Out the bag and it's quite a surprise to feel how weighty the Rapha Winter Jersey is, made of a heavy merino-rich material it has more the heft of a winter jacket than a jersey, which is no bad thing when it comes to protection against the cold, and once zipped on it feels reassuringly road-rugged and more jersey-like in it's feel and features.
Made from a 25% merino wool, 61% polyester and 14% elastane mix the Winter Jersey is thick, warm and slightly stretchy, cut for cycling, as you'd expect, the front is short while the rear curves longer, ensuring no rucking at the front and extra coverage in the rear, and joy of joys the arms are long enough not to leave an annoying and chill friendly glove gap, helped by the oh-so-subtle tailoring of the wrist cuff. The overall fit is more Rapha Racer than Rapha Poseur to leave no unstylish lumps or wrinkles in the fabric or flapping in the wind, so middle-management types might have to go up a size to accommodate lunch.
The front zip is full-length, has a Rapha Pink (TM) baffle behind it to stall any wind that sneaks through the teeth and there's a zip-dock at the top of the chill-cheating high collar to prevent stubble rub. Zipped and meshed vents towards the sides help with any overheating on climbs or if the sun somehow comes out, and they undo from the bottom which makes them easier to operate when on the bike. The front of the jersey is lined inside with a windproof panel that's made from a polycotton material said to be impervious to cold blasts and it reaches all the way to the top of the shoulder, which is A Good Thing. An adjustable pink elastic cord runs along the hem to keep things snug.
The rear pockets depart from the norm with just the two deep pockets, the left one is slightly larger than the right and has a mini-pump sleeve inside it while the right-hand one has a small zippered pocket on the outside for items that need to be kept secure. Behind both is a cavernous "Ballast Pocket" that's kept closed by a zip with a glove and fumble friendly O-ring puller. At the bottom of the pockets lies a small reflective strip. The change from the traditional three pocket layout can mean a bit of relearning from the ingrained reach back for the energy bar, and the capacious nature of the pockets can lead to a bit of a rummage around for the required item, but as a whole it works well with the ballast pocket being an eager receptacle for all sorts of oversize baggage.
The signature Rapha white band on the left arm (other cycle clothing brands with arm-band motifs are available) is reflective and could be argued might be of more visible use on the right arm in this country, but that might not be so stylish. Continuing with the subject of visibility, while the black of the Winter Jersey is cool, has a certain traditional feel to it and doesn't show the winter grime there were times down dark tree-tunneled lanes that a lighter colour would have been more noticeable. Not that Rapha should offer a Hi-Viz Yellow jersey in their wardrobe, just a lighter shade might be welcome to those who training-trawl or commute the murkier roads. However the plus side to the colour and subtle detailing means that the Winter Jersey can be worn in smart casual social situations without screaming "I'm A Cyclist" (and not smelling "I'm A Cyclist" either, thanks to the wool content), which those that like to travel around their world by bike will appreciate.
Out on the bike the jersey gives an instant air of smug snugness thanks to the perfect cycling fit and thick, warm and slightly fluffy material. The Winter Jersey constantly surprised with its ability to cope with a variety of conditions and still remain warm on its own over rides that would normally lead to constant fiddling with extra layering. The breathable wool content of the jersey combined with the venting zippery kept the internal temperature remarkably constant, and that wicking mix really came into it's own towards the end of a ride where synthetic fabrics have usually got damp and clammy and gone cold over the last hill. The Rapha jersey did none of that, which was quite the revelation after years of suffering clothing slowly failing in efficiency.
The dense merino-rich material is as good as two layers of clothing and its solid nature does a grand job of blocking the wind as it is with the windproof lining on the front providing an extra impervious barrier between the cold and the chest, negating the need for wearing the usual nylon gillet or even stuffing one in the rear pocket for later. Obviously the Winter Jersey is not designed for the harsh bites of proper arctic weather that the last few Winters have gifted us where it will get out-classed pretty quickly, but for the majority of the standard begrudging greyness that passes for the colder British months that must be pedalled through it really is a very very effective jersey.
A well thought out, fitted and warm piece of kit, with the heavy weight and high wool content material being a real treat. The £150 price-tag might seem eye-rollingly "Rapha" but considering that this one top could take the place of two other more standard synthetic winter tops then the cost seems more than justified, and justifiable.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Winter Jersey
Size tested: Medium
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?
Rapha say that the 2010 Winter Jersey has been developed to keep you cycling through the worst winter conditions. Made from a heavy duty merino-blend, the jersey features windproof panels, a reworked pocket layout and reflective materials for greater visibility.
Can't argue with any of that, well apart from the bit about visibility where a lighter colour would be more help than a couple of small reflective features.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Sportwool™ (25% merino wool, 61% polyester, 14% elastane) fabric allows for excellent itch-free moisture transfer. A windproof front and shoulder panels give additional warmth, with zipped, mesh-lined front vents allowing for temperature control.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The Winter Jersey totally changed my thoughts about winter clothing, no more layering up of countless synthetic jerseys and gillets, one base-layer, one Rapha jersey, go.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fit, the warmth, the wicking non-clammy qualities of wool.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing, would like a lighter colour option though.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun