dominant colors of the line are grey and, complexly, pink – a homage to the Maglia Rosa, the pink jersey that is wore by the standings leader in the Giro D'Italia.
Here is a Graeme Fife – the playwright and cycling journalist – quote the company feels illustrates its ethos. It is, in fact, written on the shop's wall:
The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet the steady dignity that simply refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going.
Rapha Cycle Club San Francisco is the first yearround cafe the label has opened – a four seasons timetable that was decided, one assumes, when Haddad and Rapha brass realized that SF's “summer” is not really the height of cycling season.
Tucked into my favorite Marina intersection (its neighbors are John Campbell's Irish Bakery and Real Food Co. grocery store), the shop-cafe is mere blocks from the hill that separates the neighborhood from the rest of San Francisco to the south.
One end of the long table meant for coffee-drinking and the cheering-on of jerseys holds a glass curio case dedicated to Eddy Merckx, the dashing Belgian who many consider the most accomplished cyclist of all time (five Tour de France victories, three world championships, breaker of the world hour record). The case houses two commemorative plates, and amazing retro keychains that proclaim Merckx a world record holder. There is also a small photo gallery in a loft space upstairs, with rotating exhibitions that currently feature black and white images of men grimacing in pain.
One imagines road bike ironpeople inspired by Merckx or the steady dignity on the shop's flatscreens purchasing a pink jersey and turning bike wheels resolutely to the mountain rising up from Rapha's front door. Even if this is not quite the case, the shop is the ideal jump-off for friends meeting up to bike to the Marin Headlands, joining the phalanxes of sharply-Lycra'd bicyclists on those hills.
With its sleek, get-er-done ethos Rapha Cycle Club would be a really good stop for all those businesspeoples that complain about not being able to ride their workclothes on their bikes. The shop sells a very expensive (but maybe worth it? I find men's dress clothes hard to judge) blazer made by British bespoke tailor Timothy Everest that buttons up, and together, has a sharp little pocket on its back, and is made of fabric that gives enough to encourage light physical exertion.
It also sells similarly functional gingham dress shirts. One guy was trying on a pink, short-sleeved number when I was in the shop, wondering out loud if he could pull it off. Everyone in the store encouraged him to try. Or rather: Keep going.
Rapha Cycle Club
Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
2198 Filbert, SF