Support your style

A journey in design and development

Rapha has spent over a year developing these two bras to ensure that they meet the unique performance needs of female cyclists. Designer Maria Olsson describes the importance of detailing, shaping and fit and how she set about creating these two products to cater for every body shape, every kind of rider and every type of ride.

Sport-specific women’s underwear has come a long way since the ‘Free Swing Tennis Bra’ was introduced by Glamorise Foundations, Inc in 1975, and it’s been an interesting journey with innovation coming from the least likely places. The ‘Jockbra’ – two jockstraps sewn together – was a first attempt to offer sporty women support.

Renamed the Jogbra and refined to include a wide underband and firm straps to ‘minimise breast bounce’ it became an instant hit and was proof that without a sports bra, many women felt barred from sport. It sold out almost instantly and within two years was reportedly generating yearly sales of $500,000.

A pivotal moment in the evolution of the product that is now a staple of every woman’s sporting wardrobe came in 1999, when US footballer Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty in the Women’s World Cup. Reacting in the moment, Chastain celebrated by whipping off her shirt and swinging it around her head, to reveal a black sports bra.

The move, watched on US TV by an estimated 40 million people, was met with derision and celebration in equal measure. Images of the footballer kneeling on the pitch topless, save for her bra, swept around the world. Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine featured her on their front covers, with the headlines ‘Girls Rule!’ ‘Yes!’ and ‘What a Kick!’ The dissenters branded her moment of celebration as disrespectful.

Today there is a sports bra for every size of bust and nearly every kind of activity but there are few specifically for cyclists, so Rapha set about designing a cycling bra that would meet the unique needs of riding.

“The job of a cycling bra is to feel as if it’s not there,” says Maria Olsson, designer at Rapha. “The position you’re in on a bike may seem static but when your body is bent over on the drops, or on the hoods, there are pressure points where seams can rub, especially on long distance rides.

“My task was to create a cycling-specific bra that had as few seams as possible but which gave enough support and sufficient compression across the chest to feel secure. We worked hard to understand what women wanted from a sports bra and then used this to lead our design and development.

“Through talking to women riders we recognised from the outset that we needed two bras to cater for different kinds of rides and different body shapes; women riding and training at high intensities want something different to riders on longer adventures and on gentle spins. The Medium Support Bra needed to be fast, sleek and barely there for faster sessions and the Light Support Bra had to focus on comfort and stretch for longer rides.

“We also knew that moisture management and heat regulation are really important for cyclists and this is reflected in the fabric and design of both bras. Areas of high sweat – under the arms and between the breasts – need more ventilation and so we added laser cut holes (Medium Support) and used an open-knit mesh (Light Support) to optimize heat transfer.

“These two bras represent an exciting development in Rapha’s women’s collection. They are the missing piece of the Rapha women’s cycling wardrobe and from the outset have been designed to complement our existing Souplesse (Medium Support) and Classic and Brevet Collections (Light Support) perfectly.”

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The first layer of your Rapha wardrobe. Two bras tailored to meet the unique performance needs of female cyclists.