Tuesday, January 28, 2014

UK Winter Cycling Comfort and Joy(pt2) Rapha Pro Team Jacket - review - women in men's clothing

Want an all rounder jacket for crap winter weather cycling in at least the southern UK if not the entire Pacific North West and darker winter places of Europe? Have you looked at the Rapha Pro Team jacket? 

rapha pro team jacket: manly yes, but i like it too
Oh, you're a gal so you gave these a miss as another "man garment" and that's just one too many? Understood, but maybe reconsider. Here's why.

Two things have been a revelation about how southern UK wet winter riding, in those 0C-4C mornings have gone from a head-shaking grimace to a smile: one has been the crud roadracer mk2 fenders, discussed in the last post. The other has been this incredibly versatile Pro Team Jacket by Rapha.

When asking folks about cycling attire for UK winters, where one may get caught in the rain from time to time, but perhaps is not going out for a long ride in such deliberately, there are a range of suggestions from wind jacket that's water repellent, to, well, a rain jacket. And i spent quite a few cycles going back and forth with base layers and jersey plus wind breaker or rain jacket. One suggestion that's came up a few more times (including from The Steve), though, is: get a soft shell.

What is a softshell jacket? Nice discussion of jacket types from wind to water proof, from hard shell to soft  here at road.cc My take away is that a soft shell has some insulation while offering breathability, some wind stopping and some water resistance but not what you'd call waterproof. As road.cc puts it, with these attributes,
bicycle magazine's
what to wear
Soft shells [...] can simply be worn over a base layer of your choice when it’s not too cold. Add a thicker long sleeve mid-layer for really cold days and you begin to see that soft shells are the best solution for cyclists looking for a do-everything winter jacket. Paired with a lightweight, packable waterproof jacket, it’s a good combination.

But what soft shell?

It seemed from what i could find that many softshell jackets were for weather colder than what the UKsouth tends to get as regular brrr. Or at least for me.

What i've also learned is that riding togs are very personal. While i'm riding with knee warmers and oversox on the shoes, riding partner Steve has his longs on with his winter booties. This is 6-7C.

Personally, i've been finding the clothing recommendations at Bicycling Magazine's What to Wear interactive chart to be really close to working for me, suggesting that the most i'd want taking riding to occasional sub 0C.

Customer Conversation

What's a gal to do?
I phoned Rapha, a british cycling garment company, and i am sad sad not to have noted the person's name in Portland who helped me out, but we had an awesome conversation about riding styles and temperatures.

Portland weather is not unlike the UK's, and this person and i seemed to be on the same wave-length. He recommended the Pro Team Jacket as not too warm, where a variety of base layers could make it warmer as necessary; it could be worn like a jersey or as a jacket over a baselayer and jersey.

I thought this sounds ideal.
You may ask yourself: ideal? how could it be ideal given

My sense was that the Pro Team Jacket Would Work, and for a few reasons. Because the more racey (ie trim and shorter) cut would actually work for a small gal, and based on the predicted weather, the layering approach would be just the ticket. And as for tempo, i think that just means 2 things: the primary activity is not the stop and start commuting can be that may require extra warmth for non-moving moments; this is a jacket that warms up with you: you're moving, it's keeping you warm.  All fine for the intended application: deliberate rides.

Oh! and i also wanted something visible but not garish. The orange seemed to fit the bill.

Does The Pro Team Jacket Work?

Does it work? Oh my goodness! Happiness and joy. I kept waiting for the weather to break - to get cold enough to give it a try - for it to drop below 7. And then it happened: a -1C morning over the holidays. I was off. I wore a light long sleeve base, a marino jersey over that, and then the jacket. With tights, neck gaitor, marino toque and some overshoes and mitts, i was in a very happy place. Cold? what's that?

The jacket kept off the wind incredibly well, while, as i got hot (perhaps i was tempo'ing after all), the back let the heat out to keep body temp just awesome.

The ├╝ber test: the flood, the car and the fountain.

this is the kind of thing that hit me
yet - Pro Team Jacket keepin me dry - amazingly
The next ride, 4C, provided an even greater demo. It was a sunny day after torrential rains. The road in
one point was crossed with water - pretty deep - four inches or so right across the road. I was moving through the middle, very carefully, and what should come speeding the other way, but a car, going fast.
Maybe they didn't see me; maybe they thought it would be fun to drench someone, see how hight they could get the water to fountain up.

Maybe they were drunk. I dunno. All i do know is that this wave came over me and i wasn't surfing. That was the last time i'd seen water from the inside like that. It was like time slowed down.

I was expecting the ride to be ruined. That i'd be soaked - and my new jacket to be wrecked and would have to turn around like a wet rat and crawl home. Didn't happen. I was laughing (and pedalling ) out loud.

I was still comfy and dry. My legs were feeling damp from the soaking but my body felt dry. I couldn't believe it. Still dry, still warm, still riding. The ride continued. It just became Epic Ride. Today i was a Belgian Hard Man. I was out; others were not. I got a soaking and was able to keep going. Ain't techno grand?

side view: the back's Super-Roubaix rear
and underarm panels are stretchier
than the Polartec windproof/water resistant
chest shoulders and arms.
Rapha calls this
a "softshell membrane"
- it's certainly light and lovely.
Yes those grey stripes are reflective
I still expected the jacket to be covered in black road gunk, but when i got home, the jacket was amazingly fine. I don't know quite how, but wow.

Temperature Ranges

inside the jacket, two types of fleece
on the windproof bits and the stretchy back.
Also you can see the seams are taped inside.
The grey fleck on the arm is reflective;
the cuffs are elasticised and slip well
under mitt or glove cuffs.
I've now worn the Pro Team Jacket from -1C to about 7C usually on about 24 or so mile rides, so not huge long tests,  but it's been great.
It's been easy to fling a windbreaker or gillet over this when getting the first few miles in, just to get that tempo-heat going, then stuff the layer into the capacious back pocket. The obvious extra garment also being a rain jacket/hard shell, but it just hasn't hit the cold for long enough to need - but it would definitely give at least five more degrees.

Often the back pocket has glove liners in it when it's these temps: the gloves can get a bit sweaty inside and not dry out after a mid day cafe stop; having the liners is a cheap way to keep hands warm in slightly damp gloves

When it's 5-7C, i've been wearing it over a base layer and take a vest or windbreaker with me, pending on the wind chill. I've yet to be caught in a real rain pour that was more than a minute or two.

When it's 0-5C i've been wearing a heavier base layer and jersey, then the jacket. that's LOTS. Starting up from a cafe stop, i'm glad to have a vest/gillet or windbreaker to warm up a bit before that "tempo" think kicks in.

When it's 7-9C, it's not on: i find it's just too hot and prefer a base layer, jersey, vest or windbreaker; shorts and knee warmers.

The warmth plus breathability are the Pro Team Jacket's functional star features. These functions come from its bevy of well considered materials and composition.

Pro Team Jacket Composition

Some of the things that seem to make the jacket work are the way it does the windproof water resistant slightly stretchy polartec on the front, and the very stretchy more breathable (and water resistant) material on the back.

Classy design touches: there is a slight contrast between the back fabric and the windproof front and arms panels
the collar comes up for good protection, with give or a neck gaitor,
soft material facing for against the neck and zip garage.
(click for bigger image). Hanger is obvious useful touch inside.

top/front of arms, shoulders and front panels windproofed polartec
(click for larger view)
Power Shield Pro softshell material, exclusive to Rapha,
used for the front-facing panels in the chest, arms and shoulders
There are the Rapha trad three big pockes on the back for food, wind or water proof and Other Stuff. There's a wee zip pocket in the front - great for a phone/id. 

Fit - for Women?

For me, my use, so far, this jacket seems pretty durn perfect. And now i make the requisite comment that for the price it should be. My expectation is that like other quality gear - like Patagonia or Assos - it will last. Wherever possible i like the "buy once" approach to things (eg "steel is real") .

That's me taken care of, but how well will this design would work for gals more generally? Usually, i take a women's small; this is a men's small. Men's stuff can often be either a bit big or too long. 

nice having the id/phone pocket in front
Trim lines and room in the sleeves for layers.
just click for larger image/detail

3 big Jersey pockets, in back with reflective stripes

men's small for a gal (5'6", 128) who takes women's small
gives room for baselayer and jersey (and gillet if needed)
underneath no problem
or just as easily with just base layer
The advantage - it seems - with the Pro Team Jacket is that because it is "aero" it is smaller/snugger perhaps than a usual guys piece for a given size. Looking at reviews of the jacket, this has been an observation by the men (eg this latest by road.cc). For gals, this guy snugness is perhaps a help.  

Would love to know from other women, if you've tried it on, what your experience has been?

Check out Sizes? EASY.   If this sounds like a jacket you'd like to explore, Rapha makes this pretty
easy if you're not on the doorstep of one of their shops.

One of the extremely nice things about Rapha is that it's easy to order a couple sizes and send back what doesn't work. In the US and UK in any case, it's free postage back to the mother ship. Their returns process is also easy (returns policy here) - it assumes only that you have access to a printer to print out the return information, though if stuck you could likely write out all the information by hand.

Their mailing envelops are robust so it's also easy to reuse the bag that the garments came in to send back.
Rapha mail bag reused for size return

Women's Pro Kit? Meanwhile, it would be lovely for Rapha to consider making some of its pro kit for gals. It makes its "classic" pieces in a women specific cut. Some commenters argue that the women's versions aren't really as "women's" as they could be. Would be keen to hear what other garment makers see? 

In the interim, the Pro Team mark currently says "guys" tho some customer support folks say it's not really "men's" it's "unisex."Hmm. I'm not sure if gals wearing men's clothes makes them "unisex"but it's something most of us are used to in sport gear. 

Talking with a Rapha customer service before x-mas, they did say they had a whole lot more women's stuff planned for spring. Will be interesting to see what that means. 

Quick Aside: Customer Service

But speaking of customer service, i've written before about how what can keep someone coming back to a brand is not just a great product, but also the pre and post sale contact. Rapha does this side of the business really well. I have to write a post about that - there are some pretty cool stories and awesome people. Such stories of folks going above and beyond the call of customer duty, consistently, mean that, where financially possible, i will try to connect with a Rapha product: ya get the whole pre post and during support along with a well made product. 
"Today" - based on a very UK winter day
by Mark Fairhurst, Zeitgeist Images

Overall: Pro Team Jacket - it's a keeper.

The happiness about this jacket - what's it's meant for me in terms of the Joy Factor - is that i can go for bike rides through the winter. I can keep riding. moving. Now i'm sure there are other jackets that would likely work, but this is the one i've found, and it surprises and delights me every time i'm out in the wind and the muck and i feel just right and keep turning the cranks. Keeping the tempo. Finding the flow. Joy. 

Have you tried the Pro Team Jacket? what kit keeps your winter joy turning?

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