Rapha has upped its range of women’s cycling gear by adding two sports bras to the range, including a light support bra for training and a medium support bra for riding. Putting them through their paces, we found that while there are some great features and lots to like, the designs need more work to be effective, particularly for women with a larger bust size.
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Only one or two cycling companies have dipped their toes into the world of sports underwear for women. Sports bras are credited with being partly responsible for helping women progress in sport, and for anyone who owns a moderate to large bust, you’ll understand how important decent support is.
It’s an interesting display of commitment to women’s cycling from the British company, who recruited sportswear designer Maria Olsson to develop both products from the ground up.
“My task was to create a cycling-specific bra that had as few seams as possible, but which gave enough support and sufficient compression across the chest to feel secure," said Olsson in an article on the Rapha website. "We worked hard to understand what women wanted from a sports bra and then used this to lead our design and development."
I tested both the medium and the light support bra in a size medium, and for reference I am a UK size 34D.
Rapha medium support bra
This is a garment that promised so much and had so much promise, but ultimately doesn't quite live up to its ambitions.
Designed specifically to give support while in that forward position on the road bike, it's constructed from a panelled two-layer body with an elasticated waistband, and is of the pull on variety with a racer-back style, and isn't underwired.
The inner layer is a lightweight stretch mesh that helps wick sweat away from the skin and is very effective in that capacity. The outer layer is a fine polyamide/elastane mix, with lazer-cut holes at the front centre and rear centre, to correspond with the areas most likely to get a bit sweaty when exerting.
Seams are minimal, with the inner mesh layer having only five: the waistband join, under each arm and the rear of each shoulder strap. This means there's little to rub when riding, and I didn't notice any chaffing during long rides.
It's a very fine, lightweight feeling bra. As well as minimal internal seams there is also no edging around the arms and neckline, with Rapha instead opting for folded internal seams. While this keeps the look neat and the bra fairly low profile over tight-fitting outer garments, the straps do have a tendency to twist when putting the bra on which is annoying as it's a bit of a faff to smooth the straps out again once they're on.
The waistband is relatively wide and stretchy, and in my experience didn't ride up or move out of place when riding or cut in uncomfortably.
On the downside, while the medium support bra does technically fit on, in that it goes on, covers my chest and doesn't restrict my breathing, it's also not cut with enough space at the front to accommodate my breasts. The garment is stretched and doesn't completely cover or support them.
Another issue with the bra is the little foam modesty inserts, which sit between the outer layer and the inner mesh layer. These are a feature that other sports bras have, and again with mixed success. As with other bras, these panels have a tendency to migrate inside the bra when the garment is being washed and in this case when riding, so you may start off with it in place but then later find one on your shoulder and the other in your armpit.
The patches are also far too small, which again makes them much more likely to move. The panel is the smallest I've seen in a sports bra, and is just about big enough to keep nipples in check.
Now of course you can remove these panels, but personally I prefer to have them in and therefore it's frustrating having to get your bra set up before you can put it on, then also further faff with it to get the panels in the right place.
On the plus side, the bra did prevent side to side movement when road cycling, and kept ‘the girls’ fairly securely in place while riding both on the bars and on the drops, including some sprint sections — though I did feel a bit of bounce when standing and pedalling.
Overall, while there are some features I like, it simply doesn't provide enough support or coverage for someone with my bust size, though those with a smaller bust may be fine. I also found the migrating modesty panels annoying. For the same money I've tried much better bras, so while it's a promising start I don't feel that this bra is there yet.
It’s most definitely not a sports bra designed for anything other than road cycling or a similar level of intensity; I wouldn’t try it for mountain biking or running for example.
The bra comes in both white and black, is available in sizes extra small, small, medium and large, and retails at £50 / US$75 / AU$90.
Rapha light support bra
Squeezing two reviews into one, I also tried the light support bra, which was designed more for those indoor turbo training sessions or stretching and yoga sessions done to complement riding time.
Being of the busty persuasion, I normally don’t get on with pull-on yoga/light support bras as they usually do very little for me. However, I was pleasantly surprised with this offering from Rapha. The seamless circular knit fabric actually gives quite a firm support for this type of bra, so while I wouldn't try and do anything too strenuous in it, it was perfectly adequate for warming up and cooling down post ride, or indeed even just kicking about the house.
The bra is fairly longline in design, with cups produced by incorporating a tighter knit around the bust area. The knit fabric is also two layer, which helps with the support and also eliminates chaffing as the outer fabric moves over the inner, rather than over the delicate skin of the bust.
It, like the medium support bra, has a racerback design with soft shoulder straps and a finer knit in areas more likely to get sweaty, so between the boobs, under the arms and the middle of the back, and was effective in keeping the skin dry.
Of the two, I actually prefer the lighter support option, though it wouldn't work for me for actual road cycling. It does tick all the boxes as far as a design for gentle indoor training or yoga, though.
The Rapha light support bra is available in white and black, in sizes extra small, small, medium and large, and retails at £40 / US$60 / AU$70.