Promising warmth without the bulk, the Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket could be the perfect winter jacket, even when the weather isn't
Winter on a bike isn’t easy. Gone are the summer days of just a swift out-the-door bike ride: there’s way more prep time required now winter has come, with a fair proportion of that allocated to just deciding what to wear.
If you find trying to strike the balance between how to stay warm enough while not overcooking on the climbs or not feeling like the Michelin man tricky to master, then you maybe very excited by the women’s-specific Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket.
This jacket has been made for riders who want to play out no matter the weather. The front and full sleeves of the Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket use the highly technical Polartec Alpha fabric, which acts as the key body temperature regulator.
Polartec says the Alpha fabric uses lofted fibres to not only trap warm air (the best form of insulation) but also allow vapour and sweat to escape, which can otherwise make the wearer feel cold once they stop high-energy activity.
The outer layers of the Polartec Alpha fabric have a water and wind repellency, vital components when out in all winter weathers.
Even more breathability comes in the form of the thinner stretch fabric used to construct the back of the Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket. In all, this system acts as a built-in inner and outer layering system, similar to the Castelli Alpha RoS jacket and its internal two-piece design concept, and also keeps the jacket to an impressively low 216g.
There are three main sensibly sized rear cargo pockets, along with one zip-secure pocket with headphone port and plenty of reflective detailing in the form of a full-length back strip and arm band.
From the outset it’s clear the Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket isn’t just a standard winter jacket. It’s noticeably low volume, in fact not far off pocket size when scrunched down. It’s incredibly soft and malleable, totally belying its water and wind resistance capabilities as well as making it very comfortable to wear.
This low-profile design and pliable fabric also allows the jacket to be incredibly well fitting, and makes it easy to move freely on the bike without feeling restricted or overly dressed.
For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to give the Rapha Souplesse a good shakedown when out testing the Vitus Energie VR cross bike on one of the coldest days of the season so far. Despite wincing at the first shoulder carry of a bike that was covered in mud, sheep poo and, due to internal metal work on my right collarbone, chain lube, it was in fact a really good test of the jacket’s claims of internal temperature regulation.
I’d gone from full gas on the bike climbing up a ridiculously steep bridleway that runs parallel to the infamous Brick Works climb on the outskirts of Manchester in the Peak District, that became increasingly less ridable as it gained altitude, to suddenly stopping, shouldering the bike and then having to hike with it on my back. I have to confess to not once being aware of being cold from the external elements or from sweating profusely.
The ride took me out on some pretty exposed moorland of the Peak District, and even when I did eventually find tarmac again for a rapid descent back down towards the village of Disley, I was impressed by how much the front of the jacket took in terms of wind (and mud/sheep poo) penetration protection, with all just bouncing off the front.
It’s also worth noting here how well the jacket washed up post ride on just a normal 30°C machine wash – a vital area that some manufacturers can omit to build in to a winter jacket design. The DWR, Durable Water Repellency, treatment will need reapplying after a few washes, but that’s standard and easy to get hold of at any outdoor-type shops.
Due to the single-digit temperature I did team the jacket with a mid-weight thermal full-sleeve base layer, and think to get down the the low digits/zero conditions I’d want to up this to a full thermal quality, but in terms of windchill on the chest and front the Polartec Alpha did a sterling job of buffering the cold, and I wasn’t cold from the lightweight fabric at the back.
I don’t believe it to be quite as insulated as say the Castelli Alpha RoS jacket, but impressive for the weight and, as well as varying your base layer options, it would easily partner with a gilet for even more warmth.
Measuring 76cm for the full length of the back, and 55cm at the front, size small, I found the Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket spot on size wise. It also places the rear pockets in the ideal position for reaching on the move, and thanks to good size openings, easy to access even when wearing thick winter gloves.
Talking of gloves, the cuff to gloves is probably one area that needs a bit of a rework on the next iteration, as does the collar: they just lack the attention to detail that a true winter jacket really needs, with both requiring an extra inch or so to reduce the chances of cold gaps forming at the wrists or neck.
Winter jackets are, with the very small exception, the very definition of getting what you pay for, and on a scale of winter jacket prices, I feel the £160 for the Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket is a pretty darn fair price for something that’s going to be your go-to piece of kit from late October to early March – possibly longer if we get a rerun of last winter.
The women's-specific Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket is a great investment and as a piece of kit will keep you well insulated without overheating and will do a good job at keeping out the wind and light rain. Unless it's pouring down, there's not reason why you'd have to ride in anything else all winter.