Reviewed: Rapha’s Lightest Summer Bibs, Jersey, and Socks; Currently On Sale
Earlier this summer, just as the mercury first started peaking in central Europe, we had a chat at Rapha’s new HQ on the continent in Munich, and they decided to send us a set of their lightest weight cycling kit to test through the long hot days. I got to test it through a whirl wind of weather we had here from 35°C (95°F) and sunny back down to about 13°C (55°F) and wet in the span of a couple days. Needless to say I preferred the former, but I was happy throughout with the shorts and downright impressed with the jersey once I figure out how it performed best.
Now, if you move quickly as cooler days loom, you have the opportunity to pick up these pieces at reduced Rapha Summer Sale prices which make them more attainable. There should still be several good weeks of warm weather left to take advantage of some good summer riding.
Join me after the break for detailed thoughts, pics, pricing, and the current discount…
The peak summer kit from Rapha included a Super Lightweight Jersey, a pair of Lightweight Bib Shorts, and the Lightweight Socks. They also sent a Pro Team mesh baselayer, but I’ll save that for a separate baselayers-only post because I think it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of this super hot weather kit, but is promising none the less.
When the sample kit showed up I was pleasantly surprised that the Rapha Europe staff chose to send over everything in their eye-searing yellow color (called Chartreuse.) Besides the light color staying cool on long sunny days, the extra visibility on late evening returns was also appreciated.
Super Lightweight Jersey
As for the jersey, when it first showed up I wore it on a couple rides with a couple of different mesh baselayers, since I’ve had success with similar setups for the Rapha Lighteright sportwool blend jersey, as well as polyester jerseys from other manufactures (and the pictures on Rapha’s site show all the riders with mesh baselayers.) The jersey felt OK, and stayed mostly dry, but didn’t really seem to live up to the hype or the cost, even at a relatively mild 25°C/77°F. I told one of my riding partners who has a special edition version, and he suggested shedding the baselayer. What a difference that made, especially when it’s real hot out.
This jersey wants to be next to your skin. The thin main body fabric with its tiny perforations feels incredibly soft on the skin, and the waffle-patterned mesh side panels stretch tightly and comfortably against the body. Riding with nothing underneath, the jersey feels airy with great ventilation combined with excellent wicking. On hot rides in the sun the back under the shoulder blades was the only place that ever felt like it held any moisture, and air flowing around and through the jersey lent a pretty nice cooling effect. Then by the time I took the jersey off it was always dry to the touch. Plus, on longer climbs, unzipping the jersey quickly felt like you had nothing on at all.
Paired with a wind vest, which easily stuffs in a side pocket, the jersey kept me warm on the cool and wet end of rides. Once I figured it out, with a good mesh baselayer you definitely can ride in cooler temps, and to cool off and benefit from the jersey’s airiness and wicking you just need to unzip, and open it up.
The cut of the jersey is pretty much a stretchy race cut, and like the other lightweight jerseys from Rapha I size down to a medium from the large I wear in their heavier wool jerseys. (I’m 185cm/6′-1″ and 78kg/172lbs.) It is a generally short jersey, so pairs best with bibs, and as result pockets are slightly high, but not enough to make it hard to get into. As for the pockets themselves, they are made of the same mesh as the jersey sides which helps limit heat buildup due to the doubled fabric when the pockets are empty. They are pretty standard in size and stretch well to accommodate the usuals and includes a single zippered valuables pouch that is not water-resistant like on their jerseys. Lastly the center pocket is pretty narrow and not really big enough for a bottle, but since the jersey doesn’t have a pump loop, the tall narrow pocket works well for stashing a pump, tube, and tool without tool much bunching.
Lightweight Bib Shorts
Again the first ride in the shorts was not entirely promising. The compressive leg bands were a big difference for example from the benchmark Rapha Classic Bibs, and with the overall thin and almost grippy nature of the light fabric it was a bit more difficult to position the shorts where I wanted them. They did also create a bit of sausaging effect when standing around, but on the bike when the muscles are working this disappears. The chamois is essentially the same as in the Classic Bibs, but the inner layer of the pad is perforated. This makes it a bit softer overall, and also it seems to stretch around a bit more. Really what that means is that although ventilation and wicking is great, if you don’t spend the extra minute moving the shorts around to the perfect spot before riding, they won’t be as comfortable as they can be. Another strange but useful note, the light colored band on the left leg mandates a bit higher shaving, so keep that in mind if you don’t want little dark hairs poking though.
Now once you know all of that and act accordingly, they perform very well. (It’s kind of a theme here, but this summer kit requires an actual thought process to maximize its functionality.) The fabric is very thin and has a nice compressive feel to it. I’m comfortably wearing the same size L as in the Classics bibs, but there is much more of a tight fit to these. Again the fabric and all mesh bib straps kept me cool, even on the hottest days. The fabric wicks so well and dries so quickly as a whole, that you actually notice when or where it doesn’t. That one place I notice is right between the navel and the top of the chamois. I guess this area doesn’t get enough air movement, so it was noticeably damp on some rides when I was sweating a lot and everywhere else had already dried. On really hot rides it wasn’t especially noticeable, but under say 22°C/72°F it felt a bit weird. Overall the shorts are very comfortable, and certainly are up to long days in the heat.
The socks are nicely short (not like they are shown on the Rapha product page) and made of a very open mesh. I was a bit afraid of them when I first tried them on and could clearly see my toes. They have simple reinforced sections around the toes, heel and across the instep. Under the ball of the foot there is a more conventionally padded section essentially over the pedal-cleat interface. It was a little disconcerting at first, because there is so little sock left with all the mesh that I was wary of even walking around my hardwood floors with them. But on the bike they worked perfectly (although I did have to cinch my shoes down more than usual.) The pad under the forefoot worked perfectly, and overall my foot was very well ventilated and stayed cool and dry. For hot days on the bike they do the job well, disappearing under foot, but cooler days aren’t as comfortable and they definitely won’t serve double duty off the bike.
The only gripe I would have about the color of the whole kit is that the socks haven’t really kept that bright hue through regular use. After one road ride ending in an unfortunately long slog home in the rain, the road and trail grime kicked up by my wheels and passing cars seems to have permanently knocked the shine out of the socks. Repeated washings made them look clean again, but that bright chartreuse is long gone. On a more positive note, both the shorts and jersey were a mess at the end of the same ride, and they look as good as new a couple of washing on.
The Super Lightweight Jersey is available in white, sky blue, and this yellow and retails for €125/$160, on sale now for €90/$110. The pair of Lightweight Bib Shorts are available in white, matching sky blue, and this yellow and retail for €185/$230, on sale for €130/$165 in only extreme sizing now. And the Lightweight Socks are available in white, sky blue, pink, and this yellow and retail for €15/$20.
All in all, it makes for a well functioning premium kit, with the traditionally understated graphics Rapha is know for (albeit in this striking color). The Super Lightweight jersey is definitely the standout among the kit, and the one piece that it is easy to say is worth the price (even without the sale) for those who ride a lot in hot weather. If you ride a lot in the sun and heat, I suggest taking advantage of the Summer Sale now.