Rapha have switched from fleece-lined Thermoroubaix fabric to a heavier-weight standard Lycra/spandex for this year's Cross 3/4 bib short to better suit the frenetic anaerobic efforts of cyclo-cross racing. Perhaps along those same lines, the leg length has shortened about 3cm to just below the knee.
Breathability has improved as a result and the comfort range has moved higher up on the thermometer. Whereas we reserved last year's version for especially cold racing conditions, this lighter-weight iteration has proven far more versatile.
The shorts are comfortable enough for cool autumn mornings but provide enough warmth just above freezing – provided you're going hard enough. Ultra-cold temperatures will warrant something more substantial, but we've been getting more use out of this version than the previous one.
With that being said, the improvements have also brought some new hiccups. While the flat-locked stitch behind the knee was smoothed over by the fuzzy Thermoroubaix backing on the old shorts, the new lighter-weight fabric leaves the thread more exposed. Combined with the shorter leg length, we noticed a bit of skin irritation back there that we hadn't before.
We also noticed a bit of bunching and sagging up around the front of the hips and generally wished for a little more snugness in that area, especially when hunched over the drops. This isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it's not what we expect of something with this pricetag and we hadn't experienced it with either last year's version or Rapha's standard knickers.
Last year's multi-thickness stretch chamois has carried over – which can be a good thing or not depending on your views. Though undeniably plush and luxurious-feeling, it's among the biggest and thickest we've encountered.
This makes for good comfort and helps alleviate the pain of a less-than-optimal 'cross remount, but it'll be too bulky for some and it also absorbs a lot of water if the conditions are nasty.
Curiously, the pad placement has been moved back considerably – and in our eyes, too far. When in typical 'cross position, the rear of the pad isn't even in contact with the saddle and there isn't enough coverage up front, which may contribute to the odd fit around the front of the hips.
We've no such qualms about the aesthetics – the shorts now feature dark green bib straps plus red accents around the front of the shin and on the edges and tops of the bibs (as compared to last year's brown and orange scheme) for a subtly classy look, not to mention a perfect match with the Rapha Cross Jersey. A neatly integrated zipped pocket – with a red zipper, of course – is included out back to secure car keys and the like.
All in all, the updated Cross 3/4 bib short is still a decent piece with the typical construction quality, detailing and classic good looks we've come to expect from Rapha. But unfortunately this time around, letdowns in a few key areas make it much harder to justify the premium price tag.