Rapha Pro Team vs Rapha Core Review: One Dynamic Duel
One of the most common questions we get is “is the upgrade worth it?” Clothing is particularly difficult, and it can be hard to discern where the additional cost difference goes between one piece and another. As a result, we’ve taken the two most asked-about pieces of Rapha kit in the shop - Rapha Core and Rapha Pro Team - and compared them head-to-head. Is the price difference worth the difference in detail, features, and fit?
Of course, if you're not already familiar the Core Jersey and Core Bib Shorts share the same fit as the Rapha Classic line of cycling clothing, which itself is unique from a large majority of cycling clothing in that it is consciously a bit roomier than you’d expect. Not everyone has the physique of a racer, and for those people, the Core line is tough to beat, regardless of price point. As you'd expect, the Pro Team kit is slimmer. We go into this in greater detail in our review.
The Pro Team Flyweight Jersey and Pro Team Bib Shorts are all about the details. The stitching seems just a bit tighter, and the material while lighter seems a bit more durable over multiple washes. Nearly all Pro Team Kit pieces have a spot to write your name and team, and the inside zipper pocket has a small blurb about the Liège–Bastogne–Liège. For that matter, there are more pockets at your service too - four in the Pro Team jersey, one in the bib - when compared to the three and none in the Core kit. That's not to say that the Core kit didn't nail the details, they just focused on the basics.
To note, after three months of use and weekly washes, the Core kit looks as good as it did the first time I wore it, with none of the stretching or deforming that I’ve seen from apparel at a similar price point. Same can be said for the Pro Team jersey and bibs, but it would be a travesty for it NOT to last after three months. I could see the Core Jersey start to pile a bit eventually due to its soft material, but there are no signs of it currently.
The materials' feel itself may not be completely the same, but there is a feeling of quality that these two pieces of kit share. The Core has a softness that is hard to find with any jersey, but it is consistent with many Rapha Classic pieces of kit. The Pro Team apparel is much more technical, but it too feels quality. Then there's the Rapha name. Rapha founder Simon Mottram once said, “What we wanted to create was a brand for a certain type of person that was absolutely for that person. So it was everything to some people and nothing to some people.” If that is their goal than they’ve certainly done a good job at it.
I’ve met people who never want to be associated with the brand, while there are also people who love the values that come with the brand. Regardless of where you ride, there is likely to be a cyclist at some level who might have an opinion about their gear. I’m not particularly worried about this, but some are, which makes this worth considering.
Head to Head
My head-to-head testing consisted of riding them on the same 45-mile loop. The time of day was similar between the two, on the same bike and saddle, same shoes and pedals, remarkably the same overall temperatures, humidity, wind speeds, and direction. I even tried to maintain a similar heart rate in the same areas. Overall, not the most scientific, but an interesting comparison nonetheless.
I figured it would be fun to see what differences there were between the two. What did I see? A difference in about fifteen minutes over a three-hour ride. Average speeds were up 1.4 mph (16.8 vs 15.4). That was the sole difference. Similar measured heart rates between the two rides doesn't mean I wasn’t putting out more power, but that difference in speed is something people spend much more money on. What could the difference come down to? Not a clue. I suspect that a change in comfort could make me more comfortable in putting the power down. But I would never expect something that much. One could also think I had a tailwind in the second ride or a headwind in the first. That could more than make up the difference.
While I am hesitant to draw any conclusions from this rudimentary experiment, I think it is a testament to the value of riding what you’re comfortable with. I prefer a slimmer cut and more compression, and perhaps that was borne out in the time difference. But for the vast majority of us who aren’t against the clock, the Rapha Core apparel felt more relaxed in normal use. The softer feel, accentuated by the more open fit meant I could comfortably hang out in it day-to-day and not just on the bike. The bib suspenders compressed with a bit less vigor, and the leg bands squeezed just a bit less too. This is the kit to pick if you’re dressing up as a cyclist to a Halloween party. I've done it a number of times and got called out for being lazy.
The Pro Team Flyweight Jersey and Pro Team Bibs, on the other hand, feel much better while riding a bike than while off the bike. It feels like a second skin, something that you lose track of because it fits so nicely. The bibs, while tighter standing upright, feel just right in the saddle But once you’re off the bike, you feel it pulling down on your shoulders. Is that a problem? Not for me. I’m definitely not going to any Halloween parties in 2020. Conclusion
I think figuring out which kit is best is more about what you feel more comfortable riding with. There is no substitute for clothing that fits great, and for plenty of people, Rapha Core will fit better than most of the aggressive-cut cycling apparel out there regardless of price point. The kit offers everything you could ask for in a jersey and bib short, with a large helping of polish to make it feel special.
That said if you want - or need - the shorter cut afforded by the Pro Team apparel, there is no substitute. I’ve never ridden in something that has fit as well as the Pro Team jersey and bib shorts, and if you appreciate a more aggressive, supportive fit then there are few things better. That there is more attention to detail is the cherry on top.
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Photos by Cody Wignall