Sometimes a piece of kit comes along that you think will never work. They’ve actually lost it, you say. Out of their minds. In what reality? Etcetera, etcetera.
Then it arrives and it makes perfect sense, and you struggle to take it off. You actually don’t want to take it off because it is so exactly suited to your needs and the time of year.
Which given the freezing temperatures of late essentially means it is warm.
Cycling gilets can be many things, but insulated does not spring to mind as one of them. An insulated gilet evokes thoughts of Marty McFly, or chavs. That’s about as far from a cycling gilet as you can get. Although Rapha have actually released one before along these lines, the transfer gilet, intended for post-race use. It did the job very well.
On the bike you tend to need something thinner, lighter weight and versatile. Just enough to take the chill out of an early morning ride, to stuff in a pocket once the blood starts flowing.
Rapha didn’t enter into insulated gilet territory on a whim. This garment has been in development for months upon months. A prototype accompanied Rapha employee Ultan Coyle on the 4,200km Transcontinental race last summer, and it has been tested over numerous miles on the road in a variety of conditions.
The gilet comes under Rapha’s brevet collection because it was designed as a stowable warm layer for super-long audax type rides, when the sun goes down and a chill stings the air. On this basis it features some clever details which could easily be rolled out across other stowable garments, such as an elasticated loop tag which holds the thing rolled up tightly. The two-way zip is also handy, allowing access to your jersey pockets without the usual faff of trying to hoik the gilet over them. At this juncture we should mention the gilet doesn’t have pockets because, well, why would it? What sort of complications would that cause when not only do you have to take your gilet off if you get warm but you also have to transfer the contents of its pockets to your jersey.
You get a windproof and DWR-treated (water resistant) fabric but the essential element that makes it insulated is found in the Polartec Alpha panels. This is Polartec’s lightest insulation and is usually found in special forces kit. As well as being lightweight and insulating it has an ‘adaptive’ breathability which helps regulate body temperature. In short, the hotter you get, the more it breathes.
This might sound like marketing schpiel until you start warming up, and then get a bit warmer and then you realise that you’re actually not that uncomfortable and you’re not getting too warm even if you are actually quite toasty.
Other than these Polartec panels the gilet has stretchy mesh on the sides which allow for a high degree of movement as well as catering for a variety of body shapes. Even though there is not a specific women’s cut in the insulated gilet the flexibility of the garment allows for unisex appeal.
The greatest thing about this gilet is its packability, which Rapha have gone to great lengths to facilitate, because while it is perfect for riding in near-freezing temperatures and a nice snug addition when the sun goes down on some endless audax, there are going to be times when you’re going to want to take it off. That elastic loop is actually an inspired addition, and the 130g weight means you won’t even notice it in your pocket.
When you do put it on in the dark you’ll be reassured to know that Rapha have incorporated two stonking great horizontal reflective stripes in keeping with the rest of their brevet range.
Summary: What might appear to be a fairly frivolous garment is actually a highly versatile piece of kit, in particular for the colder months. A two-way zip, waterproof coating and reflective stripes all add to the functionality but it is the simple addition of an elasticated loop to keep it rolled up that will have you nodding in appreciation. The real star of the show is the Polartec insulation and you will be amazed by how well it actually works. This is an essential piece of kit.
5 / 5