Having been blown away by Rapha’s women’s shorts this year, I was looking forward to trying these new ¾ bib shorts. But could they possibly match up to my expectations?
Bibs are a tricky area for women, with pit-stop problems, as well as looks, marginalising them in many manufacturers’ female-specific clothing ranges. It’s a self-perpetuating problem: as long as manufacturers believe women don’t want good quality bibs, they won’t be made, and women will then either forgo them or choose ill-fitting men’s bibs instead. Yet bib shorts and tights, when correctly made, can be far more comfortable than ordinary legwear: they can’t dig in at the waist and the shoulder straps mean the shorts (or tights) hug the body and don’t ride down.
So it’s good to see a few companies starting to release some women-specific bib shorts and tights into the mass market, rather than just custom team strip.
Rapha’s ¾ bib shorts are conceived with autumn and winter conditions in mind. Made from super stretchy fleece-backed fabric, they use a stretch mesh bib to keep the shorts secure and the lower back warm. The fit of the shorts end is comfortable, but I’d have preferred them to be longer in the leg. Finishing just past the knee on me (I’m 5ft 5in) means they’d be even shorter on leggier ladies. As it was, the grippers rested – albeit gently – on the lower edge of tendons, so weren’t as comfortable here as they could be. If they’d been just a couple of centimetres longer, it would have helped.
A little more leg coverage would also have been nice for the colder weather they are intended for. The upper section, from waist upwards, also fits well, with a good amount of stretch in the straps and softer material in the upper body than legs. They should accommodate most sizes of bust, while the full-coverage design with zip-up front means that the straps shouldn’t migrate as the Lycra ages. Bib shorts are never going to flatter the female form, but these manage good damage limitation in the looks stakes.
The fabric wicks moisture quickly and effectively, drying fast too. Even in wet weather conditions my legs remained comfortable. The female-specific pad is comfortable and unobtrusive, well shaped and of a good thickness, giving a reassuring ride. The shorts are pleasantly warm, which was surprising given the lightweight fabric. They are ideal for most autumn and winter conditions, with the bib providing excellent protection from drafts and a cold back.
Other features include reflective tabs behind the knees and a small stretch pocket between the shoulder blades. That seems a little redundant; I can’t imagine many women wearing bibs over a jersey without some sort of jacket or gilet over the top.
Price wise, these are unsurprisingly much more expensive than most, although Assos and Campagnolo both make dearer options. It’s hard to say if these are worth their price, but the workmanship is high quality, the design is good, and the competition is limited. Fit is the crucial factor. I’d recommend any woman looking to buy bib shorts or longs to try as many types as possible before committing. Aside from the leg length preference, these Rapha’s suited me very well – but it’s a very personal choice that will depend on both bust size and leg length.
Sizes available are XXS-XL, with the Medium equating to a good size 12.
Carefully considered and well put together. Extremely comfortable for autumn and winter use. Slightly let down by length of leg. Definitely investment or gift material.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Women's 3/4 Bib Shorts
Size tested: M
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?
Aimed at female riders for autumn and winter cycling, training and racing.
Certainly deliver what they promise.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Rapha say "Made from strong fleece-backed fabric, a contoured pad from specialists Cytech guarantees protection where it's most needed on the bike"
Made from stretchy fleece backed fabric, with a stretch mesh bib to prevent overheating.
Female specific pad.
Front zip and stretch straps to accommodate a variety of bust sizes.
Reflective tabs at rear of knees.
Gentle leg grippers.
Small pocket on back of bib.
Well made and well finished. Good quality fabric.
Performed extremely well. Fabric wicked moisture quickly and effectively and dried fast. Comfortable in use.
Soft fabric requires a certain amount of care and attention. Will not handle rough treatment from velcro etc.
Pretty lightweight for such warm 3/4
Extremely comfortable apart from behind the knees. Would have liked longer leg length to avoid gripping so close to behind knees/tendons.
By no means the cheapest bib 3/4 out there, but still cheaper than some and a very good investment considering their quality.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Performed very well.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The overall fit and comfort levels.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The leg length.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Possibly, but would prefer a slightly longer leg.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Probably.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Excellent women's bib 3/4, but try before you buy for fit and shape.
About the tester
Age: 37 Height: 1.65m Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, general fitness riding, mtb,
Lara has been riding bikes for longer than she'd care to admit, and writing about them nearly as long. Since 2009 she has been working as part of the road.cc review team whilst championing women's cycling on the side, most notably via two years as editor of the, sadly now defunct, UK's first and only women's cycling mag, erm, Women's Cycling.
Believing fervently that cycling will save the world, she wishes that more people would just ride a bike and be pleasant to each other.
She will ride anything with two wheels, occasionally likes to go fast, definitely likes to go far and is always up for a bit of exploring somewhere new and exciting.