Rapha Pro Team Bib Shorts

Of the many products I’ve been asked my opinion of, but haven’t ridden, the number-one, top-of-the-list item is a pair of Rapha bib shorts. It seems any time I review a pair of bibs—by anyone—the first question I’m asked, either in comments, in person or by email is how they compare to bibs from Rapha. Until recently, I had no answer for that.

Then Rapha sent me a pair of their Pro Team Bib Shorts.

Now, I need to insert a little caveat here: The Pro Team bibs are an item new to Rapha’s offerings, but some riders will already be familiar with them. This is the same short as the Rapha Condor Sharp Bib Shorts. So it’s not like I’m reviewing a product to which existing Rapha shoppers are wholly unfamiliar.

The 21st Century is a place of paralleled partisanship. It’s not only okay to be biased, the world wants to know what your biases are. “Fly that freak flag,” is as much a statement granting permission as it is a request to tell us who you are. Rapha, to their credit, have told us they live in a world of Plus X film, pre-helmet, and that the only phone they answer is at a café in the shadow of Mont Aigoual. Oh, and that they don’t do rides shorter than six hours.

Good thing they made these bibs. I don’t put these on unless I’m going out for at least three hours. Anything less is something of an insult. How come? Well, it begins with the pad. It always begins with the pad, doesn’t it? The pad is not just the foundation of a good bib short, it is the cornerstone of said garment. Begin with a crap pad and you can do all the Lycra acrobatics you want and the shorts will still torture you after two hours.

So Rapha begins with a very fine Cytech pad, the same pad they use in all their other bibs. It is one of the two best pads I’ve ever worn, though not quite the very best. In a world crowded with Kias this is an Audi. I did a humbling six-hour ride in these just this weekend and returned home to a happy undercarriage. The pad, as has been noted by some, is thick, but I’m less concerned with its thickness than how firm it is. I don’t really notice how thick the pad is, just that the saddle never feels uncomfortable. Which is saying something because, in the parlance of Fi’zi:k, I’m not a snake and I spent all of Saturday’s ride on an Arione. Somewhere in my little black book of equations it is written that Padraig + Arione + 6 (hours) ≠ Happy Ass. Or so I thought.

Now, getting that pad in position and keeping it there is the second important ingredient in a pair of bibs. The first time I put these bibs on—I gotta be honest—I took them off immediately. I thought they might be the wrong size. Yes, I got them on, but they were tight like, well if you’re truly responsible, condoms ought to fit this tight. So I checked with them and I found out that, yes, these are supposed to compress. I noted a corollary to their suggestion when I put them back on. While they were tight around my legs, they weren’t tight at my belly and the bib straps were long enough. Had these been a size too small the straps would have turned me into a hunchback with belly spilling from the waist.

So about getting the pad in the right spot … these bibs take a minute or so to worry into place. I can get the straps over my shoulders while the pad only glances by the machinery, so getting them into place requires a bit of squatting and a few small tugs. But once into place? They are as intractable as a cinder block wall. Which, if you think about it, is kinda what you want. Their only movement will be with you, not again’ you.

All this compressive Lycra comes with an extra dollop of quality. The material has been treated with Schoeller’s coldblack technology. I could go into all the technical details behind coldblack but I’d put you to sleep and you wouldn’t read any further. Here’s what matters—coldblack is a treatment given to fabrics that does two things. First, it helps reflect light, including UV rays, to help keep you cooler than you would be were you wearing an ordinary black garment. Second, because it reflects UV rays, it offers UV protection, which is a handy thing given that you’re a cyclist and not a couch potato.

Patterning on these bibs is exquisite; if you told me they’d been cut by Coco Chanel herself, I’d be apt to believe you. A pair of bibs this tight has the potential to dispense discomfort like grains from a salt shaker if the pattern isn’t right. Were there no room for my caboose I’d suffer, either at cheek or beak. The other potential pitfall is that any garment this snug could limit movement. Overly tight, ill-fitting bibs can restrict your power at the top of the pedal stroke. Say it with me in your best ironic voice: That would be genius! 

Of course the other facet of fit that people are prone to complain about is the length of the bib straps. For me, the length is perfect and the material used in the bibs is very light weight, lighter than what is used in many other bibs I won. Also, at the top of the bib, basically extending from the top of the shoulder forward to the collarbone is a small length of Lycra to give the bibs a bit of extra stretch.

I’m wearing the mediums, which places the sizing squarely among many American brands like Capo, Hincapie and Voler. That said, just bear in mind these won’t feel like a medium from those other companies. Oh, and for you beanpoles out there, they do a version with a 30mm longer inseam. Why don’t more companies do that? Be aware, though, that the bib straps do not increase in length, so if you’re 6′ 4″ and 140 lbs. you will only be slightly better off.

You’re an observant bunch and have no doubt noticed I’ve just mentioned some of Rapha’s competitors. So far as I can tell Pro Team Bib Shorts were designed with a sniper’s scope aimed at a facility in Switzerland. Yeah, Assos. If these bibs are meant to compete with anything on the market it has got to be the Assos Mille bibs. I can’t help but make the comparison in my head even though the experience of wearing the two different bibs is, well, dissimilar. And this difference isn’t something that causes me to choose one for one sort of ride and the other for something different. I have three go-to bibs for long, hard days. There are my Panache RKP bibs. I’ve got a set of Milles. And now I’ve got a set of Pro Team Bibs. Everything else is limited to rides two hours and shorter.

These bibs carry a suggested retail price of $250. Again, the suggestion is that these bibs are meant to compete with nothing other than the Milles. Rapha has on occasion been criticized for what has been perceived as a style premium, that, perhaps, their goods weren’t truly worth the price being paid. I can say there has been a lot of thought put into these bibs. How many of us really need a radio pocket is, at best, debatable. I know I don’t need one, and don’t slip an iPod into it. While I do mountain bike with an iPod Shuffle, I clip that to my jersey pocket. However, if I did need a radio pocket, it would be nice to have a choice of two pockets, right and left of my spine to that a piece of electronics isn’t resting against bone. Who needs that?

Do I really need a laundry tag on which to write my name? It’s been a lot of years since I last had a roommate who could wear my cycling clothing, and even then we didn’t do laundry together so that’s one of those value-added propositions that doesn’t actually add any—value, that is. But good style is worth something to me and I thoroughly dig that the Rapha block letter logo is done in white in one leg and black on the other.

All the seams are flatlock and the leg bands at the bottom of the short feature a repeating mantra of “PRO TEAM” around the band. As it’s in black the understated presentation tickles my sense of un-obnoxious style. And for those of you who, like me, prefer a leg gripper that does the job but doesn’t get overzealous about it, you’ll like these. The tiny bands of silicone are just enough to get the job done.

So, are these things worth $250? My sense is that they will last longer than the Eurozone, that you’ll never get home from a ride wondering how you missed putting chamois cream on that one blessed spot, that you’ll never wear these with any jersey you own and look like a dork, that you’ll never regret your purchase.

 

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30 comments

  1. bwebel

    I hate the Rapha image, but I put a pair of their bibs on for the first time to do a 8 hour ride in the Pyrenees, and it was 7+ hours in before my butt bothered me at all. Personally, I’d rank them above the Assos for chamois comfort.

    The review is spot on, though, I would note as an aside that Coco Chanel was definitely not a “himself.”

  2. John

    Repost this in a year with a long term report on the durability of these vs the Mille’s please.
    I would have thought that with the extra compression that they would be more targeted @ the UNO bib. The Mille is not know for being compressive.
    I make no secret of the fact that I have consumed large quantities of the Assos Kool Aid, and take any other manufacturers comparison to the brand with a grain of salt. That said, curious to see how they hold up long term.

  3. sophrosune

    Hi Padraig,

    I purchased these Pro Team Bib Shorts in January this year. I bought them for the vintage-looking logo to go with my new vintage bike. I expected them to fit more or less like the Rapha Team Issue Bib Shorts I bought at the end of 2010, which are magic for me. They didn’t fit anything like that. The leg grippers were so clinging and tight I could hardly get them up over the knee. Even when I did manage that small trick they were very difficult to coax further up the leg, making the fit of the shoulder straps– at least initially–crushing. I probably should have sent them back, but I haven’t. Once wearing them on the bike a lot of my complaints melt away and they are nice piece of kit for long rides. But I still wish that Rapha would provide a greater level of consistency to their sizing. I know that the description of these shorts somewhat prepares you for the sizing, it’s just hard to imagine that the same brand can offer the same size that feels like it’s a full size smaller (or bigger). Also, their added value elements like laundry name tag are sometimes just silly. However, that said, the rear pockets are useful, especially if you’re riding vintage jerseys with less rear pocket room than the modern variety. Thanks for the review.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Sophrosune: Your Pro Team Bibs sound distinctly smaller than mine. I’d double-check with them to make sure you’re not in a pair that’s too small. Of course, there’s a chance that you just have massive quads, something I’m free from the ravages of. I really don’t have any trouble pulling these most of the way up; it’s just that last 5% that requires a bit of effort.

      You bring up an important point on sizing though: That I’ve reviewed only one pair of their bibs doesn’t permit me the chance to talk about variation in sizing from one product to the next. Sorry I can’t (yet) be more helpful in that regard.

  4. Joshua

    Sophrosune: FYI it is my understanding that the fit change from the old Team Issue shorts was intentional. The old ones were nice, but the material was not as supple/compressive, the inseam was pretty short and the silicone weak. The combination caused them to ride up to “hot pants” level, which worsened when used with warmers. Rapha went back to the drawing board for the new version. The new version is definitely tighter and stickier when pulling it on (I wear size small and perhaps my legs are on the thicker side), but I just put them on halfway, then pull/scrunch up the legs to mid thigh to finish the slide and then roll the legs back down (and turn up the gripper hem, old habit and the new inseam is pretty long). As noted, once they’re on, they’re perfect. Worth a few extra seconds of care. Just like many things.

  5. sophrosune

    Hi Joshua,

    That’s a pity because I much preferred the previous version. While Rapha doesn’t really fit this characterization, it seems to be more and more the case that brands feel compelled to change their product line each season whether it’s needed or justified. The result is that they often throw out the good along with the old. I’ll have to try their “Classic Bib” and see if that’s more or less like the old “Team Issue” bib shorts. Cheers.

  6. michael

    Manufacturers change fit all the time, sometimes even mid-season if they have the flexibility to put out wholesale product manufactured at an in-house custom facility. Sugoi used to do this when product was late arriving from overseas to help fill the gaps. Back when they actually did in-house custom work with a skilled labour force in Vancouver. Before deciding it was more cost-effective to build them in El Salvador or whichever central american country it is they manufacture custom gear in now.

    As for inseam lengths, I wish every manufactuer would offer their premium bib in 2 or 3 different lenghts. The patterning issues and manufacturing issues are tiny to do this and add very little extra cost to the process, if any. a Sean Yates special, an 7.5 to 8 inch inseam, and a 9-9.5 inch inseam seems about right for everyone out there to find a happy ground.

    I am personally a fan of the shorter inseam. This is why I don’t wear Rapha. Great bibs, but not my cup of tea length wise and too big in the cabosse for this assless man.

  7. Wsquared

    IMHO, for many folks having “Rapha” in large block letters on these bibs has less to do with looking “old school” than it does with making sure that everybody within half a kilometer of your butt knows that you spent a pantload of $ on those shorts. ;)

  8. RED

    Wish Rapha was transparent about any changes from last year’s Pro Team Bib to this years. They look the same at a glance, the product description seems the same. You guys suggest they are different… think the Cold Black is new? I like what I’ve got … 2011 Pro Team… now I’m afraid to get a new pair!

    @Sophrosune
    Agree that the radio pockets are a godsend with retro jerseys, esp. if you are into long unsupported rides. I’ve encouraged Rapha to add an envelope style top to these pockets, because while I’m not familiar with race radios, I AM familiar with my phone and kit smashing on the tiles when I’m done a ride… (drop straps = smash)

    @Wsquared
    RE: the logo
    Only someone into cycling will identify the Rapha brand & the associated costs. That person is equally likely to identify at a glance Assos/Pearl Izumi/Sugoi/Castelli and umpteen other quality brands and be aware of the costs of each on the spectrum… Rapha-haters-gonna-hate … just ride.

  9. RED

    @sophrosune

    PS. if you like the pockets on the Pro Team, you may hate the Classic since the little scallop pocket is next to USELESS and poorly positioned low. Different lycra/grippers/length, worth trying a pair I guess, plus you can do the money-back guarantee on the bibs… In some ways they make a better hot weather bib given the wide open back? cheers

    http://www.rapha.cc/classics-guarantee

  10. Lachlan

    These are awesome shorts to ride in.. but the standard Classic Rapha shorts are in my experience several degrees awesomer in every possible respect – Better fit, more comfortable, nicer skin feel… and less obvious so all the Rapha haters dont try and sprint past you :)

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  12. Mr. Fly

    @Padraig

    How does the Rapha Pro Team bib shorts compare to the Assos S5 Mille in terms of fit? Do you wear a medium in your Mille bib shorts?

  13. Tim Lane

    Probably just that miss you and the water cooler banter, and envy your being at Presscamp ;-).

    A little while back I realized I never wore my “less-preferred” kit, so I gave some to friends and donated the rest to World Bicycle Relief via this: http://worldbicyclerelief.org/blog/entry/donate-used-sporting-goods-and-apparel-to-wbr-via-the-pros-closet

    I’ve become less tolerant of poor performing clothing since getting in to this side of the industry so that probably influenced my clear out. Of course now I can sometimes see the bottom of my bike clothing drawer, and it seems like time to buy more, maybe I’ll try Rapha for my next road shorts.

  14. Chris

    I’ll add my 2euro cents to this. I went ahead and bought the Team issue bib shorts and jersey combo last week, I had a voucher which eased the pain. When I first tried on the shorts I was a little bit concerned on the tugging over the shoulders but with a careful fit, tug here, twist there they are very comfy. The jersey is tight and initially I though I got the wrong size. Riding in this kit, man alive this this stuff is fantastic. I quickly forgot that I was wearing the jersey, super slim, well cut and the fabric feels very nice.

    The shorts, I have a problem there insofar as that I want to wear them all the time! The tight fit I think actually gives me support in my legs so I feel less fatigued at the end of ride: i could just be that much fitter now, who knows?

    Overall, easily the best kit I have ever owned. The team look with the pink looks sharp (all puns intended) and very stylish, not like some other kit where ‘design by committee’ was the overriding input.

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  16. Alexander Holbrook

    How are the raphas compared to the Assos Mille 1 year on from the initial review? Looking at getting one or the other and want to know which one has held up better and performed better since then.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      They are both holding up very well. I’ve no complaints with either one and I fully expect to be using them both this time next year.

  17. Pete C

    Hi – In all the above sizing debate it would be great to know your height and waist if wearing a medium. In Assos I sized up to large as medium bent me double and beyond “they are designed for your position on bike”. Yours at 5′ 10″ and long body. Can you let us know?

  18. Mike

    Just tried the M and S in the Thermal Pro Bib; M fits well, fitted but not too tight although loose at the bottom of the legs so fear of riding up.
    S fits snug, almost compression and the leg grippers work. However, I am not sure if too small…

    I’m 5’10, 65kgs and vary from 30-32″ waist.

    1. lawrence

      Mike–I am about the same size as you, and am having the same conundrum as to which size to go with, Medium or Small.

      Which size did you ultimately decide on?

  19. Les.B.

    On Padraig’s positive review, I recently bought a pair of Rapha bib shorts, the Classic model, which is similar to the Team model except with much less compression. My decision to go for less compression may have been a purchasing mistake on my part, but I’m still happy to have these.

    I can attest to the top-notch quality of these bibs, and the pad provides by far the most freedom from discomfort that I have ever experienced (and these are only the second best?).

    My one complaint is that when I pull down the front of the bib to take a wiz, I have to pull the elastic fabric to the limit of its stretch. My Giordana bibs by comparison are more elastic in the front and are easier to use in this regard.

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