Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The Powerweave Pro Team bib shorts are Rapha’s elite-level bib shorts boasting “Powerweave technology” and premium styling with an ultra-premium price tag to match. But can they live up to this billing? I spent this summer riding in Rapha’s top-end bibs to find out and found contrasting results. Here are my thoughts.
The Powerweave bibs are not exactly new, having been first launched back in 2020. The bibs are said to be the result of an 18-month development program with EF-EasyPost riders following Rapha’s return to the WorldTour peloton in 2019. Given that EF connection, it’ll come as no surprise that Rapha has designed the Powerweave bibs with fast-paced riding and racing in mind, making breathability and low weight the key objectives.
The Pro Team Powerweave bibs are all sorts of impressive straight out of the packaging. Two years on from their initial launch, the bibs still feel ultra-modern and are arguably still at the cutting edge when it comes to modern bib shorts’ development, construction, and fabrics. The bibs do feel remarkably lightweight, yet they also feel quite robust. And it’s the Powerweave fabric, from which the bibs take their name, that’s at the heart of the weight-saving and breathability gains.
Powerweave is a woven fabric said to improve moisture management and decrease weight by as much as 20% compared to Rapha’s Pro Team bibs. While the fabric is strikingly different to anything I have previously tried in bib shorts, the way Rapha has incorporated it here feels so right.
The single seamless Powerweave panel expands from a thin strip at the shoulders, to a wider section covering the outer thigh, to a complete wrap-around at the leg hem. It feels lightweight and breathable without compromising comfort or opacity. The graded compression running through the Powerweave fabric helps retain the short’s position on the leg throughout rides, without feeling tight or restrictive. Rapha has struck the perfect balance between a compressive, leg-hugging, position-holding fit, without tipping over into the uncomfortable or tight in what are described as “Pro-Fit” bibs. The fit is almost second-skin-like but still manages to be as comfortable as … well, as comfortable as my first skin. While I am far from a textiles expert, every indication suggests its Rapha’s Powerweave fabric making this magic possible.
Adding to that compressive fit, the hem also features integrated, elasticated yarns woven into the fabric for an improved fit without the leg gripper you might find on other bibs. The result is an impressive yet barely noticeable hold throughout even the longest or hardest rides.
The compression is also said to aid muscle support and performance, but that is less noticeable, if at all. Perhaps more importantly, at least to my eyes, the fabric, with its etch-like weave styling, also just looks fantastic and vibrant. Although, it might not be to everyone’s taste, especially in the navy and green colour we had in for review. The bibs are also available in grey and navy, but that’s as far as the colour choice goes. If you are a loyal fan of classic black bibs, these are not for you.
All told, the result is a smart-looking, minimal, short leg. That Powerweave fabric certainly delivers on its claims of improved breathability and low weight without ever going see-through or showing signs of wear yet.
Turning our attention to the rest of the bibs, Rapha opted for a slightly heavier, almost papery-feeling fabric for the base panel throughout the mid-section of the bibs. This fabric contrasts the soft and lightweight Powerweave panels in both feel and performance.
As superbly breathable and sweat-wicking as the Powerweave sections are, I found the mid-section lagged behind in terms of breathability and struggled in wicking sweat to the surface to evaporate away and keep the fabric dry. Even on easier rides, I found myself overheating and sweating a lot around the waist. Couple this sweat collection with the dark navy colour, and the result is a rather embarrassing wet patch exactly where you don’t want it. While only mildly annoying at worst during a ride, I was certainly a lot less inclined to stop for a coffee post-ride while wearing the Powerweave bibs.
If the Powerweave panels are almost perfect and the base panels less so, the bib straps sit somewhere in the middle. The ergonomic straps are designed to fit while in the riding position, and are barely noticeable while riding, so top marks to the straps where it matters most. Off the bike, though, where admittedly it matters less, I found the straps to be on the tight side and that they offer little stretch. Pulling on the lower sections of the shorts makes for an uncomfortable pre- and post-ride experience. The tighter straps and higher-cut waist also make answering the call of nature a little more challenging.
On the bike, though, all is forgiven – that tighter fit does an excellent job of keeping the chamois in place when transitioning from in the saddle, to standing, and back again. These bibs were made for riding, and they ride impressively well, and perhaps off-the-bike niggles are just the price for on-the-bike comfort.
Speaking of the chamois, at just 5 mm thick, Rapha’s “race-ready,” and “high-density” chamois pad is in keeping with those Powerweave panels in offering quick-drying, low weight, and increased stability for improved comfort and fit.
Again, on the bike, where it matters most, the pad is fantastic in just how unnoticeable it is. It may look relatively simple, lacking the flashy shapes or technical names of its competitors, but it performs just as well. Despite its thinner depth, the high-density foam provides plenty of comfort even on longer rides. The pad maintained position throughout every ride I did, both in and out of the saddle, and that thinner size is exactly what I look for in a chamois. Once again, it’s top marks on the bike for Rapha’s top bibs.
If I was to have any criticism of the pad, and specifically how it is anchored to the shorts, it does seem much wider than it needs to be. This width and the pad’s relative lack of shaping combine to make a pad which appears much bulkier than its 5 mm thickness would suggest. The bulk and shaping had me feeling a little like I was wearing an adult-sized version of my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime pull-ups when walking about off the bike. That said, a chamois should be judged by its performance on the bike, and in that case, it’s certainly up there amongst my favourites.
While off the bike, the Powerweave bibs are a little disappointing, especially given their price tag, the sheer contrast in the blissful on-the-bike fit never ceased to amaze me throughout this review. I found myself shifting, moving, and repositioning the bibs over and over before every ride, right up until I hopped on the bike and then immediately almost forgot I was wearing them. On the bike, few bibs come close to offering the same minimalist feel and superb comfort.
That said, the central panel and its breathability did soon remind me of the bib’s presence on any warmer days or more intense efforts – disappointing as those are the very conditions the Powerweaves are designed for.
At almost £300, the Powerweave bibs were always going to come with lofty expectations, but do they live up to them? Judged solely on comfort, it’s a definite yes. The fresh design and clean cut looks also get top marks in my book. Even the off-the-bike fit, while far from ideal, can hardly be a deal-breaker, given the bibs are made for riding.
That said, the less-breathable mid-panel and the fear of looking like I wet my pull-up do detract from an otherwise fantastic pair of bibs. I’ll keep reaching for the Powerweaves, but perhaps not for group rides, which is a shame given how good they look and how much they cost.
The Rapha Pro Team Powerweave bibs are available in both men’s and women’s fits, ranging from sizes XS to XXL priced at US$380 / £295 / AU$500 / €345.
For more information, visit Rapha.cc.