We met with Rapha’s European press officer last fall to go through their new Pro Team line and cyclocross-specific kit updates, and came away with this jacket and bibs for an extended Pro Team test. Looking through the line we were searching for a few core items that could be flexible enough to take us through winter cyclocross training and racing, as well as general riding in transition fall and spring seasons. The first two items that jumped out at us were the straight-forward Pro Team Jacket and the fleece Pro Team Thermal Bib Shorts. We know that for many of our readers, Rapha can be perceived as a high-priced brand, so our goal was to seek out products where it looked like great value and functionality would be found.
Join us after the jump for the key details on these two items, and our thoughts after riding with them for the past several months…
Pro Team Jacket
The Pro Team Jacket differs from most of the other jackets offered by Rapha in that it is generally simpler, and overall thinner. There are no offset zippers, armpit vents, hard-shelled fabrics, taped seams, or fold out storm flaps here. Plus it feels like it isn’t much thicker than a heavy longsleeve jersey. The close fit jacket with a higher than average waist and a slightly dropped tail relies on its technical fabrics to do all of the heavy lifting. The front chest panel, as well as arm fronts and shoulders, use a thin windproof softshell fabric from Polartec exclusive to Rapha, while a breathable Super-Roubaix fleece takes care of the rest. The entire jacket is treated with a DWR finish, but is not fully waterproof.
The jacket has 3 standard rear pockets, plus a 4th zippered pocket inside the right rear pocket, just under the reflective ProTeam stripes. The small metal hidden zip worked well, but occasionally felt like it scraped my valuables, which I usually just kept in the normal pocket. Nothing ever came out scratched, but I was a little worried a couple of Cyctectimes. The fleece of the pockets is very soft and stretchy and holds their contents well. A 5th hidden zip front pocket is placed along the front left seam, again under another set of reflective Pro Team stripes. This pocket is rather small and although I couldn’t get my entire hand in it, it did serve well to hold a couple of house or car keys.
The jacket aims to work for most cold weather riding at high intensities. I personally liked the idea of the different fabrics doing the work from the start, as I often overheat racing in the winter, but needed something that could also layer well for cold weather warm-ups and training. The softshell vs. fleece can be seen from both inside and out. The softshell has a more prominent shine to the outside that hints at its water resistance, and a denser-looking fleece inner facing that helps fight the wind.
The windproof front has made the jacket quite versatile through winter riding. On easy rides the wind blocking kept me warm without needing a bunch of bulky layers. At higher tempo riding and racing I didn’t need much under the jacket at all and sweat wicked out of the fleece back very quickly. For endurance to moderate intensity riding I paired it with just a light shortsleeve merino baselayer from 7-15°C, added a shortsleeve jersey down to 2°C, and or a longsleeve merino jersey down to -5°C. For threshold cyclocross racing intensities after warming up the jacket with a single baselayer was comfortable down to -10°C and back up to freezing. I don’t really wear the jacket on rides with expected rain, but spent plenty of time on wet roads and through the occasional shower. The water resistance kept me generally dry, and when it was overcome by heavier rain the fleeces kept insulating and the windproof front kept me warm enough to ride home for a hot shower.
What I ended up with was a close-fitting, flexible jacket that has become my go to for cyclocross warm-ups and all cool weather training. It’s hard to test other jackets when this one is still hanging in my closet. At £190/€220/$290 it still isn’t cheap, but with its versatility, durability, and Rapha’s repair service it promises to be a good long-term value and should last for several years.
Pro Team Thermal Bib Shorts
The Italian-made Pro Team Thermal bibs are Rapha’s answer to early and late season road riding, when a little extra insulation around the hips and groin can make cool weather riding more comfortable. Paired together with a good set of knee of leg warmers, and the thermal bibs are a good solution for most cool to cold riding. They are made of a durable lycra backed with a soft ThermoRoubaix fleece, as is pretty common with insulated shorts. Rapha’s version stands out by offering a compressive fit, in line with all of their Pro Team labeled clothing, and the premium cut and chamois that make most of their shorts highly regarded. The Cytech chamois is said to be a new version, but we couldn’t differentiate it from the pad in their classic bibs or previous cyclocross knickers, which is a good thing, although it seems like it is located just a little bit farther forward (maybe 1cm) for a more aggressive position on the bike. The Pro Team sizing is also one size smaller than their classic line; both of our testers went up one size for the same fit as other Rapha shorts.
The legs have a wide compressive elastic band with small rubber grippers, instead of a continuous rubber band gripper of their other shorts. The left leg has a bright color block logo in either green, red, or white, with a reflective block logo on the right leg. There are also a couple of small reflective tabs on each leg above the cuff for more visibility. The legs are about 5cm/2″ longer than their classic bibs for a bit more cool weather coverage. The shoulder straps are a very flat mesh with no seams and just a little bit of stretch, and there are two unobtrusive mess ‘radio’ pockets in the middle of the back.
We first put the shorts on when the weather was around 15°C and haven’t wanted to take them off since. They make cool winter riding a lot more pleasurable, without having to deal with another layer of tights. Together with a set of quality legwarmers, they are much more versatile and generally more comfortable. It is actually more difficult to write about them, as once we had them on we just forget about them, and got back to riding. It is about the biggest compliment I can think of for a lot of things like shoes, and clothes; you want to just put something on and forget about it. These bibs delivered on that account.
The only small fault we found was that the segmented leg grippers seem to have a little higher chance to creep up on bare skin than a continuous gripper. This gripper style generally is more comfortable, but one tester experienced a limited degree of movement once or twice during running-intense cross racing. It was never an issue during regular riding or in typical cross races. And with legwarmers it was never an issue, so it never really happened where cold wind coming in would be a concern. I suspect it was an issue with him having a slightly less compressive fit. I did the same races in the bibs and never had any movement issues.
Our only regret after spending fall and winter in these, the Laché.London fleece bibs, and another pair of Kalas wet weather insulated bibs is that we didn’t have them a couple of seasons ago. I’ve been riding with fleece knickers of similar construction for the last few winters, but they really don’t have the flexibility and wide temperature range that the Rapha Pro Team Thermal shorts do. I can put it another way, at the end of the day today I had 90 minutes of daylight to kill, and without thinking I put the Pro Team thermal bibs and jacket on with a long sleeve wool baselayer and a pair of legwarmers. It was 8° when I left and freezing when I got home in the dark. I was comfortable the whole time.
For the same, not cheap £190/€220/$290 as the jacket, we also feel good about recommending the thermal bibs. While shorts tend to wear out more quickly than jackets, in the last year or two we’ve come to value insulated bibs so much that we feel that anyone who rides below 15°C really deserves to have a good pair. These have stood up to several muddy cyclocross wipeouts, and lots of trips through the washing machine, and look as good as new.