I recently talked about some great kit options (here), and as I was exploring the many options out there, I wondered if perhaps the best solution might not actually be a jersey and bibs, but rather a skinsuit. In the last few years, road skinsuits have been talked about a lot. The promise is that you can skip the two piece setup and instead slide into a skinsuit with pockets, for a more comfortable fit and some free speed. Since the great quality of the Rapha bibs was what started my exploration of kits in general, it seemed apropos that I would take a look at their road skinsuit option, the Rapha Pro Team Aerosuit.
Let me just say from the start that I’ve yet to be disappointed by a product from Rapha, and it didn’t start with the Pro Team Aerosuit. You’ll see a significant amount of hand wringing in forum posts when the Rapha name comes up. Say what you will, but don’t kid yourself when it comes to the quality. Rapha products are exceptionally good. The Pro Team Aerosuit is incredibly well-built. The length of the legs are perfect and the chamois is worthy of more praise than I can give in a reasonable amount of space. If you are wanting to wear a road skinsuit, this is as good as it gets, and at $340, you actually save a bit of money when compared to buying the Pro Team jersey and bibs separately.
The bigger question is if a road skinsuit is the right answer for the riding you do. When you are considering a road skinsuit, I would say it’s going to be best if you resist the marketing hype of it being just like a two piece kit except more comfortable, slightly cheaper, and with an aero advantage. A good place to start might actually be the Rapha description.
Their description starts out: “Engineered for optimal aerodynamic performance, the latest Pro Team Aerosuit is the quickest, most functional race garment available.“ You’ll notice it’s emphasising race and aero performance, and that is exactly what is delivered. The first thing you’ll have to grapple with when wearing a skinsuit is getting the thing on.
When I get into it, I’ve got to slide the bottom on, then sit down and carefully contort my arms, so that I don’t overly stretch anything. Once I’ve got my arms in, I have to begin the process of getting my base layer in the right spot. This is when you’ll be really happy that Rapha has designed the zipper so that it opens from both the top and the bottom. The Aerosuit is so thin and so tight that even small wrinkles in my base layer show through. It always takes me a bit of pulling from the bottom then from the top and again from the bottom to get it to lay just right. A sleeveless baselayer would probably make things a bit easier, but I don’t have one, and it’s not strictly necessary.
Once you’ve got the thing on, it definitely is very comfortable. The fabrics Rapha has chosen feel fantastic against your skin, and the lack of bib straps means there is no localised pull. The only big drawback for me comes into focus once I get situated. I think I’d be a lot more comfortable in a larger top and a smaller bottom. In fact, I actually went back and forth a bit with sizing. Ultimately, the best solution was a top that’s incredibly tight, as a skinsuit should be, and a bottom that’s just a bit looser than I’d prefer. It’s not a big deal, but I’d probably make a change if I could, and you can’t with a skinsuit.
One thing I absolutely love, though, is the cut of the sleeves. The longer, more aero length feels just right to me. Don’t expect generous pockets and zippers. Remember, the focus here is aero, and that would compromise the aero performance. I tend to carry a lot in my jersey pockets. It all still fits, but I’ve really got to shove it down in there and rely on the stretch of the fabric to hold everything.
When all suited up and jersey pockets stuffed, once you head out on a ride, be prepared for a bit of attention. I ride in a lot of flashy kits, but nothing draws attention like a one piece skinsuit with a robins egg blue top and the Rapha name on the thigh. Don’t get me wrong, it’s understated, as much as it can be, in a similar way to most of Rapha’s products. But the blue seems to really stand out, and the fact that it’s one piece is unusual to those who aren’t cyclists.
At the same time, that Rapha wordmark paints a target on your back for those who are cyclists. When you put it on a skinsuit, it means that everyone wants to race. Combine the actual added attention with the feeling of being somewhat naked, and you’ll want to be sure you feel confident if you are going to wear the Pro Team Aerosuit on a training ride. It’s also not a great option for a ride where you stop at a cafe because while it’s exceptionally comfortable on the bike, it’s cut really aggressively for an “on the bike fit” and isn’t all that comfortable to stand straight in. If you do stop, you’ll want to unzip it a bit.
The bottom line is that the Pro Team Aerosuit from Rapha is a somewhat complicated proposition for many people. It’s very well made with some thoughtful features and superb fabrics. It’s also very comfortable once you’ve managed to get it on and you are riding. It’s even a great price when compared to other skinsuits or high-end kits that are on the market. At the same time, it’s conspicuous on another level, and I have to wonder if the added performance is worth the trade offs. None of those trade offs are specific to Rapha.
For what it’s worth, I do tend to set a significant number of best times each time I take it out. That’s likely as much my effort level on those rides as anything else, but to some extent, that’s the nature of cycling. You’ll have to weigh the fact that it’s hard to get in and out of, requires a single size top and bottom, and is conspicuous against the comfort and speed it offers. Personally, I found that once I got used to it, I enjoy grabbing it when I really want to hammer. And of course, for racing, it’s a bit of free speed, and every little bit helps. The Pro Team Aerosuit is a race car, or maybe more accurately a race suit, and it’s not appropriate for every instance, but it’s very good if used in the way it was intended.
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