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Apparel & Accessories

Clothesline Review: Rapha and Craft for transitional temperatures

Technical editor Zack Vestal looks at gear for those days when it's too chilly for shorts and too warm for tights.

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Rapha’s knicker is relatively simple in style and construction, but fits the bill nicely in form and function.

Winter weather in the Rockies normally goes through weeklu fluctuations from downright Arctic to tantalizingly spring-like. Unfortunately right now, we’re stuck in a prolonged stretch of the former, and I’ve spent most of my time in a full jacket and tights from Pearl Izumi (stay tuned for a review). But last month we had a few weeks of warmer weather to close out the late autumn riding season.

I’ve never been a huge fan of knickers, but they’re a perfect example of versatile clothing to fill that 45-55 degree temperature zone we enjoyed before this most recent bout of icy air. And a good, insulating long sleeve jersey should be a staple in anyone’s closet, because it can stand alone, or in colder temps it can supplement the warmth of a hefty thermal jacket.

Rapha’s ¾ Bib Short, a piece that most cyclists would call knickers, is a classic, high quality bib with legs that extend over the knees. And the Craft Performance Glow Long Sleeve jersey is exactly what I want when I reach for a thermal jersey, and nothing more.

On warmer days this winter and heading into transitional spring weather, an outfit like this will help you maintain optimal temperature as you ease into the new season.

Rapha ¾ Bib Short ($225)
Rapha’s knickers are surprisingly simple in construction: they’re flatlock stitched from relatively few panels of fleecy Thermoroubaix fabric. The outer facing material is stretchy and tightly woven for wind protection, and the inner, next-to-skin side of the fabric is brushed to be soft and insulating. A longer cut on several of the panels is paired with smaller sections of material below the knee to give it a gentle anatomic shape over the kneecap. Subtle elastic and a silicone leg gripper at the hem help keep the leg in place at the top of the calf, and up above the waist, stretchy mesh bib straps keep the upper where it belongs. The mesh bib straps have a large cutaway on the back to further aid temperature regulation, and there’s a small radio pocket just at the base of the bib straps. The Cytech chamois is soft and generously sized, and Rapha’s only nod to fashion is a small, white detail panel below the kneecap and little reflective tags.

Rapha features relatively muted style elements, like this small white panel on the ¾ Bib Short.
Rapha features relatively muted style elements, like this small white panel on the ¾ Bib Short.

Generally I’ve preferred to pair warm bib shorts with knee or leg warmers, because I’ve never found full bib tights or knickers to fit properly. It’s always seemed like the legs were too short, or the thighs too tight, or the midsection too generous, and the level of comfort and flexibility I need is never optimal. Because a bib short and leg or knee warmer can be sized and positioned independently on my legs, they tend to flex naturally and fit better on me. For example, Pearl Izumi makes a warm, fleecy bib short that goes great with knee warmers, and shorts like that are my winter mainstays.

But the Rapha knicker is the first I’ve tried that strikes a good balance between snug fit and stretchy flexibility, and it pairs a trim upper with just long enough legs. At 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, the size large fits me fine.

What’s most remarkable to me is the relative simplicity of Rapha’s piece. The six-panel construction feels minimal to me, by contrast with more highly engineered shorts, which rely on multiple panels of various materials to achieve anatomic fit. Rapha’s ¾ Bib depends on the inherent stretch of the Thermoroubaix material, and it works quite well. It hugs where it should, and stretches as needed for comfortable pedaling. The objective of fewer panels is fewer seams against the skin and a more even, consistent stretch across the material, and Rapha uses these characteristics to good benefit.

On the note of comfortable pedaling, the Cytech chamois pad feels very good. Again in contrast to elaborately relived and shaped pads, this one is simple but functional. It’s contoured to fit the body, but lacks extensive channels, dimples, and multi-density padding. The pad feels a little thicker than most, but it’s softer and compresses nicely on the saddle. It’s generous in size, wrapping well down the sides of the saddle and up the backside. Personally, I’ve come to prefer smaller, thinner, firmer chamois pads, but strictly in terms of comfort, there’s nothing not to like with Rapha’s.

At $225 for Rapha’s offering, you will want to be sure that knickers in general are right for you and your riding. But if you like knickers, you will love Rapha’s ¾ Bib.
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The Craft jersey is cut trim enough to feel snug and fit under a jacket, but there’s room for a base layer underneath.

Craft Performance Glow Long Sleeve ($100)
Unfortunately, as the winter wears on, it will be harder and harder to find this long sleeve jersey from Craft. It’s no longer shown on their website, and retailers like REI have already marked it down in advance of spring weather to make room for its short sleeve counterpart. But the Craft Performance Glow Long Sleeve is worth seeking because it’s a simple but well-fitted and functional long sleeve jersey that’s become a favorite of mine.

This jersey was first introduced in 2008 and has remained a staple of the Craft lineup. It’s made from thermal weight Flex Fleece fabric, which claims to be woven tightly enough on its outer face to be wind resistant up to 30mph. I’d never before seen reflective graphics like the Craft jersey sports – they are painted on and colored to match the rest of the jersey (rather than the typical shiny silver employed by most jerseys when they sport “reflective detailing”).

The pinstriping and logos on this Craft jersey may not look like it, but they are in fact highly reflective – hence the model name, “Performance Glow.”

Other features are pretty standard these days: three rear pockets with a fourth zippered security pocket, full front zipper, shaped collar, and a silicon gripper at the waist hem to keep it in place. The size medium fits my sorta-skinny frame perfectly, and the arms are happily long enough.

Craft’s Performance Glow jersey works, plain and simple. I find it to be one of the warmer long sleeves I’ve tried, which is great. And true to claim, it is wind resistant, which is more than some shirts can say (however I never rode in more than 15mph wind, and doubt it would be adequate in anything more than that). Worn alone, with a vest, or under a jacket, it’s a great jersey. I never rode in dim light, so the benefit of the reflectivity was lost on me, but it’s nice to know its there. The fit is trim but non restrictive, which I love.

Craft has a short sleeve, lightweight version of this jersey with updated graphics on the way for spring/summer 2010. Hopefully they will follow through with an updated long sleeve as well, because if the one I have is any indication, it’s worth waiting for.

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