Rain jerseys are a bit like iPads. Until someone invented them, no one realised they needed one. Now it seems obvious. Why wouldn’t you want a jersey that repelled everything that the weather could throw at you but at the same time kept you pleasantly and reassuringly comfortable?
Rapha has now thrown its hat into the rain jersey ring and in doing so it has raised the bar. When it comes to a company such as Rapha this is to be expected - they weren’t the first to think of it so they could hardly pedal out a generic copy of what was already available.
So for Shadow they started from scratch. That meant inventing a fabric.
They developed a woven jersey fabric using a nylon yarn, which was given a DWR (durable water repellant), then shrunk 50 per cent, and treated again. This ridiculously tight weave, along with the DWR treatment, makes the fabric ‘hydrophobic,’ meaning that water simply falls off. When it rains hard it bounces off with a resounding splat.
This also means that the fabric itself is waterproof and therefore it doesn’t require any three-layer lamination of the like that you would usually encounter on waterproof jackets and which while breathable to a point is not really breathable enough to allow the sweat to get through when you really start kicking it out. Rapha point out that due to a lack of membrane, water will eventually get through, but by that time it will keep you warm, in a similar manner to a wetsuit. That said, we didn’t experience any water breech during testing.
A side bonus of such a densely-woven material is the colour, or lack of it. Shadow kit is black. Hence the name, but we are talking really black, the sort of black you would expect a black hole to be, the kind of black that seems to suck in the light. Which in a way makes it more visible, oddly.
You might not think any of this really means a lot, and then you’ll start riding your bike. The really noticeable thing about the Shadow jersey is the lack of excess perspiration you experience when wearing it. The fabric keeps the core at a comfortable temperature even when you’re gunning it and it’s very easy to forget you’re actually wearing something that is so water resistant. The fact Rapha has brushed the inside of the fabric makes the jersey comfortable to wear next to the skin which means you could feasibly be riding this right through the spring rains and even on a damp summer’s morning without overheating.
Our initial outing in full Shadow mode was done in a temperature of 5 degrees, with a merino base layer, arm and leg warmers. It should be noted that at present there are no shadow arm or leg warmers so unless you find something equally water resistant you’re going to find your extremities at more risk of getting wet.
Considering the weather we remained remarkably comfortable throughout the 45 mile ride. The wind is effectively blocked and the rain is no issue whatsoever. We did however wish we were wearing a gilet - that temperature was as low as we would want to go without one and on subsequent, colder, outings the pro team rain gilet has been added.
The fit is pro team, which means a very close race fit. If you’re carrying a bit of timber or prefer slightly more room, consider sizing up. It’s also worth noting that the fabric, while possessing of considerable stretch, is quite hefty and not as malleable as, say, a standard pro team jersey. This is after all essentially an advanced softshell and has a comparable thickness.
These jerseys were tested continuously by Team Sky through the 2015 spring classics, which are the kind of conditions Shadow kit excels in. More than likely wet and at the upper end of the single figures is more or less spot-on temperature wise.
This Team Sky testing led to some of the finer details, such as a chunky zip pull for easier grabability and sleeves which finish just above the elbow.
There are however one or two points that need mentioning. Firstly, the fabric is so ridiculously good at keeping the water out that you will find it runs into your rear pockets. Rapha have added drainage holes to these for that very reason, but the water has to travel past / over / through whatever is in those pockets in order to drain out. So it’s worth packing whatever is in them in a plastic bag.
And let’s talk about the bibs. It’s not that they are uncomfortable to the point of distraction, it’s just that they are a little unforgiving at points of friction, namely your backside. This is odd because the seat padding doesn’t appear to be any different to other Rapha bibshorts. This issue appears to be resolved with a liberal application of chamois cream. You’ll only forget to apply it once. The shorts can also on occasion pull up into your crown jewels, requiring some on-the-fly readjustment.
But these are small qualms when you consider the fact that Rapha has discovered the Holy Grail in cycle kit - something waterproof up to deluge levels that doesn’t boil you from the inside out. There are of course numerous softshell jersey options that offer a similar level of protection and Rapha hasn’t been the first to think of this type of kit. But they have gone out there and created their own niche within a niche, and for that you’ve got to hand it to them.
Summary: A second-skin kit that keeps you bone dry up to all but the wettest conditions, good for temperatures down to 5 degrees, any lower than that wear a gilet. So good at waterproofing that you need to put your pocket contents in plastic bags and the bibs can be a little punishing.
4 / 5