Rain Jersey Rumble: Castelli Gabba v Rapha Shadow

The Gabba jersey, made by the Italian brand, Castelli, is cited as one of the best road cycling garments on the market. Windproof and water resistant, the game changing jersey, which comes in both a short and long sleeve version, has proved to be as popular in the pro ranks as it is with amateur and recreational cyclists looking for that edge in inclement conditions.

The Gabba has been much imitated, but no rival manufacturer has been able to topple the Castelli jersey from its pedestal.

That is, until now.

Earlier this year, Rapha unveiled their new Shadow jersey, accompanied by bold and confident claims about the superior water resistance and breathability it offered. It also came with an eye-watering price tag, a reflection of the extensive R&D invested in the innovative fabric.

Can the Rapha Shadow finally be the jersey to knock the Gabba off its perch?  Dave Nash puts the two short sleeve jerseys to the test, head to head, to see which provides the best overall performance for riding in foul weather, but can either deliver a knockout punch to vanquish its rival?

The gloves are off, so let’s get ready to rumble!

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In January this year, Rapha unveiled their new Pro Team Shadow collection – a water resistant, windproof and breathable jersey and bib shorts, developed ‘at the request of Team Sky riders’ for a garment to wear across various and changing race conditions. Rapha claimed the new garments represented the cutting edge of their product development. That may be so, but doesn’t that description sound all too familiar?

Despite the London based company’s eagerness to distance itself from comparisons  the Shadow quickly found itself being compared to other ‘rain jerseys’ on the market and, top of the list, was the market leader: the Castelli Gabba.  Inevitably the comparisons were quick to appear, despite Rapha’s attempts to quell them: it’s like comparing apples and pears” a Rapha Spokesperson told me.

I’ve have been fortunate to get to test both jerseys in the climatic conditions for which they were intended to be worn. I’ve worn them on rides in exactly the same conditions, so that I could accurately assess how they performed against one another. It’s been an interesting and revealing exercise and I was left surprised by the major differences between them.

But before I get into the nitty-gritty, let’s start at the beginning . . .

GENESIS

The origin of the Gabba is well documented. The suggestion to develop a jersey specifically for riding in more changeable, wetter conditions was first muted in 2009 by Gabriel 'Gabba' Rasch, when he was riding for the Cervélo Test Team. Castelli were the official kit supplier to the team and worked in tandem with fabric specialists, W.L.Gore, to develop the innovative WindStopper X-Lite Plus fabric that would make the ‘Gabba’ such a ground-breaking piece of kit.

Essentially a water repellent version of their Aero Race jersey, Castelli’s thinking behind the jersey was pretty straightforward: being less bulky it would provide better performance and the team riders would no longer need to carry a rain jacket should the weather conditions be changeable. For the domestiques there was the added bonus that those laborious, energy sapping trips back to the team car to discard or collect rainwear would be reduced.

When riders from Team Garmin,  who were also sponsored by Castelli, started wearing the sleek black jersey in competition in 2012, it was immediately clocked by riders from rival teams, who recognised the massive benefits. Many ditched their own team issue kit, to wear their own Gabbas, albeit with Castelli’s scorpion logo and the rear reflective strips blacked out with a marker pen!

Roger Hammond, now Team Director with UCI World Tour team, Dimension Data, and a former Cervélo Test Team rider, hailed the Gabba as the best jersey he had ever worn. Yet it was the 2013 edition of Milan-San Remo, raced in atrocious conditions, that that the mythology surrounding the Gabba came to the fore. Several riders were spotted through the swirling snow, sporting Gabbas, bringing the jersey to a wider audience. It was heralded as a wonder garment and many mistakenly believed it to be waterproof, though Castelli have never marketed the Gabba as a waterproof garment.  Nonetheless, the Gabba was quickly embraced by the amateur ranks; from racers to club cyclists, commuters to recreational riders.

Andrew Talansky of Garmin Sharpe sprints to victory at the end of the rain-lashed Stage 3 of Paris-Nice in 2013, wearing a Gabba Jersey.

The intervening years have seen many imitations, some so close in look and style to the Gabba to raise the eyebrows of lawyers, and now virtually all cycle clothing brands have a ‘rain jersey’ in their respective collections. Rapha has been slow to come to the table, which in part explains the amount of press the launch of the Shadow generated.

Rapha claim the Shadow jersey was requested by Team Sky, though more likely they demanded a jersey that would provide the similar benefits of the Gabba. The Shadow range has been in R&D since 2014 and the early concepts were tested by Team Sky from the beginning of 2015.

They tested it all through the Classics last year and Luke Rowe was impressed: Gent-Wevelgem was one of the windiest, most horrible races I've ever done, but the Shadow kit kept me in excellent shape at the front of the bunch.”  OK, he wouldn’t say otherwise, but then last Sunday, Wout Poels clinched the British team’s first ever Monument, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Rapha were quick to crow that the Dutchman was wearing their pioneering Shadow kit.

COST

The Rapha detractors were quick to make a point of the huge price difference in the two jerseys. At  £220* the Shadow Jersey is more expensive than many highly technical winter jackets on the market, and the  Shadow bib shorts are eclipsed only by the s7 Campionissimo shorts from Assos. It’s apparent that Rapha believe that the fabric innovation and protracted R&D justifies the high cost.

In comparison, the short-sleeve Gabba 2, the most recent manifestation, retails at £140, but hunt around online and you’ll find that price greatly discounted, both in UK and with overseas online retailers.

Verdict:  An £80+ price difference will make the Shadow a non-starter for many, though for some the hefty price tag might make the jersey even more attractive! *Rapha are currently selling the Shadow Jersey and shorts at the discounted price of £198 and £234 respectively.

FABRIC

Rapha’s bullish claims for the Shadow stem from the fabric used in its construction, which is stretch-woven, rather than knitted, and goes through a four-stage production process. First, the yarn itself is treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) which is then woven into fabric. The third stage sees the fabric undergo a steam-pressure treatment that shrinks it by 50%. Finally, another DWR is applied. “What that produces is an extremely dense fabric,” explains Graeme Raeburn, Rapha’s Lead Designer. “It wouldn’t be physically possible to actually weave yarns that close together and so, consequently, Shadow provides very high wind resistance and excellent water repellence.”

This tightly woven fabric, Rapha claim, not only makes it ‘amazingly breathable’, but also provides a durability that helps to prevent abrasions in the event of a fall.

The Gabba differs from the Shadow as the fabric Castelli developed with Gore, Windstopper X-Lite Plus, is based on a laminate technology, rather than a DWR weave. The X-Lite  consists of three layers and the membrane provides a good level of water repellence, but also allows air to pass outwards, allowing for temperature and sweat regulation.

CONSTRUCTION AND DESIGN

Both jerseys exhibit high quality design and construction, which one would expect from two of the higher end brands. The stitching and detailing cannot be faulted on either.

Both are an unforgiving fit, which is a cut that is perfect for the conditions for which these jerseys were born to be ridden in.  Get the size correct (both jerseys in the test were Medium) and there is no bunching or folds – a potential Achilles Heel  for water to gather and permeate though the fabric.

The Gabba 2 shows a few changes from the original design. The zip now has a zip cover and Castelli revisited both the waist band and dropped tail section and reworked them slightly. Likewise, the pockets now have a mesh drainage, rather than eyelets, and gone is the overt branding.

The Castelli Gabba 2 (left) and the Raphap Pro Team Shadow Jersey.

Otherwise, the Gabba has changed little and the fabric remains the same Windstopper X-Lite. The arm length is slightly longer than a summer short-sleeved jersey and the neckline is reassuringly high and lined in red fleece. The rear flap wraps neatly around the lower back/buttock area, keeping your backside protected from spray.

The Shadow, in comparison, is a slightly more minimalist cut. The neckline is lower and, somewhat surprisingly for Rapha, the cut around the neck line is really poor and sits untidily. Whereas the Gabbas is tight around my neck, I can easily stick three fingers down the neck line of the Shadow.

The rear of the Shadow falls well short of the buttocks. It’s a noticeable difference and possibly Rapha have allowed for the fact that those who invest in the jersey will pair them with the Shadow bib shorts, thereby providing an effective barrier against water ingress when worn in tandem?

The arm length of the Shadow extends to the elbow joint – again, it’s a noticeable difference between the two, but though I did not think it a major issue initially, it does impact when riding as just like the neckline, it results in some flapping of material. It’s not enough to cause any chaffing, but it is irritating, especially when seen against the tight, form-fitting sleeve of the Gabba.     

The Shadow is fleece lined, so that it can be worn comfortably without a base layer. The Gabba inner lining is more synthetic in feel and, for me at least, feels more comfortable when worn over a base layer.

Verdict: They both look great and have the same form fitting cut around the torso and the stretchiness of both fabrics ensures that there is no discomfort in areas prone to chaffing, most notably around the neck line and under the arms. I’m not convinced by the longer sleeve length of the Shadow, sitting as it does in the crook of the elbow. A couple of centimetres shorter would make no difference. The neckline of the Shadow is week and a flap on the back would benefit those riders wearing non-water resistant bib shorts.  

STORAGE

Both jerseys have adequate winter storage with three rear pockets. In addition, the Shadow has a small zip pocket on the right, which easily takes a smaller smartphone.

Both jerseys allow for water to drain out of the pockets, which in turn are further evidence of the raison d'être of these two jerseys. Castelli and Rapha differ on how they approach the water drainage issue – the Shadow has grommeted ‘drill holes’, whilst Castelli have dispensed with holes (as seen in the original version) and replaced them with a red gauze, visible in the photos below.

The fabric used for the pockets of the Gabba is the same material as the rest of the jersey, whilst the Shadow has a slightly more tarpaulin feel to it. It jars slightly, which is a shame.

Fully packed for the ride: pocket contents as follows:  wallet containing levers, cash and cards, an iphone 5, 1 x banana, 2 x gels, 1 x energy bar, small Lezyne SV11 mutli-tool, Topeak HP Race Rocket mini-pump and a single inner tube.

In addition to the three rear pockets, the Shadow also has a small zip pocket for valuables – it’s a tight zip line, but though it is large enough to take my iphone5, I still felt it necessary to place my phone in a watertight bag.

The rear pockets of the Gabba are slightly larger – the central pocket is 19cm deep, as opposed to the 18cm depth of the central Shadow pocket. It doesn’t sound like a huge discrepancy, but packing all my winter accoutrements into the Gabba was far easier, even though the overall width of the Shadow is 2cm more.

Access is also easier with the Gabba. The pockets of the Shadow sit a touch higher up on small of the back, whereas the pockets of the Gabba sit right above the buttocks, making reach and faffing about trying to pull a gel out from between a mini-pump and a banana a lot easier, especially when riding at a decent tempo.

Verdict:  The Gabba wins hands down on both storage and access. OK, the Shadow has that extra zipped pocket, but I’d more likely to use this for small change or keys and if I was going to put my phone in there, I wouldn’t feel confident that it would escape water ingress, so would pop it in a waterproof case anyway.

VISIBILITY

Whether it is because the original version of the Gabba was black – ‘bad-ass black’, noted David Millar –many of the Gabba imitations that followed have been black in colour. Black may be the most popular manifestation of the Gabba, but the Castelli designers have incorporated two robust reflective strips across the top of the rear pockets and around the rear hem line. It’s reassuring to know it is there, but for those who prefer to be seen, Castelli now offer the Gabba in a range of colours, including the Fluro Yellow and eye-catching Drive Green.

The Rapha Shadow only comes in black, but to be fair, this is its first incarnation and it is likely that other colour variations will be added in years to come. Again the Shadow falls short in the reflective detailing – a small and discreet strip, a miserly 5cm long is simply not enough. Given the conditions that this jersey is most likely to be worn in, this is a major flaw.

Verdict: The reflective strips on the Gabba are not only highly visible, but also make a dramatic style statement too, making the jersey instantly recognisable from a distance. The range of bright colours available are also a major selling point.  

PERFORMANCE

So that’s the initial assessment over, but how do the two jerseys perform against one another if bad weather?

Firstly, the test conditions: both jerseys were tested on two identical rides. The weather for Ride 1 was very wet: persistent rain, very heavy at times with a temperature around the 6°C-7°C mark, but a cold wind added a significant chill factor. Ride 2 was dry, but cold – just a little above freezing.

Both rides were a distance of 25 miles, ridden at a high tempo, with several decent climbs, two long (c.1.5 miles) and two that were shorter and punchier.  

Both the jerseys were in optimum (new) condition and both were worn with the same synthetic sleeveless base layer. The Shadow was tested first on both rides.

Wind protection was excellent for both and the difference was negligible. When starting out on both rides I felt a little chilly on the chest, but after a few minutes riding any feeling of cold had been forgotten and both jerseys provided good core temperature regulation.  Not surprisingly, given their pro rider background, both the Shadow and the Gabba perform better when riding at a higher tempo and the level of warmth and wind protection they provide in very cold conditions is exceptional, especially when you consider how thin the fabric of both feels in the hand.

Saying that, the Gabba again has the edge – the zip flap down the chest adds that little bit of protection lacking in the Shadow. The unprotected zip of the latter did allow for a bit of chill to ingress, but not enough to impact on my core temperature. That higher  neckline on the Gabba is also far superior, providing a nice reassuring warmth and that tighter fit provides a far more effective defence against driving rain and cold wind.

Neither of these jerseys are waterproof, but they offer an impressive level of water resistance. The rain just beads up and rolls off, which makes a tight fit all the more important. Even with significant rainfall I felt comfortable and protected in both. Never cold, nor saturated.

As this photo supplied by Rapha serves to illustrate - rain and spray simply beads up and runs away as soon as it comes into contact with the Shadow jersey.

I also love the bum flap that comes with the Gabba. Again, it just provides that extra level of protection, reassurance and overall comfort, plus there is the added bonus that when down, the flap provides another strip of reflective detailing.  

The Shadow feels very short in comparison, and though I assume that Rapha would like to see their customers pair this with the Shadow bib shorts, most people will struggle to fork out for the Shadow jersey, let alone the Shadow shorts at £280. Wear the Shadow jersey with regular bibs and you are going to end up with one very wet backside, so I would advise buying an AssSaver or similar!

Finally, a note on the breathability. Rapha made some bold claims about the superior breathability of the Shadow, but do they stand up to scrutiny?  This may not be the most scientific of tests, I admit, but for Ride 1 in very wet conditions, I placed a single sheet of kitchen paper, folded into quarters, inside the straps of my bib shorts. When I had finished the ride with the Shadow, the paper was damp all the way through. From water ingress or sweat I cannot be certain. Same ride, same tempo and same conditions in the Gabba and the kitchen roll was . . . bone dry.

And finally, a note on the zip pull. The Gabba zip has a loop with a small circular tab incorporating the scorpion motif. It’s so easy to locate, pinch and pull down, even when wearing full finger winter gloves. The Shadow has a decent enough zip pull, beautifully articulated to aid your touch, but the Castelli is just effortless.

Verdict:  Whilst both jerseys provide excellent wind protection and water resistance, the Gabba edges the Shadow in every regard. Even down to the ring pull on the zip!

Rapha claim that the Shadow offers a fantastic range of movement, fit and ‘amazing breathability’, but I really cannot ascertain any major difference in the fit and feel of the two, despite half a dozen or so rides in both jerseys. I would even go as far to say that the Gabba actually has a softer feel and, just like the Shadow, contours the body just as effectively. Rapha’s claims are not misleading, as their jersey does provide optimum comfort, but to suggest that it is superior to others just doesn’t ring true.

GARMENT CARE

I will update this post in due course, but having washed both of these jerseys half a dozen times each (following their respective washing guidelines to the letter!) neither show any signs of wear or tear and their water-resistance remains undiminished.

CONCLUSION

These are both highly technical garments that both provide a high level of performance in a range of conditions, from colder dry days to wet and milder conditions and everything in between.

In my opinion, on the evidence from riding in both jerseys, the Gabba remains the benchmark for rain jerseys. It’s just hard to fault, as simple as that. There are no weak points and when you appreciate that Castelli never marketed the jersey as ‘waterproof’ then you really appreciate what a fantastic piece of kit it is.

The fabric behind the Rapha Shadow is highly effective, but perhaps in a conscious need to ensure that their short sleeve jersey did not resemble the Gabba, the jersey has some major flaws. The neckline is really poor. The lack of coverage over the lower back is another weakness.

The lack of reflective strips on the Shadow is another major failing for me. A single minimalist reflective strip just doesn’t offer the reassurance one needs in dimmer light conditions and I felt far more vulnerable when riding in murky and wet conditions, even with a strong rear light on strobe. I definitely felt more visible in the Gabba, thanks to those two wide reflective rear strips.

The Gabba neckline is also tighter and that slightly higher line provides a significant amount of protection and when I did get a little ‘hot around the collar’ it was easy to access the zip pull and adjust the neck opening accordingly.

And then there is the price tag. If the Rapha was noticeably superior then it might, just might, persuade some people to fork out almost £100 more for the Shadow. But it’s not – it’s a contender, but with such a hefty price tag, it’s going to take a lot more convincing. Perhaps Rapha are not concerned by the £480 combined cost for the jersey and the shorts, but I would imagine that if they harbour any hopes of denting the reputation of the Gabba, then they need to revisit the price tag and be a little more realistic on what people are prepared to pay for their kit, however ‘pioneering’ it might be.

The final point I want to make is purely an aesthetic one. The Gabba just looks better! It may be a common sight on the roads, but it’s one of those jerseys that just looks so good – sleek, svelte and that red scorpion logo just compliments that badass look that David Millar alluded to. It’s just one of those cycling garments that as soon as you put it on, you feel a little more ready to roll, whether it’s bright blue winter skies or horizontal rain.

In short, when you factor in the difference in price, the Shadow sits very much in the shade of the Gabba.

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The Castelli Gabba 2 jersey retails at £140 and is widely available to buy via stockists and online retailers, including Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles and Evans Cycles. It comes in five colours: Black, Drive Blue, Red, Yellow Fluro and Sprint Green. Sizes range from Small to XXL.  A women’s version is also available.

For more information on Castelli products visit Castelli Cafe, the UK home of Castelli Cycling Clothing. 

Rapha’s  Pro Team Short Sleeve Shadow Jersey is available to buy online from rapha.cc and retails at £220. It is only available in black at present and comes in sizes ranging from XS to XXL  

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Comment by Frank Davidson on April 28, 2016 at 10:05

A forensic examination of the two jerseys. I have a Gabba long sleeve and also a Gabba 2 - just the best pieces of kit in my wardrobe. Club rides, sportives and CX racing - they cover a lot of bases. The DWR coating does become less effective after multiple washes (about 10 in my experience) but a single application of Nikwax and their original water resistnace returns.  I bought my Gabba 2 from Mantel for just over £100 - a steal. 

Comment by Mike the Bike on April 28, 2016 at 9:24

I take your point Dave and, to a younger and fitter man, the distinction would be important.  But to an old fart like me a jersey is a jacket is a jersey.

Comment by Dave Nash on April 28, 2016 at 9:18

Fair point Mike, but the Endura SL260 is a jacket, not a jersey. Rain jerseys are a different beast, though I;d add that  the advance in highly technical fabrics over the last few years is blurring the line between jackets and jerseys somewhat. The beauty of the rain jersey, of which the Gabba and Shadow are just two of several on the market, is that they are close fitting and aimed primarily at higher tempo cycling/racing in foul weather. For that type of riding, they excel. 

Comment by Mike the Bike on April 27, 2016 at 18:07

Both brilliant I'm sure, but, were I rash enough to spend such money on a jersey, I would probably buy the Endura SL260 - Pro SL Shell at £140.

One reviewer said it redefined what you could expect from a lightweight jersey and another called it 'a cracker.'  It is, Road.CC said, " ...completely waterproof, superbly breathable."

We are truly spoilt for choice.

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