There's no more important a product for cycling happiness than a comfortable pair of padded bib shorts. Rapha has updated its best-selling Classic bib shorts with some refinements that ensure they're still one of the best and most comfortable pairs on the market.
Rapha has redesigned its popular Classic bib shorts for the summer and improved on every aspect – no mean feat given that the original shorts were next to perfect and have gone many years unchanged. I'm still using a pair I got when I rode the Cent Cols Challenge back in 2009 and they're still going strong despite hundreds of hours of use on and off-road.
Updating such a classic was a risky decision, then, but critically Rapha hasn't messed around with the magic formula too much but instead has made small changes in key areas. It's less a radical redesign and more a refinement. The biggest change is found in the chamois/padded insert, which is the most important component of the bib shorts for obvious reason.
Rapha has developed a brand new chamois, with contoured padding in three sizes across the six size range (XS to XXL). The only other companies that I know of to offer different sized padded inserts are Endura and Ekoi; Ekoi's approach is based on weight, Endura's on sit bone width. Rapha's vary with the size of shorts.
It's a bit difficult to assess the impact of the different sizes for obvious reasons, but judging by comfort alone, this is one of the most comfortable padded inserts I've ever used. Your bum sinks into the pad and is well cosseted on rides of any duration with the most lovely floaty feeling ever. The pad is held firmly in the right place and doesn't move about, and is shaped perfectly.
The previous Classic bib shorts were hardly uncomfortable, but after hours of testing and going back and forth between the two versions, there's a noticeable difference. Small, but it's there. It's not so much that you need to rush out and replace your old Classic shorts, but if you're in the market for a new pair, these are just that little bit better.
Aside from the pad, the construction and comfort of the bib shorts themselves were always a highlight of the Classics, and the new shorts use a familiar soft Lycra material with a high stretch factor. Some shorts have multiple panels to try to provide the best fit – not always with the best results and usually pushing the price up. The simple construction here relies on the stretch of the Lycra, with everything pulling in the right direction, and no discomfort or tightness in any area.
They're not tight or compressive like racier shorts, and probably not aero either, but they are more flattering if you're not mirroring Chris Froome's wafer-thin figure. They're also supremely comfortable for any sort of riding, more so than many more complex designs.
Soft mesh-lined bib straps spread the pressure over the shoulders and there's enough length that you don't feel awkward off the bike. A large mesh cutaway rear panel aids breathability when riding in the heat and does help manage sweat.
The leg openings have simple elasticated hems lined with gripper tape, and while not as seamless as the new trend for raw cut finishes, obviously, is it comfortable and the shorts don't shift about when riding. Flatlock stitching is used throughout the shorts to eliminate the potential for discomfort, and there's no chafing around the padded insert.
You get a small rear pocket that Rapha says you can use for storing keys, but I didn't find it all that useful. It's there if you think you might need it. The front of the shorts is cut low and when you factor in the high stretch of the material, nature breaks aren't a mission they can sometimes be with bib shorts.
Luxurious is a word often used to describe Rapha products, and these shorts really deserve that description. There's no getting away from the high price, of course, and only you can decide if they're worth it. Based on the impressive durability and longevity of the originals, and the comfort improvements of the new version, there's no doubt they're a solid investment if you take your comfort seriously and want the best – and are prepared to pay for it.
Some of the best bib shorts out there just got better...
road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Classic Bib Shorts II
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
A comfortable pair of cycling shorts is the most important clothing purchase any rider can make. Get them right and you can spend hours in the saddle without even noticing them. Get them wrong and every kilometre will feel like a hundred.
The Classic Bib Shorts II feature a new pad with body-contoured padding and a soft, chamois finish to provide all day comfort. Three pad sizes split across the Classic Bib range ensure the perfect fit from XS to XXL.
The shorts are made from a soft, matt-black Lycra with great stretch, while the bibs are made from a luxury mesh material, with a large cutaway section in the back to prevent overheating. For extra comfort in the saddle, Rapha's bib shorts have flatlock stitching throughout to prevent chafing, and a new, more efficient leg gripper that provides better grip at a reduced weight. The shorts also have a small key pocket, Rapha logos on the legs, and are cut low at the front for calls of nature.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Updated chamois pad
Matt black with Rapha logos
Highly breathable back
Soft gripper and flat lock stitching
Rear key pocket
First class construction.
Superb comfort and fit.
They're hardwearing shorts.
Fit is excellent with the high stretch of the Lycra providing a comfortable shape.
Rapha has nailed it with these Classic II shorts, they're one of the most comfortable pairs of bib shorts I've worn.
Yes they're expensive, but judging by the eight-year-old pair of Classics I'm still regularly using, I'd say they're a good investment, especially if you want the ultimate comfort.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easy to wash.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Provide superb comfort and fit and contribute to cycling happiness.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Padded insert and Lycra construction provide luxury not often found in bib shorts.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Yes they're expensive, but they're just so lovely to wear.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.