Days are shorter. It’s colder. Excuses increase and miles decrease. This is the season it gets harder to train, to ride, to smile on the bike. It’s one during which the right selection of clothes has less and less to do with vanity and more with what’s effective.
But, if you’re like me, you really don’t like to throw on whatever’s clean or dry and head out. You like to at least look half-decent doing it. (Don’t laugh; us slower guys need to have something to get excited about, other than being done with four hours in the winter and a thick beer.)
Two new products from British outfitter Rapha have floated to the top of my list in this late fall season, which I’ve spent logging cold, dirt-road miles in the San Juan Mountains, around Telluride, Colorado.
The Rapha Long Sleeve Pro Team Jersey and the thermal Pro Team bib shorts have been my go-to clothing choices for two reasons: both pieces are comfortable, and neither look like billboards or as if they were designed in the dark. Rapha, as we all know, pays very close attention to details and the overall aesthetic of a cycling piece, sometimes to a fault. Not so with the Pro Team designs, which feature the company’s minimalist styling but also top-shelf fabrics designed for professionals, such as Sky riders.
Long Sleeve Pro Team Jersey
The first thing you’ll notice about the Long Sleeve Pro Team Jersey is that it doesn’t feel like most of the tops Rapha makes. Most of the jerseys on the road by the company feature a bit of wool, which feels nice and doesn’t smell, but is in no way a modern race fabric. This jersey is a slim race cut, with bonded seams, a waterproof zipper and reflective bars on the right rear pocket.
The Long Sleeve Pro Team builds off the summer version (very light, very stretchy) but uses a thicker fabric to provide protection against colder air, yet it seems to lose none of its stretch. In fact, it was that single detail — stretch — that immediately struck me when riding in it. As in, I could load the pockets up with food, a rain jacket, an iPhone, a tube … and they not only accommodated easily, but they didn’t pull the jersey down my back, even when heavily burdened — key with a jersey that you’ll use for long rides in cooler temperatures. The sleeves are cut long, and cuff well over the wrist. The collar is cut lower than a true winter-time jersey’s would be, and fits very snug, perhaps too snugly, if you’ve got the neck of a tight end.
Other details include an internal zippered pocket for valuables (though they do tend to take some moisture so close to the body) and internal routing for what Rapha imagines is a race radio but for most of us are headphone cords, blasting not race instructions (seriously, if I could attack anyone, ever, I would) but instead Arcade Fire’s new “Reklektor” album (which is excellent, but that’s another story).
It’s important to note that, though it’s billed as a cooler-temp top, the Long Sleeve Pro Team Jersey isn’t for logging your cold, slow base miles. What it is for is tempo riding, and even racing in colder temperatures. I’ve been wearing it over a thin wool base layer for rides in the 40-degree range, and as long as I kept a decent tempo I haven’t gotten too cold or too hot. It’s suitable for riding without a base at temps well into the 60s, fully unzipped. At threshold efforts in temperatures over 50 degrees, it actually felt hot.
If I have any complaints, they are limited. For $230 retail, a jersey needs to fit perfectly, and this one seems to bunch a bit around my upper arms for some reason. No, I don’t have proper cyclist arms, either. Chances are that you wouldn’t notice, but I’ve been riding so much lately that all I’ve done is stare at my own shadow.
Pro Team Thermal Shorts
The Pro Team Thermal Shorts aren’t a new offering this year, but worth mentioning here because they pair very well with the aforementioned top. The thermal bibs employ the same excellent chamois as their summer counterpart but use a brushed surface on the inside, adding one more dimension between you and the cold air. The wintertime version is also cut just a bit longer than the standard Pro Team Shorts, and uses a Thermoroubaix fabric inside.
The translation? A warm, but not overly thick, bib short good for training and racing in the cold. If it’s already warm enough outside to ditch the legwarmers, the shorts are still usable, which is nice, because let’s face it, $260 for a pair of shorts you could only use a few months out of the year is a luxury most people can’t afford, and nor should they, because today’s fabrics are capable of a wide range of use.
The shorts feature Rapha’s block lettering (like all its Pro Team gear) on the outside of the thigh, and come in high-vis, reflective colors. That makes good sense, since some of your rides in the winter probably come in the thin, dark window after ducking out of work a little early. The lettering may be a bit loud for some, but I like it just fine.
Some have complained the Cytech chamois is actually too thick, but I prefer it to a thinner and lighter-weight pad. Overlapping stitching on the inseam ensures the shorts stay together tight, and the flat stitching on the inside means minimal abrasion on your skin. For the money, this is a solid short, and one that can take a pounding both on the road and in the washing machine. But again, they should be for the $260 price tag, which isn’t the highest on the market by any measure, but is substantially by any standard.
The Bottom Line
It’s easy to poke fun at the haute-cycling brand, sure, but there really isn’t any denying that Rapha has achieved a point in the market that others have not: the precarious intersection of form and function.
These items fit the bill and offer tiny details you’ll discover your first few rides. There’s a cost to all that, absolutely, but these pieces back up their pretty faces with serious performance. If you’ve got the money, you can’t go wrong here.