Rapha Fail encore?

When I wrote how Rapha got the French and Italian colours mixed up on their “Country Jersey”, it became the most popular item on here in March, thousands of people visited these pages, including, I think, some people from Rapha.

Well now they have a new item in time for the Tour de France, the Tourmalet Jersey… and this time there’s another blunder.

Imparfaitement passable


The Tourmalet is the one of the highest mountain pass in the Pyrenees and was first added to the Tour de France in 1910 . The story goes that the organisers of the Tour de France, the newspaper L’Auto, sent one of their men, Alphonse Steines, to investigate whether the race could cross the Pyrenees.

To cut a long story short, Steines made his way up the Tourmalet but conditions were so bad that he ended up needing rescuing. Yet far from being wary, soon as the hypothermia subsided, he fired off a telegram to Paris saying the road was “perfectly passable”. It’s a great example of how the early editions of the race were not so much sporting competitions but extreme tests of endurance and character. The upcoming Tour de France will pay tribute to the 100th anniversary with two visits to the Tourmalet.

Rapha – always ready to evoke the legends of our sport – have a new jersey to revive this tale. As they put it:

The chest of the jersey is embroidered with a Tourmalet logo, beneath, in French, is Alphonse Steines’s famous assessment of the mountain: ‘Parfaitement Passable.’

Only they’ve got it wrong. Steines never wrote parfaitement passable. The immortal telegram featured the words parfaitement praticable. This is a replica jersey that fails to replicate the original words.

Lost in translation
Not only that, it’s using mistaken French. Passable and praticable are not the same thing. French linguists call some words faux amis or “false friends” because people leap to translate them, it looks as if Rapha has just assumed passable means you are able to pass. Look up passable in the Larousse dictionary and it says “qui est d’une qualité moyenne; acceptable“, in other words passable means something of average quality, something acceptable. It doesn’t mean you are able to pass by, to go over. The correct word here is praticable. Ironically Rapha wanted to celebrate the unique legend of this tortuous pass but the slogan on the front of the jersey translates as “perfectly average”.

Once again I’ll repeat that if you’re going to rip off a foreign culture, do it right. Maybe you’ve seen the website engrish.com, it mocks foreign attempts to appropriate the English language. Rapha are in danger of doing exactly the same.

Not always that authentle

A reminder
If you want to cash in on the French heritage of the sport, either employ someone with a precise command of French linguistics… or just email me and I’ll sort you out for a small sum.

15 thoughts on “Rapha Fail encore?”

  1. True Mark, just as people buy Chinese clothing with silly phrases. It's still a jersey, the ride is no different.

    But if you want to cash in on the heritage of a foreign culture with a US$200 jersey, then a few minutes of homework helps ensure the replica replicates.

  2. I still wonder what's the buzz about rapha.
    OK, I have never worn any clothing by them, so they might be outstanding in quality but i kind of doubt that. They really look like a perfectly pulled of marketing thing.
    And for a brand going so on about the "little details" they make awfully big mistakes…
    I hope your comments on that topic don't go sown in the vastness of the internet, which the rapha people used so well to produce their image.

  3. Suppose you might be a bit more cautious with your "gotcha" reporting. It's Inspiration not Replication. While they say they've used his 'replica signature', Rapha isn't saying it is a 'replica jersey' of anything now really. Seems to me that is more a commemorative jersey, so perhaps you take notice that someone has put the effort to celebrate the Tourmalet with any sort of style.

  4. Hi ErikDV, that's a fair point. We're going to see many celebrations of the Tourmalet thanks to the upcoming Tour. Standby for endless repetitions of myths from Octave Lapize and Eugène Christophe.

    No doubt it's a fine jersey but I do feel that a $200 jersey should at least try to get the words right, otherwise the balance between an "effort to celebrate the Tourmalet" and cashing in through the appropriation of a foreign culture risks swinging the wrong way.

  5. Nobody is perfect, who cares, they make great stuff, the Rapha people are great people and they have been doing some great things for cycling and are a leading light in the UK, and there are those of us who adore them even if they make the odd fuax pas. Let them be, move on with your life…….

  6. Charlie, no worries, life hasn't stopped because of this. It's only a translation gaff on a jersey.

    But it's just an amusing gaff, and I think some people expect high standards from them – the photography is nice, the tailoring gets good reviews and people say the service is good. So it's a shame they can't get the design right for a few items.

    One thing worth noting is that the mere mention of Rapha on here brings out the comments and many extra readers.

  7. Thanks for the comment Joe, it's appreciated. Indeed it's not a precise affair but I still suggest the French isn't quite right. But only nit-pickers like me will notice and besides you don't sell much into France.

    Cycling is a sport built on myth and it's quite possible Steines felt a bit cold at the top of the mountain and perhaps spoke to a shepherd… and the story ends up citing rescue from marauding bears, blizzards and hypothermia.

    After all the tale of Eugene Christophe has been exaggerated by some to impressive lengths, usually by the race organisers in their attempts to liven up the race.


  8. Hello Mr Inner Ring,

    I work for Rapha and helped do some research for this jersey. Whilst I didn't play a part in the final design of the jersey, I am very pleased how it turned out. I think you have a point about the 'slogan' on the jersey as I've read "parfaitement praticable" from some sources… But we went with what we believe translates as "perfectly acceptable". I'm sure your grasp of French is much better than mine but we did check the phrase with a French linguist… What matters is we are paying tribute to the Tour and the pioneers of the sport.

    When we read historical sources we need to leave room for error I think and, as you wrote in another post to do with Rapha Racing Ltd. regarding the inspiration for the company's name, "like a lot of history, it's never as clear cut as it seems". Indeed, some people suggest Steines crossed the Tourmalet in January 1910, others say July. As you and others write; Steines was rescued from the mountain with hypothermia, others suggest he made it back down to Bareges alone.

    Great blog, keep up the good work.


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