In praise of the silk scarf

So Rapha have added one to their range and quite sexy it is too but as ever it’s Rapha so it’s getting a knocking on the internet forums, part in jest, part in earnest. But a silk scarf or neckerchief is one of the best items any cyclist can have in their wardrobe when it gets cold, something a lot of people don’t seem to realise.

Fausto Coppi wore silk jerseys, made for him by Castelli, because he wanted a jersey that was light enough to keep him cool in the valleys but warm enough to stop him catching a chill in the high mountains and on descents. In that respect silk is pretty much an ideal cycling material.

Parachute silk makes for excellent gilet material thanks to the exceptionally fine weave of the material for blocking out the wind. That same fine weave in silk is also useful for keeping the sun off in the height of summer and an Alpine pass.

You’ll find that silk is also an excellent material for regulating body heat, and it’s what a lot of the best thermal underwear is made from. It’s exceptionally lightweight and has a low pack weight so isn’t as hot or bulky as thicker artificial fabrics or wool.

The neck is a particularly sensitive area and there’s plenty of heat that escapes from around it. There’s also a huge number of nerves sitting around the neck which need to be kept warm to avoid problems. How many cyclists protect their neck properly on winter rides? Very few.

A stiff neck due to cold was what fighter pilots used to dread as it made looking over their shoulder (ie “the lifesaver” as bikers refer to it) difficult. Pretty much every cyclist on the road would benefit from a silk scarf in winter from both a safety perspective of retaining mobility of the head and a heat retention one.

So just about the only thing you can knock Rapha for is pricing. Which when you look in the High Street at the same item they aren’t pricey – Reiss did a mens’ silk scarf either last year or the one before that which was fairly similar for 65 quid. A Salvatore Ferragamo one will set you back 110 quid in Harrods, and that’s for a top end label. Compared to a Hermes one even Ferragamo is cheap.

How do I know this? I own both a Reiss and a Ferragamo, and have worn the former for commuting in the coldest depths of winter. The latter I bagged in the sale marked down to a tenner which I couldn’t pass on but isn’t really suitable for cycling. I’ve also got two large silk hankies that will pass for neckerchiefs that I picked up in Reiss at the weekend for a mere 8 quid each.

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