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The cut and sizing of the Rapha Women's Souplesse Insulated Jacket won't suit everyone, but there is no denying that even with its minimal weight and bulk it does an exceptional job of keeping you warm.
Weighing in at just over 200g and feeling very flimsy, it might have you questioning what exactly you've got in return for your pounds. But don't let its flimsy appearance and feel lead you to believe it's not up to the job. Its first outing was in 3°C and drizzle – only a six-mile commute but enough for starters; not only was I warm enough when I got to work, I was surprised to find I was dry too.
The front panels and upper side of the sleeves are made with a DWR-coated, paper-thin, synthetic fabric. Under this is the all-important Polartec Alpha insulation. The rear and underside of the sleeves comprise a single layer of a much more stretchy fabric. Dave wrote a very good introductory piece about the jacket back in November, detailing some of the background to this material and its properties.
The jacket has continued to perform week after week in cold conditions. Its ability to resist rain has deteriorated only a little, as would be expected from a DWR coating, and it's still working well on those drizzly commutes. Anything more than an hour in the drizzle and dampness seeps through, but even so it still insulates you against the cold – when moving, anyway; you wouldn't want to stand still in it for long. The fabric dries out exceptionally quick too.
After a few weeks of commuting, and being this light, pale colour, the jacket has needed a fair bit of washing. I was pessimistic about it cleaning up that well, free of the mud and filth it had acquired, but it came out like new.
The temperature regulation comes from the thin rear and under-sleeve fabric (the dark stuff): hot air escapes here. It works well up to about 8°C. Above this and I began to sweat excessively. The only remedy was to unzip the jacket, though thankfully the fleece lining seems to hold generated body heat sufficiently well to not have to keep zipping it up and unzipping.
However, this same fabric used on the rear and back of the sleeves does feel chilly when it gets wet; it's clingy, so it's noticeable if you are wearing a minimal baselayer. Because the front panels and Polartec fleece are so effective, this chill isn't enough to make your entire torso cold, but it isn't a pleasant sensation. It's avoidable if you layer up, but the close race fit doesn't lend itself to this, and you might then begin to overheat.
While providing a warm, cosy interior for the torso, the Polartec Alpha lining stops short of the collar, and I found the thin collar insufficient in temperatures close to zero. It's very snug fitting, which is good for keeping out draughts, but a polo-style undervest is a no-no – there's no room – and when wearing a neck warmer it had to sit outside the collar. A bit of an oversight to my mind, given that the jacket is designed for 'the coldest of weather'.
The jacket is very well constructed. Potential weak spots have been looked after: loading up the pockets puts a lot of strain through the thin fabric, but Rapha has built in strengthening tabs where the pockets attach to the body of the jersey. The seams and finishing are all seriously clean and show no signs of deterioration despite repeated wear and washing. I also had the misfortune of a sliding encounter with the tarmac while testing the jacket and was amazed that, while I came off with a hairline fracture to the elbow, the jacket was unharmed.
A rather rigid strip runs down the centre of the rear panel, presumably there to prevent the fabric stretching too much. Load up the pockets as much as you want and this strip will help to spread that load across the panel, so the fabric is getting even wear. The strip is also reflective, which is a bonus.
The standard three rear pockets are generous and easily accessible. There is also zipped access to an interior mesh pocket which has a cutaway for a headphone wire, with further loops inside the jacket to hold any wire in place.
The smooth-running front zip closes nicely to the top of the jersey, and there is no irritation thanks to an interior flap that runs the full length of the zip.
If you are on board with the colour – there is only the one option – you will still need the rather niche cut to suit you. I tested a medium and found it short in the body and very tight across the chest with no tapering at the waist, while being excessively wide on the upper arm.
The short body is less noticeable on the bike than off, as you'd expect, but I'd say it's essential to wear bib shorts if you want full coverage around the hip area. Sizing up would lead to excess around the waist and arms.
A wide silicone strip on the rear hem keeps the jacket in place, and fully loading the pockets means you can get a little more coverage of the lower back, helping to hold the jacket as low as possible.
The cuffs are a bit quirky too: they are tight around a seam that sits hidden under the sleeve. In fact, you could almost say there is no cuff, rather a folded-over sleeve. You need to team it with substantial gloves to keep your wrists protected. Zero elasticity at the seam means taking the jacket off demands a good wrench, or accepting going for an inside-out technique.
At full price (£160) this is a steep investment for something that won't necessary get a huge amount of use throughout the year, and may not fit perfectly. Given the fabric's excellent properties and performance, I can't help thinking that the Souplesse Insulated Gilet might be a better use of the material.
Neither jacket nor gilet are available on the Rapha website any longer – Rapha is rolling out its spring collection now. But both are currently available at SportPursuit and at a 50% discount: £79.99 for the jacket, £69.99 for the Souplesse Insulated Gilet. That's a much more acceptable price for the excellent performance in cold, dry conditions, especially if the colour and sizing suit you.
Lightweight appearance belies the excellent insulation, let down by a fit and single colour choice that won't suit all
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Souplesse Insulated Jacket
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the jacket is for
Rapha says its Souplesse Insulated Jacket is a 'packable garment with a race fit for your most intense cold weather training, made using the extraordinary Polartec Alpha® insulation.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
* Made with Polartec® Alpha® insulation.
* Stretch fabric on back helps let body heat out.
* Windproof fabric on front keeps you warm.
* Triple rear cargo pocket for storing provisions.
* Vislon zipped valuables pocket for easy access.
* Headphone sockets in rear pocket and loops inside .
* Reflective piping under rear pockets and on centre front left of jacket.
Polartec® Alpha® insulation
Impressive finish. Feels pretty flimsy but is actually very robust.
Certainly does what it says exceptionally well.
Washes really well, despite light colour. Survived a rather hard sliding encounter with the tarmac, which many jerseys wouldn't have done. (There's also Rapha's repair service to consider: "Rapha offers a free repair service where a crash or accident has damaged a garment or a failure has occurred even after significant usage.")
Rapha doesn't claim that it's waterproof; it's certainly water resistant, and this is very good initially. It's lost a little of this after some washing but still isn't bad.
Short in the body. A race fit should be small, yes, but not compromise on length that offers protection for the lower back. It was tight across the chest but loose around the midriff, and the sleeves were excessively wide. Really unsure who Rapha models its 'racefit' garments on.
I tested a medium and it fitted much more like a small. Yes, it's clearly stated that the jacket is 'racefit', but don't expect to fit much more under it than a thin baselayer if you are indeed a medium.
Great insulation but the poor fit wasn't ideal, and it felt awkward off the bike – too tight across the chest and too short.
Right now you can get it for less than £100 on Sportpursuit. Based on its performance that is great value. Even better if it fits you better than it did me.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Easy: 30 degrees, no softener. Came up clean every time. It does need lots of washing though because of its colour, and this reduces its water repellent properties.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Excellent in cold, dry weather.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Performance for very little weight.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
Fit and appearance.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes, though I wasn't keen on the look.
Would you consider buying the jacket? Not the jacket, but possibly the gilet.
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? To a Rapha fan who would suit the fit, maybe. Narrows it down...
Use this box to explain your overall score
Great quality and excellent warmth, for which it would score 8 or 9, but it's let down by a very niche cut and the lack of colour choice. And then there's the high RRP to consider.
About the tester
I usually ride: Road My best bike is: Carbon road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, getting to grips with off-roading too!
Emma’s first encounters with a road bike were in between swimming and running. Soon after competing for GB in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she saw the light and decided to focus on cycling.
After a couple of half decent UK road seasons racing for Leisure Lakes, she went out to Belgium to sample the racing there and spent two years with Lotto-Belisol Ladies team, racing alongside the likes of Sara Carrigan, Grace Verbeke, Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Deignan. Emma moved from Lotto-Belisol to Dutch team Redsun, then a new Belgian team of primarily developing riders, where there was less pressure, an opportunity to share her experience and help build a whole new team; a nice way to spend her final years of professional racing.
Since retiring Emma has returned to teaching. When not coercing kids to do maths, she is invariably out on two wheels. In addition to the daily commute, Emma still enjoys getting out on her road bike and having her legs ripped off on the local club rides and chain gangs. She has also developed an addiction to touring, with destinations including Iceland, Georgia and Albania, to mention just a few. There have also been rare sightings of Emma off-road on a mountain bike…