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The Rapha Women's Classic Winter Jacket offers excellent protection against bad weather, combined with very good breathability so you don't overheat or end up a soggy mess when working hard. It's very expensive though, and the fit isn't as good as other Rapha tops I've worn – the sleeves, in particular, are excessively long. It does do a superb job of keeping rain out, but it's made from a water-resistant fabric not waterproof, as Rapha describes it, and needs reproofing if you wash it.
I was really excited to try out this jacket. For ages I've moaned that there was no Hardshell jacket for women in Rapha's collection – like there has been for men for the last four or five years. Reading that the new Classic was '10 years in the making...An evolution of our Classic Softshell and Hardshell' made me grab the chance to test it. (I'd even considered buying the men's Hardshell – discounted at the Archive store in Shepton Mallet – but it was a bit too small.)
My initial conclusion after a month or so of using it was, 'if it's raining, you can put this on and stop worrying'. I wore it in light rain, heavy rain, on dry days, slogging up hills, whizzing down hills, and had no problems with rain ingress or overheating. I'd found the holy grail of cycling jackets!
And then I thought I'd give it a quick wash at 30 degrees to remove some grubby marks on the cuffs (this pale colour wouldn't be my first choice). The marks remained, but not wanting to criticise it for this, I washed it again at 40 degrees – as the label on the jacket (though not the website) says you can. The dirty marks remained, but also, the jacket now leaked: fabric, seams, and where the pockets attach. Until I washed it a third time and reproofed it with Nikwax TX.Direct – including a 30-minute tumble dry. It's now repelling water again.
Until I did the washing/reproofing thing, I'd taken Rapha's word for it that this was a fully waterproof jacket. When it leaked after washing, I did a bit more investigation because I was confused. If it was fully waterproof – and the seams are all taped, suggesting that was the case (and the performance so far had backed that up) – why would washing it result in it leaking? That would surely be a water-repellent coating being washed away...
It's made from Polartec's Power Shield Pro fabric, which is described as 'Water resistant 5 meters' and 'Highly breathable' on Polartec's website. 'By reengineering the dense knit multi-component fabric we developed an even stronger balance between warmth and breathability while drastically increasing the inherent ability to repel water,' says Polartec. And: 'We made soft shell weather proof.' Note: weather proof, not waterproof...
Which would explain why reproofing it has restored its repellency. That cleared up, I'll get on with some other stuff...
Unlike the men's Hardshell I tried on in Shepton, the women's Classic isn't too small; in fact it's a bit big. I'm a medium in Rapha kit, but the Classic struck me as so roomy I even gave the small a go. Standing, upright, the small initially seemed a better fit, but on the bike it was too tight across the top of the arms. Now I've used the medium for a couple of months I'd say it's an okay fit; a bit roomy, but it does mean you can put a few layers on underneath.
You need a few layers at times too, because although it does block the wind very effectively, it's not an insulated jacket. It's windproof, but warmth depends on what else you're wearing. On warmer winter days you can get away with just a baselayer – long-sleeved recommended because the zips on the sleeves are cold against the skin – but in the kind of Arctic weather we've had of late you'll need to add a jersey (or two!) in between.
If things do get a bit warm, you have two zipped vents in the armpit area to help the breathability. I found these hard to open one-handed while riding – if you're happy to ride no-handed you might have more success. It's partly because of the extra length in the sleeves; the excess fabric means they don't exactly pull taut, and you don't have anything to pull 'against', especially when you're leaning forward. Off the bike, or if you can take both hands off the bar and hold the sleeve upwards, it's easier.
Even when I've been on the warmer side of comfortable, there's been no moisture build-up on the inside and I haven't felt uncomfortable. Rapha describes the Polartec Power Shield Pro fabric as having 'incredible breathability'; it's a hard one to measure, dependent on all sorts of variables – how hard you're working, what other layers you're wearing, the ambient temperature, how much you sweat – but I've certainly not had a problem. Rapha would seem to be correct on this one (and it tallies with what Polartec says too, this time).
The cuffs are an improvement over the previous (or previous, previous...) Classic jacket; I have one from quite a few years ago with mitt-type inner cuffs with separate thumb openings, which can be a bit irritating. I prefer this simpler elasticated design that just wraps around your wrist, with the outer fabric of the jacket covering them completely. You can tuck the right size gloves over the inner cuff and under the sleeve end for a snug, draught-free fit.
Length-wise, the body of the jacket is good. It's shorter at the front so it doesn't bunch up when you're on the bike, with a dropped tail – and an extra flap you can unzip from a hidden compartment in the rear for keeping your backside dry. A drawstring closes the rear hem of the main jacket snugly around your body to keep out cold draughts.
The pockets – you get three across the back, plus a waterproof zipped one on the outer right pocket – are all quite roomy. They're not hugely stretchy but there's lots of space for ride essentials and, crucially, they're low enough to reach into easily – being too high has been a criticism of some Rapha tops of late. They also have drain holes. The waterproof zipped pocket is good too: submerge it and the contents will get wet, but in general use it'll keep things dry, with a waterproof (or is that resistant?) zip.
There's also a handy zipped pocket on the front, which works backwards from how you might expect... It's on the left, and best accessed with your right hand because the opening goes towards your back. It's pretty roomy too, as long as you don't mind having whatever you've put in it sitting against your side, because it reaches right round to the left-hand rear pocket.
Other details I like include the soft lining of the collar, the baffle and zip garage, a hook for hanging it up (often forgotten but oh-so useful), and a few strips of reflective piping – front and back of the shoulders, both sleeve ends and two at the back (though more would be good). The tail flap, as you can see from the photos, is Rapha-typical bright pink, which helps with visibility too.
Value? It's a top-of-the-range Rapha jacket and it doesn't come cheap, so of course there are alternatives for less. Rapha's own Core jacket is 'only' £120 but is nowhere near as weatherproof; Sportful's Fiandre NoRain jacket is probably a better comparison, at £180, although perhaps the Classic is closer in terms of performance to the men's Sportful Fiandre Extreme, which Dave tested in January, and that's £5 more (though it is made with Polartec's waterproof Neoshell fabric).
If you want a great combination of weather resistance and breathability, the Rapha Women's Classic Winter Jacket is a good looking but expensive choice. You just need to keep it clean so you don't have to wash it too often, or factor in the cost of some proofer – and a tumble drier.
If it's raining, you can put this on and stop worrying – as long as you reproof it if you wash it...
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Women's Classic Winter Jacket
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the jacket is for
Rapha says: "Over a decade in development, the Classic Winter Jacket is the evolutionary outcome of every cold weather jacket we've made.
"The Women's Classic Winter Jacket is our most versatile bad-weather jacket, redesigned for the needs of the modern rider. An evolution of our Classic Softshell and Hardshell, it is the ideal garment for winter base miles, with the ability to withstand the harshest conditions on any kind of ride. Cut from Polartec® Power Shield Pro® fabric, it combines wind and waterproofing with incredible breathability, efficiently transferring moisture vapour away from the skin while keeping the elements at bay. Added underarm zips allow for increased ventilation when the temperature, or the intensity, rises.
"Designed to be used across a range of winter temperatures as part of a layering system, the Classic Winter Jacket features hi-vis detailing for riding in low light, as well as taped seams, waterproof zips and elastane inner cuffs to keep you comfortable and dry, whatever the weather."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
Waterproof and wind-resistant with comfortable stretch
Highly breathable fabric regulates temperature during hard efforts
Taped internal seams to keep out the worst of the weather
Concealed front pocket
Debossed logo on sleeve
Drainage holes in rear pockets
Polartec® Power Shield Pro® fabric:
Machine wash 30°C
Tumble dry low
Do not iron
Do not bleach
Do not dry clean
Nothing is about to fall apart or fail, but this pale colour tends to show up the dirt; newer options of black and navy blue should fare better.
It was excellent, then lost it after a couple of washes, then regained it after reproofing. Does that mean the jacket's waterproofing is excellent, or that Nikwax is excellent...? It's certainly very good, whoever's to thank.
Not the best-fitting Rapha garment I've tried; the sleeves are very long, and the whole jacket is roomier than other medium Rapha tops I've worn. Plenty of room for layers though.
Came up bigger than I was expecting, so much so that I gave the small a go.
It's not especially heavy, about what you'd expect.
It's expensive, but on par with at least one other jacket offering this level of performance and protection.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
According to the label you can wash it at 40°C, so a little hotter than a lot of sports kit. I washed it at 30, and some little marks still showed around the cuffs. I washed it again at 40 and the marks remained, but the waterproofing diminished. A third wash and reproof, including tumble drying, restored it. The marks on the cuffs remain. (I was advised to use baby wipes, but they didn't work either.)
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really good protection in wet weather – as long as you reproof after washing.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Its (restored) waterproofness, erm, repellency.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
The sleeves are a bit long – and I like long sleeves. Zip pulls are small, and opening/closing the underarm vents while riding is tricky. I don't like using a tumble drier, but was advised to when reproofing it after washing. It's now available in black and navy rather than this light blue, so the dirt won't show as much.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Maybe – in a sale.
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Build quality is top notch, and the performance is excellent (just be sure to reproof it after washing), which would suggest a 9. The fit isn't ideal, though, particularly the overlong sleeves, and the zip pulls are small – a minor criticism, perhaps, but I found opening the vents while riding tricky – and then there's the high price. It's hard to fault its performance, but the price, fit and some niggles suggest an 8 overall. It's very good but could be excellent…
About the tester
I usually ride: Vitus Venon My best bike is: Paulus Quiros
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: commuting, sportives, general fitness riding
Tass is our production pedant, who boldly goes hunting for split infinitives, rogue apostrophes and other things up with which she will not put. She joined road.cc in 2015 but first began working on bike magazines way back in 1991 as production editor on Mountain Biking UK, then deputy editor of MTB Pro, before changing allegiance to road cycling as senior production editor on Cycling Plus. She's ridden off-road but much prefers on, hasn't done half the touring she'd like to, and loves paper maps.