REVIEW: Rapha Classic Softshell Jacket

Thank you to Wheelsuckers member Helen Ashford for submitting this review of the Rapha Classic Softshell Jacket, which is available in both a female and male version. This is a 'classic' in the sense that Rapha believe the design and performance of this winter jacket is second to none - an exceptional garment that is not only timeless, but performs year on year.

The Softshell has had several manifestations since it first appeared on the scene in 2005, when the upmarket British company was in its infancy and it is testament to the design of this jacket that it is a perennial favourite with Rapha aficionados. Both the male and female Autumn/Winter 2013/14 versions come in only one colour - classic black! Over to Helen . . .

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Rapha market the Classic Softshell for  'tough winter road riding'. I can certainly vouch for that. I have been wearing this jacket through some pretty horrendous weather over the last few weeks - in temperatures barely over freezing, in persistent rain and through flood and muddy waters. For performance it is hard to fault. It's certainly windproof - a merino long-sleeve base layer was all I wore underneath the jacket in temperatures around the 5°C mark and I was perfectly warm, though I've worn a lightweight long sleeve jersey in temperatures a little lower than this.  I've had to resort to rainwear on a couple of occasions, but in light showers the jacket offers enough water resistance and the material dries off soon enough.

The Women's Classic Softshell (left), with rain flap down (centre) and the Men's version (right)

So, on those two aspects the jacket works brilliantly and the breathability is excellent too - I've found that body heat regulation has been very efficient when wearing the jacket. In fact, so efficient, that once I am into my ride, my core temperature has remained stable and comfortable and only on  more arduous climbs have I felt the need to unzip the jacket to increase ventilation.

There is no escaping the fact that a high end product comes with a high end price tag.  At £240 you'd expect a cycling jacket to tick the all important windproof, water resistant and breathability boxes!  You could probably buy a jacket that performs admirably for half the price, but what sets this jacket apart from others I've worn or mulled over on the internet is both the overall quality and the restrained style.  The cut of the women's version is very female specific and tapers beautifully - the size small on my Size 10 frame sits tightly around the waste and over the hips. For my body shape, the ergonomic fit is spot on and the tailoring is excellent throughout - far, far better than many jackets from High Street stores I have tried on!

The sleeve length felt long when I pulled on the jacket for the first time, but on the bike, especially when on the drops, the arm length sits on the wrist perfectly and the elasticated cuffs stop any water or wind finding its way up your sleeve.  I love the zips under the arms for increased ventilation and have found that I am using them more than I thought I would, especially when riding at higher tempo, though I have to remind myself they are there!  The easy to detach drop down rear flap for protecting your bum against the wet kicked up by your rear tyre is effective and the reflective Rapha logo that adorns it will increase your visibility in murkier conditions. (Though all this  reminds me that I really do need to fit some mudguards!).

The level of detailing is impressive to the point where it is difficult to fault the jacket.  Rapha's signature pink is kept to a minimum and only features in the tabs on the interior of the jacket, keeping the jacket very black, very stylish from the outside. The rubber shoulder pad on the left shoulder is a nice touch if you want to carry a bag (and this is certainly a jacket is you would also wear for a trip into town!). There is plenty of storage room on the jacket - a couple with zips for extra security and protection and one for a phone with interior earpiece access. The latter is not something I personally use, but I guess it reinforces the fact that this is jacket that is aimed at both the road cyclist on winter training rides and the city commuter/cyclist.

The interior of the jacket is not immune to exquisite levels of detailing.

There are, however, a couple of small issues I have with the jacket. The two rear side pockets are roomy, but the central one is on the slim side. Fine for a small pump (I assume that is what it is meant for?), but personally I don't like to have something hard or metallic sitting over my spine and the pocket is too tight for anything much more than an energy gel, but the width makes it hard to access. I'd have been quite happy with three pockets of a similar width and you can pack a lot more in them too.  

Secondly, the words written in the inside of the rear pocket - this really does gripe me! They allude to Paris-Roubaix and, more specifically, to the climax of the 1980 edition that came down to a  battle between Steve Bauer and Eddy Planckaert in the Roubaix velodrome.  OK, I appreciate that  this is the female version of the men's Classic softshell and I love the fact that Rapha's level of detailing allows for these little nods to the past, but surely there is some scope in the history of cycling to celebrate some female riders who have shown similar gritty determination?  Marianne Vos perhaps or some homegrown talent like Nicole Cook or Lizzie Armitstead? And if you want to keep the historical narrative, then how about Beryl Burton! C'mon Rapha - men don't have a monopoly on riding epic races and I would have thought that a female specific garment would have reflected that!  

Now that I've had my little feminist hissy fit, I should point out that these are two very minor gripes and shouldn't really detract from what is otherwise an exceptional jacket. I love the fact that it performs brilliantly as a cycling jacket, but is so stylish that you could wear this out and about, around town or down the pub. Even the reflective piping on the shoulder and collar is dark grey to ensure the classic black look of the jacket is not compromised. If ever a cycling jacket fuses function and fashion so effectively then this has to be it. I have worn some good jackets in the past, but they have all been unequivocally cycling jackets - the Rapha softshell blurs the line!

And that is why I love the Rapha Softshell - when you pull it on and zip up before heading out into a British winter, it really makes you feel good and up for the ride! I'd even go as far to say to say that this is the LBD of the female cyclists' wardrobe!

It may be a 'winter' jacket, but as the fabric is lightweight and breathes so well, it would also be just at home on cooler autumn and spring days too - and the fact one could squeeze a fair amount of use out of this jacket throughout the year also helps to justify the price tag! So go on girls (and boys)  - treat yourself!

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The Rapha Women's Classic Softshell Jacket is available in sizes ranging from  XS (Size 8)  to XL (Size 16)  and can be bought direct from Rapha.cc for £240.00. The Men's version is also priced at £240 and comes in sizes ranging from XS to XXL. For more details about sizing and to view their entire range of cycle clothing and accessories, visit the Rapha.cc website.

 The Men's Classic Softshell Jacket is a perennial bestseller for Rapha

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