Rapha's Brevet collection continues to grow and gain popularity with cyclists keen on going the distance or just boosting their visibility in low light, and the new Insulated Jacket with its excellent Polartec Alpha insulation is a particularly fine addition to the range.
What the Brevet Insulated Jacket does, and does very well, is provide more protection and warmth than the existing Brevet Insulated Gilet it's based on, while still being light enough to pack down extremely small.
This packability is intended to appeal to the growing number of bikepacking (modern day touring) enthusiasts who want a top to cope with any weather yet not weigh them down when they don't need to wear it. Don't fret, you don't have to be going on a multi-day adventure to enjoy the benefits and performance of the Brevet Insulated jacket, it's ideal for any cyclist wanting a warm top for the winter without the bulk normally associated with winter jackets. It's packable enough that it just rolls up into a jersey pocket, but it is best stashed in a bag when not in use.
The key to its performance is the Polartec Alpha insulation, a synthetic down material that provides really good insulation without the bulk normally associated with jackets designed for cold weather cycling. It also manages heat really well, with sufficient breathability to prevent overheating, and the performance doesn't take a knock in the rain either.
You know that experience when your temperature rockets and plummets through a ride and you're continually removing and adding layers? Well, that just doesn't happen with the Brevet Insulated Jacket. Even blasting up long climbs doesn't invoke an unsatisfactory level of sweat or unwelcome heat. It's very good at dealing with the changeable conditions on a long ride.
Rapha has added a water-repellent coating to the front panels, and it does help fend of rain should you get caught in a shower – which, let's face it, is highly likely at this time of year. It's not a waterproof jacket – rain will get through eventually if you're caught in a prolonged downpour – but it does dry very quickly between shower bursts, and the Alpha insulation doesn't get soggy or stop working when it's wet. The front panels also keep the chill wind from penetrating through to your skin, so you don't need to layer up with a windproof gilet as you do with some jackets.
It's a very lightweight piece and Rapha has saved further weight by not giving it the normal three rear pocket setup of most winter jackets. (There's just the one zipped pocket.) That's because it's intended to be worn as part of a layering system, such as over a long-sleeve jersey and baselayer, while a jacket like Rapha's Classic Winter or Pro Team can be worn over just a baselayer. The idea is to give you more versatility for longer rides and multi-day events where a multi-layer clothing approach helps you better deal with whatever weather may come your way. Not adding pockets helps keep the weight low and packability factor high. It's sort of like an insulated emergency shell.
The fit and shape of the jacket is generally quite good, being snug (I tested a size small) without being tight or restrictive. Stretchy brushed fabric side panels keep it all cinched in nicely at the sides, and the tall collar is appreciated when the wind is howling through the hedgerows. My main gripe is the lack of length in the body – it's just a tiny bit too short for my torso, but it's not so pronounced when hunched over the handlebars. Still, another centimetre or two please Rapha. (I admit I am quite skinny, but don't have this problem with other clothing manufacturers.)
Some people don't really approve of black jackets (it's available in two other options, blue and grey), but the two bands provide a high level of reflectivity, plus the Rapha logos are reflective, and it does help you to stand out at night. That focus on adding reflectivity makes it an good option for cyclists commuting or training in the dark without compromising the performance that some reflective jackets can.
I've come across Polartec's Alpha in some clothing already, namely the Sportful R&D Zero jacket – the Italian company was one of the first to make use of the fabric. While the Sportful jacket provides sufficient insulation that it can be worn over just a baselayer, it's not as lightweight or packable as Rapha's. For the current cold weather the Brevet needs to be used in conjunction with a baselayer and long-sleeve jersey, it just doesn't provide enough insulation on its own when it's this cold.
I've found the Rapha particularly useful for my occasional commute to the road.cc office, where I prefer to travel light but need clothing that will cope with the cold temperatures of the early morning ride as well as the warmer (usually) ride home. It packs up very small and disappears inside my small backpack if need be, and the large reflective bands are particularly appreciated in the dark country lanes that make up most of my commute.
It's a versatile, lightweight, packable and highly reflective jacket that works really well in helping you layer up for longer rides with unpredictable weather and temperature fluctuations. That it's not warm enough to be worn on its own is a bit of a limiting factor, but pair it with the right layers and it'll keep you cosily warm on the longest rides without any fear of overheating.
A lightweight, packable and insulated jacket ideal for long distance rides, but it's a bit on the short side
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Brevet Insulated Jacket
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the jacket 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 says: "Long-distance riders can encounter a full range of weather conditions, so a lightweight layer that is both warm and packable is essential. The Brevet Insulated Jacket provides exceptional warmth, while highly breathable Polartec® Alpha® insulation ensures you won't overheat during harder efforts. Extensively tested across a range of conditions: from the Transcontinental race across Europe, to the cold summits of Australia's snowy mountains.
"This versatile jacket is made for days when the weather is hard to predict. The fast-drying and hydrophobic properties of Polartec® Alpha® mean the jacket won't hold water like natural down insulation and with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating you can watch the rain roll off.
"Soft, brushed jersey side panels add warmth and allow the jacket to stretch over full pockets, while reflective detailing increases visibility in low light. When not in use the jacket rolls up neatly, secured by an elasticated loop at the neck."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
Quick-drying and hydrophobic Polartec® Alpha® insulation for warmth in all conditions
Self-storing (folds into band at neck) for easy packing
DWR (durable water repellent) coating ensures that you stay dry in wet weather
Wind-resistant fabric gives protection from the elements
Dropped rear hem for added protection from road spray
Reflective detailing throughout for riding in low light
Concealed valuables pocket
Lockable zip puller to prevent jacket opening while riding
Brushed stretch side panels add warmth and accommodate full jersey pockets
Very good construction, not a stray stitch.
Works well over a long-sleeve baselayer to provide good insulation with no overheating.
Has proven to be very tough and durable so far, and constant packing down and stuffing at the bottom of a backpack hasn't done it any damage.
It has DWR treated front panels that help in a shower, but it doesn't stand up to heavy rain.
Extremely breathable, a real benefit of the Polartec Alpha insulation.
In general very good, but it's a tiny bit short in the torso for my 5ft 11in height.
Sized well everywhere apart from the torso where I felt it was a bit short.
It's light enough to disappear inside a backpack.
Very comfortable top with good stretch where needed.
It's not actually that expensive for a jacket using the Polartec Alpha insulation.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Very easy, just bung it in the washing machine and it dries very quickly.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Correctly layered up it provides good warmth and protection from the elements.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
Very lightweight and big reflective details.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
A bit short in the torso for my height.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Maybe
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Maybe
Use this box to explain your score
It's a high-performance jacket that is ideal with the right layers underneath for helping you combat the cold and unpredictable weather you might encounter on a long ride. The large reflective details are also ideal for winter training and commuting.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.