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.

*

Caveats

  • 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.)

Drawbacks:

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.

Drawbacks

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.

Overall Impressions

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.

Possibly related (automatically generated) posts:

  1. Tested: Rapha Women’s Winter Tights A few weeks ago, Rapha sent over the Women’s Winter...
  2. First Look at Rapha Women’s Line I can’t wait to get back to Portland to get...
  3. Rapha Women’s Sale: 50% Off on Monday, Feb 28 I’ve just started writing for Rapha. They’re having a sale....
  4. With Love to My Rapha Cross Bibs Even in this crazy cycling world of constant upgrades and...
  5. Tested: Veloforma 2010 Custom Kits by Castelli The team kits came in at the beginning of March...

12 comments

  1. I am biting my tongue really, really hard as I read this post.

    I wrote on the topic of Rapha and sizing for bigger women last year. I even got a nice email from them inviting me to check out their [then] soon-to-be-released women’s line of cycling clothing. One look at their sizing chart told me all I needed to know. I thanked Rapha for their invitation and suggested that they consider making their sizing range bigger. Pretty much the end of the discussion right there.

    I’ll say it again: There are women who would gladly pay a [bleep] ton of money for good cycling apparel if it only came in their size. Rapha should stop waiting and start sewing womens’ jerseys and jackets in bigger, taller sizes. Especially in the red.

  2. Point taken. I’m not totally sure that you’re actually biting your tongue – and I hope that you don’t!

    I can only review products based on my personal impressions and experiences with them. I’m small to average size. I pointed that out in the caveats.

    That’s one of the reasons that it’s helpful to put this stuff out in a public forum like this. You know? Let’s hear it. That’s what I’m saying.

    I’m glad you left the comment for them to see. I think that many times these companies aren’t producing greater size ranges because they don’t think that the stuff will sell – we should take every opportunity to tell them that it will.

  3. It’s not all bad. At Interbike this year I chatted with the proprietor of a womens’ cycling line which actually offered jerseys in my size — I won a drawing for a free one and it’s quite comfortable — but she couldn’t stay away from cutesy colors and graphics, which makes me loathe to wear the thing in public.

    I can make Rapha’s men’s stuff work for me, even with being more endowed and taller (my long limbs and chest help take up some of the length so it doesn’t look silly). But it fits like a woman wearing mens’ clothing. It would be lovely to be able to wear more from Rapha than their caps and arm warmers, you know? Especially since they make stuff in non-cutesy colors…

    ..::sigh::..

  4. I had suspected that Rapha was a going to be one of those brands I’d roll my eyes at for those who were wearing it but secretly covet. So when recently I came into a windfall of dough, I pulled the trigger on the stowaway jacket and 3/4 bib knickers. For my height and figure (5’8″, ‘curvy’), these items were not only functional, but good god did they actually FIT. They fit around my full chest. They fit around my smaller waist and generous hips.

    My major gripe with men’s clothing is exactly that – it’s cut for men. I either have to squeeze my curves into the shape of a tube or let all that extra fabric of a larger size just flap in the wind, which is not exactly the wings I imagine having when I’m on a killer descent.

    So all in all, is this stuff ridiculously expensive and flashy in it’s own, too cool for school branding? Well, yes. But so is my carbon fiber bike. So is my hand built track frame. For once, I’m not thinking about XYZ of what I’m wearing that’s not working for me, I’m just RIDING, and isn’t that the point?

  5. …and I thought Trek and Specialized had sent a very resounding message the past 2-3 years: Women don’t like pink… they actually only like baby blue.

  6. Lovely review, Heidi! I will second Beth’s sentiments about the sizing. I am willing to pay an arm and a leg if I can find something that will cover generously sized mammaries. While I understand that companies want to produce clothing that will sell, if they would produce it we would buy it. For serious, Rapha!

  7. Great review, ordering up the shorts and jacket based on your feedback.

  8. Heidi

    What size do you take in the Outlier pant. I live in the UK and your comments on the Rapha sizing seem spot on for my size. I have the Classic Jersey, Softshell, Stowaway and 3/4 Bib shorts, all in size12/Medium. They all fit me perfectly with the exception of the bibs. I should have got a small.

    Just come upon your blog. Loving it.

    • Nicole – The Outliers I have from last year are size 8. They still work just fine, but I think with the work I’ve done on my body in the past six months, if I order again I will go with a 6 and expect it to be totally spot on. The 8′s were PERFECT for a long time. Such a great touring piece. Dress pants that you can ride in – incredible!

  9. I’m so glad you have the same feelings on the pallet for womens cycling apparel. I get incredibly aggravated when I all I can find in the shops are pink, purple, light blue, or flowers. That’s never been me and I hate being pigeon holed into it. This sport can certainly be sexist sometimes.

  10. well, i’ve not yet tried Rapha (other than a cap), but when i got the info about the Rapha Summer Sale yesterday, i decided to try a few pieces. i ordered only one woman-specific piece–the black gilet in small. the other pieces were all men’s tops in merino, and the three quarters shorts in what will probably be a size too small. i know, though, i can return for credit or exchange, so this is a good chance to try some Rapha. i’m hoping for a good fit.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Rapha Women’s Sale: 50% Off on Monday, Feb 28 | Grit & Glimmer - [...] water for about 45 minutes and dries almost instantaneously. I did a longer review of this jacket here. I ...
  2. Geargals, Outdoor Gear Reviews for Women - [...] believe it! It looks great, functions great, and I don’t even have to wash it. Amazing. Heidi Swift of ...
  3. 2011 Ultimate Cycling Gift Guide | Bikeridr - [...] Heidi likes ‘em, you probably will too ;-) Made from a luxury mesh material with a large cutaway [...]
%d bloggers like this: