Bianchista has been putting in some chilly winter miles in two pieces from the latest women's specific range from Rapha. Namely the aptly titled 'Classic Softshell' jacket, I say aptly due to the fact this jacket has been a core product of Rapha's offering for no less than five years now.... I guess the old adage of 'If it aint broke don't fix it' comes into play here. Again Rapha have taken a hugely successful product from their men's range and refined the design with some clever subtle tweaks, enabling a greater fit for the female form, just as they did with their Wind Jacket and Classic Jersey.
The softshell is something a of of riders covet, whether they choose to admit to or not, and is often regarded as the 'rolls royce' of the cycling specific jacket world. I was curious to out one on test to see if this perception of uber-jacket was mainly due to its price-point and perceived quality, or weather it actually did stand out from its competitors due to its features. Upon trying on the jacket, the quality of the material is apparent from the word go. Its a difficult to describe feeling, it certainly has the feel of a robust heavyweight jacket yet its still a very light material. The jacket is made from a material mix, and coated with a hytel membrane, the same as you will find on other such items as shells from the North Face. Described as water resistant I resolved to get a few wet-runs in the jacket to give a feeling of weather-proofness. One feature I certainly looked forward to utilising was the cute little pull down storm flap.
Neatly tucked in the rear of the jacket and held in place by a wee velcro fastener is a lovely little drop down storm tail, adorned with a large and sumptuously reflective Rapha logo, I found myself unfurling it whenever riding in less-than-daylight (I do a lot of pre-6am and post-11pm commutes home due to the nature of my work) to give me that extra piece of mind that I was enhancing my visibility to city drivers, as the logo is stunningly reflective. I should mention the purpose of the flap is actually to protect riders from that awful 'wet-bottom' syndrome that plagues the mudguardless. But lets be honest, how often have we been caught out in an unexpected shower sans guards? exactly.... and this neat little feature will save your tush from a soaking, sadly not ones bootie-less feet though.
The cut of the jacket is similar to their wind jacket, slim form fitting, with arms ample in length to allow coverage when in the riding position. At the end of the sleeve are some lycra cuffs with a thumb-hole should you wish to sport for that extra insulation, a nice little feature. Pink contrasting cable loops line down the inside of the jacket with a cable slit on the interior pocket to allow hassle free routing of mp3 players should you wish to train to music and such. Rapha have again stuck with their classic 3 pocket arrangement, with a zipped valuables pocket for coins and cards. The central pocket has an extra inner pocket to securely hold a pump, and the three pockets work just fine, being a decent size that can handle being stuffed with plentiful supplies for those extra long winter rides.
The jacket itself is described as 'water-resistant' and I can confirm it does indeed take quite a downpour for it to eventually soak through. Once it does dampen the fabric, it dries incredibly quick however. I rode for an hour and a half in snow just yesterday, and I found the jacket perfection indeed when teamed with a campri hiking baselayer. In fact Im sure I could have ridden on longer in comfort had my toes not froze over (might be time to look at those heated sidi insoles!). The jacket is super in conditions of around 12-13° and lower, its truly designed to see you riding warmly in those 'epic' deep winter conditions. Whilst it is very breathable, its a cold conditions jacket, so on those milder days it may be a little overkill for long rides, although it does feature pit zips to get some air flowing through to cool the torso area. The collar is a nice height, not too long, and combined with a fleeced lining makes it non-restrictive next to the skin.
The 3/4 bibshorts look fantastic, with the main difference being to the mens version is the coverage on the front of the bibs, with a nice bodice style top added to them. The back area of the bib remains an open design, helping regulate core temperate and ensuring overheating is staved off.
The bibshorts feature the same chamois that was found in the summer half shorts - the aptly named 'anatomic gem' from cytech. Its well padded and simply a joy to wear on long days in the saddle. On wearing the bibshorts there were two main things I noticed. Firstly, the fleece lining was unbelievably soft! Im not sure if this is a new blend Rapha are using but the lining felt substantially softer and warmer than it did on the mens 3/4 I have had for a couple of years. It kept my thighs toasty when heading out in lower temperatures. Secondly I noticed the leg is cut shorted on the ladies version when compared with them men. I found the length too be fine, and on those super cold days I actually wore a pair of knee length compression socks under them to cover my lower legs from the freezing wind. Gone are the iconic white panels on the knee area for these ladies version, with a subtle rubberised Rapha logo adorning the side of the legs, and a natty little reflective tab behind the knee area.
The straps are a great fit, holding the shorts in place perfectly, without being too tight. Raphas ladies-wear runs true to size, with both items in xs (UK size 8) fitting me like a glove. However if your unsure, best to ping them an email with your particulars on and im sure they will be delighted to advise on sizing.
On the back of the bibshorts lies a cute stash pocket, I tend to plonk a note in there for the customary Box Hill bakewell slice and coffee stop. Its not intended to stuff endless amounts of provisions in there but is a decent size for either a small phone or money/cards etc.
The shorts might not be warm enough for those coldest sub-zero riding temperatures if planning on a very long time out in this sort of climate, but for an autumn/winter riding piece they perform great, and I think due to how the shorts also seem to wick when things warm up a bit, these shorts can be worn right up to spring, making them a versatile 3 season addition to any cyclists wardrobe. Whilst £160 is no small amount to spend on a pair of cycling shorts, id recommend these to any ladies spending serious time in the saddle, whether its a super long commute you face daily or weekend training miles, they function above other shorts in terms of comfort and their subtle plain black styling will appeal to those who like to cut a dashing figure in flattering black.
The jacket comes in at an eye-watering price of £260. Now if your one of those people who is going to extol the virtues of "picking up a cheap one that does the job just as well in Aldi" then please look away now. The jacket is for riders who take their kit seriously, its highly functional, with every feature well thought out and necessary. Factor in the style-points (and lets face it - that's what rules a lot of our purchasing power right?) and the jackets robustness, its a worthwhile investment that a rider can be confident they will still be sporting three or four seasons later. Should you wish to indulge yourself and ride in a luxury jacket (albeit with a luxury pricetag) then this is the piece for you. Ideal for those with an aversion to ill fitting, boil-in-the-bag style day-glo neon hues. Worth mentioning the jacket is now available with a free winter hat over at Rapha's website, somehow cushioning the financial outlay. Oh, free postage too!
Rapha Classic Ladies Softshell is available over at Rapha in sizes xxs-xl , likewise their Ladies 3/4 Bibshorts can be found at Rapha too.
An alternative bianchista review of these items can be found over at the wonderful WashingMachinePost blog.