The Rapha Gilet, from the renowned London based cycle wear brand, is designed with milder weather in mind, the sort of changeable conditions for which the British summer and indeed autumn, depending on where you live, is famous for. It certainly ticks all the boxes that define all of Rapha's kit; stylishly understated - check, well made - check, exorbitantly priced - check.
The Gilet comes in a bag reminiscent of a suit bag immediately indicating that this is no ordinary gilet. The material itself 100% Nylon which has an almost shell-like feel, is very light and is claimed to be totally windproof. White piping runs down the sides and back breaking up the black panels and providing a degree of reflectivity for low light situations. The zip is stylishly off centred which, in conjunction with the soft material tab at the collar, helps prevent any uncomfortable neck rubbing when fully zipped up. The zip is discrete (read: small) which stops it getting in the way but also makes it difficult to manipulate with gloves on. This shouldn't be too much of a problem though, since you'd likely be wearing something much more substantial than a gilet if conditions called for full fingered gloves. A strip of elasticised mesh runs right down the back helping with ventilation.
Two pockets with angled entry are located on the rear which is something that I feel is often missing on gilets. Unfortunately though, whilst the lack of elasticity around the top of the pockets makes putting stuff into them a breeze, it also means that anything you put in there can come out quite easily too - it doesn't come as a surprise that gels hitting tarmac at 40 mph don't hold up very well. If you rarely get your hips above your shoulders then this shouldn't be an issue but it is worth bearing in mind before getting into that aero tuck. A discrete zipped pocket is also provided to the front left of the Gilet although I found that anything hard that I put in there tended to jab me in the stomach.
The fit is slim and cycling specific. The waist is cropped in before flaring out at the hem which prevents bunching around the stomach when bent over the bars. The hem itself contains an elastic cord which can be tightened if needed. The long cut back helps keep your tush dry whilst riding but isn't so extreme that it looks ridiculous whilst standing up.
Hidden away on the inside of the Gilet alongside the washing instructions, Rapha have inscribed a short tribute to Luis Ocana who crashed coming down the Col de Mente whilst defending his lead in the '71 Tour. Maybe this sort of thing floats your boat in which case that's great, but I thought it a bit contrived and unneeded. What is undeniable though is the feeling one gets when putting the Gilet on - it really makes you feel special.
The Gilet holds up well under the sort of changeable conditions that it was designed for. It provides just enough protection from a quick downpour, drying out quickly afterwards, and cuts through the wind keeping your core warm. I found that I'd instinctively grab the Gilet when heading out in anything less than perfect conditions - a testament to its performance.
With my confidence in the pockets dented, I ended up not really using them that much preferring to store my food in my jersey underneath. This uncovered another problem with the Gilet. The tight fit and lack of 2-way front zip means that getting into one's jersey pockets can be a bit of a mission. Other gilets sometimes feature a zip on the rear which allows the rider to place their hand through the gilet and access the pockets. This feature would certainly have improved the Rapha Gilet's functionality on the bike but it may have come at the expense of that oh-so-critical aesthetic.
For its intended purpose of keeping you warm in changeable conditions, and doing so with a certain style, the Rapha Gilet performs admirably with its quality feel and classy design. As a performance race garment though, the Gilet lacks some of the functionality of other offerings which have been designed with this in mind.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Gilet
Size tested: M, Black
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?
Rapha have this to say about the Gilet:
"The Rapha Gilet is designed for changeable conditions during milder weather. It is windproof, water resistant and perfect for cool mornings, seasonal showers and brisk descents."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Made from an extremely breathable matt fabric, the central back panel uses elasticated mesh for added breathability. At just 115g (medium size) the gilet packs down to fit comfortably into a jersey pocket.
The latest version uses contrast trim down the rear central panel to give a stylish accent.The gilet has a full-length, offset zip with a soft fleece chin guard to prevent chafing and a lockdown puller to eliminate rattles. The gilet has a long-cut back, and a dropped tail protects from road spray.
Friction locks on the waist cord allow for easy adjustment on the move and the gilet has two elasticated cargo pockets and an additional front zipped pocket. To improve visibility, the gilet has reflective piping around the arm holes and a reflective Rapha logo at the back.
All seams are expertly executed with no loose threads to be found anywhere.
From a purely asethetic standpoint, the Gilet is a seriously classy piece of kit, but its not as functional on the bike as it could be
The Gilet has a reassuringly solid feel despite the light weight due in part to the stout stitching
The Gilet is very light at a claimed 115g for a size medium, but more importantly it packs down nice and small for when you need to fit it into a rear pocket
I found the fit to be perfect for my lanky frame and small touches such as the fleece zip tab to protect your neck make this a joy to wear
Although the quality of the design, construction and materials go some way to justifying the extraordinary price, there's still no getting away from the fact that this amount of money will get you some top-of-the-range bibs from the likes of Castelli, Craft, or Mavic, let alone a gilet. The Assos Climajet and Assos do one gilet, the Element Zero which is more expensive... and it has to be said significantly more at around £165.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? I wish I was in a position to consider it
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Depends on the financial situation of the friend
About the tester
I usually ride: Giant TCR Advanced 2 My best bike is: Canyon Ultimate CF7
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, sportives, mtb,