A set of thermal shorts might seem an odd concept – shorts are for when it's warm, or for wearing underneath cosy longs when it isn't – but Rapha's Pro Team Thermal bib shorts actually work. Sort of.
Part of their Pro Team range, Rapha say these shorts have been designed with input from Rapha Condor Sharp's professional riders, and created to meet the specific demands of road racing. The business half of the Pro Team Thermal Shorts – that's the bit from the waist down – has a very light Thermoroubaix fleece lining the Lycra. That doesn't make them all fat, thick and heavy, but you can feel that they're denser than your average summer short.
The legs of the shorts come down a good bit lower than a standard pair of shorts too, extending almost to the knee. This adds to the warmth over the thigh, but those with skinnier legs beware: they might go baggy round the bottom where mere mortal thigh muscles tend to taper down a bit. That could render the otherwise excellent silicone gripper redundant, but you'll still just about see the Rapha logo subtly embossed around the outer edge.
This extra band of leg coverage leaves a nice wide billboard for reflective RAPHA lettering to be plastered across in big letters. Hang on! The RAPHA on the left leg is printed in white while the one on the right is in black reflective letters. How achingly cool is that? These letters haven't peeled off in the wash yet like so many other logos printed on tights, so you're denied the tactile pleasure of picking at them at the traffic lights. Reflective tabs decorate the outside of each thigh.
The bib straps holding all this up are the more traditional lightweight and mesh fare, with a stripe detail on the left brace. Not sure why. Maybe it's relating to the 'Forçats de la Route' quote that's printed on the panel sewn into the back of the bibs onto which you can write your name and race number should you wish. That's the famous headline of a piece about the Tour de France from Le Petit Parisien in 1924, and and it means 'Convicts Of The Road'. They'll be prison uniform stripes, then, the road being the hard labour. You can never just go for a ride with Rapha, can you? Small twin pockets are hidden in the rear of the bib section which might be handy for storing anything you don't need quickly, or mind getting moist and salty with sweat: car keys and change for a cup of tea when racing, maybe.
The Cytech Multi-D anatomic pad has all the padded bumps, valleys and ergonomic contours you'd expect from a chamois these days. Although it isn't as thick and intricately shaped as some others out there, it has been more than comfortable enough for long winter base mile rides. The fit is spot on even if the sizing isn't: the large test size is more of an only-ever-so-slightly too big medium. Maybe a large professional rider is about the same size as a medium normal. Aside from that, everything is as it should be, with no bunching, just the right amount of cupping, and no annoying misplaced seams.
Wearing the Pro Team Thermal Shorts is much as you'd expect: just like a pair of bib shorts but a little bit warmer. Worn underneath a set of longs they noticeably add a welcome extra layer of comfort against harsh winter breezes, and the longer short over the thigh is a plus to keep muscles cosy and happy too.
In the less chilly intermediate seasons they're useful when paired with a set of knee-warmers to make them into a pair of Roubaix three-quarters – handy if you haven't got any, or versatile when riding through cold to warm or back again when warmers can be removed and added as needed. And as a plain old short on their own they can be useful for those slightly colder races where legs might overheat in three-quarters but suffer in shorts although, admittedly, that's quite a specific weather/performance criteria.
These Rapha Thermal Shorts are almost a product you didn't know you needed. Almost. As far as memory goes, there's not been a time when the 'I wish I had thicker and longer shorts' thought has ever flashed across the brain. A pair of thrusting legs pump out a fair bit of heat, and normal bib-shorts do their job pretty well. But despite saying that, these are very good shorts that have been pulled out of the clothing pile in preference over the winter months and that will continue well into spring when they'll be teamed up with knee-warmers, until their usability diminishes with the increase in temperature.
Thermoroubaix bib shorts that provide more warmth than normal; versatile enough for various temperatures when used with knee warmers or leg warmers
road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Pro Team Thermal bib shorts
Size tested: Black, Large
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 the Pro Team Thermal Shorts are high-performance cycling bib shorts created for early season or cold racing conditions. Fleece-backed shorts have long been a staple of Italian racers training in the hills or racing in the late/early season. Worn with leg or knee warmers, they are incredibly versatile.
Well I didn't know about the Italian racers thing, and they're supposed to know what's what when it comes to racing don't they? Apart from that, whether they're that great a benefit over normal cycling shorts is something I'm not so sure about.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Thermoroubaix fleece inner, longer legs for cold conditions, Cytech chamois pad, panelled construction for optimum fit, cut for aggressive riding position with flatlock stitching on the outside and overlocked stitching on the inseam.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Comfortable and warm shorts, no complaints.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fit, the longer legs and the just noticeable warmth.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing, but they're pricey for a short, especially one that's pretty season specific.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Hmmmm, no, despite thinking they're a pretty nice bit of kit I've been doing okay with ordinary shorts for long enough.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? I'd bring them up in conversation.
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 180cm Weight: 73kg
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
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.