Designed for fast road riding, Rapha’s Shadow fabric brings impressive wet weather performance and an excellent fit. It’s perhaps not the best at any one thing, but it ticks a lot of boxes, meaning it’s very versatile.
At first glance, though, Rapha’s Pro Team Lightweight Shadow jacket seems like somewhat of an anomaly. It’s pitched as an “extremely lightweight, packable layer for wet-weather protection”, but at 180g for a size small it’s around 50 per cent heavier (and therefore also bulkier) than Rapha’s similarly priced Pro Team Lightweight Gore-Tex Shakedry jacket, which we also tested recently.
Unlike the Shakedry jacket, Rapha doesn’t claim the Pro Team Lightweight Shadow jacket to be fully waterproof either.
Given all of this, it’s hard to see what the unique selling point of this jacket is. On paper, it looks like a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but in reality it’s good enough in so many areas that it’s become a mainstay of my kit for road riding.
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Given the positioning of the Shadow jacket in the Rapha range – at £195 (at the time of writing), it’s only £25 less than the Shakedry jacket – both jackets are likely to be considered by prospective buyers.
Unlike all but one Shakedry jacket currently on the market, the Pro Team Lightweight Shadow jacket is available in colours other than black. For some riders, myself included, that’s very important. The ultramarine blue I tested is lovely, and the simple design makes for a great looking jacket.
The Shadow jacket also distinguishes itself from a Shakedry with its racier fit. The Shadow fabric, which is proprietary to Rapha, is a nylon and elastane blend that’s much stretchier than that of any other waterproof jacket I’ve tested.
This means it can be cut closer to the body than a standard waterproof jacket, so there’s less excess material to flap in the wind (for reference, I’m 183cm tall, weigh around 64kg and tested a size small).
In terms of weather resistance, the Shadow fabric doesn’t have a traditional waterproof membrane, but is instead subject to two rounds of durable water repellent (DWR) treatment. The seams are also taped and, from my testing, it’s weather-resistance is extremely effective.
I’ve worn it on cold, rainy rides this winter, including a particularly heavy downpour at the beginning of Storm Brendan, and it kept my top half completely dry.
The lack of a membrane means Rapha doesn’t make any specific claims about its precise level of waterproofness (in terms of hydrostatic head), but I didn’t experience any leakage even during a sustained downpour.
The only lingering question is over the longevity of the DWR treatment. The performance of the fabric hasn’t deteriorated throughout testing, but so far I’ve only machine-washed it twice with non-biological detergent. Eventually it will almost certainly degrade and need to be retreated.
In my experience this isn’t a major hassle, but it’s something to consider.
Breathability is also excellent compared to other waterproof jackets I’ve used, such as an older version of Rapha’s Core Rain jacket (which uses 2.5- and 3-layer waterproof laminate fabrics on the body and sleeves).
I haven’t tested a Shakedry jacket (which are renowned for their breathability), so I can’t directly compare the two in that regard, but the absence of a membrane in the Shadow fabric means the gaps between the fibres are much bigger, which should theoretically allow even more water vapour (i.e. sweat) to escape as long as it doesn’t wet out.
It can’t match a jerket like the Gabba for breathability though. I never found it overly hot, even with a winter softshell underneath, but if you’re riding hard some moisture from your sweat will still build up on the inside of the jacket.
The Shadow jacket makes up for those compromises by being lighter, vastly more packable and more weather-resistant. Outside of race situations then (which, except for occasional time trial or hill climb, I no longer find myself in), I’ve found it to be much more versatile, even if I love the true jersey-like fit of the Gabba.
The two-way zip is also a nice touch. It’s a feature I was skeptical about, but it is useful for modulating breathability and it does make it easier to reach into your rear pockets for food. I much prefer it to the off-centre zip found on some Rapha jackets and gilets.
The Pro Team Lightweight Shadow jacket isn’t faultless though.
The cuffs could be fully rather than semi-elasticated because the jacket is quite hard to get off while riding with winter gloves on, without it turning inside out.
It also tends to take up a whole pocket when not in use, and I found I had to roll it up tightly to make it fit in smaller pockets. That can be frustrating when you just want to quickly stow it away.
As often with Rapha products, it’s also expensive compared to the competition. You’re likely to get a lot of use out of a jacket like this, especially if you live somewhere where it rains a lot, but many will baulk at the upfront cost.
Rapha Pro Team Lightweight Shadow Jacket overall
At first glance, Rapha’s Pro Team Lightweight Shadow Jacket is a hard sell because there’s so much competition in this product category. However, if you value style and a racy fit, this is one of the best packable jackets I’ve used.
It sits in a goldilocks zone of performance and has become one of my go-to pieces of kit for road riding. Despite not being the best in any one category, it’s fantastically versatile and I find myself reaching for it whenever I’m heading out on my bike.
As with all things Rapha, it comes at a steep price, but its performance, fit and elegant design should make it a great addition to the wardrobe of any cyclist willing to pay that price.