Rapha is a brand steeped in cycling history. Founded in 2004 by Simon Mottram when he spotted a gap in the market for stylish on-bike clothing, the British-based company has long since asserted itself as a market leader in its field. When the Tour de France visited the UK in 2007, Rapha’s sales soared. The roads of London became full of lycra-clad riders sporting the signature Rapha stripe, decked out in this trendy, technical, high-quality gear.
In 2013, Rapha made its name in the professional peloton at the highest level of the sport, sponsoring Team Sky. Basking in the glory of Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win, the North London-based brand picked up one of the biggest deals in cycling apparel, and stayed with Sky until 2017. It was a fruitful partnership for Rapha, who saw its jersey at the top of numerous podiums in what was one of the British team’s most successful periods to date.
In more recent years, Rapha has returned to both the men’s and women’s WorldTour, sponsoring Canyon//SRAM Racing until 2021 — a team notorious for its stylish jersey designs — as well as EF Education-EasyPost (we all remember the duck jerseys) and EF Education-TIBCO-SVB for the upcoming season. The brand has a strong presence in the grassroots cycling scene too, sponsoring a plethora of domestic teams and riders, as well as making various donations to grow the sport from the bottom up through the Rapha Foundation.
However, Rapha’s huge presence in the cycling community didn’t come from these initiatives alone. Such popularity among both professionals and amateur riders comes from an appreciation of the high-performance cycling clothing that the British brand has produced for over a decade. Made by cyclists who understand the requirements of their kit, Rapha has been a constant innovator, especially in its offerings for women’s apparel.
From specific race-cuts designed to fit the female anatomy, to handy magnetic straps that make nature breaks all the more enjoyable, Rapha kit sits comfortably as one of the most popular among the women’s cycling community. Priced at a reasonable point when compared to some of its competitors, the Pro Team collection sits at the top of Rapha’s offerings, designed for comfort at speed, with a compressive race fit for the serious cyclist.
Riding the Pro Team women’s winter range in a harsh British winter, we tested “the leading edge of Rapha’s performance technology, developed and proven from several years of close work with the world’s best cyclists”, ascertaining if it really is up to the elite standard it claims.
Women’s Pro Team Winter Tights
The flagship feature of Rapha’s Pro Team Winter Tights is undoubtedly the magnetic clasp on the rear of the bib tights, designed to make relieving yourself on the move a much less fiddly job. The clasp allows the bib tights to be pulled down without having to remove either your jacket or jersey. Rapha claims that only one hand is needed to undo the clasp, which is true, but should the strap move too high once pulling the bib tights back up, I found myself having to enlist the help of others on my ride to reattach the straps.
However, once fastened, the magnetic clasp was strong and responsive, and I felt no danger of it coming undone while riding. Rapha’s approach differs to that of brands such as Velocio, who instead use a ‘fly-free’ function, whereby fabric can stretch far enough to be pulled down by the rider without having to undo the bib straps at all, but it’s still an effective way of making pee stops much easier. Though I find the Velocio bibs slightly less fiddly, I can appreciate the efforts of Rapha in this department, unlike some of its competitors who don’t offer any solution to nature breaks on winter tights.
What Rapha may lack slightly in handiness when it comes to the easy-pee feature, they certainly make up for in the warm, protective qualities of the Pro Team tights. Likely my favourite feature of the garment was the thermal, high-waist panel that added further insulation to the torso, almost acting as a secondary baselayer to keep that all important core temperature high. The thermoroubaix fleece behind the knees and on the calves also ensured the rest of the body was kept warm and protected from any biting winds.
Treated with DWR (durable water repellent), the three-layer fabric at the front of the bib tights offered close to complete water resistance, certainly protective from road spray, with water only seeping through in the heaviest of downpours. Even in situations where the rain did breach the fabric, I still remained warm due to the windproof qualities of the garment. This DWR treatment extends under the chamois and lower back too.
Despite being suited to the coldest conditions — I would say that these bib tights perform best in temperatures below 10 degrees and maintain warmth when it drops close to freezing — Rapha has avoided adding too much bulk to the bib tights. They still feel comfortable and fast for those harder, intense efforts. Despite Rapha advising the selection of a bigger size for products in the Pro Team range, I found that the size Medium I tested was relatively roomy compared to other brands, with some slight gaping around the ankle that could be remedied by the addition of a zipper.
The women’s specific chamois hits the sweet spot — a perfect thickness with a fully moulded, seamless construction which makes the bib tights comfortable in both race position and when riding leisurely on the tops. Reflective panels on the rear of the bib tights ensure visibility in low light, a handy feature as the bibs do only come in a plain black colour currently.
Priced at £210, the Pro Team tights are expensive, but when compared to the Assos Dyora RS winter tights which are priced at £335, the cost is a little more digestible. However, Rapha’s Core range is a good alternative for those looking for quality kit on a budget, with the Core bib tights priced at only £110.
If you have the means, Rapha’s Pro Team tights are a staple in any winter kit wardrobe. They are extremely comfortable and are a perfect choice for those days when hard, fast efforts in cold or wet weather are on the menu. Clearly designed by those who ride day in, day out, there is an impressive attention to detail in the tights which goes a long way to justify the price point.
Women’s Pro Team Winter Jacket
When browsing Rapha’s website, what surprised me the most was that they describe the Pro Team winter jacket as possible to be used as a ‘third layer’, which means it may need both a base layer and jersey underneath on the coldest of days. Perhaps a testament to the quality of the jacket, I couldn’t imagine needing an additional layer, aside from a long sleeve baselayer, to keep warm when wearing it.
The fleece lined inner of the jacket kept me toasty throughout my rides, and made the prospect of leaving the house in grim conditions a little less daunting. Like the bib tights, the jacket is coated with DWR, but a waterproof shell over the top is necessary in heavy downpours. Thanks to Rapha’s innovative combination of fabrics — the front uses a denser fabric for added protection while the back of the jacket is stretchier and more open to expel heat — the jacket was extremely breathable, even when I was doing hard efforts on the road.
Like all of Rapha’s Pro Team collection, the jacket has a close-fit, meaning it is cut relatively short at the front and has a longer rear to protect from any spray from the roads, something that was especially helpful when in race position on the drops. A high cut neck is another feature which adds warmth, even meaning I left my buff at home some days.
Giving merit to the claim that Rapha’s Pro Team range has been developed with professional riders is the attention to detail in the jacket, optimising it for long rides which might involve some harder efforts. Deep pockets allow plenty of room for spares and gels, while the additional zip pocket gives protection for any valuables. An oversized zipper means the jacket can be undone or zipped up when wearing gloves, an essential feature in cold weather.
I tested the plain black version of this jacket, which, admittedly, wasn’t the wisest choice when considering visibility out on the roads. Though it has some reflective panels, Rapha’s bright orange alternative is probably a better option should you anticipate riding in low light regularly.
Costing £180, the Pro Team jacket comes in at a very reasonable price compared to that of other well-known cycling brands. For the cost, the jacket is of exceptional quality and is a contender for one of the best cycling jackets I’ve tried. Rapha strikes the balance between warmth and breathability perfectly, meaning the jacket could be used for a multitude of seasons: in spring or autumn with a thin base layer, or in the depths of winter with a thicker layer underneath or waterproof shell over the top. When considering how much potential use it is possible to get from the garment, the price is even more easily justified.
Rapha’s Pro Team Winter Collection offers premium, elite quality clothing at reasonable cost. If you’re looking for kit to keep you constantly warm, but which doesn’t feel bulky or lead to a risk of overheating when doing efforts, then Rapha is a great option. The women’s specific cut and innovative features make the kit especially suitable for female athletes, clearly tried and tested by the professionals themselves who ride day in, day out.