While the sun has been making the occasional appearance here in the UK, we’re still very much in the throes of winter for now. It’s a time of year when we’re still having to pull on our best winter cycling jackets and head out into the cold, so it’s important to have the right tool for the job.
Rapha needs no real introduction these days, as one of the biggest and arguably best cycling clothing brands in the world. It’s known for producing clothing for all weather conditions, and its winter offerings tend to do very well in reviews. So this winter I’ve been testing out the Rapha Women’s Classic Winter Gore-Tex Jacket, to see how well it performs against the best women’s winter cycling jackets. While it’s not marketed as fully waterproof, I’ve also considered whether it deserves a spot on our list of the best women’s waterproof cycling jackets, because the very fact that it’s made from Gore-Tex Infinium fabric suggests it might. Read on to find out how it went.
Design and aesthetics
Straight off the bat you know this is a Rapha jacket, thanks to the distinctive white stripe across the left sleeve. While I’m not usually one for wearing bright colours, and certainly not orange, I found the colour of this jacket to actually grow on me quite a lot. Since it’s designed to be worn in the depths of winter when visibility is often low, it feels safer to be wearing something like this on the road.
While we’re on the subject of visibility, the Classic Winter Gore-Tex Jacket also features reflective details throughout. Basically, all the white parts — the arm strap, the trimming around the front pocket zip, the rear stripe and two smaller trims on each side of the chest — plus the very edges of the cuffs, are reflective.
But we’re here to get down into the details. The jacket is a hardshell made with Gore-Tex Infinium, a three-layer midweight fabric designed to balance wind and rain protection with breathability. The outer layer feels seriously durable, and while there’s no stretch to it, it feels soft and pliable in the hands. On the inside, there’s a soft, micro brushed surface that adds a fabric-like texture. It doesn’t add any bulk to the overall jacket but feels much more comfortable against the skin.
So if there’s no bulky fleece-like lining, where does the warmth come from? Aside from the wind protecting properties offered by the Gore-Tex Infinium fabric, you’ll also find some cosy fleece lining around the collar that extends down the length of the zip on the right-hand side. Also helping to keep the cold out is an elasticated and adjustable hem, thanks to drawstring adjusters. Cinch these for a close fit that seals against road spray and keeps the heat inside where you need it.
Another nice detail that adds to the warmth is the double-layered storm cuffs. On the outside, the cuff extends over the wrist to provide extra coverage, while inside there’s a second, elasticated cuff that seals out the cold.
The jacket comes with three pockets. There’s a zippered Aquaguard one on the front, placed on the right side of the abdomen, that is large enough to fit most smartphones, and two at the back. Having two pockets instead of three there means that both pockets are very wide, making it easier to store extra layers when they’re not needed (though bear in mind that these aren’t sealed away from the rain), but they are still a little on the shallow side. A hole at the bottom of each pocket will allow any water ingress to trickle out again, and the top edge of each pocket is tapered so that they’re easier to access at an angle, which is a nice touch.
One final reflection on the design, the ‘classic’ fit from Rapha makes the Gore-Tex Infinium Winter Jacket easy to layer up beneath because it’s quite relaxed. However, considering the lack of stretch in the hardshell fabric, I was disappointed to find that there wasn’t a huge amount of accommodation for curves. While every body is different, I’d like to think that a women’s specific cut of a winter jacket would have a bit more shape to it, but when I wear this jacket it hangs almost rectangular and feels tight around the chest. As a UK size 12-14 with a top-heavy physique, the fact that I’m wearing the largest size Rapha provides, is also something I can’t help but critique. I’m certainly not representative of most of the larger-bodied cyclists out there, so having the upper limit of the size range end with me just seems archaic.
In use, the Rapha Women’s Classic Winter Gore-Tex Jacket fits really comfortably, and is clearly cut for the riding position. The chest no longer feels tight, the arm length is perfect, and the parts most vulnerable to the biting chill feel completely covered and protected.
Having been blown about in blustery wind conditions, caught out in several heavy downpours, and even tried it while out riding in less brutal conditions, I’ve definitely had a feel for what this jacket is capable of, and where its limits lie.
It does an excellent job of wind-proofing, and I’ve managed to carve my way through blustery rides with a warm core, arms and shoulders, and very little rustling or flapping, thanks to the stiffness of the fabric. Waterproofing is brilliant as well. While it’s not marketed as a fully waterproof jacket, it’s held up exceptionally well for me when caught out in some heavy downpours. I was never able to reach the point where it completely wet out, and in even the heaviest rain showers the water will simply bead and run off the surface. Gore-Tex Infinium’s ability to shed the rain as soon as it lands is seriously impressive. The only area that managed to let me down in the rain, it turns out, was the collar. While the zip goes all the way up the neck, and the collar sits nice and high, it’s also pretty wide on me, and water very easily managed to find its way through the gap and down my chest and back.
Despite the almost impenetrable barrier created by the Gore-Tex Infinium fabric, I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the jacket breathes. I never found myself clamming up after a hard effort.
Elsewhere, while the two rear pockets are roomy enough to carry plenty of snacks or backup layers, I found the pockets to be unusually shallow. I started out storing my phone in one, but it protruded out the top and moved around a fair amount while I was riding. While admittedly there is a zippered pocket that seems specifically designed to carry it, on days where it’s not raining I’m personally more likely to reach for my phone to snap my surroundings, and prefer to reach back towards an easy-to-reach elasticated pocket — which these are — rather than constantly fiddling with zips. All this is to say, be careful that your belongings are secure.
I really like the storm cuffs, they’re extremely effective at keeping the warmth in and cold, wet out, plus they pair well with gloves, which is something that can’t be said for all winter cycling jackets.
I tested out this jacket in an array of weather conditions, with temperatures ranging from 1–11 degrees Celsius (33.8–51.8 F), and found it remarkably versatile. It’s easy enough to layer up underneath for the biting cold days, and as it got warmer it was easy to wear without long sleeves below, thanks to the micro-brushed inner surface. However, once temperatures hit double figures it was suddenly much too warm for this jacket, as I discovered on one occasion where I completely over-dressed. That was when I really became aware of just how heavy-duty it feels.
All in all I’d say the Rapha Women’s Classic Winter Gore-Tex Jacket is a superb winter staple for anyone who’s riding in rough conditions. It clearly does the job it’s supposed to do, and it has some really well-thought-out features and impressive technology built into the fabric. However, how much use you’re likely to get out of it will depend largely on where you live. If your winters are more mild affairs, then this jacket could well be overkill for you. If you’re cycling through below-freezing temperatures then you’ll definitely want to layer up well underneath, which should be fine for some, and difficult for others who hit the top range of the size spectrum.
And that’s where one of my biggest disappointments lie. The jacket itself is fantastic, though not without its flaws, but it’s simply not accessible enough. It was a tight fit for me when layering up against the cold, so the fact that anyone larger than myself would struggle to fit into one at all just seems shameful.
Tech Specs: Rapha Women’s Classic Winter Gore Tex Jacket
- Price: £270 / $370 / 465
- Materials: 40% Polyester, 34% Nylon, 26% ePTFE
- Colours: Dark Navy, Bright Orange
- Sizes: XXS–XL (XL tested)