It's hard to get your head around a pair of bib shorts costing £170. Are they spun from spider's silk and dreams? The Rapha Women's Souplesse Bib Shorts, made from the same fabric as the company's acclaimed Pro Team Bib Shorts (tried and tested by Team Sky), are designed to be the answer to every demanding female rider's needs, to cater to the very highest levels of pro racing. That's why they cost so much. And boy (girl?), are they worth the investment.
The Souplesse Bib Shorts use a different fabric from that of the Classic Bib Shorts. It not only has a more pronounced structure for a greater compression effect, but is also treated with Coldblack, a technical dye that helps reflect the sun's rays, thereby keeping both fabric and skin cooler.
The shorts have a sleek cut, and are designed to be most comfortable in an aero position. I found the fit pretty much the same as Rapha's other bib shorts of the same size, with just a slight sense of increased compression in the thighs, without tightness (it's not me in the photos).
The legs are finished with broad, flat leg gripper areas, which do their job well without creating too much squeezing, and keep the shorts sitting comfortably even on long rides.
The straps are of the around-the-bust design, intended to accommodate all sizes comfortably, with a narrow strap up the centre of the back to keep everything in place, and mesh panels. I found they were just a little prone to curling up rather than sitting flat and completely comfortable, a facet of around-the-bust straps in my experience; more generously endowed women might well find them irritating.
The height of the mesh panel at the front, above the belly, was spot on for comfort, as was the central strap at the rear and the lumbar mesh area.
The fabric wicked moisture quickly and effectively, and while it's hard to judge the full effect of the Coldblack treatment, I stayed a comfortable temperature, even working hard on a hot day. The chamois is comfortable in a variety of positions, and for a wide variety of ride distances.
The Souplesse Bib Shorts are aimed at those looking for the absolute top of the heap, irrespective of cost, and yes, they are expensive, with only Assos, Castelli and Gore really coming close in price. But if you have the money and you're looking for a reliably comfortable and well-designed pair of bib shorts for racing and demanding rides, these are a safe investment.
High end performance at a high end price
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Women's Souplesse Bib Shorts
Size tested: 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?
A premium high performance product aimed at the very highest level of end user.
Rapha says: "Performance bib shorts for intense riding which use the same fabric as the acclaimed men's Pro Team Bib Shorts, tried and tested by Team Sky at the highest levels of pro racing."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Flatlock stitching for comfort
Tried-and-tested Rapha Women's chamois
Reflective logo detail on leg
Low-profile gripper elastic
Breathable mesh straps
Main: 78% polyamide, 22% Elastane
Mesh: 83% polyester, 17% Elastane
Machine wash 30 degrees
Available in sizes XXS-XL
Very well made and finished, using excellent quality materials.
Performed extremely well.
Some give to be expected in the bib section eventually but very well made and seem durable.
Good and light yet supportive.
Very comfortable. Good quality and pleasant next to skin, a good cut and great levels of on-the-bike comfort. Only let down a little by the folding over tendencies of the straps.
It's hard to judge value at this price, but these are well designed and well made, so even if not 'good value', they're a sound investment if you're happy spending those sums.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Cut of legs, leg grippers, chamois, shape of lower back section, comfort...
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Price, slight tendency for straps to fold over themselves in wear.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Possibly in the sales.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? A wealthy, race-winning one.
Use this box to explain your score
Well made, well designed and very comfortable, a very good buy if you can afford them.
About the tester
I usually ride: Boardman Hybrid Fi My best bike is: Specialized Ruby Elite
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, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking
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.