Rapha's popular Pro Team bib shorts were overhauled in 2017 and we reviewed the refreshed summer shorts last summer. We were impressed then and the same goes for the thermal version we've got here. The quality of the high-rated original shorts has been maintained, with notable tweaks to the chamois, grippers and seam layout in response to customer and pro feedback.

Let’s run down the major updates over the original shorts, then. First up is a Cytech chamois that’s been slightly downsized and graded compared to the previous generation Pro Team Thermal bib shorts, while at the same time receiving perforations throughout. It’s also size-specific, mirroring the high-season shorts we tried in the summer, helping to reduce bulk further and streamline the fit.

Rapha Pro Team Thermal II bib shorts (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
  • Rapha Pro Team Thermal Bib Shorts II

  • Price: £195
  • Sizes: XS-XXL
  • Size tested: M
  • Colours: Black; white; pink; chartreuse
  • Website: Rapha

The intention of all this, says Rapha, is to reduce water retention in wet weather, while helping to keep bulk down and improve comfort over long rides. On that front it’s a great success, although for winter riding I personally always found something reassuring about having the bulkier pillow-like chamois of the previous generation. That said, it’s not like comfort or performance have been sacrificed – I can’t split them in that regard over long rides of 100km or more, so it didn’t take long to acclimatise to.

Secondly, the seam structure has changed to mirror the new summer shorts, re-positioning them away from moving areas and subsequently modifying the panel structure. Once again, comfort is excellent, so even when riding without leg or knee warmers the risk of chafing and rubbing is kept to an absolute minimum. This is ever more important in cooler spring, autumn and winter conditions, which are generally more likely to be accompanied by grubbier weather.

Thirdly, the grippers have also changed - they are now textured, rather than a simple silicone-lined band as before. Given that you’re probably going to be riding the Thermal IIs with knee or leg warmers on many occasions, this won’t matter as much as it does with the high-season shorts, but if you do ride them without those accessories, they’re comfortable and feel light against the skin.

Other than these three major changes to the overall Pro Team bib short family, there are others that are specific to the thermal version we have here. The short section has been extended upwards slightly for increased coverage of the abdominal and back area, while maintaining the longer leg of the previous generation. The effect is maximum protection in cooler temperatures, and that adds to the comfort when you’re spending many winter hours in the shorts.

"The fabric used on the side panels has been upgraded to help water bead away and further improve insulation"

The fabric used on the side panels (that spreads around the front and back of the thigh) has also seen an upgrade in the form of a Shadow-esque wind and waterproof fabric to help water bead away and further improve insulation. Compared to the previous generation it's a solid improvement; where previously the DWR treatment of old wore down with extended use, the inherent properties of the fabric itself here should lead to longer-lasting and hardier performance.

Rapha Pro Team Thermal II bib shorts (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

Most impressive is the way the new fabric doesn’t feel compromised in terms of flexibility of fit and ease of movement – it’s so soft, you can easily trick yourself into thinking that you could be wearing summer bib shorts. Comfort is excellent whether you’re out for a long ride or a high-intensity spin around the block.

That said, if you want the sturdiest water resistance, you’re still going to be better off with the purpose-built Shadow Pro Team bib shorts. While the water resistant panels of the Thermal IIs were competent at beading off rain, they’re not the last word in protection.

"Comfort is excellent whether you’re out for a long ride or a high-intensity spin around the block"

Inside, the fleece lining has been updated to incorporate a textured pattern on the water-resistant side panels – helping with breathability through the beefier fabric without sacrificing vital warmth – while the inside of the leg features a simpler soft fleece.

As a side note here, it’s worth pointing out that this area’s lighter fabric is a little susceptible to snagging on abrasive surfaces like velcro or worn saddles, just like the original Pro Team Thermal bib shorts were.

Rapha Pro Team Thermal II bib shorts (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
Rapha Pro Team Thermal II bib shorts (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

Speaking of fleece, there’s also a little more included on the edges of the bib section, while the straps themselves are a touch thicker than the previous generation. It means comfort over the shoulders is excellent, while the back section offers slightly more insulation. I rode the Thermal IIs in close to zero degrees with some leg warmers, and never felt too cold, and I’ll probably stick with them until temperatures start reaching the mid-teens.

Finally, there is also a race radio pouch in the back of the bib section, as well as lightly reflective white Rapha branding on the left leg. You won’t get this on the all-black version, while the pink and ‘chartreuse’ colourways (all with matching colour bib sections, by the way) are naturally high visibility anyway. The black branding on the right leg of our test shorts isn’t reflective, which is a bit of a shame.

Conclusion

Some riders love the versatility offered by thermal bib shorts, others don’t see the point, but if you’re in the first camp then you’ll find plenty to like here. Once again, the price tag is a hefty £195, but you do get strong performance across the board.

In fact, aside from the new textured grippers (I slightly prefer the previous versions, especially when using them with knee and leg warmers, but that's a personal preference), the Pro Team Thermal Bib Shorts II are an improvement in some way in almost every area.

Of particular note is the overall comfort, afforded by a modified Cytech chamois and the water resistant panels, as well as the rethought seam placement and fleece lining. That all comes together to create a great set of winter bib shorts.

Pros

  • Warm
  • Excellent chamois
  • Water resistant panels
  • Comfortable fit

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Softer leg fabric can snag