Remember that tank-top that your mother forced you to wear to keep you warm and the wind off your chest? Well, the Rapha Softshell Gilet is just like that but trendied up because it's made of softshell, called a gilet and brought to you by Rapha. And this time you're not going to have a tantrum every time you have to put it on. Although your wallet might.
Based on Rapha's Classic Softshell Jacket the gilet is designed specifically for winter cycling and claimed to be totally windproof and highly water resistant as it has a breathable laminate to keep you dry. The gilet is cut long in the back to fit a cycling tuck and has a dropped tail for wet-weather protection. The arm holes are reinforced with extra softshell fabric, cut to allow greater freedom of movement on the bike and decorated with a ring of reflective piping. The full-length front zip is offset in typical Rapha fashion and neatly follows the line of one of the tram-tracks of piping on the front keeping everything all very smart and stylish, there's the obligatory zip-dock at the top, wind-cheating baffle behind the zip and a light fleece inside the collar which is tailored to sit higher at the front. Oh, best not forget that extra collar detailing includes a teeny little reflective Rapha logo sitting quietly on the outside left and a pink ribbon hanging loop.
Two large pockets grace the back with their openings angled to the outside to help access. The right-hand pocket has a pink stitched buttonhole in the back through which to feed your favoured entertainment device headphone cable and matching pink loops up the inside of the body keep it tidy on the way up to your ears, whilst on the pocket's outside sits a zipped key pocket. On the left-hand side panel there's a concealed valuables pocket that's so hidden it took several rides to reveal itself. Nestling between the two main pockets is a mini-pump sleeve (other long slim items can also fit) which has a rubberised hem at the top to help secure a clip-on rear light. Parallel lines of reflective piping to match the front run the full length of the back with a reflective Rapha logo to top things off and let car-drivers know how swish you are, handy to have as the black colour, whilst being dapper is not the most visible hue, this tends to bother some more than others. The hem has a pink drawstring with friction locks to make adjustment on the move easier.
The Softshell Gillet is one of those items of clothing that has you making involuntary cooing noises while your hands run up and down the soft and warm softshell whenever you slip it on. The fit is sublime, everything is "just right" and the flattering cut and detail does wonders for a not-quite race-fit body. On the bike it's just as lovely, the lightweight softshell makes it a non bulky yet cosy extra layer ideal for when a common or garden flimsy nylon gillet isn't enough but a extra layer complete with sleeves is too much and it's just the core that wants the extra warmth and wind protection of a thicker layer, and the pockets mean there's no fumbling beneath layers for mid-ride needs.
The cut is loose enough to fit over a couple of winter layers yet snug enough that it doesn't flap about in the drizzly gusts that it's most likely to be worn into, and the reinforced armholes mean they don't bag out and catch the wind either. Although the gilet is designed to be worn over the top it's tight enough to be worn underneath bulky heavyweight jackets should you wish, a torso-lagging technique that was used on several particularly cold rides. And yet despite Rapha saying it's designed specifically for winter cycling the softshell gilet is far more season versatile than that, particularly useful in the intermediate months when a whole extra layer of clothing might be too much but a little bit of core insulation is needed, or for rides at either end of the day when the temperature has a certain chilly mood about it.
It's expensive, it's very Rapha, it's also very lovely, stylish and so exquisitely tailored that you could wear it at a dinner party, maybe. But in spite of that, and because of that, it's become a firm favourite and an essential companion when layering up for any ride that might encounter some kind of chill and the core needs cosseting, leading to miles of thought spun on how life had been possible without one. Sometimes a piece of cycling kit just works, this is one of those times.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Softshell Gilet
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Agree with all of that, it's a warm and versatile piece of clothing but it's not just for the Winter.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
The Softshell (polyester 81%; spandex; 10%; Hytrel membrane 9%) material is 100% windproof for core body warmth and water-resistant yet highly breathable to keep you dry. Reflective piping and Rapha logos aid visibility and there's a rear rubber light grip in the centre pocket. Rear pockets are positioned to reduce sweating and centre weight when loaded.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The gilet did it's job perfectly, warm, comfortable and Raphish.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fit, the pockets, the warmth, the fact that I used it more than I thought I ever would.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing at all apart from maybe the colour. Well I liked the colour, but a more visible alternative might appeal.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, I have a birthday coming up.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 180cm Weight: 73kg
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he’s not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he’s not doing either of those he’s pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he’s agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours doesn’t. He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.