The Rapha Women's Explore Hooded Gore-Tex Pullover offers great protection against the elements and is very well made, light and compact. However, with a very relaxed fit and features such as the front pouch, it's a better option off the bike than on.
- Pros: Great waterproofing; packs down; quality; casual looks off the bike
- Cons: Price; not all features are really compatible with cycling
It's made clear on the website that the Pullover is intended for use both on and off the bike. To my mind, Rapha has definitely leaned more towards the adventurist than the cyclist, incorporating many features that aren't very practical for use on the bike. You'll need to be a keen all-elements outdoor fanatic both on and off the bike to fully appreciate it.
Fit and cut
The Pullover is a very generous fit. I come in at the upper end of a Rapha 'Small', for chest and hips, and a lower end 'Medium' waist-wise. I've been testing a medium (it's not me in the pics, it's Tass, who's at the upper-end of Medium). There is a serious amount of room to really layer up underneath it. I even had a Camelbak on under it while out hiking in showery weather.
Sizing down would be an option if you are happy to compromise its versatility off the bike for a more slimline fit on the bike. But bear in mind that it is a half-zip design – a loose fit certainly makes getting it on and off easier. It also makes accessing pockets in clothes underneath it easy too.
Naturally, the loose fit means no restriction of movement whatsoever. I think the generous cut helps with body temperature regulation too: you really get airflow through if you loosen the lower drawcord or unzip at the neck.
The Pullover doesn't have the exaggerated tail that most cycle-specific rain jackets do. There is a very slight dip, and it's got some length in the body in general. However, any amount of speed or wind causes the Pullover to 'open up' and flap about. The solution is to tighten the drawcord, but then the top has a tendency to ride up at the rear, especially if you're on a road bike. On a mountain bike or hybrid, it tends to hold a lower position.
The sleeves are a good length and the cuffs snug. Even when leaning over on the road bike I wasn't left wanting. They fit over a mid-season glove perfectly. I found that full-on winter gloves strain the cuffs a little, but I do have rather large hands. While the fit is good, I missed having adjustment at the cuff.
The hood fits well under a helmet. It can be adjusted and secured to get good vision while still benefiting from the 'cap' at the top. I did struggle with the hood off the bike, though. Without a helmet to hold it in a fixed position, it sat forward on my head and really cut off my peripheral vision, leaving me too unaware of my surroundings for my liking.
The jacket offers top notch protection against the rain and wind. I've loved using it in recent weeks to enjoy the outdoors without getting a soggy top half. It resists water exceptionally well, with light to moderate rain beading and rolling off. The weight of prolonged, heavy rain sees this effect diminish but the jacket still keeps you dry for several hours.
To put it simply, though, the Pullover is much better off the bike than it is on it, walking and hiking being the obvious activities. I'd say its best use on a bike is for touring in rather wild conditions, probably on a mountain bike. Two years ago I ventured to Iceland for an off-road tour. It was four seasons in one day there, every day. The Explore would have been perfect. I regularly hiked there too, so it would have ticked lots of boxes.
The zip is 100 per cent water tight, confirmed in the shower as it doesn't always get the exposure outdoors that the rest of the jacket does.
While you get water and wind protection, the jacket offers little insulation against biting temperatures. Cue the loose fit to get layers underneath.
The Pullover is definitely breathable enough for its intended use. I wasn't making top-end efforts in it like I would with performance gear, it's not designed with that in mind. I frequently left it on when commuting after the rain had stopped as I wasn't getting uncomfortably hot (not to mention that it's a faff to take off).
Practicalities and features:
Personally, I find a hood under a helmet quite comforting in certain circumstances; if it's hoofing it down there is an advantage to be gained from a decent hood under the helmet. Zipping the hood right up is really comforting in wild weather; it sits snug to the face, making you look like South Park's Kenny. The generous patch of soft, microfibre fabric on the interior where the jacket comes into contact with the face if you have it fully zipped up is a comforting touch. There is a decent zip garage, too; I never experienced irritation.
When not in use, the hood sits seriously tight to the collar when you have the Pullover fully zipped up. If I had it down in very light rain, I didn't have issues with water pooling in it.
Try as I might, I simply cannot learn to love the 'pullover' element. Putting it on is fine; if anything, when your hands are ice cold and you're in a rush to protect yourself it can be more practical than a full-zip jacket. Once on, though, there is no option to fully unzip, always useful in showery weather. Taking it off is an 'over-the-top-inside-out' operation, which is a bit of a faff. And while the rain does just shake off once you've turned it the right way out, there's no hanging it around the back of a chair in a cafe. And let's not even get started on the hassle of a pee-stop when you might have bibs on...
The zipper is smooth-running and Rapha has made it really easy to grab with a decent sized O-ring that can't be missed, even with gloved hands. However, even when you've grabbed it on the bike, it's not actually that easy to pull down because of slack. It's a two-handed job if you want it done quickly, otherwise you are simply pulling the jacket away from yourself rather than pulling the zip down.
The pouch isn't very practical for biking; put anything of substance in it, lean over the bike and the jacket's generous fit makes you look like you've eaten all the pies, not to mention the sense of weight that it creates and the potential thigh-tapping. You can avoid this if you are riding with a rucksack or Camelbak that fastens around the waist.
A soft, full-length strip of Velcro sits on the pouch itself, with three tiny, circular tabs of the corresponding rough stuff on the flap. You have to consciously press the tabs onto the pouch to shut it every time. This minimal approach makes it exceptionally easy to open, but just as prone to opening itself if you load it heavily.
As with so much of the Pullover, the pouch is a feature that's much more practical off the bike, though even then it has flaws. It holds a map, phone, wallet, gloves or hat quite comfortably – it's pretty generous – but the tabs aren't always strong enough to hold it shut, even off the bike. I found myself wanting to put stuff into alternative pockets on trousers or under the Pullover itself. This is where the loose fit has a positive: you can easily lift the top up and access stuff underneath, knowing it's all been kept safe from the elements.
If you do opt to use the pouch, it's good to be able to separate stuff out thanks to two mesh pockets that sit against the Pullover itself – so you've got three compartments to play with. Dropping keys (on a keyring) into the pouch isn't recommended – mine got tangled in the mesh on more than one occasion.
As I've already mentioned, the drawcord isn't that helpful on a road bike, and though it does an okay job on a mountain bike or hybrid, you lose some of the tail in both cases if you do pull it tight. Loaded pockets under the Pullover get good protection though. Again, it's most useful off the bike.
The drawcord feels a little thin and flimsy, too, though it's still working fine after four weeks of regular use. You have to pull it back against the toggle, forcing it to sit into two grooves in order to secure it. Although the cord itself has reflective thread running through it, securing it in the grooves isn't the easiest thing to do in low light conditions.
Rapha has thoughtfully added a valve core removal tool to the toggle at the hem, which could come in handy.
Rapha has incorporated some decent, well-positioned reflective logos and detailing, which is good because the jacket is otherwise very dark. The women's version is only available in navy, while the men get a choice of navy, yellow or plum... hmmm.
The navy is a practical positive for use off-road or off the bike – mud splatters and marks don't show up so quickly.
Light and compact
The Pullover scores well in the weight stakes, coming in 80g lighter than both Findra's Stroma and Gore's R3. It packs into its own stuff sack, and while it's not as compact as a gilet, it's ideal for tourers and bikepackers who want something that will shove conveniently into a front or rear loader, or sit under some bungees. Rapha suggests you can also use it as a pillow.
Like most Gore-Tex products, the advice is that it can be washed on a 30-degree, gentle cycle and tumble dried to reactivate waterproofing. I've not been over-washing it – it's a waterproof, they get rinsed down every time it rains! The few cycles it has been through haven't affected performance at all, but I've only been using it for a month or so. I'll continue to put it through its paces to test the longevity and durability, and update here accordingly.
Given the shortcomings I've mentioned, the price seems very high. There are more expensive choices out there – 7mesh has this Guardian jacket at £300, but so many of the features look much more practical for biking (though we haven't tested it).
One I did test at the start of the year was Gore's R3 Active Hooded Jacket. It's much more practical for use on a bike and still has so many features that make it great for general outdoor adventures too, biking or not. Its performance is equally as good as Rapha's Pullover, but it's £70 less.
Lara also tested the Stroma jacket from Findra, similarly targeted at adventurers, and rated it highly. That's £159.
This is certainly a top-performing garment in terms of protection from the elements, and it's packed with features that will appeal to a range of active people. However, it also has several that will really put some off. It's unlikely to tick enough boxes for the cycling adventurer, and a few impractical details mean it struggles to justify such a high price tag.
Great protection from rain, but some of the features are more miss than hit on a bike
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Women's Explore Hooded Gore-Tex Pullover
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the jacket 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 describes this as: "A waterproof hooded rain jacket with a chest pocket for storage."
It also says: "Made for adventure not speed, this quarter-zip waterproof pullover makes use of GORE-TEX Active™ whose lightweight three-layer construction is both waterproof and breathable. With a new, more relaxed fit and soft next-to-skin feel, the jacket is comfortable on and off the bike, no matter what you're wearing underneath. Should your adventure take you off-road, there are several technical features to keep you comfortable. The storm hood features an elasticated closure to keep the weather at bay and can be worn with or without a helmet. A large chest pocket with internal mesh dividers keeps riding rations and maps out of the rain and close to hand. Reflective stripes on the side panels and dots on the rear ensure you stay seen in low light conditions. Once night falls, the jacket packs down into an integrated stuff sack which doubles as a pillow for overnight pit stops."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
Rapha also lists these features:
- Gore's lightest ever three-layer waterproof fabric.
FIT + CONSTRUCTION
Durable, all-terrain fit with storm hood.
All-in-one map pocket, pillow and stuff sack.
-Relaxed fit for comfort on and off-bike
-Aquaguard quarter zip with O-ring puller
-Drawcord hem with integrated valve core tool
-Microfibre lining on collar for comfort against face
-Elasticated hood to be worn under a helmet
What you'd expect for the money you've paid.
It's good on a bike, but better off it.
Has stood up to everything I've put it through so far, but check back in a few months, and a few months again...
Not quite the standard of Gore's Shakedry technology but still stands up to prolonged rain really well.
Offers all the breathability needed while undertaking low-intensity activities.
Loose fit that allows for full freedom of movement on and off a bike, though arguably too much 'room' for use on a bike as loose material flaps about. Plenty of room for thick layers underneath.
Bigger than I'd have expected but not excessively so. If in doubt, size down.
Not uncomfortable, but load the pouch on a bike and it's likely to irritate.
There are more expensive options, and you can't knock it for waterproofing, but so many other features detract from this, and there are cheaper similar offerings from Gore and Findra.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Rapha's instructions are:
Machine wash 30°C gentle cycle
Do not bleach
Tumble dry cool
Do not iron
Do not dry clean
I had little need to wash it until I'd ventured off-road. It washed fine in the advised 30 degree cycle and is performing as new.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Its cut isn't bike-specific, and its excellent waterproofing is outweighed by a large dose of non-cycling features. It performs at its best off a bike, but even then has impracticalities.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Outstanding protection from the rain from a jacket that weighs next to nothing and packs down to next to nothing too.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
One single pocket carrying all the weight at the front. Half zip over a full zip. Fit on a bike.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Gore's R3 Active Hooded Jacket is £70 less, and the Findra Stroma jacket is £159. 7Mesh's Guardian jacket is £300.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? If the pouch was empty, yes. Much more off the bike than on it.
Would you consider buying the jacket? No
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? No
Use this box to explain your overall score
Excellent protection from the wind and rain, and sufficient breathability, but overshadowed by some impractical features and a high price.
About the tester
I usually ride: Road My best bike is: Carbon road.
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, getting to grips with off-roading too!
Emma’s first encounters with a road bike were in between swimming and running. Soon after competing for GB in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she saw the light and decided to focus on cycling.
After a couple of half decent UK road seasons racing for Leisure Lakes, she went out to Belgium to sample the racing there and spent two years with Lotto-Belisol Ladies team, racing alongside the likes of Sara Carrigan, Grace Verbeke, Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Deignan. Emma moved from Lotto-Belisol to Dutch team Redsun, then a new Belgian team of primarily developing riders, where there was less pressure, an opportunity to share her experience and help build a whole new team; a nice way to spend her final years of professional racing.
Since retiring Emma has returned to teaching. When not coercing kids to do maths, she is invariably out on two wheels. In addition to the daily commute, Emma still enjoys getting out on her road bike and having her legs ripped off on the local club rides and chain gangs. She has also developed an addiction to touring, with destinations including Iceland, Georgia and Albania, to mention just a few. There have also been rare sightings of Emma off-road on a mountain bike…