This is a review I spent more time on. For what it’s worth, I always look to explore things from a unique angle. With this year’s Rapha kit, this turned out to be harder than expected. There are two reasons for this. First off Michael – one of CycleTechReview’s other contributors – was also looking at this year’s Pro Team kit, albeit a slightly different version.
But what turned out to be the bigger barrier was the review I did last summer of the Pro Team Aerosuit. While Michael looked at the midweight jersey and shorter length bibshorts (link), I took a look at the Pro Team Aero Jersey with the longer Pro Team Bib Shorts II. This caused a bit of confusion because while the kit has been re-engineered this year, it’s very similar to the Aerosuit from last year.
This is a very good thing! By essentially taking the Aerosuit and cutting it in half, they’ve eliminated every single drawback to wearing an Aerosuit, but given back what feels like most of the aero benefits. I had a hard time really wrapping my head around this until recently when I finally made my way to an unofficial ride with a bunch of Rapha employees. Looking around at all the various iterations of the Pro Team kit was what really let the improvements stand out.
Unlike Michael’s, my jersey is as tight as any pro jersey. It’s how I always like to wear my jersey, but it’s also how an aero jersey fits. If you’ve not worn one before, be prepared, it’s tight. This isn’t unique to Rapha, but if you’ve not experienced it before, just make sure you are prepared.
What should be less of a surprise is the long, dimpled, sleeves. Again, not unique to Rapha, but it is unique to aero jerseys, and if you’ve not experienced it before, it’s a bit different. For me, it’s one of my favourite parts of any aero jersey and something I think Rapha has handled particularly well.
It’s not easy to get the cut just right, on any jersey, so that when you are bent over in a riding position, the shoulders are still comfortable. This is even more of an issue with an aero jersey with long sleeves, but Rapha has really nailed the fit for an aggressive aero position.
Another piece of the fit puzzle that I find even more impressive is how Rapha has handled the waist. The pockets are a bit larger than the Aerosuit, and there is also a zippered pocket for valuables, and when you’ve got everything loaded up, you’ll find that while the front will ride up a bit – as all jerseys do – there is no gripper in the front, so that it will come back down. More importantly, though, when the back of the jersey comes up, it doesn’t continue to rise. It curls under the items in your pocket and refuses to move farther.
I can’t say how intentional it really is, but given Rapha’s obsessive attention to details, I’d wager it’s been thought through, and it’s brilliant. I’ve actually found that while I still pull down the front from time to time, I actually prefer the back once it’s come up a bit, and I leave it alone.
I do struggle with the collar a bit more than the rest of the jersey fit. In some ways, I’m a bit of a traditionalist, and I really do like a nice high collar. In the name of aero, jerseys that are designed to cheat the wind have a very low cut neckline, the Pro Team Aero jersey doesn’t depart from this norm. I think it’s been handled a bit better here than on the Aerosuit, and better than many competitors, but I’d love to see it a bit higher.
When it comes to the bib shorts, I have much less to say. They fit exceptionally well, and they work whether it’s a short ride or nine hours in the saddle. This year’s version has a new dual-density chamois pad that is designed to deliver better comfort and fit. If you hold them next to an older version, you’ll notice the bib section itself is cut differently. This gives a better in-saddle fit, but I can’t say I can really tell the difference between the old chamois and the new. It was exceptional before, and it’s exceptional now.
The most noticeable part of the redesign is the leg grip. Where it was once a section of elastic a few inches wide, it’s now smoothly integrated into the rest of the leg. The old one was good, but there were other products that had already integrated the gripper into the leg, and they were better. Rapha has righted this small shortcoming, and they’ve also offered two lengths this year. I went with the long version as it’s the version that is closer to the previous offering. I find it to be on the long side of the bibs I own, but not the longest. It also seems to be leaving a tan line about four inches above the end of my bent knee.
I’ve always been someone who likes to wear the “uniform” as it were for whatever sports I’ve enjoyed over the years. Many people consider Rapha, for better or worse, the “uniform” for a certain segment of the cycling population. It’s not the kit I own that people ask me about the most, but it’s definitely the kit that gets me the most waves. It’s also the kit I see most often in a small segment of very fast people I really only know from running into while riding.
A reputation like that puts a lot of pressure on a company, but it’s something that Rapha actively courts. The door to their Portland headquarters has a quote on the door that reads “You have to know how to look good when you’re riding. To look good is already to go fast.”
Rapha isn’t only about looking good, though. They back up their pricing, $295 for the Pro Team II bib shorts and $195 for the Pro Team Aero Jersey, as well as their reputation with serious technology and comfort.
The first few times I put on the 2017 Rapha Pro Team Aero jersey and bib shorts, the only thing that really jumped to mind was how silky and light it all felt. As time has gone on, I’ve become accustomed to it enough to take in some of the other details, and I’ve not been disappointed. When it comes to high end cycling gear, the differences are small, and yet Rapha still manages to stand out.
This year, there is more choice in weights and fits than ever before. So no matter what you’d like, you’ll be able to find it among the many choices offered, and you’ll not be disappointed. I had some reservations about last year’s Aerosuit in terms of practicality for everyday riding, however, if the idea appeals to you, then the Aero jersey and Bib Short II combination offers only marginally reduced aerodynamics, and you gain the benefit of a lot of everyday practicality.
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