A chamois that is like sitting on a pillow without unwanted density and a great toilet break solution. The fit let these down for us, but there are lots of positives that almost let us overlook it.
Extremely comfortable chamois
Detachable bib strap
Fit on legs
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The newest women's race shorts from Rapha fall out of their packaging like a little gift from the kit gods. The fabric is soft to the touch and the new magnetic detachable bib strap looks to be the best construction of its kind I've seen so far.
But you've got to take a look inside to see what Rapha is most proud of: its newly redeveloped women's chamois. The seamless construction was tested by 38 women over 15,000 kilometres before release and looks like none we've seen before.
A layer of multi-density foam tapers towards the edge, so that there's an extra thin section of chamois before reaching the seam - which reduces the chance of chafing and means the shorts slide off after a long ride without leaving any rawness around the edges.
The chamois is fully moulded to suit the contours of your nether regions - there's even a little indent at the rear with 'Rapha Pro Team' printed into the section that will effectively sit in your bum crack, which is clearly dedication to detail.
I tested the shorts during the course of a 750 km week in Denia, Spain. Of the pairs I wore that week, these by far had the best chamois, particularly around the sit bones - an area I've only recently begun to feel pressure around at all after finally finding a well fitting saddle. Despite some features I was less enamoured with (more on those later), it was these I reached for ahead of the longest day.
The detachable toilet-break strap is also a beautiful piece of design work, that's as aesthetically pleasing as it is practical.
The magnetic clasp shares similarities with the design used on the Specialized SL Pro women's shorts, but Rapha has used a section of reinforced fabric so that the clasp isn't sitting against the skin and the firm martial at the waist and lower back means that the pee-stop-solution doesn't interfere with fit anywhere else.
The white mesh upper is cool, though if I'm being picky, personally I prefer a full bodice style (like Giro's halterneck), since it means you can forgo a baselayer and climb without looking like a strip-o-gram in hot weather.
The legs are made from a soft material that aims to balance compression with comfort, and the cuffs are low profile with a silicone print to keep them in place. They came down to just above my knees in a fairly traditional Euro styling.
Rapha has opted for minimal seams, and in doing so, minimal panels. Each leg looks like one panel at the front, and one at the rear, interrupted only by a seam around the chamois. This should cut down on chafing and bunching, but personally I found that it created a pressure groove around the chamois which looked almost like a mid-thigh version of the sausage leg often caused by leg warmers.
See more: Souplesse Detachable bib short at Rapha.cc (opens in new tab)
Concerned that a bad fit was getting in the way of a good chamois, I asked Rapha for a Medium as well as the Small I already had - but unfortunately the problem persisted, creating a strange looking unwanted diamond of thigh gap. Perhaps it's the sort of minor imperfection only I'd notice and hone in on, but it did bother me, particularly coupled with the tightish fit on the leg grippers.
The other detraction from Rapha's creation has to be the cost. At £195, these exceed the RRP of established market leaders Assos, who may not have updated their design for years but still continue to be a firm favourite.
The excellent chamois and many stunning features of these shorts mean I'll still pull them on, but the fit on the legs knocked some confidence points for me and lost them a perfect 10.
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