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Road Gear

Rapha Core Winter Jacket first ride review

Looking for a lightly insulated shell that’s a workhorse for ’tweener temps? Rapha’s Core Winter Jacket hits the sweet spot.

In the never-published sequel to “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” our fairy tale heroine escapes the porridge-deprived bears by jumping out their bedroom window, slipping into her trusty Rapha Core Winter Jacket, and riding away on her new gravel bike. Protected from the chill, she speeds away to safety.

Okay, the sequel is a myth concocted to make this reviewer sound clever, but the jacket is no joke. After a handful of rides in temps ranging from 30 to 50℉, I’m happy to report that Rapha’s answer for cool-weather conditions is just right: not too hot, and not too cold. Unlike many jackets I’ve tried for shoulder-season riding, I haven’t had to unzip the Core Winter Jacket ($150) all the way while chugging up long canyon climbs. And I haven’t shivered on the way back down, wishing for more insulation.

Balancing act

Warm and breathability without a lot of bulk. Rapha hits the sweet spot here. Photo: Ben Delaney

Rapha achieves this sweet spot not with revolutionary fabric innovations but with design choices that are just a bit smarter than the average jacket. The front of the all-polyester Core Winter Jacket is a wind- and water-resistant laminate with light fleecy interior, and the back panel is a breathable stretch fabric. The breathable back makes a huge difference for temperature regulation: I could feel heat purging as I attacked punchy gravel climbs around Boulder, Colorado, and sweat drying as I recovered on the flats. Other jackets built for ’tweener temps often wrap the laminate all the way around, creating more heat and perspiration buildup as your watts increase. And to what end? How often have you gotten chilled by a tailwind?

Of course, there are other high-end shells with breathable back panels. Many good ones, in fact, and some that are slightly less costly. But that’s where Rapha’s calibration of wind-resistance comes into play. With any laminate, protection from wind and rain comes at the cost of breathability, and vice versa. Err on the side of maximum windproofing, and you can create sauna-like conditions. Err on the side of breathability, and your teeth will be chattering on 45mph descents.

With the Core Winter Jacket, Rapha slides the scale to the “highly” but not “completely” windproof end of the spectrum. On my warmer rides, I could feel enough heat escaping through the front that my chest didn’t become a sweat lodge. While that calibration meant that I could also feel some chill air sneaking through on downhills, it wasn’t enough to make me uncomfortable. In a category replete with tradeoffs, I’ll take that balance.

If the jacket fits

This is an XL on my 6-foot-6 frame. Photo: Ben Delaney

The most common comment in customer reviews of the Core Winter Jacket relate to its snug dimensions. I’m 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds with long legs — tailor-made for the Large Tall sizing that virtually no one in the industry makes. Often, XL jackets tend to billow on my chest and belly, while short-shrifting my arms. But when I first looked at the XL version of this jacket, I thought there’d be no way I’d ever get it zipped up. It looks that small.

Not only did I get it zipped up, but it actually fits like a Large Tall thanks to the stretch fabric and generous sleeve length. I typically rode with one medium-weight layer underneath, or two light layers, and didn’t experience bunching in the armpits or neck. For riders with broader shoulders and bigger chests, though, the torso will be quite snug: Consider sizing up to avoid ye olde sausage casing.

Otherwise, the cut is spot on. (The Core Winter Jacket comes in women’s XXS-XL and men’s XS-XL.) The jacket has a long tail, and three deep pockets are easy to reach. The sleeves end with snug cuffs that don’t creep up but have enough stretch that you won’t be wrestling with them should you need to take the jacket off while riding.

Initial verdict

A snug-fitting outer layer for shoulder-season riding, Rapha’s Core Winter Jacket offers a smart balance of wind-resistance and breathability that’s comfortable in a broad range of chilly but not bitter temperatures.

A bit of soft insulation goes a long way. Photo: Ben Delaney