Rapha Souplesse II Bib - Women's Review
Cons: Aggressive uppers, small sizing, expensive
Our Analysis and Test Results
If you're going to get into cycling enough to call yourself a cyclist, at some point you will come across the Rapha brand. Either someone will wear a jersey to a group ride or race, or the next Strava challenge will be sponsored by them. A British company, Rapha is all about "creating the finest cycling clothing in the world" and about organizing and sponsoring unique cycling events. You might wonder what the big deal is.
It reminds us of the good old days when everybody who was anybody on the bike had Campagnolo (Campi) components and NOT Shimano. It wasn't that Shimano's quality was inferior to Campi (pssst… don't tell a Campi fan this!), but it was the Campi brand recognition that stamped you as a serious racer and rider that made it desirable to pay the extra Benjamins and go Italian.
Rapha is kind of like that — which made us super-stoked to test it. Like any curious-minded person, we wanted to put a really expensive bib through the same tests as the others on the docket. And you know what? The Rapha Souplesse rocks. But, we wouldn't call it perfect.
Comfort and Fit
This was a tricky metric for this garment. To start, our testers (who don't mind wearing bibs) could totally tell that Rapha went to some trouble to get the garment to fit the way it does, which is like a glove. A really, really tight glove. And some athletes like that compressive feeling. However, this isn't everyone's cup of Earl Grey tea. If you're in the market for something that's compressive, this bib is totally for you.
The bibs have less seams than other bibs we reviewed. We loved the lessened opportunities for rips and chafing, and found that Rapha's design didn't bunch no matter our position on the bike (in or out of the saddle).
That being said, we also know that there are riders out there who don't like the feel of a bib (it tugs too much on the shoulders, they often say, or it feels as though the garment is inhibiting their ability to breathe). If that's your experience with a bib, then you won't like this garment. It is SNUG and designed to be that way.
Highly breathable, the bib upper is, alas, pretty aggressive (meaning it offers a lot of coverage, especially in front) which is great if you want something to "hold everything in." It sucks, though, when you've got to manage your hydration, and you have to strip in the porta-potty.
We also loved the leg lowers that feature a lightweight gripper that holds the shorts in place without the use of thick silicone or the dreaded "sausage thigh" effect. The length was a little long on our shorter riders (falling right above the knee).
Padding and Protection
The Souplesse II Bib features Rapha's classic women's chamois, a heat-stitched chamois which performed alongside our top-ranking chamois in this review. Technical, wicking, and not overly bulky, this chamois gave our riders just the right amount of cushion for the saddle without feeling like an oversized diaper.
We also appreciated that the Souplesse II chamois is black. Without getting too personal, it was nice to have a garment that didn't showcase whatever could or might go wrong on a ride. And instead of having "emergency bike shorts" (that go along with your "emergency underwear" that you only wear in case everything else is dirty), this short remains discreet about whatever mishaps you have on your bike journey.
The stitching around the chamois, too, was carefully calibrated for both comfort and style. Every seam is completely finished. There's no awkward stitching on the outside of the short announcing to the world that you're wearing a short with a chamois in it.
Breathability and Fabric
The nylon/elastane blend of the Souplesse II Bib is breathable and soft, making it a fine combination to rest close to your skin for however many miles you decide to stay on the bike. Unlike other shorts included in this review, this fabric felt neither scratchy nor "clammy"-- but a nice soft that also wicked away the sweat on a hot summer day.
The mesh upper is also highly breathable, and riders accustomed to wearing a bib would say that they hardly notice it's there. Granted, it's another layer of fabric, so those more sensitive to the heat might not like that aspect of a bib generally, and should probably look for a short to wear instead.
This is sometimes a tricky metric for us to test; we do our best by cramming as many rides and weather conditions (and washings) as we can in the testing period. But, there's only so much you can put a garment through in a few months. All that said, the Souplesse II Bib gets high marks in this category because of its solid construction and quality detailing throughout. Without iron-on logos or unfinished seams, this garment is built to last--and for the price tag, it should be.
Granted, it's not armor, so if you happen to crash on the pavement, no short or bib is going to stand up to that. However, barring catastrophe, this product is among the most well-built we've seen.
Even though this is probably the last thing on your mind as you're on a long, hot climb, style is related to comfort and fit… if a garment is built right for your body type, it should also look pretty good on. The Souplesse II Bib ranked highly in this category. It's bib that's put together nicely and stays in place. We didn't award full points because of the bib's upper, which has quite a bit of fabric in front, which received mixed reactions from our reviewers. Some of us loved this feature: it held everything in place (no awkward belly-shots here), and the pink accent added a fun splash of color to our cycling kits.
Others thought the fabric in front was sort of weird-looking, and it made pit stops a complicated affair. The other critique for these excellent bibs were that the chamois is super visible from the back. Again-- this isn't the end of the world (they are a cycling bib afterall), but when other products used a more discreet approach to their chamois, it's something we wanted to point out.
This is a high-quality bib suited for all sorts of road rides, whether it's a quick twenty-miler, a road race, or a double century. Rapha put a lot of time and effort into the Souplesse Bib and it shows. If you're not a bib person, or you hate getting undressed in a porta-potty, you might want to check out other options that don't have such an aggressive upper bib.
Is the Souplesse II Bib a quality product? Our reviewers think so. Is it worth the price? A better question to ask yourself would be: "is it worth it to you?" If you've never heard of Rapha, and you're not trying to drown yourself in the roadie scene, you can find a comparable garment for half the price. If, however, you are looking for a "the roadie look" to go along with a high-performance garment, then the Souplesse II Bib might be right up your alley.
We just can't even imagine how it would feel to crash and shred this short accidentally. For the price, we hope its wearer gets years and years of wear.
The Rapha Souplesse II Bib is a high-quality bib that fits well, uses highly breathable materials, and will keep you comfortable in the saddle even for an all-day ride. It's a lot on the pricey side, though, and unless you're a total fan of Rapha products, we think you could find a comparable product that costs much less.
— Rebecca Eckland