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Rapha is well known for its very expensive but very good cycling kit, and these Souplesse Detachable Bib Shorts do nothing to dent that reputation. They're extremely comfortable, very well made, and super-pricey.
I didn't get to test Rapha's Souplesse bib shorts when they came in for testing back in 2016, that was Lara's pleasure to enjoy, but this new version has an exciting new development – which you've probably guessed from the name...
Having to whip off your top layers to have a pee is a pain in the arse, particularly so if you're in the middle of nowhere but still a faff even if there are facilities. You can combat this by wearing waisted shorts (no bib), wearing your bib straps over your jersey (oh dear me no), or wearing shorts that 'detach' from the top somehow. I've worn various designs that allow this – with zips, clips or simple fold over sections – and none have worked as well and been as comfortable as these from Rapha.
I have to confess, I didn't get on with it straight away because I was a doofus and still thought I had to pull the strap up and over my head after undoing the magnetic clip – as you do with other designs using a similar clip (but at the front). Crucially, here, the clip is at the back, and it's low down too. All you need to do is push the clip apart, then pull the shorts section down. Job done, as it were.
The magnet is pretty strong too – it's an effort to pull it apart, but it clips back together really easily. It also likes to attach itself to various things, like the inside drum of your washing machine, or the rungs of a clothes airer.
You can't feel the clip at all while riding – there's double fabric between it and your back. Rapha says it's padded, but it's more like it's stiffened. I could feel the clip very slightly at times when carrying a backpack, but these shorts are designed for racing not commuting.
Rapha has spent years developing new pads for its women's shorts, and at first glance it would appear to have gone down the 'less is more' route that seems to be trending currently. However, although it looks a fairly simple design, it's described by Rapha as a 'fully moulded, seamless construction' and when you play with the pad you can see that underneath the soft and comfortable cover it features grooves that help it to bend to one's shape.
I found it very comfortable for all-day rides, but then I've always got on well with Rapha's pads. I'm not sure it's any more comfortable than the one used in its Brevet Bib Shorts, which I tested in 2017, but it's certainly no less so. It's designed specifically for racing, and comparing the two side by side, the Souplesse has a rounder nose and feels less dense up front, but a little more dense in the sit bone area.
One thing I do prefer on the Souplesse shorts is the leg gripper/cuff. It's at least twice the depth of the Brevet's and sits more closely, gently hugging my leg to just the right degree, with tiny silicone dots spread over the lower two-thirds of the cuff.
Elsewhere, the main fabric of the shorts is light and really soft – it's 78% nylon, 22% elastane and feels silky smooth, with flatlock seams. It's stretchy and figure-hugging, helping you slice through the air when you're racing (or expanding when you've overindulged at the cake stop).
Up top, the bib section is mostly mesh, keeping you cool and sweat-free, with just the very top section at the back and on your shoulders being a silky smooth non-mesh fabric.
It's all very comfortable against the skin, although unlike some Rapha designs the bib section doesn't really replace a baselayer, not coming up as high at the front and there only being the single strap at the back.
Value is always a tricky one with Rapha clothing – yes, they're expensive, possibly the most expensive bib shorts we've tested, women's ones anyway – but they're so good that they're sure to earn their place in anyone's wardrobe (if you can afford them). You can certainly get bib shorts, even detachable/drop tail ones, for less – a lot less – but that doesn't mean these aren't worth the money in the long run.
To put it into context, they're £30 more than the Assos T.laalalai shorts that Ashia reviewed in 2016, though the clip on those is at the front so it's more of a faff to undo/do up, £55 more than Alé's PRR 2.0 Future bib shorts, but Emma didn't get on with their halterneck design, and £65 more than Pearl Izumi's Pro Escape bib shorts (no clip, you just pull 'em down and up again). Liv's Race Day bib shorts are £79.99, and Polaris's E-motion bib shorts with zip-release design are cheaper still at £54.99.
If you don't feel you need the detachable element, you can spend even less – the standard Souplesses are £15 cheaper. But if you're looking at that kind of budget I'd say it's worth spending the extra pennies.
Excellent bib shorts for comfort, and comfort breaks
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Women's Souplesse Detachable Bib Shorts
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Rapha says, "A pair of race-ready performance bib shorts with a breakthrough clasp-system for quick removal without compromising comfort."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Tried and tested in the professional peloton by the riders of the CANYON//SRAM team, previous iterations of our Souplesse bibs have set the standard in women's racewear. Just like all other women's bibs, however, they've all shared a common drawback: bib straps make it impossible to quickly remove mid-ride without removing your jersey.
The new Souplesse Detachable Bib Shorts solve this problem with a breakthrough magnetic clasp technology at the bottom of the mesh upper section that can be released with one hand, enabling you to relieve yourself without removing your jersey. Positioned neatly just below the rear pockets of your jersey, the clasp is constructed with injection molded plastic for long-lasting strength that ensures it will never come undone. It is attached to the shorts with a resilient grosgrain fabric which, in turn, is bonded to the mesh upper section of the bib short. A thicker section of fabric is positioned between the buckle and the skin for padding. The system allows for quick removal without any compromise in comfort or performance.
The bibs also feature a redesigned chamois pad with a fully moulded, seamless construction created through years of research into women's comfort in the saddle. Designed specifically for racing, the new pad uses a lightweight, high-density foam that balances support and speed for a race-winning advantage. The shorts themselves are made with a softer fabric, which balances compression and comfort perfectly, cut and shaped to wrap around your legs in the on-bike position. A minimal seam construction creates a streamlined shape that avoid fabric bunching at the hip while low-profile leg grippers provide support at the thigh. The re-shaped upper is cut from a high-stretch, mesh fabric that is fast drying and high wicking while flat, bonded seams prevent any chafing.
Reflective tabs for improved visibility
Printed Rapha logos on the thighs
Padded section behind magnetic clasp
Raised waist for a supportive, compressive fit
Super soft fabric that provides comfort and compression
New women's specific chamois pad
Machine wash cool 30°C
Wash dark colours separately
Do not bleach
Do not tumble dry
Do not iron
Do not dry clean
Nothing to suggest they're going to fail any time soon, and if other Rapha garments are anything to go by, there's nothing to worry about on this front.
They're £195... Even the Assos T.LaaLaLai_S7 Women bib shorts are 'only' £165 (though their unclipping system isn't as well thought through).
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Really easy, in the machine with the rest of my cycling kit. Dry quickly too.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Brilliantly. Up with the most comfortable pairs of bib shorts I've used, in terms of the pad, stitching, leg length and stretch, bib straps, and the ability to get 'em down in a hurry...
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Pad comfort, the deep leg cuffs and 'just right' degree of pressure on the leg, the leg length, and of course not having to remove my jersey and/or jacket and/or gilet when needing the loo.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Expensive. They are designed for racing, but presumably so are Liv's Race Day bib shorts and they're £79.99. Alé's PRR 2.0 Future Bibshort are £140, so you'd save £55 if you went for them, but you'd probably also not be as comfortable.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Quite possibly.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
They're excellent. The only thing I can mark them down on is price.
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.