Tested: Rapha Women’s Line
Rapha launched a very small line of women’s products earlier this year, which sparked some very lively and very interesting discussions around here. Now, they’ve launched another round of products, adding key pieces like the Classic Softshell, 3/4 Bib Short (yeah!), and Long-Sleeved Jersey. (They’re also releasing an iPhone app soon… and recently revealed a schmancy skincare line that includes Chamois Cream, Embrocation and Soap! Be still my beating product-whore heart! More on those at a later date.)
I didn’t actually get a chance to test drive the first round of gear (shorts, short sleeve jersey, stowaway jacket) until August, when Rapha very kindly gave me a kit to take with me on my touring adventures into Canada. My particular style of touring involves 10-12 hours of saddle time per day, so I had ample opportunity to discover every nitty-gritty detail.
- We’re all coming to cycling from different circumstances. I happen to be a self-identified gear whore. I also love fashion and I will pay for good design. I also ride hard and appreciate well-made products that last. Further, I expect to get what I pay for and I have a specific system for measuring worth and value.
- No, this stuff is not cheap. I think we’ve established that. It’s no secret that Rapha is a luxury brand – it’s expensive because it can be. I’m not going to get into a debate about the good or evil of luxury brands. I’m not going to get into a debate about economics, capitalism, or privilege. At least not here. Just sayin’. (Also, as I disclosed earlier, I did not pay for this particular stuff, though I’ve certainly dropped coin on similarly expensive cycling gear in the past.)
- I have I guess what you would call an athletic body type. I’m not big, but I’m not very small either. Also, I’ve got a really small rack (which I love, by the by) so I’m not able to comment on how this stuff will work for full-figured women. (But I just might dabble in conjecture.)
Women’s Stowaway Jacket in cream – $260.00
(Cream is seriously gorgeous, but this thing totally fucking sings in red.)
First Impressions: Super lightweight. Packs down small. Delightful off-center zipper and otherwise good design lines.
How I used it: This became a go-to layering piece for me almost right away. It’s ideal for chilly mornings over a short sleeve jersey (I skipped arm-warmers). In the on-again-off-again showers that plagued me on the way into Whistler, it kept me relatively dry even though it is not technically a rain jacket. They say this thing will keep you dry for 45 minutes of constant downpour and I’d agree – that’s just about right. The upside is that once the rain stops falling it dries in a heartbeat, effectively re-setting your 45 minute window so unless you’re rolling through non-stop liquid sunshine, it makes a pretty effective outer layer. I also loved wearing this jacket “around town” and received compliments on it in several bars even though it’s clearly a technical piece. I wore this jacket in clouds, rain, and sun in temps ranging from 43 – 65 degrees. (At 43 degrees I had arm warmers layered underneath.)
Left-handed pocket: The only thing that bothers me about this jacket is that the front pocket (a very handy pocket!!) is located on the left side because the off-center zip goes up the right side. Since I’m right-handed, I feel uncoordinated trying to work my fancy electronic devices with my left and found myself reaching to retrieve things with my left paw and then passing them over to my right paw. Obviously, this is an extremely minor gripe.
Light color: Some might consider the cream a liability, but I’m here to tell you that I toured with it for two weeks sleeping in tents and stuffing it into panniers and never managed to stain it. It washed up beautifully to boot. If you’re really worried about it, go with red. Red is SMOKIN hot.
Fit: I got a size 12, which translates to a medium. The fit is close to the body and Rapha has tailored this jacket with darts at the bust a flared hem to accommodate hips. For my body type, the fit was pretty solid and had the tailored-for-me feel that I’d expect from a garment of this quality with enough room for ample layering underneath. I might actually go for a 10 if I had a second run at it – slim and sexy and body-skimming!
Unexpected awesomeness: Taped shoulder seams are a really nice surprise and do well to block wind from the front. I was also pleasantly surprised by the super comfortable lycra cuffs which further blocked wind. Finally, the jacket was comfortable when zipped all the way up, which is usually something that irritates me (offset zipper plays a roll here).
Bottom line: Brilliant layering piece that works in a wide range of weather, temperatures and settings. Maybe not an ideal touring jacket (If I’m only going to have room for a single jacket, I’ll probably pack a fully waterproof one), but definitely will be my go-to layer for fall and spring road training. Slim fitting and possibly a challenging cut for the well-endowed among us. Do any curvy(er) ladies have experience with this jacket?
Women’s Classic Jersey in red – $195.00
Zipping around on bike trails during my birthday in Whistler. Rapha Classic Jersey ensured I looked good for my exciting and unplanned meeting with a black bear! Worn here with Outlier Women’s Daily Riding Pant.
Early morning sleepy eyes while training on Sauvie Island. Will someone please volunteer to cut the damn strap on my Lazer helmet?
First impression: Great hand feel – it felt substantial and high-quality. Pockets are deep with a zip compartment for securing keys and other small valuables. Fit is slim and perfectly long – zipper is smooth and supple (good thing, I like to do a lot of unzipping! : )
How I Used It: I brought two jerseys (oh the extravagance) with me to Canada. The other one was the Rapha men’s Swift jersey (also awesome, but doesn’t have a full zip). I wore the women’s jersey for all but one day of touring. It rocks. Layered over a thin Icebreaker short sleeve wool base-layer on chillier days, it was super snuggly. White DeFeet arm warmers (not wool) were enough to keep me warm during the cold days of this tour. For the record, this was a pretty temperate tour. The hottest day was about 87 degrees F (I wore the jersey without a base-layer) and the coolest was 43-ish.
Drawbacks: This jersey comes with arm matching arm warmers that are cream colors with a single line of red vertical piping. Hot, right? Right! They kill and I really wanted to wear them, but they were unfortunately way too small. I wore them on the first ride out with this gear but had to remove them pretty quickly as they were leaving indentation marks in my skin. Bummer! I believe that Rapha is addressing this sizing issue? I have pretty averaged sized arms and I’m pretty sure that these would only fit the tiniest of noodle-armed climbers (those cyclists that subscribe to the “your arms exist only to keep your face from hitting the bar” mentality).
Bottom Line: Solid basic piece that works in all kinds of weather conditions, layers well, and performs. The “grippy” stuff on the back hem keeps the jersey from riding up, the pockets have plenty of room for everything you might want to stuff in them, the hem adjusts with cinchers at the bottom. Dries quickly.
Women’s Short – $185.00
First Impressions: The short in this ensemble ended up being the biggest pleasant surprise. I have been previously vociferous in my disdain for shorts (favoring bibs instead), citing comfort issues around the waist. However, I soon discovered on my first tour around Oregon that riding for 10-12 hours very slowly demanded an entirely new set of features. For one thing, I wasn’t just peeing once on a 4 or 5 hour training ride – I was peeing several times over the course of the day, often in fairly suspect bathrooms or sani-cans. The first day I wrestled with removing a jersey from over the top of a pair of bibs after riding through dust and no-mans-land for four hours I realized the beauty of shorts. Ah ha!
(To summarize: bibs for training, shorts for touring. At least for me.)
It helps that these shorts solve many of the problems I’ve had with previous models. The fabric is the softest I’ve ever ridden in by far, so the waist-feel was not constricting or pinching (the waistband is also super wide). They rise significantly in the back, providing ample coverage and a high, secure fit. They’re cut wider in the hips and thighs with tapering legs. Leg grippers were effective enough to do their job without being leg-strangling bulge-makers of death.
Chamois! Oh the infinite, all-encompassing comfort! Seriously – the most instantaneously cozy chamois I have ever ridden in my life. Period. Just enough padding – not too thick and not too thin (I found some of the Rapha men’s chamois to be overly thick in the past.) This is by far the best thing about this item. So soft! So in love!
How I used it: Again, I carried two shorts on this bike tour. I reached for the Rapha short nearly every day. I rode for 6-10 hours in them, hung out in cafes, walked into restaurants, sat on curbs at corner stores, and pedaled forever and ever. Since I’ve been back I’ve used these shorts on several training rides when I didn’t want to deal with being a human billboard (or preferred to rock ninja style with the all-black Swift jersey). This is the first short that I’ve ever truly loved.
Big and long: I was warned that these would be long and they were. Maybe by an inch. Rapha tells me that they are shortening them for next year, which is good news. Sizing on this short was also a bit off. I expected all the Rapha apparel to have that small Euro feel (like Castelli) but these ran big. I took a medium but probably should have grabbed a small. In Castelli I usually wear a medium but can very easily fit into a large. I recommend ordering a size down in the Rapha short. I also find that these are so soft that they tend to be the tiniest bit “loose”. By loose, I don’t mean that they look baggy, but they occasionally catch on my saddle when I am practicing ‘cross remounts. Again, it’s possible that this is related to the fact that I should have selected a small instead of a medium.
Dry slowly: My biggest disappointment on the tour was the fact that the Rapha short didn’t dry as quickly as my others. I wanted to wear it every single day (forever and ever and ever) but there were mornings when my patented in-tent dry-hanging system (an admittedly flawed system) didn’t cut it and they were just too cold and damp to pull on. In everyday cycling/training circumstances, this wouldn’t matter at all. On the tour, it was an issue.
Hands down, the Rapha products are the best I’ve experienced. Beautiful fabrics that perform well in classic colors that don’t scream “I AM A WOMAN CANT YOU TELL BY MY PINK AND PURPLE FLOWER BULLSHIT!???” (Sorry, I got carried away. I have no love-loss for overly feminine and/or pastel cycling gear. I wouldn’t wear flowers or bad pastels in my normal life, so why would I want them on my cycling kit?)
Rapha has given me what I’ve been asking for – solid, performance-focused gear that looks smart, fits me well and feels good. Can they do better/more? Yes, they can. And I’m sure they will. They’re listening (feedback on the short has already been incorporated to design revisions) and growing the line. You want to tell them what you think or what you want? Let it rip in the comments section – I know they paid a close eye to our last round of apparel discussions (even chiming in) and I’m sure they’ll have an ear to the ground this time too.