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Rapha's Commuter Jacket continues its reputation for understated style in the urban cycling market. However, don't let that name fool you too much. Yes, it's a relaxed, flattering and very effective waterproof. But other qualities often associated with modern urban cycling outer layers – such as breathability, insulation and even visibility – are in short supply.
It's easy to caricature Rapha as an entity that exists only to indulge the pretensions of well-funded nouveau road cyclists. However, the brand has done a pretty impressive job of spreading its wings beyond that relatively small market. This Commuter Jacket is a case in point. It's a fairly simple, straightforward rain jacket designed for the urban cyclist, with a price tag that doesn't seem excessive by either Rapha's standards or even those set by other examples of on-trend urban cycle clothing.
As it happened, my review sample Commuter Jacket arrived in a parcel alongside four other more general use jackets – two from Fat Lad At The Back and two from Proviz – and it was quickly obvious that the Rapha had the most appealing fit by an urban mile. You might not be overawed initially: in the soft Rapha-branded packet it looks just like a simple weatherproof jacket. However, put it on, and you'll find it is really flattering.
So the fit is excellent and the price seems OK, what about the performance? Here's where things take a turn. Because not only does it look just like a simple waterproof jacket, that's also how it performs.
According to Rapha, the jacket is manufactured from '2.5 layer fabric with waterproof membrane'. Combine this with the welted zip pockets and Aquaguard waterproof zip and there's no way any rain is going to slip by to get at you. But put too much effort in on the bike and you'll be more than capable of creating self-inflicted dampness because there's next to no breathability, with only a 'dry touch print' and a bit of mesh under a vent on the upper back to help deal with perspiration.
With no further lining of any kind, it's also not particularly warm or insulating, so you're going to need layers. Funnily enough, Rapha points out: 'Jacket fits large to accommodate layers, we recommend you size down,' which I can't quite get my head around – that seems to be akin to Spinal Tap's 'this one goes up to 11' logic.
It also has a slightly irritating rubbery feel to the inside surface and in the pockets. Because it looks so good, I've been wearing the Commuter Jacket a lot off the bike and I like to put my hands in my pockets. But each time I do, I experience a variation of the old 'fingernails-on-blackboard' kind of sensation.
That flattering fit off the bike also translates to being a perfect fit for riding. Arm length is very good; the cuffs are sufficiently secure to form a nice barrier between you and the elements; and the rear flap is deep enough to cover your lower back, but not so long that it screams 'cyclist!' when strolling down civvy street.
Although this is not a product overloaded with novelties, there are a few added extras. As I've mentioned, there are a couple of zipped side pockets, and a neat reflective retention strap is provided to help stow the hood away when it's not needed. (I'm not convinced by it myself and have tended to leave the hood out.) And the waterproof front zip is offset and really does keep your chin from chafing – although if you're the kind of person who likes things to be straight and level, it might just keep you up at night. Also, though I've had no problems, the zip feels just a little too delicate in use. The handy ring-shaped pull works well, though.
Finally, one last criticism is visibility. In addition to this black version, the jacket is also available in suitably brightly coloured yellow (officially called 'chartreuse'), bright orange, or high-vis pink, which will all help to keep you seen during daytime. But when the light goes out, you've only got some subtle reflective dots on the rear flap, and they aren't massively effective compared with the reflective elements found on other brands' jackets.
As regards value, at first glance £100 looks pretty good for something that... looks pretty good, but performance-wise it faces some competition at this price. It's cheaper than the Altura Nightvision Thunderstorm Jacket, but not as rounded in terms of being a complete practical product. And if looks matter less to you, the £75 Proviz Nightrider jacket offers impressive weatherproofing and breathability, and of course visibility, plus £25 in your pocket.
Despite the criticisms, this Rapha Commuter Jacket is still a very enticing waterproof layer. But rather than being a hi-tech modern commuting jacket, in many respects it's more an 'urban rain cape deluxe'. As long as you go into any purchase knowing its only two talents are to keep you looking good while being unaffected by wet weather, that £100 is just about acceptable.
The most stylish commuting rain jacket in the world? Possibly. But it's a shame its beauty doesn't extend a little deeper
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Commuter Jacket
Size tested: XXL
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?
It's a waterproof outer layer aimed at commuters and urban cyclists.
Rapha says: "The definitive jacket for riding to work in wet conditions, the Commuter Jacket is designed specifically for the journey. Cut with a less extreme riding position than our other waterproof jackets, the Commuter is made of a durable yet lightweight fabric with a hydrophobic membrane. All seams are sealed to prevent any water ingress and the inside of the fabric features a dry touch print to keep you comfortable even if you break a sweat. An integrated mesh back yoke provides additional breathability around the collar. The jacket features a full length waterproof zip, off-centre to prevent irritation against your chin, and a hood which can be worn underneath a helmet in a downpour. When not in use, the hood is neatly stowed with a reflective retention strap for visibility. To ensure you stay seen, the jacket also features a reflective gradient dot print on the tail, designed to sit beneath a backpack and in the eyeline of motorists. For extra protection against the weather, the jacket's elasticated hem and subtle integrated hood drawcord can be adjusted while internal storm binding keep water out at the cuffs."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the jacket?
Rapha lists these features:
2.5 layer fabric with waterproof membrane
Welted zip pockets for essentials
Aquaguard waterproof zip
Reflective print on the tail sits beneath a backpack
Signature Rapha armband
Loop zip puller for easy access
Mesh-lined upper back panel for improved ventilation
No faulting the way it's made, although the fabric could have better technical abilities.
Excellent as a pure waterproof. Not so good at keeping you free from sweat-induced dampness.
Looks fine, although the main zip seems a little delicate.
Gets very moist inside very quickly.
Other than being confused by Rapha's suggestion people should size down, sizing seems to be just right.
Not bad at all. Feels substantial but not heavy.
Fit was good, but the feel of the rubbery inner surface of the jacket is a bit irritating.
Not bad value... for Rapha, but not great value for a 'rain cape' that doesn't breathe, no matter how nice it looks.
How easy is the jacket to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Easy to wash – stick it in the washing machine at 30 degrees then let it drip dry.
Tell us how the jacket performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Great at keeping the rain out. Not so good if you start exerting yourself.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the jacket
The flattering cut.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the jacket
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's cheaper than the Altura Nightvision Thunderstorm Jacket, but not as rounded in terms of being a complete practical product.
Did you enjoy using the jacket? Yes
Would you consider buying the jacket? Probably not.
Would you recommend the jacket to a friend? Maybe
Use this box to explain your overall score
I found this very hard to score, because while the Commuter Jacket is so good at two things – stopping the rain reaching you, and making you look good – its flaws regarding breathability, warmth retention and even night-time visibility are significant, too.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
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: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure