Incredibly protective, breathable enough for the riding it's pitched at with some brilliant design features... All at a price though!
More or less totally impervious
Fit is excellent
Front hem poppers are genius
I'd prefer adjustable cuffs
Hood only works under a helmet
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I am fortunate enough to actually enjoy riding in the rain, but a sizeable chunk of that enjoyment is facilitated by having good gear. In other words, I have access to the best waterproof cycling jackets on the market, by virtue of a never-ending group test. Of the over 40+ jackets I’ve got in a cupboard now, there are a good many that are excellent, but there are a much smaller number that are so good that they actually make me look forward to riding in an actual deluge. The Rapha Explore Gore-Tex Jacket is one of them for sure.
It’s nominally a gravelly, adventure-oriented shell jacket, but there are some nifty features that elevate it beyond the average. Is it worth the steep asking price though, which is knocking on the door of £400? Well, I’m not going to tell you here; you’re going to have to at least scroll to the ‘Value’ section to find out, but I’d much rather you just read the whole thing.
Design and aesthetics
Just a handful of seasons ago if you wanted a waterproof jacket that wasn’t cut for road riding you’d have to head to your local outdoors shop and buy a hiking jacket. The cut would work for mountain biking, but these don’t cut it for the in-between nether zone of gravelly adventure riding that Rapha’s Explore collection targets. This isn’t a jacket aimed at an FKT attempt, but more something for those aspirational Instagram reels of exhausted-looking riders, embattled by the elements somewhere in deepest Iceland, in tasteful earth tones that match the landscape.
It’s pitched at much the same market segment as the Albion Zoa Rain Shell, a jacket I adore both on and off the bike and one that sits in a similar price bracket. As there, the fit is looser to accommodate layers; you can very easily chuck a moderately puffy down jacket, one from our guide to the best winter cycling jackets perhaps, underneath and not have all of your insulation compressed into chilly oblivion. The other side to this is that there is more material to bunch up and flap around, and to counteract this there is a novel addition in the form of two small sets of poppers.
A waterproof, double-ended zip is a given for a jacket at this price, but if you unzip it from the bottom you can fold the front portion of the hem, the bits under the pockets, up and inside the main body of the jacket and pop them in place, effectively shortening the front of the jacket for times when you’re riding in a more aggressive position. Now, Rapha has a history of creating some rather dubious ‘innovations’ (I’m looking at you, half-a-sleeping-bag), but this is a feature I’d love to see on any jacket with a similar cut. It is so simple and works so well. It really does extend the jacket's appeal beyond just bikepacking and bikepacking-cosplay days to a more general-use jacket. I wouldn’t necessarily reach for it over a dedicated road jacket for a road ride, but it would certainly be less of a pain to use than some others.
The hem cinch is simple and can be operated with one gloved hand with ease
popped up and away the front can be shortened for aggressive riding. "Go until you're lost" is just a gravel version of "Live, Laugh, Love" though.
The pockets are roomy, and handily up and out of the way of any bum bag or backpack waist strap
A reflective logo adds a soupcon of visibility
The rear of the hem again is similar to that of the Albion Zoa, in that it doesn’t feature the heavily dropped tail. It has a single-sided, simple-to-pull drawstring to cinch it up, and while it does leave more of your rear end exposed it seals you in good and proper; just fit some mudguards like a good and proper person and you’ll be grand! The hem does also feature one of my least favourite marketing slogans, “Go until you’re lost”. I’m not going to mark it down for this but it is silly. Perfectly fine advice if you’re in Epping Forest, but not so ideal if you’re actually in the wilderness. Or, if you have a sense of direction as terrible as mine, you’d simply never go anywhere.
The cuffs are a bit of a negative for me. I marked the Endura Pro SL jacket down for having non-adjustable, rather breezy cuffs and while these are slightly tighter on my skinny wrists, they still felt less protective than ones where you can actually tighten them to the desired amount.
The hood is ace insofar as it easily cinches down with a single drawstring. It’s definitely better under than over a helmet, which isn’t my preference, but when it’s absolutely raining cats and dogs it is certainly the more protective way to wear it. The drawstring also doubles as a handy way to store the jacket, once you’ve rolled it into the hood.
The key figures for the fabric itself are a little hard to come by, and not posted on the Rapha site, but given it is using a standard Gore-Tex 3-layer fabric it’ll have a hydrostatic head of 28,000mm and a breathability of 17,000g/m2/24 hours. If these figures mean nothing to you then I’ve put a guide to waterproof fabrics together to help demystify, but in short, it is, on paper, more waterproof than something like the Endura Pro SL, but less breathable. Compared to the Albion Zoa it’s a similar story, with Gore-Tex being more waterproof (28,000mm vs 20,000mm) and less breathable (17,000g vs 20,000g). In reality though, beyond a certain point that both of these jackets surpass, things like the added back vent do more to add breathability than the membrane figure itself.
With the hood over a helmet the face box is a little claustrophobic
But with the hood down and slightly open it's nice and airy
The zipper is a little stiff, and a larger pull would be easier in gloves, but that's a minor detail
If you ride with the hood over a helmet you'll probably find you leave the face open
As I mentioned in the intro, this is a jacket that's good enough to make me want to ride in the rain. Even when I wore the DWR out it still kept me dry. Even in rain heavy enough that small puddles form in the folds of the fabric I stayed resolutely dry as a bone inside. With the hood under the helmet and cinched up tight there’s no ingress from on high. The face box is a little claustrophobic with the hood over the helmet, but with it open a touch it’s workable, though it is then more vulnerable to water getting in.
Likewise, at the bottom, the easy drawstring keeps things at bay from below. I think it could maybe be a touch longer at the rear, as when using it with normal trousers for commuting or just generally riding around it exposes the small of my back, but that’s a hair-splitting criticism.
The poppers to hoik up the front fabric were a delight, and I happily used it for some full-gas riding. It’s borderline transformative and far better than simply undoing the lower zip and having the triangles of loose fabric constantly draping over your thighs.
The cuffs I did find wanting in properly grim weather. I’d like to see a Velcro tab, especially as it’s really the only thing holding this back from being about as protective a jacket as it’s possible to get before you venture into Gore-Tex Pro levels, which isn’t an appropriate fabric for a cycling jacket as the breathability is much reduced. The water ingress was minor, but when played against the Albion Zoa it is a minus in the box.
As for the breathability, it’s perfectly sufficient. The large back vent certainly has a part to play, but even when riding with a backpack on it takes a fair effort to feel sweaty. The looser fit plays a part here too; with more room for air to circulate inside there’s more of a pumping effect, forcing it out from the hem and the neck if you don’t have them cinched up tight, and the peppered lower hem also plays a part here. If you’re riding at chain gang levels of effort you’ll probably surpass the breathability, but let’s be honest here, that’s not what this jacket is pitched at, and so is an unfair test. There’s a reason this uses standard Gore-Tex and the road-going Rapha Pro Team Gore-Tex jacket uses Gore-Tex Active, with a higher breathability rating.
I’ve not been particularly kind to this jacket either. Beyond just riding in the rain it’s been covered in muck and the occasional heavy stain from the workshop too. I’ve worn through the DWR and it’s kept on trucking. Its use, just as with the Zoa, has surpassed a jacket simply for on-bike usage. I’d be just as happy hiking up Skiddaw in sideways rain in this as I would riding all day and beyond in perpetual rain. It’s easily one of the best waterproof cycling jackets I’ve used, and a very possible contender for my all-time favourite if you take price out of the equation.
An RRP of £395 is a lot for a waterproof jacket, cycling or otherwise. For that, you are getting something that will absolutely keep you dry in the worst conditions imaginable. If you want the best protection then it’s worth paying top dollar for, especially if you’re investing in it for a longer bikepacking trip or bike tour (which are the same thing, if we’re all being honest with ourselves).
You are paying a little more for the Gore-Tex tag, compared to the Pertex you get on the Albion Zoa, and to be honest in the real world they both offer similar protection, and especially with the lack of adjustable cuffs the value here is a little less, but if you also hike a lot and need a one-garment solution it certainly makes it a more appealing proposition.
In short, it’s a top-of-the-range jacket that does well to justify the high asking price and will be a valuable companion if you want to indulge in some epic riding in epically bad weather.
I've gone hard on this jacket, and while the face fabric has wetted out at the shoulders where my backpack straps have rubbed, i was bone dry underneath
As an aside... waterproof jeans are just as waterproof as normal jeans.
|Fit||Just right, with enough room under to layer up for any weather. The tail could maybe be a bit longer but that's it||9/10|
|Protection||It's as waterproof as you'd ever need a jacket to be for cycling, only let down a smidge by the non-adjustable cuffs||9/10|
|Features||Adjustable hem and hood are excellent, and the hem poppers are wonderful. Decent pockets too.||10/10|
|Breathability||Less breathable than other membranes, but for even high effort riding it does well enough. I never really found it wanting, and the roomy fit and back vents handle heat well||8/10|
|Value||This is at the very top end of the price range, but it performs well enough to justify it. You get slightly more features with other options, but here you're getting a more waterproof membrane to counter that||8/10|
|Overall rating||Row 5 - Cell 1||88%|
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