The PEdAL ED Tokaido Alpha vest is a useful layer that'll see some use all year round in UK conditions. It's expensive, but you'll get your money's worth out of it.
- Pros: Good fit, warm for the weight and pack size
- Cons: Flappy shoulders, three pockets would be better than two
The Tokaido vest has been tested on the trails of Kyrgyzstan with the Silk Road Mountain Race, so it's a garment designed for tough conditions. The Mendips aren't quite as remote or high but it still gets pretty dismal up there at this time of year, and I was mostly very impressed with this vest.
The fit is good: I was wearing an XL and it was more or less perfect on me, so sizing is pretty good, maybe a touch on the small side of average. When it's on it doesn't have the look of something that's going to be particularly warm – it's not bulky or puffy – but actually it's a really good layer to have in the wardrobe.
When it's cold and dry you can wear it over a light winter jersey and it'll keep you warmer than you'd expect. It's impressively windproof, with a sizeable baffle behind the zip, and the Polartec Alpha insulation means you're noticeably warmer on those days when it's bitter out. It doesn't look or feel like expedition gear, though: it just looks like a pretty standard riding gilet, really. It's understated, with a reflective decal front and rear and a two-colour finish.
If it's wet you can layer up with a hardshell jacket and it works well like that too. The material wicks better than you'd think: I tended to find that the outside of the gilet was the bit that got wet, suggesting it's moving sweat away from your body more efficiently than a hardshell jacket can deal with it. Even on some long rides in some pretty abysmal conditions it stayed comfortable, even when I ended up reasonably wet in spite of my best efforts.
The vest is very quick to dry; hang it over a radiator in the cafe and it'll be dry again by the time you leave. Out on the bike the fact that it's very windproof works against it a bit if the inside has got wet, but it's still pretty good at drying itself out.
Practicality is good. Polartec Alpha is very low density and the gilet stuffs into a small pocket on the rear. The resulting package is easy to stow in a jersey pocket or bag; you could compress it further with straps if you're short of space.
You get two pockets at the rear, which I found a bit big: stuff tended to rattle around in them a bit. It'd be better with a more standard three-pocket arrangement, I think.
My only other bugbear with the vest is that the outer layer isn't attached to the inner over the shoulders except at the seam, which means it flaps about a lot in the wind. It would be easily solved by adding a bit of stitching there, and I've hacked mine with some extra lines of stitching which has improved matters considerably.
As for price, £150 is an awful lot of money for a vest top, but this is the kind of thing you can wear in a variety of different conditions so you'll get your money's worth out of it over time. It's surprisingly warm, very windproof and breathable. It's not waterproof but it works well with a hardshell jacket, so it's something that'll get dragged out of the drawer for both wet and dry rides in the winter. For the rest of the year it's a useful, packable layer to take the edge off early starts or late finishes, or just colder days.
We're seeing more insulated cycling kit as bikepacking influences road and gravel riding; a full insulated jacket is a nice thing to have on those really bitter days but something like this, that you can layer up with summer or winter gear, is more versatile, and the Polartec Alpha fabric is really impressive.
Warm, packable layer for changeable conditions or staying comfortable on long rides or tours
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road.cc test report
Make and model: PEdAL ED Tokaido Alpha Vest
Size tested: XL
Tell us what the product is for
PEdAL ED says: The Tokaido Vest, together with the Tokaido Jacket, is our best expression of versatility, which we were able to reach thank to many years of experience on the roads of Europe with the Transcontinental Race and on the trails of Kyrgyzstan with the Silk Road Mountain Race. Created in collaboration with Polartec®, this vest is made of their Alpha® fabric, a material which was originally developed for the U.S. Special Forces, as response to their need of an advanced insulating material for their combat uniforms. The Alpha® disposes of an active insulation mechanism that is able to regulate core body temperatures, during both dynamic and static activities. The Tokaido features fully reflective details, two big cargo back pockets and an inside pocket to pack it for adventure. The Tokaido Vest was tested on the roads and trails of Kyrgyzstan during the Silk Road Mountain Race, in the hardest environmental conditions ranging from 4.000mt high mountain passes to 40 degrees desertic lands.
A feedback by Joshua Rea, who tested Tokaido during the SRMR: 'I didn't have any race plan. How many KM, how many hours I should have ridden, when I should have slept. My focus was placed on being prepared for anykind of circumstances. A tent for shelter, a cooker for coffee and oats, music to harness the rage, podcasts to ease those lonely stretches. PEdALED were kind enough to hook me up with their new range of Polartec Alpha clothing, which was the saving grace when cold and snowstorms hit'.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
PEdAL ED lists:
POLARTEC® ALPHA® insulating fabric, Extremely lightweight & packable, Thermo-regulating and breathable, Self packable inner pocket
Just on the small size of normal.
£150 is a lot for a gilet, but it still represents decent value for money because it's very versatile. You can get a Polartec Alpha gilet for quite a lot less though.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Scrubbed up fine on a standard cool wash.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Warm, packable, versatile.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Flappy shoulders, pocket layout.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Polartec Alpha is an expensive fabric so no surprise it's a pricey gilet. Rapha's comparable Brevet gilet is £130, dhb has an Aeron gilet with Alpha for £100. So there are cheaper options.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's a really versatile bit of kit. It's expensive but you'll get your money's worth out of it over time. Would get an 8 if the flappy shoulders were addressed so I didn't have to get my sewing machine out...
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Merida Scultura
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.