Road Test: Rapha Souplesse Bib Shorts II
Emily Fleuriot uses a packed summer of cycling to take the bib-short plunge. But do Rapha’s Souplesse II cut the mustard?
I've been riding in Rapha Core Shorts and Laurent Garnier cropped tights for some time, but haven’t quite gotten my head around the concept of bib shorts… until now. With a souped-up training regime thanks to the Stelvio Pass on the horizon, I knew I needed to take the bib short plunge and decided to do it with Rapha’s Souplesse bibs, but would I regret the move?
The Souplesse Bib Shorts II are the most recent upgrade to this essential piece of kit and feel super-slick at first touch. Cut from premium souplesse (ultra lightweight wicking) jersey, they come in black, white or signature Rapha pink mesh bib. (For some reason I had a rare sensible moment and opted for white, but next time I’ll go with neon pink.)
On first try-on the mesh top is ultra light and sits comfortably around the bust, which is really refreshing. When I've seen other women in all their bib-short glory, they can look a little odd around the lady lumps, flattening them to the point of oblivion. Not so with the Souplesse.
The length on the shorts is great, sitting longer on the thigh than other shorts I've worn and I like the lightweight gripper that stops them shrugging up the leg as you ride.
I was mildly convinced that the super-soft souplesse material must be see-through, but realised (thankfully) that it was a trick of the eye, with the flatlock central seam covering all the right places.
My first-run out with these deliciously tactile beauties was a long-distance RCC Ampthill ride called 'Learning to Love the Hills’. This seemed like an appropriate test, so off we went.
I've been loving 60km+ rides for a while now, but I've never been a fan of hills. With Stelvio my big challenge for the year, that has to change, so I've been beasting up and down the Surrey hills in preparation.
While sat in the saddle up a steep gradient, you need enough padded comfort to be able to think about simply conquering the climb. When standing out of the saddle, you need garms that aren't going to shift.
The Souplesse Bib Shorts II absolutely went the distance, with that all-important pad doing its job of staying beautifully in place and cushioning perfectly.
Being early summer, it was warm enough to get a dab on when hitting the hills, but the fast-drying fabric wicked away the sweat of the ascent with no problem at all, making for a comfortable ride round the crutch and everywhere else.
After smashing it in the baptism of fire that was the 100km roadtest, I thought I’d test out the Souplesse II over a couple of months of wear, which included multiple London commutes, horrendous Watt Bike challenges and the Girona Cycling Festival, where I was hit with a 35C+ heatwave. In every scenario, they performed brilliantly and helped me perform.
For a commuter like me riding 16km each way a day, their wicking properties are perfect and mean I can hang them in the drying locker and they'll dry quickly enough to be able to wear them home in comfort.
They were a God-send for Girona - I had never challenged myself as much as I did at that cycling festival. And on the timed Els Angels hill climb, the Nocturne Crit and the shop social rides, they allowed me to ride every day without any soreness and without overheating. All while looking good.
Even if I haven't worked out an easy peeing tactic, it's fair to say that Rapha's Souplesse Bib Shorts II have made me a total convert to the idea of bib shorts. Maybe I was concerned that I wasn't rider enough to have such a great piece of kit, but garments like these make you feel that you want to ride stronger and bolder. They might not be the cheapest option, but personally I think they're worth investing in.
Scores on the doors
Rapha's Souplesse Bib Shorts II, £175
- Fit = 4/5
- Performance = 5/5
- Style = 4/5
Emily is a writer and editorial director with a lovely looking Instagram account