Review: Rapha to the Core, Bibs and Baselayer

Rapha's extraordinary basics, 2008 bibs and baselayer

Strip away all the fancy layers we wrap ourselves in to get on our bikes, and what are you left with but the basics. Enter Rapha's supremely comfortable 2008 Bibs and silky-soft merino Base Layer. OK, nobody said the basics couldn't be fancy.

In 2007 I bought my first pair of Rapha bibs and loved the fit and finish. Rapha's shorts were soft and stretchy where other brands were tight and claustrophobic. The shoulder straps were broad and didn't pinch or bind. They dried quickly. In a word they were flawless!

So how do you improve on perfection? I hadn't a clue until Rapha's 3/4 bib tights arrived last Fall sporting a new Cytech chamois. Compared with the engineered Nalini pad this new chamois seemed incredibly simple, but it only took a couple of rides to recognize it was an improvement. The Cytech was softer, wicked moisture better and dried faster after washing. When I realized the 08 bibs had the black Cytech pad, it wasn't long before I was online ordering them.

And they haven't disappointed. Last year's model is still in regular rotation, but the new bibs are the go-to shorts for big rides. The matte lycra again offers just the right amount of compression to keep my legs happy. While the top of the 08 bibs are edged in contrasting white; the Rapha logo is still classically presented black on black. I love wearing them. Currently they occupy third place on my revised Top 10 Kit list behind the everyday versatility of the Rapha Gilet and sleek Rapha Lightweight Jersey. They may yet displace their siblings and gain the top spot.

The Rapha Bib Shorts are priced at £120 $195 €175

Rapha's ultra-soft, translucent baselayer

Whatever the weather, hot or cold, I'm of the school that believes a baselayer helps keep you running at optimum temperature. A while back I wrote about my winning experience with Campagnolo's short-sleeved technical baselayer C281. The Campy piece fits like a second skin in the best Euro tradition.

That review didn't go unnoticed and shortly thereafter I received a note from Slate Olsen encouraging me to give the Rapha merino baselayer a try. I'd been hesitant to go that route because I feared 100% wool would be itchy, I was happy to be proved wrong.

Rapha's baselayer (I wear Large) is a featherweight throwback. The styling evokes memories of a working man's undershirt circa the 1920's, think Jim Braddock's story in Cinderella Man. The ideal fit is slightly looser than skin tight, and that's what I get with the Large. My fears of itchiness were unwarranted. Wisely, both the branding at the neckline and the care labels are sewn on the outside of the garment. No tickling included.

The New Zealand merino wool is incredibly efficient at wicking moisture and the slightly relaxed fit (I've chosen) is actually cooler than the Campy technical baselayer. Paired with Rapha's own Lightweight Jersey you have a superb combination for the hottest summer rides. And that's good because the temperature in the Bay Area today is going to hit 95 degrees F. I'm off to put on the basics for the ride to work.

The Rapha Merino Base Layer is priced at £45 $80 €65

5 Responses to Review: Rapha to the Core, Bibs and Baselayer

  1. Paul says:

    Not to mention – base layers can make laundry easier.

  2. Mark says:

    I received the Rapha’s with the Nalini pad, but thought I was getting the newer Cytech pad model. Having ridden both would you recommend returning the Nalini version and waiting on the newer Cytech version? Thanks!

  3. Mark,

    I think the Cytech is a better pad. If you can return them for the 2008 bibs

  4. Sean says:

    I think you are confused. Nalini does not make chamois for other manufacturers.
    Nalini makes their own chamois for their products. If you received a RafaRapha short with a defective chamois I suggest you return it to RAPHA.

    Please be aware the Cytech or La Fonte “Pads” are a Knit or woven fabric which by nature productsproduces excess heat. Friction creates heat. The more material you have the more friction is created. Other manufacturer chooses to purchase the less expensive woven or knit fabric pads. Nalini produces a synthetic leather or actual chamois. Synthetic leather is more expensive to produce and is a better conductor of heat. Nalini produces 100% of its products with no subcontract work.

    Most manufacturers subcontract work to other vendors. In short, they do not make shorts they sell you a name…..Save yourself some money and put a bathroom wash cloth in your shorts. It will probably work and conduct heat better.


  5. Sean,

    Rapha was actually very clear about the use of a pad from Nalini, and this was reported and reviewed throughout the cycling press.

    RoadCyclingUK’s review of Rapha Bibs

    BikeRadar’s Review

    Rapha’s site circa 2006

    You’ll be happy to read that at least the RoadCyclingUK review agreed with you and preferred the Nalini pad to the Cytech. As I hope I made clear, I own and ride with both versions of the Rapha shorts and prefer the Cytech-padded one. Everymans’ bum is different.

    Not sure how in reading the piece you got any notion the shorts were defective.

    I’m sure my wife would have a problem with the wash cloth idea ;-)