Monday, 7 January 2013

No Excuses... Rapha Pro Team Thermal Shorts Review

This time of year it's very easy to pull back the curtains, shrug your shoulders and crawl back into bed.  Or settle down on the sofa to watch all those movies recorded over the Christmas break!

There is a view, it's just behind all the clouds.
Well, if you don't have kids that is.  If you have kids it's just as manic as any other day.  By the time the breakfast melee is behind you the prospect of getting out there and knocking out some km's in driving wind and rain seems even less appealing.  In fact so often the breakfast routine takes longer than expected and the window of opportunity negotiated for riding disappears.  The turbo can be a life saver on those days,   though still being in the house means that getting the peace to do even an hour can be impossible!

I prefer being outdoors, as most people do I imagine.  Plus every hard fought winter km makes those summer rides all the more enjoyable.  There is no substitute for actually riding on the road and certainly none for riding off road.  As the old saying goes - there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit.  I try to get out whether it's raining, windy or freezing.  If I'm presented with the opportunity to ride and it's blowing a gale or pouring with rain it feels wrong to turn it down just because it's not 20C and clear blue skies.  This is Scotland after all.  If it's really cold and I'm worried about ice I stick to the main roads which have I know have been gritted or go ride the MTB.  And a head wind is a training aid - right?

Ready for winter - crud raceguards and MTB pedals so I can use my MTB winter boots.
All this means I need the right kit for riding over the winter.  Which is a great excuse for buying new kit, which is something I love doing!  I am a self confessed kit junkie...  But with the arrival of the children it's a habit I've had to put on hold somewhat.  This year I was delighted to get a pair of Rapha Pro Team thermal bib shorts from Santa which I put to good use during the Rapha Festive 500.  I prefer thermal shorts to full on tights.  Tights can pull across the knee and very often be too warm.  Thermal bib shorts combined with warmers is a more versatile combination and with the climate here will see a lot of use.  Pretty much any month with a R in it!  I'm a big fan of Rapha jackets and jerseys - I have the classic softshell (again, thanks Santa) and a lightweight jersey both of which I really cannot fault in any way.  Plus their winter accessories are all excellent - merino hats - awesome!  Having said that, cycling shorts are a different thing altogether.  Getting the fit right is difficult.  I have to say I was sceptical of the Rapha shorts at first.  I have a pair of Assos bibs which I find superb and wasn't sure how Rapha could justify a pair of shorts that cost more than the equivalent Assos.  I was afraid the shorts would ultimately prove to be style over substance.

Turns out I needn't have worried.  Firstly the quality is undeniable.  As it should be for the price.  I hope to still be using them for several years.  The fit is excellent too - possibly better than my Assos shorts.  The cy-tech pad is really comfortable, I've knocked out over 500km in them so far and I've been comfortable throughout.  The pro team shorts have a good level of compression around the thighs, but not too much!  There is a thicker material around the crotch to keep you warm whilst the legs are a slightly lighter weight, makes sense, your legs generate plenty of heat whilst cycling.  Similarly to Assos, they feel a bit tight when standing up, but once on the bike you soon forget they are there.  And that's the key thing for me, forgetting they're there.  Shorts that are so comfortable you forget they're on!  So far I've ridden them down to about 1C or 2C and they've kept me plenty warm enough, though you can feel the lighter weight material on the thighs when you first start out on a cold day.  Overall I'm very, very pleased.  I'd certainly look at other Rapha shorts now.  The icing on the cake has to be the look of the shorts.  It's not a shiny black as comes across in the over exposed photo's on Rapha's website, more of a matte black.  the left leg has RAPHA in white, the right has RAPHA in black.  They do look achingly cool.  For cycling shorts obviously.  Well, not that I'm much of a judge of fashion, but my wife likes them so there you go!  Stuff like the laundry label and race radio pockets are amusing rather than necessary.  I suppose they are meant to be 'pro team'.  All part of the Rapha mystique (or bullshit branding depending on your take on such things) but there is no denying that these are fantastic shorts, well made and a great fit.  They're just rather expensive.

Very quickly, I've been experimenting with my nutrition on the bike recently (mostly making my own!) after a disastrous Kielder 100 last year where stomach cramps and a bit of an over enthusiastic first 25 miles (it's a marathon not a sprint) led to me failing to make the final cut off (by 45 seconds, the shame!)  I'm a big fan of Torq products, I find them easy on the stomach (mostly) and they taste OK   Torq gels are the business, I haven't found better and their bars are palatable, which is more than can be said for many other brands.  But I've started to find their energy drink powder giving me stomach ache and I can barely face drinking it after a long day in the saddle.  Happily I came across their natural, unflavoured powder in the Wiggle sale and thought it was worth trying.  Wow, it really is virtually tasteless, no stomach cramps and easy to flavour with some fruit juice if required.  I'm converted.  I doubt I'll buy flavoured powder again.  I'm still far keener on making my own energy drinks and bars if possible, but where it's not practical I'll stick with Torq Natural.

So - no excuses.  Rain, hail, wind or shine I'll be out there.  Kitted up and fuelled to ride through the worst south west Scotland can throw at me this time of year.

Wet shoes... Nice.


  1. I would just like to say thanks for not posting a picture of you wearing the shorts.

    1. There's no adult content allowed, so sadly you'll have to wait until you come visit.

  2. Enjoyed reading your writing James and the countryside really is beautiful. Looking forward to more reports from up North.