Rapha switched from fleece-lined Thermoroubaix fabric to a heavier-weight standard Lycra/spandex for this year's Cross 3/4 Bib Short to better suit the frenetic anaerobic efforts of cyclo-cross racing. Perhaps along those same lines, the leg length has also shortened about 3cm to just below the knee as compared to the previous version's mid-calf cut.
Breathability has improved as a result and the comfort range has moved higher up on the thermometer. Whereas before we reserved last year's version for only especially cold racing conditions, this lighter-weight iteration has proven far more versatile, being comfortable enough for cool fall mornings but also providing enough warmth just above freezing, at least provided you're going hard enough. Ultra-cold temperatures will obviously warrant something more substantial but on the whole, we've been getting more use out of this version than the previous one.
With that being said, though, the improvements have also brought some new hiccups. Whereas once the flat-locked stitch behind the knee was effectively smoothed over by the fuzzy Thermoroubaix backing, the lighter-weight fabric leaves the thread more exposed. Combined with the shorter leg length, we noticed a bit of skin irritation back there that we hadn't before.
For whatever reason, we also noticed a bit of bunching and sagging up around the front of the hips and generally wished for a little more snugness in that area, especially when hunched over the drops. This isn't necessarily a total deal breaker, mind you, but it's also not what we expect of something with this price tag and we hadn't experienced it with either last year's version or Rapha's standard knickers so something has clearly changed here as well.
Last year's multi-thickness stretch chamois has carried over – which can be a good thing or not depending on your views. Though undeniably plush and luxurious-feeling in the saddle, it's also among the biggest and thickest we've encountered, making for good comfort and helping alleviate the pain of a less-than-optimal 'cross remount.
Even so, it'll certainly be too bulky for some and it also absorbs a lot of water if the conditions are nasty. Curiously, the pad placement has also been moved back considerably – and in our eyes, too far. When in typical 'cross position, the rear of the pad isn't even really in contact with the saddle and there isn't enough coverage up front, which may also contribute to the odd fit around the front of the hips.
We've absolutely no qualms about the keen aesthetics, though, which now feature dark green bib straps plus red accents around the front of the shin and on the edges and tops of the bibs (as compared to last year's brown and orange scheme) for a subtly classy look, not to mention a perfect match to the Rapha Cross Jersey. A neatly integrated zipped pocket – with a red zipper, of course – is also included out back to secure car keys and the like.
All in all the updated Cross 3/4 Bib Short is still a decent piece with the typical construction quality, detailing and classic good looks we've come to expect from Rapha. But unfortunately this time around, letdowns in a few key areas make it much harder to justify the premium price tag.