I was absolutely thrilled when Rapha’s new sports bra arrived at my door. A delicately light garment, brilliantly wrapped up in tissue paper, in a characteristic Rapha presentation box.
For years cycling titles have been stating ‘the base layer is the first line of sweat defence against your skin’ and for years women have been shoving heavy sports bras underneath and accepting the damp consequences so it was with great pleasure that I accepted a bra to review.
I was also a little apprehensive. It's going to be impossible for me to review a sports bra without going into detail: I generally wear a 28E bra from Freya, fitted in the wonderland that is Bravissimo. As our expert states later, it’s important to remember that bra brand and styles will mean your size changes, particularly in a sports bra where you often need to go up a band size or two and thus down a cup size. I’d probably go for a 30DD or 32D to get the right fit in a sports bra.
My breast to rib cage distribution pattern means in the past I've usually chosen from two options:
- Wearing a very sturdy Shock Absorber sports bra that feels a bit like an artwork of scaffolding but is somewhat restrictive and not ideal for sweat wicking
- Wearing two more comfy, less restrictive and therefore less supportive crop top style sports bras in tandem. Yep – bra-double-upping
So when Rapha’s creation came through the door – a crop top style with no obvious scaffolding characteristics, I was rather concerned.
Rapha have created a Light and a Medium Sports bra, both available in White and Black. I went for the 'Medium Support' option.
Sixes go from XS to L, in 30 - 36 and A - D cup, but obviously I've been liberal with that. The size guide technically doesn't have a recommendation for me - but my boobs and I are used to that, so having tried the Small I went for the X-Small as it fitted more snuggly around the rib cage and shoulders.
The bra is made from delightedly delicate fabric - created from 60% Polyamide and 40% Elastane. The goal is that it produces no response or feeling at all - you're meant to forget about it altogether as you ride.
Laser cut drillholes along the racerback straps and between the breasts provide extra ventilation. There's also two very slim (approx 2mm) inserts that slot into the cups if you'd like to create a slightly more rounded shape - and hide it when you're smuggling peanuts beneath your jersey.
- Easy to get on/off
- Breathable with high wicking fabric that doesn't chafe or rub
- Ideally able to create a nice shape, as opposed to giving you a 'mono boob' look
Women with DD+ breasts will need to take into account more fit and comfort criteria than those who can get away with an in-built bra in a running top - we've got more detail on the requirements here.
I've broken my review up to look at each important component individually...
At the end of the day this is what matters most.
Jumping up and down in this bra was not comfortable. I could not run in this bra. However, the Medium support bra is not designed for running, it's specifically made for cycling.
I've always thought the best test of a sports bra was on the rollers, when you're using high cadence, and on the turbo, when getting out of the saddle with no distractions. In both cases I was happy wearing this sports bra, and I didn't feel the need to double up as I might with some other crop tops.
On the road, again, I noticed no movement in general riding and was perfectly comfortable. The only exception was over some sort of pothole/ridge in the road which gave me a bit of a jolt and reminded me to suggest that this is not a bra for a breasty mountain biker.
Crop top style sports bras with no fitting straps are generally more stretchy around the rib cage, which means I'm usually more comfortable in these when completing high intensity intervals or racing. This was certainly the case with this bra. I've worn more sturdy style bras that have made me feel restricted in breathing, and the offering from Rapha provided none of this hinderance.
The Expert Opinion on Support
I was concerned about recommending a bra for cycling that I knew I was not able to jump around and run in comfortably.
So, I spoke to Emma Sharland - a PhD student at Portsmouth University which houses a Research Group in Breast Health. The centre is internationally renowned for research on the biomechanics of the breast and Sharland and colleagues have carried out a number of studies into the way breasts and their support affect women in sport.
Sharland told me: “From a scientific perspective we have found that the more supportive a bra is, the less breast movement and subsequently less breast pain would occur. So we would advise going for a higher level of breast support if you can. There are lower supporting bras available that are typically advertised for lower impact activities. Most of our research is running which is a higher impact activity in terms of load bearing compared to cycling so you may not need the highest level of support for cycling."
I cannot stress how much I love the fabric this bra is constructed from. It's like no sports bra I've ever worn - its silky in its softness. I washed the bra several times, tumble drying it once (which is on the 'banned' list, but hey, I'm living on the edge) and it responded with no complaints.
The material does wick sweat, and I didn't feel any chill from droplets cooling on my skin when wearing it. This said, it was still damp on removal, but this doesn't particularly concern me as I've get to find a sports bra that isn't.
The bra is designed to work with Rapha's Souplesse base layer and jersey, and indeed the straps of the base layer do sit in a way that means they hover directly over the bra, which is a pleasing feature, if not completely necessary.
Easy on and off
There are no added details to aid putting the bra on, aside from stretchy material - the bra pulls over your head and that's that. This makes for easy undressing after a ride which I like.
However, there are also no adjuster straps. This is nice if the bra fits you perfectly, but personally me and my awkward shoulders might have liked to be able to tighten the straps, thus uplifting the boobs and improving the fit.
The bra comes with some removable pads. At first, I thought these were a bit silly, I've no desire to add extra bulk to my body on the bike, be that breast bulk or otherwise. They also sit a little bit oddly, being not the same size as by boobs - particularly in the white bra where they're more visible, and it looks a bit like I've shoved a pair of tea bags down there.
BUT - these do serve another purpose. They create a nice streamlined looked under a jersey, yes, but they also go a way to preventing that 'peanut smuggling' look we sometimes get when the temperature drops on a ride, so for that reason I appreciated having them.
I love the material this sports bra is constructed from, it's stretchy, breathable and wicks away sweat as well as having a fairly delicate and traditional style for a sports bra.
In terms of support - it did the job on the the bike. I wouldn't wear it to go mountain biking or for anything more high impact. If you want a bra that you can use across sports and require more support, I'd tell you to look elsewhere. If I were making changes, I'd want to add strap adjusters to help create a closer fit on the shoulders and thus add extra support.
You can see both the Medium Support bra for £50 and Light Support Bra for £40 here.
How to Get the Right Sports Bra
Speaking to Emma Sharland, who is completing her PhD at the Sport and Exercise Breast Health Research Centre in Portsmouth, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask some more general questions to help women find the right sports bra.
- Sharland gave me two useful facts:
- From her research, one in five women say their breasts are a barrier to exercise – be that movement during sport, or the way they look.
- Research reports that between 70 and 100 per cent of women are wearing incorrectly fitting bras. Most women are wearing a band size that's too large and a cup size that's too small
Sharland explained: “Fit is a very big problem that we see and we need to tackle – in sports and everyday bras. A poorly fitting bra can create all sorts of problems – breast pain, back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, poor posture."
I asked her to give me some basic tips for finding the right sports bra...
Know what style you want or need
There’s 3 main types of sports bra.
The first is an encapsulation sports bra which separates the breasts into two individual cups, and they’ve been typically recommended for women with larger breasts because it supports each breast individually.
The second is a compression type, which looks more like a crop top style and just compresses the tissue against the chest wall and that’s been recommended for smaller breasted women.
The third is a combination style, which has individual cups, but a compressive over layer.
Sharland says: “The first step would be to decide what type of bra is best for you with regards to your breast size, and activity. You might want a lighter type of bra for lower impact activities and a firmer, more structured bra for higher impact activities."
Know what a good fit feels like
Sharland suggested being fitted in a shop when you buy a bra - saying: "We do always recommend that when women go and try a bra on, that they get a fitting to make sure they’re in the right size because. Fit can really affect how much support and comfort you'll get from a bra. And we always do suggest doing a bounce test, so jogging or jumping on the spot."
She added: "Once you’ve been fitted properly it might make it easier to recognise a badly fitting bra in future."
Remember size changes between brands
Sharland explained: “It can be hard for women to find an appropriately fitting bra because there’s variants between different brands. That’s what happens with any item of clothing, but I tend to find once women have had a bra fitting, and been told they’re a 34C, they’ll buy a 34C anywhere - but across different brands and styles thy may be a different size."
She added: "We try to promote a best breast fit criteria – which is a visual assessment, rather than a tape measure approach – which in larger breasted women can bring up errors of up to 4 cup sizes. It’s best to think ‘does this bra fit me’ rather than looking at the size."
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