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Over the past couple of years, a few of our European women road and cross testers were introduced to the benefits of proper premium bibs through Rapha’s Women’s Classic Bib Short. While Rapha clearly isn’t the only one making top-level shorts for women, until surprisingly recently premium bibs on par with what men had to choose from were not so readily available. Of course the growth of online retailing has greatly improved accessibility, but frontline women’s development with pro teams like Canyon//SRAM has certainly helped. So to see what the pro-level kit had to offer we put a couple of women in Rapha’s pro Souplesse bibs and jerseys to ride through the seasons and report back both on how they performed and how they’ve held up…

Souplesse Bib Shorts

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The standard Rapha Women’s Classic bibs formed the baseline for our test riders, mostly because each of our testers already had a pair, but also as a direct analogue to the men’s version there are a lot of readers who have some first hand experience with their construction. Already a pretty high-end product at 195€ for the Classics, the Souplesse bibs step up a bit more to 210€.

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The Souplesse bibs fit more true-to-size for our testers, who were both in the middle of Rapha’s fit range, but with a more snug fit over the Classics (which one tester said felt like they moved around a bit when riding cross or mountain bikes). Each of our women rode in the same size as the Classic bibs, and even though both are rather short at <160cm/5′-3″ they both felt at first that the bib straps of shorts were very tight when they put them on.

Sitting on the bike though, the fit was just right and doesn’t restrict movement. More so than the Classics, with their more compressive fit the Souplesse bibs stay put in place, with no chamois movement even off-road or getting on and off the bike for cyclocross.

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The arrangement of the narrow but widely placed bib straps lead over the breast, but offset to the side that there were never any chafing concerns. Both our small and large breasted testers were quite happy with the fit. With just a thin rear strap, out testers preferred the Souplesse bibs when the weather got hot. Although they were comfortable even over 30°C/86°F, extended hot riding did result in the chamois getting a bit damp, so more wicking and maybe a perforated pad could be helpful like the men get in their Lightweight bibs.

The 5mm/2″ elastic gripper on the legs is tightly fitted, but wide enough that it they stay in place well. While they didn’t result in the dreaded stuffed sausage look, they did leave marks on the skin after long rides. And on long hot days in the saddle, the silicone in the gripper didn’t breathe so well and left even more of a red mark on our testers’ legs. That said, all the three women who tested the shorts were very happy with them, and one has proclaimed they are far and above her favorite shorts and has kind of sworn off all others. Putting in between 45-50 rides of varying length and terrain under the butt of one of our testers in the last 12 months, her Souplesse bibs show some signs of fabric wear along the back of the chamois and under the sit bones, but it looks like they’ll likely have more than another 50-100 rides in them barring any crash damage (which thankfully Rapha will be happy to stitch back up for you.)

Souplesse Jersey

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The Souplesse jersey has a stretchy fabric and a form-fitting cut that all of our testers said they felt comfortable in. The soft feel of the fabric gives the jersey a close fit without any flapping in the wind, yet still has enough space and stretch in the back to let you load down the pockets for longer rides. The length front & back seemed to work well across the different body types of our test crew. And the long thin silicone hem gripper from the sides around the back seemed to do a good job of preventing the jersey from creeping up over the hips of our riders, only really riding up when doing some more aggressive off-road riding.

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The 140€ 78% nylon, 22% lycra Souplesse jersey gets the standard 3+1 pocket layout you’ll find on most good kit these days, with the zip pocket on the outside of the right pocket. The middle pocket on our testers jersey was quite narrow (just wide enough to hold a previous generation iPhone5, but none larger), but beside and older phone actually worked somewhat well for sorting long narrow items like a pack of Clif Bloks, or even a banana. The mini-pump already gets a place inside the left pocket where there is an elastic pump loop.

All three of our testers have been putting time in though, on the previous generation of the Souplesse jersey from 2015 through early 2016. Since then the fabric and overall design of the jersey has carried over, as have the main colors, but the newest version drops the contrast pattern down the back and instead swaps in a pair of contrasting racing stripes, equal sizes for the 3 rear pockets, and about 2cm longer sleeves.

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The jersey is said to be designed for hot weather riding, and our testers were mostly okay with that, but they did feel that the jersey wasn’t the best wicking one they had. Especially under the extra fabric layers of the water-resistant zip ID pocket as well on the back of the collar, the jersey tended to accumulate moisture in any weather above 21°C/70°F. Our testers all tend to wear light merino or mesh baselayers year round, but with the Souplesse jersey once temperatures hit around 25°C/77°F they would drop the baselayer altogether and usually opt for a lighter sports bra to keep from getting uncomfortably hot. Even the built-in mesh baselayer top of Rapha’s Classic bibs was seen as too much in hotter weather.

As one bit of a fix, one of our women cut the Rapha story out of the right pocket. If you own any Rapha jerseys, you’ll know that they usually have a small piece of fabric printed with an inspirational story about the kit. While it can be a nice element, it often is in a place where it affects breathability (as sometimes does the inclusion of very large care tags), and by removing one unneeded piece of fabric where there are already four other layers for the pockets, it cut down on moisture build up a bit. This one was telling a story of the Col de la Pierre St. Martin in the Pyrenees, so we’ll just have to commit that to memory.

In the end our testers quite liked the soft fit & feel of the jersey, and after a year of riding all of our testers say the fabric essentially looks new, not really showing any signs of wear. This isn’t a fabric that carries over into the men’s line at all, and if you need more breathability or truly hot weather performance there are now newer Souplesse Lightweight or Aero jersey options available. Our women most appreciated though the flexibility of this jersey and the ability of the fabric to stretch so they could really load up the pockets for longer rides with everything from extra food to a spare jacket, arm warmers, tools, and spares.

Rapha.cc

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Gerard Thomas
5 years ago

Just what is that pic 3rd down supposed to be about…?!
Eds.: That friend, is our ladies showing off three pairs of Souplesse shorts. It’s not so simple to show the fit or cut of a pair of women’s shorts, so our testers choose to embrace it.

DRC
DRC
5 years ago
Reply to  Gerard Thomas

Looks like a legit pic to me. When I see someone wearing bibs where the pad extends 3-4″ past the bike seat, I know the chamois is in a terrible position and I shouldn’t buy them. Looks like this kit has the pad placed perfectly.

Seriously though, why does someone have to cry “objectification!!” on every picture of a woman that shoes her butt or any ounce of cleavage?

dustytires
5 years ago

that 3rd photo clearly shows that 2 outa 3 riders have proper sized tires on their road type bikes, but still not enough for the single track tracing down from the far valley wall.

Ben
Ben
5 years ago

I’m just impressed that there are more bikes than cups of espresso in these Rapha photos.