Rapha’s partnership with the Canyon//SRAM pro team has lead to plenty of innovation, and these new Souplesse Detachable bib shorts are a prime example.
Three years in the making, the shorts come with a brand new chamois designed in-house and Rapha’s own solution to the comfort break problem for female riders.
Souplesse is Rapha’s race-focussed range, and since its original release many of the items have been extensively tested by the Canyon//SRAM team riders who’ve provided plenty of feedback.
“We’re super lucky to have a really good relationship with Rapha as our clothing partner of Canyon//SRAM Racing,” commented Canyon//SRAM racer Tiffany Cromwell. “They always come to us on training camps and at races to hear our feedback. We tell them what we love, but more importantly what we don’t. They always want to be pushed to find solutions to problems.”
The new Rapha chamois
Rapha has been working for several years to develop a brand-new proprietary chamois, using feedback from the Canyon//SRAM team. Immediate Media Co
After years of development, expert input, three rounds of prototype testing and five rounds of wear testing, the development of the new women’s chamois line was one of the most in-depth projects that Maria Olsson, head of design at Rapha, has worked on.
“The process of developing this chamois included a huge amount of research, expert insights, pressure mapping, competitor testing, insights and feedback before we even started to prototype,” explains Olsson.
“It’s been tested over 15,000km and by more than 28 women globally including professionals, endurance riders, commuters, racers and in every condition possible before we felt good enough to sign this off.”
Chamois, like saddles, are one of the crucial elements of the bike comfort and performance equation, and while there is, as ever, an element of personal preference – since we are all, after all, different ‘down there’ – there are some unifying factors.
For example, a smooth surface without (or with minimal) seams or creases is good because it doesn’t tend to catch or pull on the labia. Zoned padding with thicker or denser areas where the pressure is higher, such as under the sit bones, is another.
There are two versions of the Rapha chamois, each designed for a different type of riding: the Brevet and the Souplesse.
The Brevet chamois is designed for maximum comfort and long distances, while the Souplesse chamois is performance focussed and has a thinner profile and is constructed from high-density foam.
There are also two sizes of each pad that are designed to suit the different shorts sizes they are fitted to.
Both have a seam- or crease-free upper, noticeably variable thickness of foam, a moulded shape and an antibacterial treatment.
Olsson explains that the shorts have been designed from the ground up to suit female anatomy.
“Every choice of foam, fabric and component is proprietary to do the exact thing we wanted it to do, and sized to work for all sizes better. It is hugely different to the men’s chamois. We work with a few experts from physiologists to chamois engineers to get the best result.”
The clasp has a magnetic element that makes reattaching it fairly easy. Immediate Media Co
One of the issues all women who wear bib shorts face is how to go to the toilet without having to strip off and flash your bits to the world, or expose yourself to the elements.
Lots of different companyies have come up with various solutions over the years, but a variation on the drop tail is by far the most popular, and this is the option Rapha went for, though it took its time refining its design.
The Souplesse Detachable bibs have a Y-shaped bib strap with two straps at the front and a single strap down the centre of the back. At the lower back, the strap is interrupted by a magnetic clasp that attaches to the top of the back of the shorts.
While this is similar to some other brands, there are differences. For example, the Rapha clasp is a bulkier design, but the upside of that is that it tends to hang down rather than hang up mid-back meaning you have to fish around for it in a crazy yoga pose.
The clasp is also located further down towards the shorts compared with similar attachments on shorts by Specialized and Iris.
When nature calls, it’s easy to reach behind your back, unclasp the strap, drop the tail of the shorts and relieve yourself. Then, just pull them back up, grab the dangling strap with one hand and the bottom part of the clasp with the other, and it clicks easily into place with the magnets guiding it.
Rapha Souplesse Detachable Bib Shorts fit, feel and performance
The shorts feature a single back bib-strap with a clasp that allows it to detach, making toilet breaks a whole lot easier. Immediate Media Co
With the Souplesse being Rapha’s performance range, these shorts have a close, race-fit cut. I tested the size L which corresponds to a UK size 14 or US size 12.
The Lycra used feels much lighter and less compressive than on other high-level shorts, but isn’t flimsy. It offers only a light level of support but is form fitting, soft and hugs the skin while holding its shape exceptionally well with no bunching or ruffling.
For hot weather or high-level exertion it’s excellent, though personally I like a slightly firmer feeling Lycra, especially because I’m a curvier-than-average cyclist.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the leg length on Rapha shorts, which come to just above my knees. For reference, I’m 5ft8in or 1m 73cm. The leg bands are wide with silicone microdots, which grip securely without digging in or causing the dreaded sausage leg.
I can say hand on heart that the chamois is exceptional. I’ve ridden it multiple times in a range of conditions and each time it’s achieved the pinnacle of chamois comfort: I’ve forgotten I’m wearing it.
A chamois that you don’t notice, which doesn’t rub, chafe or sit awkwardly is ideal, because your attention is focused on riding and not trying to stay comfortable.
I also repeatedly tested the magnetic buckle and drop tail feature. It’s easy to detach, and the fact that it sits lower on the back than other similar designs, and has that slightly chunkier clasp that helps it sit centrally, does make it easier to reattach. Get the two sides near each other and the magnets grab and guide the clasps into place.
When standing, the design means it sits away from the body, but when riding forward over the bike the straps and clasp are flush against the back.
However, because the clasp is chunky, I found that it interfered a little with how my jersey pockets sat when they were heavily loaded.
I also found on gravel rides, where I tend to wear a waist pack, that it wasn’t quite compatible.
Finally, because the mesh of the straps is so fine, if I pulled too hard on the upper (which I probably didn’t need to do, but it’s habit) to bring it down to meet the lower part of the clasp, I did hear a few threads tearing, which isn’t a great sign.
If you’re a rider looking for summer- or race-friendly cycling kit and are happy to invest a significant chunk of money, the Rapha Souplesse shorts are a good blend of comfort and performance.
Rapha Souplesse Detachable Bib Shorts pricing, sizing and availability
The shorts are available to buy directly from Rapha’s website, which delivers worldwide, and through Rapha shops and club houses.
Price: £195 / €230 / $270 / AU$340
Sizes: XXS to XL
Colour: Black with white straps