Rapha Women's Winter Tights
I decided to take a chance on the Rapha winter bib tights, because several women I know wear them and have good things to say about them. As you can see, these "tights" are pretty much a full-body jumpsuit. In my view that somewhat justifies the price of the garment, as the amount of warmth and coverage it provides is akin to what you would get from both tights and a vest. The fleece-lined tights are warm and windproof, designed for winter temperatures. At the time of this review, I have worn them on only one 30 mile ride so far in 25°F. My understanding (based on how others wear them) is that one dons these over a base layer and under a long sleeve jersey. For the purpose of demonstration I will show them here without a jersey on top.
I am a US size 4 and got the winter tights in Small. They are a very close fit, but also super-stretchy and don't constrict my movements at all, so I guess I am happy with the size. Multi-panel construction allows for a tailored look. The sizing seems designed for lean women with big thighs and a moderate bosom. If you are larger than a size B on top, consider going up a size or the torso might feel constricting. If you have very slim legs, consider going down a size or the tights might be loose. If you have a big bosom and slim legs... well, then you might be out of luck.
another reviewer points out, the placement on the left is curious given that the manufacturer is English, but it works for American roads). I was riding with another woman who was wearing these, and the reflective strip made her very visible from a distance as she pedaled. The mesh stir-ups are another nice feature, as they keep the tights from riding up and exposing skin at the ankles while also being soft and stretchy enough to eliminate tugging.
And finally there is the lack of a chamois. The tights are unpadded and meant to be worn over padded cycling shorts. The idea is that this way, you don't have to wash the entire massive jumpsuit every time you wear it and therefore it is a great feature. I can sort of see that, and I also appreciate that without the tell-tale pad these bibs can double as a cross-country skiing jumpsuit. But there is one thing that confuses me: Isn't the whole point of bibs to solve the problem of cycling shorts cutting into your abdomen? If so, it seems to me that the Rapha bibs rather fail at that aspect of things. Also, some might simply find it too bulky and constricting to wear fleece-lined compression tights over shorts. You may want to consider this aspect carefully before buying.
Summary: The Rapha women's winter tights are really more like a multi-sport full body jumpsuit. They are warm, easy to move in, attractive, and increase the cyclist's visibility on the road. On the downside, they are time consuming to put on and take off, while the lack of a chamois and the need to wear them over cycling shorts negates the waist-band eliminating benefits of bib tights and adds bulk. Given how warm these are, I am willing to deal with their limitations. But ultimately my opinion of their value will depend on quality. I really hope these last longer than a season! I would also suggest that Rapha consider offering a padded version for those who would prefer to carefully wash the chamois to having to wear them over cycling shorts.
Rapha Women's Long-Sleeve Jersey
I got the women's long sleeve jersey to wear as a midlayer underneath my winter cycling jacket. Again the purchase was motivated by positive feedback from a couple of other women who own this garment. There are several choices for colour schemes, and after agonising over the "fig" vs the "blue," I decided on the latter. It is a pleasant slate blue colour that transitions from gray to seafoamish depending on how the light hits it. I have worn this jersey on a handful of rides so far.
As with other Rapha jerseys, there is a high collar and a tab to prevent the zipper from digging into your neck. I like the colour-matched zipper and stitching; there is not too much going on in this jersey.
The fabric is "Sportwool" - 52% merino wool and 48% polyester. The surface of the fabric is smooth and shiny, almost shimmery in the sunlight. It does not look or feel particularly wool-like to me, so if you are seeking the tactile qualities of wool be aware. While I am not sure that I'd be able to wear this against bare skin (I am sensitive to polyester), over a merino baselayer it is fine. Most importantly, I find this jersey to be surprisingly warm, and the best insulating mid-layer I have tried so far. Prior to getting it, I was wearing a heavy Icebreaker turtleneck over my baselayer and it was neither as warm nor as breathable. A little disappointing, because I prefer 100% wool, but I have to admit that the Rapha jersey does the job. Worn underneath a windproof shell, this setup has kept me comfortable on rides in temperatures in the 20s.
Summary: This is a wool-blend cold weather jersey with a number of useful features. While YMMV, it seems to work extremely well for me as a winter midlayer. The fit may be tricky for curvy bodies, and the tell-tale Rapha armband is sure to cause some eye-rolling, but ultimately this is an effective garment that to me was worth the sale price.
Having examined Rapha's new additions to the women's line for 2011-2012 at a local retailer (the Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington, MA), they generally strike me as more flattering and more aesthetically pleasing than the items I commented upon in my previous post. I would love to see Rapha make a couple of jerseys in 100% merino, especially for the summer, a better fitting wind jacket in a more inspiring colour scheme for the warmer season, and arm warmers that are size-matched to their short sleeve jerseys. I would also love for Rapha to tone down some of the strong visual branding. I hope the Rapha women's line continues to expand. The more options for female cyclists, the better.