The last month in Europe has had a lot of super hot days, so we’ve been thinking a bunch about early morning rides and lightweight kit. At the end of the spring Rapha came out with a couple of new Pro Team level pieces that teased us with the idea or keeping cool as the mercury rose. We’ve since had a chance to take their new Pro Team Lightweight Bibs and Climber’s Jersey up (and down) a couple of alpine climbs and across a slew of European roads to see what they truly had to offer. We also spent some time with one of their special edition trade team jerseys to see if it was all show or could keep up.
Read on past the jump to see how this summertime Pro Team kit stacks up against other offerings, whether it’s worth its price, and to see the value of a Pro Team jersey current on sale…
Pro Team Climber’s Jersey
Starting off, the Pro Team Climber’s Jersey has a really light feel, while not being overly transparent like some similar jerseys. It is essentially an all mesh jersey, with a structured mesh body and even more open mesh fabrics on the sides and especially under the arms. The highly visible orange (coral) of our tester is always a nice touch when you are trying to be seen, but less striking white and black are also available (although the white is quite transparent.) Between the tight Pro Team fit and the soft open fabric, the jersey feels great next to the skin, and doesn’t want or need a base layer for any riding above 21°C/70°F. Adding a light base layer did give it some more temperature versatility, though. And a light vest paired nicely for big mountain descents.
The jersey seems to work great at wicking generally, when paired with light bibs, but strangely always seemed to leave a damp spot between the shoulder blades (out of the wind behind the head.) On less humid days this was actually pleasant and helped us stay cool, but could be stifling when it was both hot and humid. My guess is just that the more sturdy mesh base material of the back dries a bit more slowly than the sides and sleeves, and so this area out of the wind took longer to get rid of moisture.
The jersey is more light and streamlined than most jerseys Rapha sells, so there is no zippered pocket and thus a bit simplified overall rear layout. The pockets did seem sturdy and were up to the task of handling a load when they were stuffed full (there is reinforced stitching to support the pockets), but more importantly for a light jersey, the inside of the pockets against your back are made of mesh for extra venting/breathability so they don’t end up with a hot spot from doubled fabric at the pockets. Plus, under those Pro Team stripes was a stitched-in lens cloth (that can be easily removed) that was greatly appreciated on more than one sweaty occasion. Although more than once it did end up as a flag flapping in the breeze after stuffing things in and out of the pocket all day. Unfortunately with the lighter more flexible fabric, the rear hem never really stayed in place. Especially when the pockets were full, bouncing along the road or trail pulled the jersey up, but it never made its way back down. So pretty much any time the road or trail got rough, we ended up with the rear of the jersey creeping up our back under the stuffed pockets, exposing the shorts up to the bib straps.
While the jersey felt airy when it was hot and dry (30+ and <30% humidity), when it got humid it felt like a normal jersey again. At 25° and 80% I had to unzip it on every climb (and even a mesh baselayer exaggerated the effect). Rapha’s own Pro Team Baselayer has a similar compressive fit, and while it does a great job keeping you dry, it seems to be too warm on any ride above 21°. We’ve turned to using the Pro Team Baselayer from autumn though to spring, but especially with a jersey trying to feel cool the Pro Baselayer gets the summers off. A lot could be marked down to the tight fit that felt a bit constricting when it got too humid and wasn’t venting fast enough. At €170/$195/£130 though, the Climber is the most expensive jersey that Rapha sells. Undoubtedly it is a nice, high-performing jersey, but maybe not the best one they make or the most versatile. It is a full 10% lighter in weight than their Super Lightweight Jersey, but that one is a lot cheaper and almost as good at keeping you dry when it is really hot. Fabric durability is still a question for us, too. Being lighter and softer than the Superlight, we’re a bit worried that it will suffer the same susceptibility to snags as that one did, although so far its eyelet-based mesh has withstood a good bit of abuse without looking worse for the wear. We have been very happy with the jersey overall, but do see it best for climbing mountains (where it gets cooler the more you ascend) and less as a end-all solution for hot and humid days on the flats.
Pro Team Lightweight Bib Shorts
The Pro Team Lightweight Bib Shorts are an attempt by Rapha to combine their regular Pro Team shorts and their more relaxed fit Lightweight shorts. They do a pretty good job at matching the feel of the lightest of the Pro Team line, but don’t quite pass the regular light shorts for the light feel. It’s a hard world when you end up comparing Rapha shorts back to another pair of Rapha shorts, but so be it. They really are close competitors with each other and the best proper analogue. The ProTeam shorts use a lighter, less stretchy upper bib fabric but also have a solid back while the cut of the light bibs leaves the lower back open for better ventilation. The higher quality fabric of the Pro Team Light bibs has a great feel, that is both smooth against the skin and offers a nice compressive fit, better than most comparable shorts. The stronger more compressive Pro Team fit with its greater number of panels is maybe their best attribute, and combines with a very light and supportive pair of bib straps and a comfortable and familiar perforated chamois to deliver a solid set of bibs.
Are they better than the Lightweight bibs? Only marginally. The chamois is the same with tiny holes throughout to speed moisture transfer, but it still cannot keep up with the wicking of the straps. Between the heavier, more compressive Pro Team fabric of the shorts, the pad was regularly damp after a hot hour and a half on the bike, resulting in squeaking when we’d slide around on a smooth leather saddle. The main body fabric is definitely better, but the layout and fabric of the bib straps are a bit of a wash.
While they do perform better than most bibs, they don’t magically get rid of all moisture when it’s really hot. The extra labels, story, and pocket between the shoulder blades might make you feel more Pro after spending a bunch of money on shorts, but they are not really functional (for those of us that don’t need a race radio) and actually create a hot spot in the middle of the back where with the extra printing can’t properly wick. Unfortunately these extra labels are an issue not unique to lower-end brands who might not think of such details, but also for the likes of Rapha. We do like the overall look though, with the high vis label on one leg. It adds a touch of color, but is also available in more staid white. At €210/$285/£180 they aren’t cheap, but the Pro Team fit really does provide a more supportive and compressive feel that we appreciated both on the bike and after riding. Our suggestion, cut that back pocket and extra label away, and these make an excellent pair of summer bib shorts.
Trade Team Jersey
The Trade Team Jersey is a bit of a strange animal from Rapha. While Rapha excels at designing and producing high performing clothing in typically simple and classic designs, every once in a while they get a bit carried away with some wild (or weird) graphics. The Trade Team is a bit of that. Available in three distinct designs reminiscent of iconic pro teams of the 1980s, this red and black jersey calling out to the Mondrian-inspired Arc en Ciel team is the only one we personally find tasteful. But if you like the design of any of these jerseys it is worth taking a second look.
The jerseys themselves are Rapha’s standard Pro Team Jersey, just with a different design. They use the same excellent combination of close-fitting, high-stretch, and high-wicking fabrics as the Pro Team jersey for a bit lower cost. Plus, now there is a current sale going on at Rapha that puts the Trade Teams at €70/$55/£90, making them half the price of the standard solid color Pro Team jerseys. We’ve been riding this Arc en Ciel jersey from temps down into the mid teens with a merino baselayer and up to 30, pretty comfortably. It really wicks almost as well as the lighter jerseys and the fit feels more aero. While the lightweight mesh jerseys tend to bunch up and wrinkle on the arms, the Pro Team fit doesn’t do that. And once we are in the riding position on the bike, the chest of the jersey stays taught and the pockets stay in place. With this sale, we really can’t think of another top level jersey that we’ve tested that outperforms the Trade Team.