Rapha quietly added some arm, knee, and leg warmers to their shop recently with the same Shadow fabric that we had been testing since last winter, racing cyclocross and generally riding whenever the roads and trails have gotten wet. That got me thinking more about the Pro Team Shadow kit that I’ve even pulled out of the closet a few times since the cold left. And so in a bout of unseasonably cold and wet weather at our EU HQ this week, it felt like time to take a look back to that kit with the idea of looking forward to foul weather riding as well. And maybe even getting out for a wet ride after work today.
So lets have a look at the Pro Team Shadow kit, made from such a fabric that it has gotten me excited about riding in the rain, and more so looking forward to a new pair of leg warmers…
Rapha’s Pro Team Shadow range was introduced to us at the start of the year in the midst of winter under the pretext of providing a lightweight race-ready kit that would keep us warm and dry in pretty much any weather. The combination of breathability and water-resistance were the big take-away lessons. I was in the midst of late season cyclocross racing and prepping for another season of riding and bike testing on wet roads and trails so I jumped at the idea of testing out the Shadow gear.
As I mentioned to Rapha when the kit debuted, my first issue was that when it was cold and wet enough to think that I needed special condition-specific shorts and a jersey, I wasn’t going to be riding with my legs and arms exposed. So I dug in my closet for arm and leg warmers from another manufacturer to give Shadow a go. What I quickly found out was that even though the Shadow fabric was surprisingly thin, it stopped the wind. And with the longer short sleeves that came down to cover my entire upper arm, I was better off with bare forearms for the intensity of cyclocross racing and could even get away without arm warmers on road rides if it wasn’t too windy or currently raining.
The thin feel definitely requires a bit more explanation too. It feels more like a typical jersey weight fabric like than any jacket I ride in or even a Roubaix fleece of a winter weight jersey or insulated warmers. That deceptively made me think that I wouldn’t be warm, but I raced at freezing temps and rode from maybe 5-10°C warmer than that with just a light baselayer and was never uncomfortable.
The bibs and jersey are incredibly compressive. I wore the same sizes I would in the rest of Rapha’s Pro Team line, which already has a closer fit, but when I put these on I first thought I would have to size up. For example the bibs felt like I might have to peel them on and opened up the two sides of the jersey’s zip don’t reach around my stomach without stretching it. But that said, once I put it on the compressive fit is very comfortable and doesn’t move around. In no way does it feel restrictive or constricting like a too small garment would be.
Now getting to the main claims of Shadow breathability and water-resistance, I put the kit to the test in cold & snowy, cold & rainy, cool & wet, and just cool weather to see how it fared. As to breathability, I never felt soggy in either the bibs or jersey. I definitely put in some hard efforts and worked up a good bit of sweat both above and below freezing and the Shadow fabric seemed to effectively move the moisture away from my skin so that I felt comfortable. It certainly does a good job of trapping in body heat and blocking outside wind though, so even down in the single digits I felt hot enough to want to unzip the jersey late into a cross race and even riding in the rain at 15°C I had to open the zip on an extended climb to not feel like I was overheating.
While I never felt clammy next to my skin, I noticed after a couple of hard efforts above freezing that all the sweat that had been wicked away from my back had accumulated in the rear pockets. What that meant was that on a ride without any outside precipitation the insides of the pockets were damp, as was my phone and some cash I had stashed there. Rapha recognized that the almost-waterproof fabric would let rain fill up the pockets so the each get a small drain hole, but since the fabric also draws moisture away from your warm skin, that moisture build up in the pockets but isn’t really enough to drain away. The lesson is that anything that doesn’t like water should be bagged up in the Shadow pockets, whether it is raining or not.
Now to the water-resistance itself. This is probably where the Shadow fabric does its best work, and why we are looking forward to some Shadow leg warmers (remember those at the top of this review…) Water pretty much just rolls off this kit. Riding on wet roads and trails, water (snow & mud too) would bead up on the fabric and you could just wipe it away. Even with good kit, it sucks to start out on a ride in heavy rain, but with this Shadow gear I rolled out in a lot of light rain and several times with scary clouds looming. That meant that on a few occasions I was caught out riding in cold pouring rain, and I stayed comfortable and mostly dry the whole way through. The kit isn’t totally waterproof, so some water made it through, most likely around the seams, especially on the shorts. Plus you always get water that finds its way in through the sleeves and neck or splash up the back. But I was comfortable in every condition I rode through and was always surprised at how dry my baselayer was when I peeled the wet jersey off.
I think maybe the biggest deal may be that the fabric is thin and inherently hydrophobic, so it doesn’t absorb as much water as a comparable insulted or thermo fleece fabric does. Riding in heavy rain when I would pull the shorts off and wring them out in the shower, very little water would come out. That goes a long way not only to keeping you from feeling damp, but also helps you stay warm when riding in a cold rain.
With that said, this is where a set of Shadow leg warmers should shine. In so much of our Central European winter riding, the roads and trails can often be wet, and while a small fender can protect your butt, and full coverage fenders can go one step farther, leg warmers see to constantly get a wet spray and even the best end up waterlogged at the end of some longer wet rides. We’ll be curious to see if the Shadow fabric can keep that from happening.