Review: Rapha Classic II Bib Shorts

The road cycling clothing industry is a competitive market and as the increase of people taking up cycling has showed signs of reaching a plateau, there was a certain inevitability that some brands would never make the summit.  

Some disappeared without featuring on many people’s radar and then there is the sudden demise of Vulpine recently, which imploded, or rather self-destructed, due to financial mismanagement and delusions of grandeur, coupled with an inherently flawed business model.

All of which makes the ongoing success of Rapha all the more impressive. Founded by Simon Mottram in 2004, few brands have generated so many imitators (Vulpine, and the ludicrously named Chapeau! being two that immediately spring to mind).   

Mottram was several years ahead of the game and has succeeded where many have failed, though he has conceded that the journey was not an easy one. Attracting initial investment for a company selling online upmarket cycle wear proved difficult, even for a man with a record in luxury branding and a sound business acumen.  

An experienced road cyclist himself, Mottram had one simple objective:  to provide high quality, performance-orientated cycling clothing that was also stylish. No one, before 2004, was catering for this small sector in the market that Mottram identified.

Fast forward 17 years and Rapha is now firmly established as one of the most successful and coveted brands. Say what you like about Rapha, and Mottram has many detractors, but one has to admire his gut instinct, branding skills, commitment and belief.  Not everyone buys into the ‘Rapha lifestyle’ and many baulk at the cost of their clothing and accessories, but there is one thing you cannot argue against: Rapha makes some exceedingly good cycling apparel.  And if you doubt that statement, why do you think Sir David Brailsford chose to work with Mottram and his talented team?

It’s testimony to the brand that several of Rapha’s early garments remain perennial bestsellers. Their ‘Classic Collection’ features signature jerseys, gilets and accessories, but the stand out garment for many remain  the Classic Bib Shorts, first introduced in 2006.

A Rapha advert from 2006, the year they unveiled the first pair of bib shorts  ©Rapha/Ben Ingham

Their secret of their success was down to their simplicity. Soft, beautifully cut and constructed utilising Lycra and mesh, the shorts provided comfort combined with a paired down, stylish look, but the R&D was focused on the superlative Cytech pad insert.  The shorts just delivered!

And, it should be said, they also last. I bought my first pair of Rapha Classics in 2010, convinced by a cycling friend prior to riding to Paris that all-day comfort in the saddle could make the difference between me shedding tears of pain or joy as we circled the Arc de Triomphe!

I still have them and wear them regularly. OK, they are a little faded, but the pad remains comfortable, the Lycra still shows no signs of disintegration and not one stitch has come undone.  They may no longer be my ‘show pants’, so to speak, but for training rides, CX and short, sharp summer outings, they are still the ones I reach for.

A perfect, iconic garment, you would think? Well, the designers at Rapha might disagree, for this year the Classic II was unveiled, a carefully tweaked updated version that stays truthful to the original, but includes some notable advances.

An updated classic: Rapha's Classic II Bib Shorts, new for 2017

If Rapha’s link up with Team Sky taught the London-based brand anything, it was that perfection is almost unattainable. There is always a marginal gain to be made, whether it be in the cut or the combination of fabrics and this may go some way to explaining the evolution of the Classic shorts.  

The most notable change – and one that impacts on the comfort more than anything else – is the new pad insert, which is not only body-contoured for optimum comfort, but the pad size is no longer a ‘one size fits all’. Three different pad sizes are used to accommodate the range of sizes available: one for XS and Small and one for Medium/Large and XL/XXL respectively.

The rear pocket, flatlock stitching and fabric has been retained, though the cut out at the back of the mesh bib straps is a longer oval than with the original Classic bibs and is designed to increase ventilation (see comparative image below). The leg grippers are a little wider and provide excellent grip around the lower thigh. The fabric is the same as the original – it’s wonderfully luxuriant and soft in feel and has a distinctively slinky character.

The rear bibs of the Classic and ClassicII (right), showing increase in oval cut-out

The tweaks in design certainly improve the performance, but for me the Classic II is ALL about the new pad insert. The chamois – I tested the medium – is a snug fit and moulds itself around the sit bones.  It feels wonderfully soft on the skin and, like its predecessor, does not feel overly bulky, despite that fact that in the hand the pad has a reassuringly substantial feel.

And when it comes to performance, these shorts are up there with the very best. I’ve been fortunate to test a fair number of shorts from a whole host of manufacturers over the years. I’d argue that you pay for what you get when it comes to shorts: a mid-market price provides comfort but there is always going to be a compromise, but the Classic II compare favourably with the Assos s7 range, which since their release two years ago have been my benchmark for superlative quality. 

Why are they so good?  Easy. You just don’t think about your backside even if riding for the whole day – they just perform. Brilliantly.  It’s really that simple and quality construction and improved design aside, one has to thank the new pad insert for delivering such exceptional comfort.

The good news is that the same pad has also been incorporated into the updated Pro Team Bib Shorts II, but these being Rapha’s ‘elite performance’ bibs, they also benefitted from a fabric upgrade too, with a new lycra that is a little more lightweight and high wicking. The fit is a little more compressive in feel than the Classic II, and having the choice of a ‘regular’ and ‘long’ leg length will appeal to many.

The Pro Team II Bib Shorts have also enjoyed a few tweaks to their design and pad insert. 

The Pro Team bibs feature some striking colour variations, including the signature Rapha pink and the hi-viz chartreuse that has been as staple of their collections for several years now.  The Classic II bibs have also had a overhaul when it comes to choice, with the dark blue with cream Rapha logo particularly striking. The blue, even more so than the black, positively shimmers in the sun.  

My original Rapha Classic bibs still have a few more miles left in them and they, more than any cycling garment I own, convinced me that Rapha was not a brand preoccupied with ‘design over function’. With the Classic II, however, things have just got a little bit better!

The Rapha Classic II are available to buy exclusively on the Rapha website and come with a price tag of £165. This certainly puts them in higher price-point bracket, but it’s worth bearing in mind that is over £100 less than the Assos T.campionissimo _s7 Bib Shorts, which retail at a price that is knocking on the door of absurdity! 

Full details of both the Classic II bib shorts and the Pro Team II are available on rapha.cc, including size and colour options, of which there are many. 

Review: Dave Nash May 2017

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Comment by Dave Rowe on June 14, 2017 at 21:30

I can see you in a pair of Rapha Classics MR! My case comes up next week... Just back from a fab ride out in the evening sun, cosseted naturellement in bTwin Botty Loveliness!

Comment by Middle Ringer on June 13, 2017 at 23:29

I'm all for paying more for a higher quality product that will last longer - and also for supporting independent business over larger "supermarket" style corporations. I don't own any Rapha, but everyone I know who does swears by the quality and comfort of the product. Buying cheaper gear is like buying a shirt from Primark - sure it's cheap and does the job, but the long term quality and ethical standards behind it aren't exactly great are they?

There's no doubting a HUGE part of their success has been their successful and supremely slick marketing campaigns right from the start. Hats off to them, pure genius. Like the article says, there have been many imitators - but nobody has come close.

Comment by James Piggot on June 13, 2017 at 16:39
I'm glad someone spotted it Mike!
Comment by Mike the Bike on June 13, 2017 at 16:15

I saw what you did there James, betting your 'bottom dollar' on a pair of shorts.  Nice.

Comment by John Davis on June 13, 2017 at 14:39
Expensive yes. But worth mentioning the "free" crash repair service. I trashed a pair of the new pro team bibs on their first outing. Now fully repaired and as good as new.
Comment by James Piggot on June 13, 2017 at 13:39
I have a pair of Rapha Classic II shorts and agree they are superb, very soft and great comfort even on long rides. They are also very expensive, in the end you chose how to spend your money, but you can bet your bottom dollar you will not be disappointed if you invest in a pair of these shorts.
Comment by Dave Rowe on June 8, 2017 at 20:22

Interesting points Dave re Decathlon vs the LBS. Hadn't looked at it like that before, I must admit. My issue with Rapha and the High End Market is the Thatcherite ' Greed is Good' Conspicuous Consumption of it all. I must admit to being somewhat of a Luddite/Corbynite when it comes to consumerism. We could of course set up a competition - each of us takes on a sportive, you with your Classics and me with my Botty Heavens, and the winner is the one with the least battered bits at the end! But who do we get to judge? Over to you guys....

Comment by Mike the Bike on June 8, 2017 at 16:26

I really thought I was with you on this one Dave, my natural instincts are for the little man.  I am a staunch defender of the corner shop.  But then I thought about supermarkets and how, if I were suddenly responsible for our weekly shop, I would welcome the free parking, the huge selection and the speed of the transaction.  I am, I'm afraid, easily seduced by convenience and low prices.  Some eco warrior eh?

Comment by Dave Nash on June 8, 2017 at 11:30

Not the cheapest shorts, admittedly Dave, but when the quality of the fabric, pad insert and construction is of a very high quality, they are going to last. 7 years and counting for my first pair of Classics, which makes them very cost effective, if you can get over the initial financial outlay. 

I'm personally not a fan of b'twin, or Decathlon to be more exact. They've pretty much wiped out small independent, family owned sports shops in many parts of France and the continent and now they are doing the same in the UK. My local bike shop says it has been a struggle for them ever since a a Decathlon opened up less than a mile away. Great shame, as my LBS really does support the local cycling community (and has done for many years) and to see them suffer (or potentially go under) is an absolute travesty.

Add to that, I'd rather lend my support to a small, innovative and quality British brand, even if they cost a bit more, than a company that is essentially the French equivalent of Sports Direct! 

Comment by Dave Rowe on June 6, 2017 at 19:34

'Embalmed in an oiled duvet' MtB? That's my Saturday night sorted... A £165!!! Alternatively, you could buy 27.5 pairs of Botty Heaven bTwin shorts for that and most of a fabulous Wiggle Road Bike! Come the Glorious Day..

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