Last week Rapha debuted three completely new, tech-heavy Gore-Tex jackets for three different types of road riding in the wettest of weather. One thing Rapha does well is develop premium kit that excels in distinct riding conditions. While the number of cyclists that ride in weather that’s both incredibly wet and bordering on freezing is probably diminishingly small, those riders will find a new level of comfort & performance in the new Pro Team Insulated Gore-Tex jacket…
Rapha Pro Team Insulated Gore-Tex Shakedry, Polartec Alpha jacket
The most tech-heavy of the new Rapha + Gore collaboration is undoubtedly the new Insulated Gore-Tex jacket. With details like its wild-looking wetsuit-esque hood and bright pink, fluffy insulation inside, it’s easy to overlook the solid-performer Shakedry shell or the addition of a new Gore-Tex Stretch fabric, which I had never seen before.
Staying comfortable riding in the rain essentially comes down to maintaining breathability & not overheating when it is warm outside, then staying dry & maintaining body heat once it gets cold outside. Getting wet from sweating is just as bad as from the rain. And at cold temperatures, either becomes a real risk with any significant exposure. It definitely is much more complicated than keeping rainwater out.
Rapha + Gore-Tex + Polartec details
Rapha starts with seam-sealed, single-layer Gore-Tex Shakedry, which is hard to argue with. Sure some people worry about its long-term durability again abrasion (this is not a commuter or mountain biking jacket, so backpack use isn’t expected), but Shakedry outperforms pretty much any other truly waterproof fabric on breathability. That’s a great place to start on a cold+wet weather jacket, because if you begin to sweat heavily the moment you start climbing, you’ll be damp & dangerously cold the second descending starts.
So Shakedry makes up the bulk of the jacket over the body & sleeves.
As we have come to know, Shakedry only comes in black – which actually looks a bit more dark gray or even slightly dark olive green because of the single layer membrane’s finish. All of the text is reflective printing then for added visibility. Curiously, Rapha does manage to bond in a contrasting white stripe to the left sleeve. The white bit seems like a similar fabric, and it is not simply a bonded-on extra layer. It may be a promising sign of lighter-colored Shakedry to come?
Next up is the distinctive pink Polartec Alpha Direct insulation that lines the majority of the jacket keeping the rider warm. Alpha Direct extends covering the entire torso & arms, only omitted from the areas with Gore-Tex Stretch – the expandable cuffs in the sleeves, the lower back panel with pocket access zips, and the hood.
Used in insulated jackets by Rapha for a few years now, this latest iteration of the synthetic insulation uses high-loft, fuzzy fibers attached to an open mesh, and designed to sit directly against the skin, a baselayer, or a regular jersey.
The lightweight polyester insulation fibers are said to be hydrophobic, meaning that they repel moisture instead of absorbing it. The open nature of the insulation makes it especially breathable, and it packs down fairly well too. While it doesn’t often feel damp from sweat, it was developed to still insulate when wet, keeping you warm no matter what.
Lastly, is that new Gore-Tex Stretch fabric. Looking a bit like a very thin dimpled neoprene fabric, Stretch is another single layer waterproof membrane fabric. That dimple structure allows the fabric to stretch in a single direction about 50%, allowing it to fit snuggly over either empty jersey pockets, or those stuffed with some core essentials like a phone, wallet, ride snacks & a repair kit.
The same thin, dimpled Gore Stretch fabric is used to create the side & front panels of the hood, which fits comfortably under a helmet. A panel of Shakedry, which is presumably more breathable, extends from the center of the back of the neck, up over the top of the head, and down over the forehead. A small, soft microfiber panel on the front keeps the hood smooth & comfortable on the forehead, wicking sweat away before it drips down the face.
On the side of the hood at the ears, a pair of overlapping layers of Stretch are joined by a light mesh panel that makes it easy to hear what is around you, while still protected by the waterproof hood design.
All in all, while the base Shakedry does not have any stretch, the Gore-Tex Stretch allows for complete freedom of movement with the hood secured under the helmet. And the mix of waterproof fabrics in the hood is still thin enough that they fit comfortably under the helmet, no thicker than a standard cotton cycling cap would.
Review: Riding in the rain & the river
The Pro Team Insulated Gore-Tex jacket isn’t cheap at $430/375€, but to be fair I expected it to cost even more than that. Sure that’s about 20% more than their next most expensive jacket – the Classic Winter Jacket (a premium riding Polartec Power Shield Pro softshell that’s great, arguably in a wider range of cold weather). But with three top-tier fabrics, all the small details & the small niche for this jacket, I wouldn’t have been surprised for an even higher pricetag.
So with more fabric technology and more advanced detailing than any other cycling rain jacket than I have ever used, this thing should handle any weather, right? Well, so far I ridden it for short periods of time in torrential rain at around 8°C (45°F), and for extended riding in light to medium rain at 4°C (40°F). In either case, I stayed dry and comfortable, never sweating though a baselayer during easy to medium efforts.
For the most part I kept the hood zipped only to under my chin, instead of zipped all the way up under my nose. The Gore-Tex Stretch & Shakedry fabrics are essentially windproof (even if they are breathable), so covering my mouth with the tight fitting jacket limited breathing to just my nose (insufficient for harder efforts) and made me feel hotter. Interestingly enough, while riding in a really cold rain, I noticed that breathing out with my mouth when the jacket was zipped all the way up, my warm breath heated up the inside of the hood quite strongly.
When the temperatures got up to around 13°C (55°F) and I had to put in some harder efforts, I started to feel like I was getting hot inside, and since it had stopped raining I opened up the jacket to let more air in. Combined with opening the rear pocket access zippers, it was easy to get some air flowing through which helped regulate temperature.
The Pro Team Insulated Gore-Tex jacket itself is not meant to be used on its own, so it does not include any pockets of its own. To be honest, that is the only thing that really annoys me about it, as I would appreciate the ability to at least carry a phone, wallet & keys without needing a jersey underneath. The jacket’s Alpha Direct insulation works great against the skin directly or varying weight baselayers. So wearing it with various levels of jerseys or baselayers will allow it to function well from just cool & wet weather, down to those miserable wet temperature just below freezing.
The jacket is also not really meant to be packable. This is a piece of kit you put on when you know the weather couldn’t get worse, but you still want (or need) to ride. It is however reasonably light – our size Large sample weighs just 333g. And I have compressed it down, packing into its own sleeve so it could we squeezed into a forgiving jersey pocket – slightly larger than a standard medium sized (620ml) water bottle.
Lasting thoughts on the Pro Team Insulated Gore-Tex jacket…
So, do you really need an insulated Rapha + Gore-Tex jacket that costs this much money? The general answer to that is most likely, NO. If you look outside and see that it is raining, and think, “I’ll just try again tomorrow”, there is no way that you need this jacket. If you think ever riding when it gets close to freezing outside is kind of a dumb idea, you should probably also give this thing a pass.
But… if you ride when it is time to ride – come hell or high-water (see above), and ride road or gravel year-round no matter the weather, this jacket might really be what makes cold & wet weather enjoyable again. It’s almost a game changer for 0-5°C/32-40°F and cold heavy rain-soaked riding. If you can keep the rest of your body comfortable in that weather, the Rapha Pro Team Insulated Gore-Tex jacket will take care of your head, neck, arms & torso.
Now, I just somehow need a matching set of Shakedry+Alpha insulated bibs, leg warmers, shoe covers & gloves. Is that even possible? I guess for now I’ll stick with Shadow fabric & neoprene for those extremities.