Total protection from the elements often comes down to compromise. Waterproof and windproof membranes keep foul weather out, but prevent moisture from escaping. During high-intensity rides or when racing, this can result in overheating and trapped perspiration.
When Rapha began working with Team Sky, its riders requested a wet-weather shell that protected them from the elements, but also breathed well and wouldn’t cause them to overheat when working hard. They wanted a jacket that didn’t have the restrictions of a race cape – a lack of external pockets and a compromised fit – but would offer more protection than a jersey. A jacket, in other words, that offered the perfect balance between breathable protection and versatility.
The Pro Team Softshell Jacket was Rapha’s solution. First released in 2014, it served as a technical shell for high-intensity riding in wet and cold conditions. An outer layer durable enough to face the worst weather, while still offering the practicality and versatility of a form-fitting jersey, the jacket quickly became a go-to piece for pros and amateurs alike when the weather turned foul. But it soon became clear that improvements could be made to the performance of the jacket’s fabric.
Simon Huntsman, head of product development and R&D at Rapha, said: “The performance of fabrics and membranes is constantly improving, and we have to move with them. The latest generation of membranes allow for even greater breathability, and have improved water repellency. With the first version of the Pro Team Softshell Jacket, the outside face saturated in very heavy rain, and the inside fabric didn’t move moisture quickly enough, resulting in moisture gain from both sides and a jacket that became heavy following extended high-tempo use in the foulest conditions.”
Crucially, this trapped moisture is cooled by air flowing over the garment, resulting in a drop in temperature for the rider that can distract from the hard work of foul-weather training and racing.
While researching new laminates for various Rapha rainwear products, Simon began speaking to American company Polartec. Established in 1906 as Malden Mills, Polartec has a long history of outfitting for the outdoors, providing wool knits to Allied soldiers through both World Wars, and pioneering the use of synthetic fleece. They produce some of the most advanced fabrics available, and still supply materials and garments to every branch of the United States Military. Now based in Massachusetts in the Northeastern region of the United States, its current CEO, Gary Smith, is also owner of renowned bike frame manufacturer Independent Fabrications. They seemed to have the ideal solution for the Pro Team Softshell Jacket.
“For high aerobic activities like cycling, controlling the inside of the jacket is just as important as managing the elements outside, because of the heat and moisture the body produces,” said Simon. “After discussions and various tests, we found that Polartec’s Power Shield Pro membrane appeared to offer the perfect balance between protection and breathability.”
“Once we’d decided to pursue Power Shield Pro as an option, we had to make sure it met certain criteria for Rapha. It needed to have an element of structure and feel protective, it needed a high amount of stretch to fit the body well on-bike, and it required a high level of water repellency. As with all Rapha products, it also needed to look and feel amazing.”
Polartec’s Power Shield Pro is a three-layer laminate. On the outside layer, a smooth and durable hydrophobic surface is soft to the touch, and sheds water easily. Inside, a knitted surface contains a ‘micro-grid’ structure, a network of small squares to increase the fabric’s ability to transfer moisture and disperse it quickly. The grid also helps to reduce the sensation of fabric clinging to skin. Sandwiched between the two, the highly breathable Power Shield Pro membrane blocks 99% of the wind, while still allowing air and moisture out.
Peter Lord, Polartec’s global product manager for weather protection, said: “Power Shield Pro was purpose built for aerobic activities like cycling in harsh or wet conditions. To me, the problem that this fabric solves is what to wear on days when a fully locked-down and windproof hardshell is too much, and a thermal layer isn’t enough, or would simply soak through.”
The Rapha Pro Team collection represents the cutting edge of Rapha’s performance technology. It is a range informed by and fit for the world’s best cyclists, and is constantly evolving in response to the latest fabric developments. With its newly updated fabric, the Rapha Pro Team Softshell Jacket is the most advanced and versatile outer layer available. For cool days with changeable conditions, it strikes the perfect balance between protection and comfort.