The Bike List

Rapha Pro Team Bib Shorts (Long) - long term test £170

Tested by Oliver Laverack, tester for The Bike List

Arguably, a good pair of bib shorts can make the same difference to your enjoyment of cycling as a perfectly fitting bike. Wearing a poor quality or bad fitting pair that are too tight, too loose or perhaps even restrict movement or blood flow can be a distinctly unpleasant experience.

If you spend a lot of time fidgeting and adjusting your bibs whilst riding then there's a good chance they don't offer an optimal fit. A good sign for me is always when I completely forget about the kit I'm wearing - this means it's doing its job and I'm comfortable.

This can be said for any piece of cycle wear, but some bits of kit can get away with fitting less well than others. You very much cannot get away with ill-fitting gear between you and the bike's contact points especially once you've done a few miles.

So, swiftly moving on to the item in hand, this pair of Rapha Pro Team Bib Shorts are described as Rapha's "Pro-grade bib shorts designed to meet the demands of the elite level racer". Don't let this description fool you into thinking that these are for the reserve of the pro cyclist. Yes, the likes of Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins have donned a pair of these (with Sky livery) but that definitely doesn't mean they won't fit or be suitable for mere mortals like us - more on this later.

Construction-wise these bibs are made using a Rapha's own Lycra based fabric (78% Nylon/ 22% Elastane) which they have made for them in Italy. The Lycra has been treated with coldblack® which claims to guarantee that garments using it have an impressive UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of at least 30. This clever technology is dual purpose so it also reflects the sun's rays to help keep the fabric cool against your skin.

The Lyrca part of the bibs is made from a number of panels held together mostly by flat-locked stitching cleverly placed to prevent rubbing and discomfort. The seam right down the middle has been bonded, again to prevent any chafing, and the seat panel has also been reinforced as the area that sees most friction and wear. Inside, the Cytech pad, made specifically for Rapha in Italy, is anti-bacterial with 4-way stretch, so it stays odour free for longer and matches you body as you pedal.

The uppers are made from an elasticated, cream coloured mesh (82% Polyester/ 18% Elastane) is reinforced with a thin white elastic surround. Being Pro Team bib shorts the mesh also has race radio pockets either side of the spine which apart from sounding cool also happens to be about the right size for the average smartphone. Having said that, it's not a very convenient place to store your smartphone, so for me these pockets are effectively useless but despite this I still like the fact that they are there.

At this point I should confess that prior to testing these bib shorts I have owned two other pairs of Rapha's Pro bib shorts (one for almost three years now) so I have noticed a big improvement on the contruction of this new pair. In particular the leg grippers - now thicker elasticated bands hold the shorts where they should be as opposed to just rubberised grippers. It sounds like a small change but it makes the world of difference. In addition to that I opted for the long version of these bibs this time round which means there's an extra 30mm of Lycra on each leg. It's surprising what a difference that makes to how they feel when you're riding if you have longer legs. I now save my other pair with shorter or standard length legs for the warmest days of the year and use the longer legged pair the rest of the year until it gets too cold. The longer legged versions are also better for pairing up with leg / knee warmers and I've also been testing Rapha's merino knee warmers which complement these bib shorts nicely. I've found I can quite happily wear this combo down to around 5 degrees and still feel warm as long as I'm not stopping too often.

In terms of fit I usually find it difficult to get a pair of bibs that suits my tall and thin shape - 6 foot 1 inches with a 32inch waist. When I opt for a size medium bib to make sure there isn't any loose fabric around the sides I sometimes find the length an issue as my body is too long and the area around the pad restricts me. If I go for a large I sometimes end up with too much material around the sides. As these bibs are designed for typically slimmer pros it means the fit for me is about spot on. I can wear a size large and thanks to the 'road racer' style cut these are the right length whilst also fitting snugly and being supportive around the sides. I was pleased to find that the new style leg grippers also fit my legs as although I have a tall and thin frame my legs are nowhere near as big as those of a pro, far from it in fact.

So, if you are a thinner build these bibs will offer you an exceptionally good and comfortable fit. If you aren't quite there yet or your natural shape is more built than racing snake, you might want to consider Rapha's classic bib shorts which don't have the same racing cut and are designed for ultimate comfort.

The clever and intricate construction means that they contour my body as if they were a custom fit item. And for me that's where the money is in these shorts. Rapha have clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how such a good fit can be achieved, taking lots of feedback from pros, and I'd say their hard work has paid off.

The other key feature that makes these shorts worth the money is the pad. The dual desity Cytech pad sewn into these shorts is longer than most, offering more padding at the front. Having tested these shorts on two cobbled classics, a number of local races and plenty of longer club runs this year I can confidently say that the pad is comfortable. I do however think that the thicker density padding at the front of the chamois could be a bit wider. The fact that I ride only on Adamo saddles probably has much to do with it as their non-traditional saddle shapes tend to be much wider at the nose. I'm in the minority but the popularity of saddles with cut-outs is increasing which means the average saddle is getting wider. I suspect the pad width is fine for the majority of cyclists.

Despite having done a significant number of miles in my latest pair they are showing almost no signs of wear at all. I should also point out that the pad is very robust and it has retained its original shape and none of the stitching has come undone anywhere. True to Rapha's claims it is very breathable and does dry quickly so if you put the bibs in the wash, hang them out overnight somewhere warm you can always be sure that the pad will be dry in the morning.

Looks-wise I'd say these are typical of Rapha's style - subtly stylish with just a little bit of logo shouting. My other criticism of these bibs, and of much of Rapha's kit, is that there aren't enough high-viz elements on them to make drivers aware of you when it's dark. There are only two small strips of high-viz fabric at the back of the legs - fairly well placed for traffic at junctions seeing you side on, but for me there could be a few extra details to help other road users see you from other angles too.

As great as the coldblack® technology sounds I really have to take Rapha's word that it does what it says on the tin. There's no reliable way for me to test this other than on feel and I can't say I noticed the cooling effect but that's not to say it didn't happen.

Price-wise there's no argument that £170 is a lot of money for a pair of bib shorts but I would suggest looking at them as an investment. If the fit and comfort I've experienced is the same for you then you'll forget you're wearing them on even the longest distance rides. You're not only paying for Rapha's meticulous attention to detail with seams, stitching, material choice and design, it's also the endless hours that pros and no doubt the designers have spent using these to destruction that has helped make a well thought out product. And, being Rapha, not only do they tick all the functional boxes but they also look good too.

Finally, if you're in any doubt about the Pro Team bibs then Rapha offer a 30-day trial period on their comfort oriented Classic Bib Shorts allowing you to test them to destruction during that time. If you're not completely happy then they'll give you a full refund. I can't think of any cycle clothing manufacturer, or any sport clothing manufacturer, that offers this kind of guarantee. It's also worth noting that in my experience Rapha's service team are very helpful and they'll not only get the kit out to you quickly but they'll also repair items that have failed after significant use or that have been damaged in a crash. That's great news if you buy a pair of these and then fall on your arse in the first week of owning them - sounds unlikely but I know people it's happened to.

I have experienced some stitching issues on one pair of Rapha bib shorts (not this pair) around the pad area and Rapha have been only too happy to repair them without question. All brands would like to think that they offer this kind of slick after sales service but in my experience very few do. It seems to me that Rapha don't just want to sell you some kit, they want you to enjoy using it and get the most from it and I sincerely hope this ethos doesn't get lost as it's something all manufacturers could learn from.

At a glance

Verdict Robust, close fitting, thoughtfully designed and expertly manufactured race-cut bib shorts that are worth the money if you spend enough time in the saddle.
Value
Performance

Rapha says:

Pro-grade bib shorts designed to meet the demands of elite level racing. Lightweight, durable and close-fitting, they are tailored for an aggressive race position.

Offering the same fabric, fit and construction as Rapha's Team Sky Pro Bib Shorts, the latest Pro Team Bib Shorts have been designed in collaboration with leading riders.

Featuring pared-back styling and striking contrast details, they are made from a Lycra-based fabric which is both supportive and durable. The fabric is treated with coldblack®, a highly-technical dye that reflects the sun's rays to keep the fabric cool against the skin. In hot conditions, this means the body needn't expend unnecessary energy to keep cool, and can use it instead to improve riding performance. All Rapha's pro-grade bib shorts use the same award-winning Cytech pad.

The Pro Team Bib Shorts with white decals are available in both regular and long (30mm extra leg length), tailored specifically for taller riders.

Key features

  • Lycra-based fabric
  • Tight, supportive and lightweight
  • High-grade leg grippers for comfort and stability
  • coldblack® technology for superior cooling
  • Anatomic Cytech pad
  • Permanent wicking treatment
  • Multiple panel construction for optimum fit
  • Reinforced seat panel and bonded seams for comfort
  • RAPHA block logos on legs
  • Name label for team laundry use
  • Race radio pockets either side of spine
  • Conditions:
  • Criteriums
  • One-day races
  • Stage races
  • High-tempo training

Tech spec

  • Lycra based Italian fabric, proprietary to Rapha
  • Light, supportive and lightweight fabric
  • Coldblack© technology (both colours) for extra cooling
  • Permanent anti-microbial treatment to prevent build up of bacteria
  • main Body: 78% Nylon/ 22% Elastane
  • Mesh: 82% Polyester/ 18% Elastane

Features

  • Lightweight, high-wicking Lycra fabric
  • Coldblack® technology for superior cooling
  • Proprietary pad developed for Rapha by E.I.T: Italian fabric with extremely high absorbency, breathability and ultra fast drying. Naturally bacteriostatic with 4 way stretch
  • Displaced inside leg seams to avoid chafing
  • Permanent wicking treatment
  • Fit specific to a road racer's body shape
  • Multiple panel construction for optimum fit
  • Reinforced seat panel
  • Bonded seams for comfort
  • White RAPHA block logo on right leg, black on left leg
  • Name label for team laundry use
  • Race radio pockets either side of spine
  • Silicone free, low-profile gripper on hems

Care instructions

  • Machine wash at 30°
  • Use mild detergent
  • Drip dry in shade
  • Do not iron
  • Do not tumble dry
  • Do not bleach
  • Do not dry clean

Supplier: Rapha Racing Ltd, +44 0207 4829177, rapha.cc