A comfortable, go-to pair of shorts, with the very welcome addition of more recycled fabrics. The chamois comfort is spot on, so there are no complaints there. Whilst the grippers don't dig in, and they do stay put, they are somewhat robust and feel a bit strange, and the price tag is a little elevated for a daily bib short.
Thick leg grippers don't conform
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Rapha's Classic women's bib shorts (opens in new tab) are a quintessential part of the London-based brand's range - they've been in the collection from the beginning, though they've seen several redesigns.
The current iteration boasts the inclusion of more sustainably sourced fabrics, with the main material being recycled Nylon. The leg grippers have also been subject to a return to the drawing board.
Rapha Classic Women's bib shorts: construction
In the current iteration of these bib shorts, Rapha appears to have taken its styling inspiration from the traditional Victorian-style bathing suit. They're just missing the blue and white stripes.
Joking aside, the comprehensive upper that Rapha has provided offers a high level of coverage and also does away with any waistband discomfort. The back is fairly cut low, and paired with the mesh fabric this creates a good level of breathability and stretch. I'd usually wear it alone, though I paired it with an extra base layer for the pictures. This style of upper means you do get an in-built base layer, but there's no easy way to take a toilet break - you'll need to remove all of your upper body layers.
The higher density stretch fabric on the short legs is distributed over multiple panels to spread out compression, something I favour over the style used on the Rapha Souplesse bib shorts (opens in new tab), which intentionally use minimal panels. The stitching is flatlock to avoid chafing.
The chamois is the most important element of a pair of bib shorts, and I'm pleased to report that Rapha has done an excellent job here. The pad used is quite heavy duty, so it's ideal for long days out in the saddle, but it doesn't feel too bulky when folding over the bars to achieve a more aggressive position. It does feel quite wide when you're walking around off the bike.
Designed to be an 'all-round' pair of shorts, we really rate the chamois comfort these bibs offer - we're just not quite sold on the new grippers, and the price seems a little elevated for an everyday bib.
In terms of the grippers, Rapha has bulked these up in this iteration. The cuffs are wide, and thick, with silicone strips on the inside. They've taken on the aesthetic of a rather burly tyre - and a non-folding one at that. These do keep the shorts in place, but they're quite unlike anything I've seen before in a cycling short.
Rapha has placed a major focus on sustainability in 2021, the main fabric features 58 per cent recycled Nylon and 42 per cent Elastane, whilst the upper is 73 per cent recycled Nylon and 27 per cent recycled Elastane. This is part of a long term strategy for the brand and we fully applaud its progress.
Rapha Classic Women's bib shorts: the ride
The upper is high stretch and pulls on nicely, and the extra coverage means that there's no awkwardness if you're unzipping your jersey on a long hot climb. It does make toilet breaks more difficult, though. How much that bothers you is going to come down to a personal trade-off.
So far, so good - provided you preference a full upper over a halterneck or drop tail design. The only thing that really let these shorts down was the grippers. Pulling the shorts on, these seemed to protrude from the edges of my mid-thigh initially, a bit like the trumpet of a daffodil. Thankfully, when shuffled into place I managed to get them to sit flat against my skin. However, being so thick they don't feel quite like they're designed to conform against the contours of the human body as per a standard gripper. On the plus side, they do keep the shorts in place and they don't dig in. Being so robust, I can't see these grippers losing their grip over time either, and once snapped in place they're fine, they're just a little rigid.
The chamois is dual-density, meaning the padding is distributed to be thicker where it's needed, and it's also size-specific, so that riders are more likely to get the coverage they need in the right size.
In true Rapha style, there's an inspirational story sewn onto the lower back, in this case telling the story of Yvonne Reynders and her journey from coal carting to World Championship glory.
Whilst it is a high-density pad, it dries quickly, as does the material on the legs and the upper. The material on the legs is soft but feels strong, and I can't see any chance of this inky black fabric losing its opacity any time soon.
These come available in sizes XXS to XL, I opted for the Small and found the fit spot on (I'm 166cm and 56kg). I've got the black version, but they come in purple with a white upper and red with a mustard yellow upper.
Rapha Classic Women's bib shorts: value
At £170, the Rapha Classic Women's bib shorts are pitching themselves against the likes of the Assos T.Laalalai S7 women’s bib shorts (opens in new tab) as a luxury item. For those seeking something a bit more value-orientated, we thoroughly recommend the Rapha Core bib shorts at £85. However, sticking with the item on test, these shorts have a little bit more of an 'everyday' feel than the price tag implies. The comfort offered by the chamois means I'd be inclined to reach for these ahead of a long day out on the bike, but to be a premium product, the grippers really do need some improvement.
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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