Rapha Lightweight Softshell jacket £175
The Rapha softshell was first introduced in 2004 and was an instant hit. Now, the new Lightweight offers a more affordable jacket that should attract a whole new audience.
The Lightweight shares much of the DNA of the Classic, but by stripping away some of the features (the Classic had loads)and using a lighter grade of fabric Rapha is able to drop the price significantly. But can it compare to the original?
The same Hytrel fabric is used, albeit a thinner version which means the jacket is lighter, hence the name. This is immediately noticeably when slipping it on. DWR coating provides some water-resistance.
Rapha have really honed the fit of their clothing over the past years, and the Lightweight is a great example of this growing experience. Fit is spot on, it’s on the close side but the snug fit works rather well in combination with the thin fabric. You never really feel that balked-down sensation that can occur with heavyweight jackets, with space for a couple of well-chosen layers underneath.
All the essential features that you’d want are in place. In losing some from the Classic, the Lightweight is stronger for it. There’s a slight dropped tail - the front is slightly higher - and twin elastic draw-cords allow tailoring of the fit. An off-set zip, as found on other Rapha jackets, looks different, but does put the zip out of the way when done up completely. When done right up the zipper sits underneath a turn-over of material and the entire length of zip is lined with a flap of fleece material. There’s also a 3" section of fleece lining at the back of the collar.
Cuffs can sometimes let down an otherwise top jacket. It's usually a Velcro closure, elasticated or a combination of both. Instead, the Lightweight offers up one of the best solutions so far tested. An internal section of lyrca lining the cuffs keeps any cold air from drifting up the arms. Top work Rapha.
Rapha’s attention to detail for riders who listen to music while riding passes over from the Classic, with loops guiding headphone cables along the inside of the jacket and several small holes leading to the external zipped pocket where an MP3 pocket can be stored. There’s room enough for keys and mobile phone too, with the remaining three pockets large enough for necessary spares and supplies.
The colours aren’t from the palette usually used by clothing brands, which is frankly a welcome relief. The Olive Green and Pale Blue are RCUK faves, judgement is reserved for the Red – but you’ll either love or hate the colours. Embroidered logos on the neck and front are reminders that you’re buying a premium product.
I found the operating temperature of the Lightweight wider than some other jackets on test, such as Castelli’s Espresso. It works well in intermediate conditions and only on exceptionally cold days did I wish for something more substantial. And while it’s not designed to be 100% waterproof, it coped fine with most of the usual intermittent showers. If you’re setting out in the rain and certain it’s going to remain heavy for the entirety of your ride, you might be better of with something else.
But for the rest of the time, the jacket is perfect. The fit is spot on and the freedom of movement enabled by the material and cut makes it more comfortable than most.
Ed's note: although the fabric is labelled 'Handwash cold', it can be machine washed on a 30deg synthetic cycle.