The excellent fitting women's specific Rapha Souplesse winter tights provide superb winter element protection for when you are riding hard, and could easily become my number one winter kit of choice.
Seamless edged upper
Two colour options
Until relatively recently, an integrated chamois in bib tights wasn't a thing. In fact, for most of us, who have been cycling over a period of 20 years, it can still feel like a modern thing and quite frankly we're still half surprised to find one in 99% of bib tights, and the other half of us is still expecting that the fit will feel as bad a applying a wet kipper down the back of a pair of Ron Hill Tracksers - as was the feel of the first generation all in one bib tight.
There's two generations of bike riders out there that will always expect well fitting, high quality kit all year round, not just in summer (and even then it was pretty ropy at times), and other riders, like me, that will still marvel at just how good we've got it. I was wearing the Rapha Souplesse winter tights when I realised this.
Inspired by the Souplesse Insulated jacket, the Rapha Souplesse winter tights follow the same duel fabric construction. This concept uses two different fabrics, one wind stopping, the other thermal, to be teamed together to ensure that wind-blocking and DWR (Durable Water Repellent) capabilities are at the front to protect from the elements, while the rear is a more breathable fabric to prevent over heating.
Throughout the inside is brushed fleece, taking advantage of natures best insulator - air, which once warmed up will keep a rider significantly warmer than any synthetic measures, although Rapha are clear about the design concept being aimed at riders looking to ride hard and carry out off season training sessions over the traditional winter club run slog, so don't expect truly deep winter thermal properties.
Up top are almost seamless bibs, with the edges heat sealed, and just three simple overlocked fabric connections, which limits the chances of friction irritation, as well keeping the Rapha Soupless winter tights to an overall light weight 274g for a size small pair. It's notably lightweight, nearly 100g less than the Sportful Total Comfort bib tights, which don't carry the same wind blocking or water resistance properties, so hat's off to Rapha for squeezing so much in to such a small package.
In the middle sits a Elastic Interface(R) Chamois. It closely resembles it's Endurance 2 Pad, which uses a central protective insert which Elastic Interface says is specially refined with a smaller and more accurate protective area. The high density foams claim to provide protection for long distance rides, and provide great fit designed just for women, with the double layer EIT X-Tract fabric helping to collect and expel moisture, while the perforated base layer provides increased breathability and quick drying.
At the end of the tights, zips have been done away with in favour of stretch ankles, with bold reflective strips running the full length of the calfs.
The first thing I noticed about the Rapha Souplesse winter tights is the fit. It's what Rapha call Pro Fit, designed to sit close to the skin, with a high stretch fabric that hugs the body. And hug the body it does. It's as close as you can get to being summer kit level of closeness without being restrictive at all.
The bib's upper are super comfortable and allow you to ignore them once on - the ideal fit in my option.
If you read my review on the Souplesse insulated jacket, or indeed the Vitus Energie VR cross bike you'll be familiar with this next bit, my ill planned and thought through gravel ride in the peak district.
It turns out there's not a lot of gravel riding in the Peak District, and tame looking bridal ways swiftly turn in to pretty tricky terrain, and thanks to the SRAM 1x groupset, I found myself having to either press on hard to get through rocky sections, which are virtually impossible ridden slowly, or admitting defeat and shouldering the bike.
Despite this sudden, and often, change of excursion, the tights continued to provide the right balance of warmth and breathability. An impressive feat considering how high up and open the landscape was at times, with a temperature in the single digits.
On the more constant road sections they were unwavering in their comfortable temperature range, and I was really aware of the wind blocking water resistant front when coming off the tops of the hills on damp tarmac, with a front wheel now shedding the mud and sheep poo on to the tights at some considerable force.
As I said in the jacket review, it’s also worth noting here how well the Rapha Souplesse winter tights washed up post ride on just a normal 30°C machine wash – a vital area that some manufacturers can omit to build in to winter tight 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.
I found the chamois provided the perfect balance of padding yet malleability, firmly adhering to my backside no matter how much I had to manoeuvre myself around on the bike during the ride, not once getting that cold wet feeling when you have to reconnect with the chamois after getting out the saddle. Even on the walking/ jogging bits it stayed close to my body, a testament to how well the Rapha Souplesse winter tights are designed.
The none zip ankles were comfortable, but a little loose for my super skinny 24cm ankles, and anyway, once I had overshoes on this was soon forgotten, as was some of the reflective detailing on the calf. It was an area that I also felt was a bit of a design flaw with the Sportful Total Comfort bib tights too.
It does look really sleek positioning it down there, but if your on the 'over shoes on the outside' side of the fence, half of it gets covered up. There are a couple of reflective tabs higher up on the outer glut, but these are more cursory than anything else, it needs something much larger to really have visual impact for other road users.
I really liked the Rapha Souplesse winter tights. I could easily wear them as long as my ability to ride reasonably swiftly in deep winter lets me and in terms of winter apparel, teaming these with the Souplesse insulated jacket could easily become my winter bike uniform.
It would make sense if Rapha added the same element fighting fabric across the upper rear of the tights to provide an element of protection from road spray when not riding with a mud guard, which given the user profile for the Souplesse winter tights, it's highly likely that you won't be.
But with just this nagging point, the Rapha Souplesse winter tights are close to being A1, and although the £210 price tag might seem steep, they really do offer great value in terms of form and function.
Hannah Bussey is Cycling Weekly’s longest serving Tech writer, having started with the Magazine back in 2011.
She's specialises on the technical side of all things cycling, including Pro Peloton Team kit having covered multiple seasons of the Spring Classics, and Grand Tours for both print and websites. Prior to joining Cycling Weekly, Hannah was a successful road and track racer, competing in UCI races across the world, and has raced in most of Europe, China, Pakistan and New Zealand. For fun, she's ridden LEJoG unaided, a lap of Majorca in a day, win 24 hour mountain bike race and tackle famous mountain passes in the French Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites and Himalayas. She lives just outside the Peak District National Park near Manchester UK with her partner, daughter and a small but beautifully formed bike collection.
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