I like a good deal as much as anyone (especially in this economy), but there is one thing I won’t skimp on – apparel. I’ve learned through experience that the pain felt in the wallet from buying good stuff is short-lived, while the pain in the arse from buying cheap crap is felt everytime you put it on. Cool/cold weather presents a special challenge for apparel, as it needs to provide warmth without overheating and be comfortable despite the increased bulk. For temps in the 40s and 50s – cool but not cold – I like bib knickers and a more thickly constructed long sleeved jersey. Arm warmers and knee warmers, along with a shell, work fine also, but at these lower temperatures there is no need to peel layers to avoid overheating – the principle advantage of those pieces, and they are not nearly as comfortable as knickers and a cool weather jersey. I’ve tried a few different brands of such, but none have wowed me like Rapha‘s new for 2008 Long Sleeve Jersey and 3/4 Bib Shorts. Rapha is not cheap – in the same price range as Assos – but the form, fit, function, and attention to detail with these items is the best I have ever experienced.
The knickers are made of Roubiax material, cut to avoid putting seams on the knees. It has a nice, super soft feel – warm without being thick, and conforms superbly to the body. The back has a large cutout, which seemed strange at first appearance, but its advantage in preventing sweat buildup became apparent the first time I wore it – especially under my backpack while commuting. There is also a nice small pocket in the middle of the back for placing… ahem, MP3 players (not that I would do that!) without having to string the cord from your jersey pocket. Reflective white piping on the front and a reflective tab on the back below the knees aids in visibility, and a white vertical bar below the knee in front is ever so stylish. Of course, all this would mean nothing if the chamois wasn’t comfortable, but no worries here – I later learned that the chamois used by Rapha is the same one used by Assos for their F1 shorts (which I also have, and they are my favorite bib shorts). The first time I rode in these knickers, I just couldn’t believe how comfortable they were and how great they looked.
The jersey is also the most comfortable cool weather jersey I’ve ever worn. The Sportwool fabric is a mixture of polyester and elastic polymers with Merino wool that has all the soft, comfortable warmth of wool, but in a thinner fabric that stretches, wicks, and holds form as well as any synthetic fabric. The back side pockets are cut on an angle so that the outer side is lower, making them very easy to access, and there is also a zip pocket built into the right for an MP3 player (again, not that I would use one while riding) with an inner buttonhole to allow the cord to run up to the neck under the jersey. There is also a hidden pump pocket in the middle pocket, and the bottom hem has draw strings that can be tightened and held in place via small cord locks. Again, the single white band on the upper left arm adds a splash of understated style. It’s a great looking and superbly functioning outfit – these days I actually want the weather to be cool so I can wear this outfit. With a long sleeved base layer, wool socks, lycra booties, and medium weight gloves, I was quite comfortable in temperatures yesterday morning in the low 40s.
I also ordered a pair of Rapha’s also new for 2008 Merino Socks to go along with the outfit, but they are not yet available and are backordered. I’ll let you know what I think once I try them.