I'm a big fan of a good gilet. I might have mentioned this before. Folding down small enough for a jersey pocket when not needed, they're perfect for the spring and autumn rides where it starts out in single digit temperatures but warms up, or for when there might be a shower. Don't take my word for it, check out our guide to autumn essentials. However, the Tenn Outdoors Crystalline gilet isn't really a good gilet at all, unfortunately.
Gilets fall into various camps. Some use a waterproof material with taped seams, others opt for something more akin to a soft-shell fabric, giving protection against the wind and a certain level of defence against rain while still remaining breathable. The transparent gilet, such as this one from UK brand Tenn Outdoors, is aimed particularly at racers who need protection from the elements while keeping race numbers and - if they're good enough to have them - sponsors' logos visible.
The material used by Tenn here appears from a distance to be little more than might be used in a plastic bag, but up close you can see it consists of a woven fibre combined with a clear plastic membrane. It's 50% polyester and 50% TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). It is stretchier than you'd expect and fully waterproof, with taped seams and a water-resistant (and very reflective) zip down the front. There's a mesh lining around the inside of the neck, which helps keep things comfortable when you get hotter or damper by keeping the waterproof membrane from being in direct contact with your skin.
Tenn claims that it's breathable and even high-wicking. This wasn't my experience. I found that when I was generating heat I would fairly quickly start to feel damp of torso, and the simple "hold it against your mouth and blow" test didn't suggest that much air could get through at all. This is a lot easier to live with in a gilet than a jacket, however; the absence of sleeves plus the zip on the front mean that it's easy to stay well ventilated.
What is rather harder to forgive here is the frankly very disappointing fit. Tenn claims a "close-fit race cut" which is so far from the truth as to be laughable. I tested a medium, which would only have been a close fit if I was wearing nine or ten layers underneath, some made from coarse-knit Shetland wool. As it was, it flapped all over the place when riding at any kind of speed. There's no way I'd race in this.
There is no dropped back (the front of the gilet is as long as the back) meaning that when riding anything with drop bars, the back would pull up and expose the rear pockets of the jersey underneath, and if it were raining then the contents of those pockets would get wet. This is really basic stuff, which you'd have thought should have been sorted out in the early stages of the design. Contrast this with Wiggle's slightly cheaper dhb Clear Race Gilet, where the fit and dropped back make for a much better product.
On the front of the Tenn gilet there's an external pocket bonded in place, with another nice bright reflective zip. This is for your phone, says Tenn. At least, it is if you're rocking a Nokia 3210. My Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is only average-sized by current standards but is way, way too big for the pocket, which is about the perfect size for a gel or - at a push - two. I wouldn't mind the fact that I couldn't fit my phone in this pocket if the gilet kept rear jersey pockets safely covered up; it doesn't. Why say it's a phone pocket if no modern phones will actually fit, though?
Tenn have added reflective logos front and rear, high on the right breast and on the lower back, which are sensible locations, and combined with the zips make for a reasonably good level of night-time visibility.
In summary then, what we have here is a transparent gilet aimed at racers but shaped to fit a body quite unlike that of a racer, and where the cut would only work in a very upright riding position like a Dutch bike. For leisurely riding on a flat-bar bike it's fine, but I'd probably prefer something more breathable and cheaper for that. £35 is hardly Aldi money for a gilet, and to be honest this is sub-Aldi performance.
Very disappointing clear race gilet with poor design and terrible fit
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Make and model: Tenn Outdoors Crystalline Pro Cycling Gilet Clear
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?
High performance race cape. Ideal when rain threatens or for long chilly mountain descents. Packs down to fit jersey pocket.
A great garment for a daylong ride in the mountains. When working hard on a climb and the altitude and temperature increases with every pedal stroke, the ultra-light Crystalline gilet goes unnoticed in a jersey pocket - ready to slip on when you start the freezing descent. It will also keep you at peak performance levels through the heaviest of sudden downpours. The Crystalline is totally transparent so that jersey and race colours can still clearly be seen underneath.
A high rating waterproof fabric with taped seams and breathable membrane keepsthe cyclist dry both from the rain outside and the heat generated inside when at race pace. The gilet's lightweightconstruction and pack-a-way sack means it can easily be stuffed in a jersey pocket mid-ride. And the heavy reflective details ensure visibility at night or through the mist of an alpine col.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
High rating waterproof fabric and taped seams–Insulating and high-wicking, to keep rider dry and temperature regulated.
Ultra lightweight – ideal for fast rides and racing.
Zipped pocket – for mobile phone or other valuables.
Packaway sack–with drawstring. Perfect for stuffing in jersey pocket.
Reflective detailing – front and back for safety.
50% Polyester 50% TPU 10K/5K Waterproof/breathable rating
No particular issues with construction - seams are neatly taped and stitching is tidy. Material is lightweight but waterproof, with some stretch built-in.
The waterproofing works, so it gets some credit there. The sizing is seriously at odds with the claims of "close-fit race cut" and the lack of a dropped back is a major omission. Flappy and very unsuitable for racing.
No particular concerns.
It's pretty lightweight, less than a Mars bar more than Sportful's crazy-light Hot Pack Ultralight.
Neck lining is a nice touch. Claimed breathability was not really in evidence, however.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very poorly - it claims to be a racing gilet and would be quite hopeless as one.
As a general use casual cycling gilet it's ok.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Good reflectives make it commuter-friendly.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Sizing, lack of dropped back, phone pocket that can't accomodate a phone.
Did you enjoy using the product? I was frustrated by what it claimed to be and manifestly wasn't. It wasn't unpleasant to use otherwise.
Would you consider buying the product? No.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No.
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Boardman CX team for the daily commute My best bike is: Rose Xeon CRS
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Jez spends his days making robots that drive cars but is happiest when on two wheels. His roots are in mountain biking but he spends more time nowadays on the road, occasionally racing but more often just riding.