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Keep off the chill on cool days and when the weather's changeable

One of the simplest cycling garments, a gilet is also one of the most useful. Also known as a vest or simply as a sleeveless jacket, a gilet protects your torso from the wind chill and sometimes from the rain too.

That may not sound like a big deal, but keeping your torso warm even though your arms are still out in the wind can make a big difference to your comfort. Keeping the chill from evaporating your sweat gives your clothing a chance to move it away from your body, and the windproof shell traps a layer of air against your body so that helps keep you warm too.

Fabric thickness and level of ventilation varies a lot between gilets, so you can choose one that’s best suited to your needs. Some have side vents, others have mesh panels at the back so you’ll be comfortable if you’re riding hard with your front protected from the breeze and heat able to escape at the back.

Club Ride Cross Vest Gilet - on bike

Club Ride Cross Vest Gilet - on bike

Gilets intended for all-day riding in winter are made from thicker fabrics such as softshell or heavier breathable waterproof materials. Lighter fabrics are used for gilets that pack down small so you can stuff them in a pocket. They’re ideal for days when you know (or at least hope) that it’ll warm up after a chilly start, or to carry for sudden weather changes.

In the last couple of years clothing makers have introduced gilets that provide extra warmth from the latest ultra-light synthetic insulation. These are useful for extra protection when it’s very cold, or for cool-weather casual cycling; they’re usually styled so they look fairly normal off the bike too.

Rapha Womens Gilet - front pocket

Rapha Womens Gilet - front pocket

Gilet manufacturers provide pockets in several different ways. At one end of the complexity scale, some gilets do without, some simply have slots so you can get through to your jersey pockets. Many have the usual two or three rear pockets, sometimes with a small front pocket for your keys.

Louis Garneau Course Speedzone Gilet - back detail

Louis Garneau Course Speedzone Gilet - back detail

At the other end of the scale, Giro’s hard-to-find but excellent Primaloft Insulated Vest has a couple of hand-warmer pockets on the front, Giro's Stowback system, a kind of clever poacher's pocket, at the back and further vertical zipped openings on each side that give access to three internal pockets, between the inner and outer layers of the gilet. It’s pocket-tastic.

Other features to look for include material with a bit of stretch in it so it’ll accommodate those post-Christmas extra pounds; a fleece liner at the neck for extra cosiness; a windproof flap behind the zip; and a ‘zip garage’ at the neck to stop the top of the zip digging into the soft skin there.

Vulpine Ultralight Quilted Thermal Gilet - collar

Vulpine Ultralight Quilted Thermal Gilet - collar

A decent quality gilet costs from £20 and prices run up to over £150. At the low range you’re getting a simple windproof and (usually) water-resistant shell; at high prices you get for very-high-tech fabrics, clever detailing and — in some cases — extra insulation.

Beware: gilets are addictive. You’ll soon realise you ‘need’ more than one for different conditions. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

>>Read more: Reviews of gilets on road.cc

B’Twin Ultralight Bike Gilet 500 — £14.99

BTwin Ultralight Bike Gilet 700

BTwin Ultralight Bike Gilet 700

As it so often does, French sport megastore chain Decathlon shows that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get decent kit. This gilet is easy to pack,fends off the cold and has a good feature set for its low price.

You can barely feel this gilet when it's in your hands let alone on your back. The 100% polyester fabric is very thin which keeps the weight down to just 60g for the large size. It's fully windproof and does offer a degree of water resistance against drizzle and fog.

You don't get a mesh back to disperse heat like you see on a lot of gilets but there are two armpit vents which do a pretty good job of stopping you getting too clammy.

Read our review of the B’Twin Ultralight Bike Gilet 700

Find a B’Twin dealer

Lusso Skylon — £27

Lusso Skylon Gillet

Lusso Skylon Gillet

The Lusso Skylon Gilet doesn't make a fuss, it just keeps the wind off your body and helps to maintain core temperature while being small enough to scrunch into a back pocket.

The Skylon is a cut above bargain basement gilets; build quality is considerably higher and a little more thought seems to have gone into the design. For example, there is no loose fabric to snag the zip. The Skylon fabric which gives the gilet its name (and a whiff of 50's nostalgia, go Google it kiddies) has a slightly rubbery feel, a bit like latex workshop gloves. It's not unpleasant, just a little odd.

Lusso claim it's showerproof, but a short ride into a rainy headwind left our tester’s jersey quite damp. It's not a huge problem; after all you wouldn't expect a gilet to offer much by way of foul weather protection, especially one with a full length mesh back. What you want a gilet for is wind proofing and the Skylon scores full marks on that front. The mesh back stops it from turning into a mobile sweat tent and the whole thing folds up into its own back pocket.

Read our review of the Lusso Skylon

Find a Lusso dealer

B'Twin Aerofit — £24.99

BTwin Aerofit Road Cycling Gilet.jpg

BTwin Aerofit Road Cycling Gilet.jpg

Aerofit is B'Twin's top range of kit, and this gilet therefore has a close-fitting, performance-orientated fit. The quality and finish is pretty exceptional when you consider its £39.99 price tag; at the current offer price, it's amazingly good for £25.

The Aerofit has a windproof membrane on the front to stop the chills and a mesh back panel to let any heat build-up escape, stopping you getting clammy.

Although it's not designed to, that membrane also works pretty well against light rain and drizzle – you can see the water bead off as you're riding. It doesn't take long to be overwhelmed by heavy rain, but considering it's not being marketed as a waterproof, it does a very good job.

Read our review of the B'Twin Aerofit Aerofit gilet

RH+ Acquaria Pocket Vest —  £37.15-£44.70

RH Plus AcquariaPocket Vest

RH Plus AcquariaPocket Vest

The RH+ Acquaria Pocket Vest is so lightweight and packable it's a proper three season item of clothing.

It's made of a single layer coated fabric called Airdry which is intended for mild and windy conditions and is designed to be worn between 14°C and 22°C.

With a mesh back it's highly breathable and wicks sweat away quite impressively for this kind of fabric.

Read our review of the RH+ Acquaria Pocket Vest

dhb Aeron Lightweight Gilet — £40

dhb-Aeron-Lightweight-Gilet-Cycling-Gilets-Fluro-Yellow-AW17-TW0495XXL26-0.jpg

dhb-Aeron-Lightweight-Gilet-Cycling-Gilets-Fluro-Yellow-AW17-TW0495XXL26-0.jpg

We haven't tested this gilet, but based on the quality and fit of its predecessor, the dhb Aeron Windslam Gilet we're going to stick our necks out and suggest it's worth a look. It has a high collar, close fit and angled slits in the back so you can still reach your jersey pockets.

Ale Crossover Gilet — £75 (Men's also available — £80)

Ale Crossover Gilet Womens - riding.jpg

Ale Crossover Gilet Womens - riding.jpg

There are a lot of windproof gilets out there. You have to do something special to stand out for the crowd. Ale has achieved this with the excellent Crossover Gilet.

At the size and weight of a burger, this is a gilet you can forget about until you need it. When you do pull it out, the great news is that it doesn't come out looking like an old bin bag. The stretch fabric is remarkably resistant to crumpling so it always looks good when you are wearing it. Another bonus is that it doesn't crackle and flap in the wind.

To keep the weight down, Ale has dispensed with pockets. Instead, it has put in some slits in the back that allow you to access your jersey pockets underneath. These have a baffle over the top to keep the weather out.

Read our review of the women's Ale Crossover Gilet

Read our review of the men's Ale Crossover Gilet

Rapha Women's Classic Gilet II — £100

Rapha Womens Classic Gilet II.jpg

Rapha Womens Classic Gilet II.jpg

A long-time favourite, this well-made and perfectly shaped gilet is currently on special. It has a full suite of useful detailing: a bit of stretch in the fabric; pockets big enough to be useful; that handy little key pocket on the front; a comfortably lined neck; and baffle/guard behind the (stylishly offset) zip.

Read our review of the Rapha Women’s Classic Gilet II

Lusso Stripes Gilet — £79.99

Lusso Stripes Gillet.jpg

Lusso Stripes Gillet.jpg

The Lusso Stripes Gilet takes the basic concept of keeping wind at bay and turns it into a technical and performance tour de force, for reasonable money. You'll be doing some pocket-swapping, but what price silence?

Hailing from Manchester, close to the Peak District and not far from the Irish sea, Lusso knows a thing or five about changeable weather. The Stripes gilet picks up that venerable heritage of preparedness, looks outside at scudding clouds over a wavering garden shed barometer and says, 'Let's be having it then'.

At 116g the Stripes gilet isn't the lightest, but then it's packing three full-size back pockets plus a fourth zipped one, a silicone gripper hem, underarm mesh panels, zip garage and a lazer-cut front hem. All that tech adds weight and bulk, so this isn't the scrunch-to-a-squash-ball ultralight you're looking for. What it is, is fit for purpose.

Read our review of the Lusso Stripes Gilet

Chapeau! Blue Echelon Gilet — £99.99

Chapeau! Blue Echelon Gilet.jpg

Chapeau! Blue Echelon Gilet.jpg

The Chapeau! Blue Echelon Gilet is an innovative, well made and good looking vest that keeps the worst of the weather out. Chapeau! has clearly thought about how to make this as good as possible and done a superb job – though you have to pay accordingly.

A good place to start is with its ability to keep out the wind and rain, which it does really well. The material used – a four-way stretch polyester and polyurethane blend – is thin, which I was initially worried about, given that thin normally means flimsy. I needn't have been: it's hardwearing as well as very protective.

Read our review of the Chapeau! Blue Echelon Gilet

Giro Primaloft Insulated Vest — £103.99

Giro New Road Primaloft Insulated Vest - riding

Giro New Road Primaloft Insulated Vest - riding

Like a posh bodywarmer, this insulated vest from Giro is a pretty flexible piece of gear that we found works well for casual use but is also an effective and packable layer for longer rides. The price might raise eyebrows, but with clever pockets and the insulation and packability that Primaloft gives, it's a lovely piece of gear.

Giro uses Primaloft Sport, a highly packable and water-resistant synthetic insulation, combined with Pertex Quantum for the outer layer. This combination makes for a low-bulk, really lightweight and surprisingly warm gilet. It's great over a t-shirt or hoody for an autumnal ride into town, but if you are going out for an all dayer in your lycra, it works really well as an intermediate layer between a lightweight jersey and an outer jacket. It's no problem to pack it down into a jersey pocket, and although it's not water-resistant, the Primaloft doesn't get sodden, so will continue to keep you warm even if it's damp from rain or sweat.

Read our review of the Giro Primaloft Insulated Vest
Find a Giro dealer

Endura Pro SL PrimaLoft Gilet — £109.19-£114.99

Endura Pro SL PrimaLoft Gilet.jpg

Endura Pro SL PrimaLoft Gilet.jpg

It's expensive, but if you need a gilet that can provide some vital insulation on top of windproof performance, then the Endura Pro SL Primaloft Gilet could be the layer for you.

It all starts with the filling – a Primaloft stuffing that provides vital heat retention. It's thin, so thin in fact that it's still possible to pack the gilet down into a decent-sized pocket. Moreover, it's cut so that there's little fabric wastage anywhere, which helps keep the form small when it's rolled up into a pocket or its own carry pouch.

Read our review of the Endura Pro SL PrimaLoft Gilet
Find an Endura dealer

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Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

5 comments

Avatar
peted76 [1084 posts] 10 months ago
2 likes

You missed off the road.cc wind vest made by primal, which IMO is a really really good option for people. Pockets, windproof, high collar, lightweight and compact! 

Avatar
Simon E [3300 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

£100 for a sleeveless plastic vest? And people wonder why Rapha (and others) are criticised for taking the p*ss...

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds [1885 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Given the actual exposed area that is always front on to the wind (unless in TT mode) it's more important to keep your arms covered and indeed your hands and head.

This will conserve heat far more than a gilet will (which does not cover the armpits where a lot of heat is lost) and because your torso is angled wind chill does not hit your core as much as it would your arms which generally have less fat on them too so are more effected by cold/wind. Same with head, a lightweight head band can make a subtle but important difference when cycling in cooler conditions

Whilst I have a softshell outdoor/walking gilet (Trespass) that is quite breathable/water resistant the number of times I've used it for cycling is less than a dozen in 6 years and that was really more down to carrying stuff in the (three) zipped pockets than it being better than a cycling jacket/jersey.

IMHO for cooler days/nights you're better off investing in a base layer, OR if money is no object buy a jersey/jacket that has zipped sleeves if you must, best of both worlds.

Avatar
STiG911 [295 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Spotted the Castelli Squadra in Evans just yesterday for £20. Steal.

Avatar
Duncann [1320 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Given the actual exposed area that is always front on to the wind (unless in TT mode) it's more important to keep your arms covered and indeed your hands and head.

This will conserve heat far more than a gilet will (which does not cover the armpits where a lot of heat is lost) and because your torso is angled wind chill does not hit your core as much as it would your arms which generally have less fat on them too so are more effected by cold/wind. Same with head, a lightweight head band can make a subtle but important difference when cycling in cooler conditions

Whilst I have a softshell outdoor/walking gilet (Trespass) that is quite breathable/water resistant the number of times I've used it for cycling is less than a dozen in 6 years and that was really more down to carrying stuff in the (three) zipped pockets than it being better than a cycling jacket/jersey.

IMHO for cooler days/nights you're better off investing in a base layer, OR if money is no object buy a jersey/jacket that has zipped sleeves if you must, best of both worlds.

Fully agreed.

I bought a gilet years ago and never used it - it just wasn't ever what was needed.

+1 for the headband too. Keeping your ears covered makes a huge difference in the cold - while still allowing excess heat to escape (which a full head covering wouldn't).