With the Women's Shadow Tights, Rapha has combined its finest technologies to create "unparalleled" weather defence and performance – and added a price tag to match. Leaving no stone unturned from cosiness to safety, it has created a reliable and stylish pair of bib tights to keep you on the road, even when the mercury plummets.
It was almost a decade into Rapha's existence before the women's collection appeared, but since then the company has not held back – make no mistake, Rapha women's kit is no afterthought. In fact, the new Shadow Tights lead the way – they're not just Rapha's priciest women's tights, they're its most expensive ones overall. At £270, Rapha's Shadow tights have upped the game on cost. (Although Assos isn't far off, its women's habuTights cost £235.)
The Shadow Tights cost over twice as much as Rapha's Core tights, yet both are made for winter riding – albeit the latter for commute rather than crit. So, what makes them so special? Are they really cut from a different cloth? Well, yes. Rapha calls it 'Shadow fabric' – a tight weave material with stretch and a special coating for breathable weather defence.
While Rapha's Souplesse Tights feature some Shadow technology too, the Shadow Tights are developed with a greater focus on foul conditions – and not just to survive them, but to thrive in them. The Shadow tech was developed for the Spring Classics. From Team Sky to Canyon//SRAM, Rapha's self-dubbed revolutionary material has been ridden to World Tour level.
The Shadow fabric is a blend of nylon and elastane finished with a hydrophobic DWR (durable water repellent) treatment made for staying dry whatever winter throws at you. The technology, Rapha claims, is 'an unbeatable force in weather protection'. After several washes there was no sign of wear, but Rapha sells a re-proofer just in case.
'Unbeatable force' is a strong statement, but hours from home with torrential rain setting in, I agreed. Water collects into satisfying little beads which brush away to reveal barely-wet fabric. Out on chilly, wet training rides I was able to stay dry, with no rain sinking through the fabric.
The fabric is designed for wind resistance, too, and I found this to be particularly effective over my upper body thanks to a generous cut. Toastiness was aided further by the lining – oh my goodness, the lining. From ankle to torso, the fleecy inner is 'nano brushed' for warmth, and soft enough to be worn directly against skin. I felt snug through single-figure rain and winds. And noticeably, for a sweaty cyclist, I didn't overheat. There's no plastic layer in it (sometimes used in waterproofing) which allows for more breathability.
Of course, all of this weather repelling goodness would be nothing without a decent fit – or for this price, an outstanding one. This is where the Souplesse bit comes in... and being the french word for stretchy, you can see where this is headed. Cut from a light, durable and flexible fabric, the Souplesse kit is made for top-level riding. The Shadow Souplesse Tights echo this, providing a race-worthy body hug – yet pleasingly devoid of over-tightness. Carefully placed seams above and below the knee add support while reducing wrinkles (they still exist, but there's no curse of the baggy knee).
I tested the Shadow Tights in a medium (they're available in six sizes) and they provided a perfect fit. I sometimes wear a small in tights, so I'd say they err toward the small side. The legs are adequate in length, even covering ankles, while the torso is cut high on the front, stopping shy of the chest to accommodate a variety of sizes. The rear has almost-full back coverage stopping just below the nape, and the bib straps are generous in both length and width – and finished with bonded edges for more comfort.
While bib tights sometimes leave imprints or cause my shoulders to ache over time, the Shadow bib straps provided impressive comfort that showed no signs of waning after six hours on the bike. Rapha calls the straps high stretch, and it's true; I think they could accommodate quite a bit more height than my 5ft 7in. Being cut to Rapha's pro fit, the Shadow bibs are actually shorter in the body than its regular fit versions, but they still provide adequate torso length, even for my longer than average body.
Out on the road, the performance of these tights is evident: movement feels free, and the upper's breathable fabric is dotted with a little hole pattern to help sweat escape. There was evidence of sweat on them after the ride, but less than can often be the case – and I sweat more than most seem to in cold weather.
Safety too, is not forgotten. The rear of the lower leg features a white reflective panel to enhance visibility at night. Co-riders told me they look super-bright both in daylight and the dark, especially given their movement while pedalling. They washed well too, with no signs of the black fabric dye leaking into the white panel. If you're a cyclist who likes things to look sharp, though, don't forget to ensure the panels are positioned in the very centre of your legs before pedalling off...
The chamois can be a let-down in women's kit – some fail to meet the need for comfort not just for the sit bones, but all the way to the front of the gusset. The Shadow Tights' pad (the same as that in the Souplesse tights) appears to sit a little too far back when you're standing upright. Yet, with cycling position adopted – and in particular, a forward-focused race position – it becomes clear this is likely all in Rapha's design plan: all the important bits are superbly comfy. While these bibs aren't strictly designed for long, laid-back miles, they were still comfortable after a day's worth of riding.
The centre upper is finished with the classic Rapha stripe which, since it'll always sit under a jersey, serves little purpose than to tie in with the reflective panels on the legs – but hey, you know it's there. Next to the stripe, a sewn-in patch reveals a little story 'From the shadow of the mountain...', which offers some insight into the product name itself (think 1968, the Giro, and a cycling legend), and adds a dash of Merckx-style motivation.
Overall, the supreme fit of the Rapha Shadow Tights matches their genuine weather-performance. It's not often you get supple, waterproof and sweat-free without compromise, and I think it's this lack of compromise that sets the Shadow Tights apart – perhaps even justifying the cost, although that in itself is the trade-off.
Superbly snug, weather-defending bib tights that deliver on breathability too
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Women's Souplesse Shadow Tights
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Rapha's pro fit Shadow Tights are made for high level cycling performance even in foul weather.
Rapha says, "A pair of winter cycling tights that offer unparalleled protection from the weather.
"Unique to the Souplesse collection, the Shadow Winter Tights are made of a technical performance fabric that delivers outstanding water and wind resistance while maintaining high stretch and breathability for a comfortable fit. Rapha Shadow technology was developed for use in the spring classic races of northern Europe, and has been raced to podiums at the highest level of the sport. It is tightly woven and high stretch, allowing maximum breathability and protection without the use of a membrane – the plastic layer used in most waterproofs. The Shadow Souplesse Tights are pre-shaped for a supportive fit with a carefully positioned seams above and below the knee to avoid bunching of fabric. Designed for comfort against the skin, the inner is brushed for a smooth, frictionless finish and cut high on the back for additional warmth. Lightweight, breathable uppers with bonded edges sit comfortably beneath your jersey while reflective panels on the lower legs accentuate a rider's pedal stroke movement to significantly improve visibility when riding in low light."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Shadow technology offers high resistance again cold, wind and rain. Souplesse technology provides lightweight, stretchy and breathable fabric for fast and hard riding.
Rapha list the following technical features:
DWR (durable water repellent) treatment offers extra cover
Multi-panel construction for optimal fit
Inner is nano brushed for warmth and softness on-skin
Attention to detail on seams; effective panelling; wide straps for comfort; generously cut yet body-hugging.
Rain beads off, fabric remains dry, but you don't end up sweaty – exactly what you want for winter riding.
Though these bibs show no sign of deterioration after several washes, DWR coating could wear over time. Rapha sells a re-proofer spray to address this.
Kindly accommodating yet super-snug. Comfy on shoulders, knees – and undercarriage!
I often wear a size small tights, but the medium was perfect, which could have meant some trial and error if ordering online.
Lighter than some (Gore C3 Women Thermo Bib Tights are 320g), yet marginally heavier than the Core tights. These aren't exactly lightweight, but they pack a lot of tech in, and they didn't feel heavy, even in the rain.
Nano brushed fleecy inner combined with Souplesse material ups the game on comfort.
Eye-wateringly expensive, but they're better than any others I've tried in bad weather which makes them better value than that price tag suggests.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
They wash up well on a 30 degree cycle, with no signs of wear after several washes.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Superb. I stayed snug even in horrible weather and, crucially, dry.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Their effectiveness in rain and wind, the comfortable straps, and the additional safety I felt from the reflective panels on the legs.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The price is off-putting, there was a little bit of crinkle around the knees.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Price is far higher than others. It's not uncommon to pick up a pair of winter bibs for around £100 (like the Gore Women Thermo tights that Emma recently tested), and even Rapha's next most costly pair of tights are £60 cheaper. Assos sells a pair over £200 too, but the Shadow tights are in a league of their own.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, definitely.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, but I would want the DWR to last a long time for this price.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
The supreme fit of these tights matches their genuine weather-performance. If these tights were more wallet-friendly they'd be a 10.
About the tester
I usually ride: My Scott Foil My best bike is: Oldie but the goldie, CAAD 8
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Novice
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, general fitness riding, triathlon, audax