Soft shell jackets are, on the whole, pricier than more traditional ‘hard shell’ or fleece/Roubaix style non-waterproof jackets. They offer a compromise between the warmth and breathability of a non-waterproof training top and the out and out weather protection but potential sweatiness of a waterproof.
That said, there’s no way of escaping the staggering price of the Rapha Classic Soft Shell, which although not the MOST expensive of its kind on the market, is right there in the upper echelons. So, the burning question has to be ‘what do you get in a jacket that costs almost as much as a cheap bike, that you don’t get in one that costs considerably less?’
The answer is – all the bells and whistles you could possibly want in a jacket, and then some you didn’t even know you wanted, but now you’ve got them you couldn’t possibly live without. Suffice it to say, the Classic Soft Shell has more features than you could shake a pump at. There are integral stretch hand gaiters to interface with winter gloves, reflective accents at the shoulders, a rubberised bite patch to assist with single handed zip fiddling, a large rubberized patch on the left shoulder to help secure a bag strap (although less useful if you are a lefty) pit zips to enhance temperature control, and a warm fleece backed collar. The three rear pockets are roomy and usefully deep, the middle one housing a pump sleeve and the right hand one an MP3 player cable slot, which then carries into the interior of the jacket to be met with cable guide loops right up to the collar. Neat. There’s also a reasonable sized zip security pocket, easily big enough for a mobile phone or compact camera.
The cut of the jacket shows as much attention to detail as the features. The body is a good length and should suit all but the tallest of women, whilst also catering to a curvier shape than many jackets on the market. The sleek fit and stretch fabric mean it should flatter most body types whilst remaining effective. The tail is shaped to give good coverage of the backside, but if this isn’t enough, or the weather turns just too disgusting, there’s an even longer flap hidden away inside, with well engineered Velcro that won’t snag on anything, whether dropped or tucked away, and with its own ‘saddle grip’. This extra flap is huge and does seem a little like overkill, but to be honest the whole jacket is so crammed with features and detailing that this is just one more thing to add to the list. It’s also embellished with a reflective logo. Sleeve length is impressive, with no skimping on fabric and easy comfort no matter what the reach or riding position. For those not keen on integral gaiters, these easily slide away inside the cuff without hassle. Sizing is friendly, with a size Medium equating to a good UK12, and sizes available from XXS-XL (UK6-16)
Made from soft pliable soft shell fabric, the jacket is designed to be the ultimate winter riding garment, and actually, it’s one of the most comfortable jackets I’ve ridden in. Even in very cold conditions, the combination of wind resistance and some thermal properties with excellent breathability meant that even with a light base layer I remained a comfortable temperature and, most importantly, dry. The water resistance of the jacket was easily enough to see off some pretty persistent rain, with no soaking in and no chilling effect at all. Zips were easy to manage while moving, but the breathability meant that the requirement for this was minimal anyway. The jacket stayed put with no creeping up the back either.
The cut almost certainly contributes to the efficacy of the jacket, helping to keep a layer of warm air trapped next to the body, but allowing moisture to escape quickly. The addition of the pit zips means that this jacket is useful far beyond just its intended winter status as well, making that price tag just that bit more palatable. It looks incredibly stylish too, although to be really picky, I’d have liked a colour alternative to non-winter friendly black.
Ultimately, this offers far more features than you would possibly ever want in a winter riding jacket, but they are well considered, carefully implemented features that enhance the end result rather than being a case of over-egging the pudding. You may not want to spend £240 on a soft shell jacket that does everything except tell you your heart rate, but really, you don’t have to do you? Just choose another one. If you want a well made, high quality jacket with all the trimmings, or are due a generous gift from a certain someone, you could certainly do worse than Rapha’s Soft Shell.
The Rolls Royce of winter cycling jackets. Stick it on your Wish List.
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Make and model: Rapha Women's Classic Soft Shell Jacket
Size tested: ?
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?
Tailored for female riders, for tough winter cycling.
Does just what it's supposed to. Cut well for women, looks great and performs well as a versatile all-conditions jacket. More versatile than just for winter wear.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Stretch softshell fabric (polyester 81%, spandex 10%, Hytrel® membrane 9%).
Water resistant, breathable and wind proof.
New pocket configuration centres pockets when loaded.
Rubberised left shoulder pad.
Discreet, zipped arm vents.
Storm flap with saddle grip.
Bite grip and drawcord with friction locks.
Highly breathable, windproof, water resistant.
Ergonomic side panels and three-piece arm construction.
Machine washable at 30
Beautifully finished and high quality fabrics and components.
Performed incredibly well and was very versatile.
Easily tweaked for almost year round use and kept temperature very stable, even in very cold conditions.
Really good water repellency considering it's not waterPROOF (i.e taped seams)
Density of fabric means the jacket should last well without suffering.
Not the lightest, but a good weight for all day or long ride wear, and for winter use.
It's hard to justify this price for a jacket, but this really does have so many features, such attention to detail and is so well made that you can almost convince yourself.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Quality and comfort of fabric.
Soft fleece lined collar.
Performance in cold and wet conditions and temperature management capability.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Only the price. And if we're being really picky, the MP3 player pocket should have been a zipped one.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, immensely.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Perfect gift material. A truly well designed cold season riding jacket with good looks and nice features.
A serious investment though.
Age: 37 Height: 1.65m Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
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, general fitness riding, mtb,
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.