Keeping your torso warm in the cold is essential and for that reason alone, it is always good to be able to reach for a gilet (or 'vest' as some manufacturers call them) if the weather conditions are looking a little ominous or your ride may necessitate effective heat regulation. The human body quickly reacts to cold, restricting blood flow to your extremities to protect the vital organs housed in your core. So keeping your core warm keeps the blood flowing around your body to your extremities - namely your feet, hands and head. The humble gilet, often overlooked in many cyclist's wardrobe, was put on this planet for one reason and one reason only: keeping your core cosy and warm.
The gilet is a versatile garment and one that offers a decent level of protection, incorporating a windproof/water resistant fabric on the front panels, will keep you warm when setting out in cold conditions and can be taken off when you are warmed up, but put back on if the temperature dips or a light rain shower threatens. For the cyclist heading into the mountain or high hills, even in summer, a gilet tucked away in a rear pocket or in the back of your bib shorts, is a vital accessory to ensure your torso does not rapidly reduce in temperature on descents. It's also a handy garment to pull on during mechanical or cafe stops.
The gilet, like the Hi-Vis from Rapha, is a versatile garment for all seasons.
Gilets vary in their thermal and windproof qualities, storage space and weight. Lightweight ones, which will neatly tuck away will provide a little more protection when you need it most and more thermal versions will provide that extra insulation on particularly bracing rides! All of this comes with a caveat - yes, gilets are versatile, but they are no compensation for dressing correctly for the conditions you might experience. Even the best gilet is no match for a decent winter thermal jacket or a dedicated waterproof jacket or hardshell if the weather is going to be particularly brutal!
Here are some of the best currently on the market which provide various levels of protection and features, at price points to suit all pockets.
dhb Wisp Windproof Gilet
Coming from Wiggle's in-house brand, dhb, the Wisp gilet comes in both a male and female version. It weighs nothing (65g for the women's medium tested) and scrunches up to the size of an energy bar, which made me doubt the 'windproof' capabilities in its name. I needn't have been concerned as it offers a level of protection from the wind and cold than belies its lightness. It can cope with as short, sharp shower, but I'm not going to pretend that this gilet can withstand anything other than light drizzle (or one of those irritating, quickly passing showers that does not warrant stopping in order to wrestle yourself into a rain jacket). Ostensibly for autumn/spring riding, this is such an affordable piece of kit and one that I can foresee using often - it stuffs down into a rear pocket and you forget it is there, but thankful that it is. I've yet to use it in the mountains during the summer months, but I know it will be there, stowed away, ready for the descents.
The colour is great too - so nice for a women's garment to have a funky colour that is not girly pink! The fuchsia is complimented by the blue zip - the latter is a nice flourish as dhb could so easily have opted for a black zip to match the elasticated sleeves and hem. This gilet is simplistic in design - there are no pockets, a couple of horizontal slits on the back aid ventilation and the e collar is reassuringly high and tight and has a zip cover. The are no fancy embellishments and, colour aside, the design is simple and classic - branding is kept to a minimum with just the hi-viz dhb logo on the chest and rear neckline and a hi-viz graphic on the rear hem. The fit is not figure hugging, but is slim, with a slightly higher, ergonomic cut on the front. The lightness of the fabric is quite forgiving and the elasticated sleeves ensure there is no flapping, especially when descending.
It seems wrong to find criticism in a garment that delivers so much at such a price, but access slits to the rear pockets of your jersey underneath would be an huge benefit and would not significantly impact on the functionality of the gilet. I would like to see a little more hi-viz detailing too, especially on the back. Although this contradicts my positive comments about the minimalist design, a couple of hi-viz strips on the back would provide a little more visibility in dimmer conditions. Saying that, the colour does rather scream out!
The dhb Wisp Windproof jersey comes in both a men's and women's version, priced at £27.99 (but currently available for £20.99, which is a steal for a garment that you will reach for often).
The women's version is available to buy online from Wiggle only in the fushsia with blue zip oly and in sizes 8-16. The men's version also available to buy online from Wiggle comes in a black (with white zip) and a smokey blue (with red zip) and is available in sizes ranging from XS to XL. A yellow fluro version is also available for both men and women, at the same price.
Shutt Lightweight Gilet
Shutt Velo Rapide is a young British company based in rural Oxfordshire, who are developing a natty line is well thought-out, stylish cycle wear, with a distinctive look and, as was evident with their Isobel Jersey, that performs admirably too. Their in-house designer, Lucy Gardner, was on hand at the Bike Show in London earlier this year to explain the design background of some of their new lines, including the Lightweight Gilet and it is clear that Shutt have put a great deal of thought into what features combine to make a gilet effective. This is a garment in which functionality has been artfully combined with style and performance.
There's a boldness to the Shutt Lightweight Gilet which I like - an emphatic quality to the design that lends it a certain robustness and suggests that this is a gilet that knows what its role is and that it can deliver! Take the (YKK) zip for example: it has a substantial feel to it which is further enhanced by the very effective detailing of the hi-viz strips that run down either side of it (beautifully crafted by the way) and the oversized zip cover is easy to locate, even when wearing heavier full fingered gloves - it's one of those little details that actually makes a big difference.
Likewise the mesh fabric side panels are not only there to provide better ventilation, but are also used to dictate the overall design - the panels flair out towards the hem and are edged either sided in hi-viz piping that provide excellent all round visibility as well as creating a V-shape design when the gilet is pulled on. Two very roomy, elasticated rear pockets provide plenty of storage and the neckline is edged in a fleecy material that is soft on the skin and helps to keep the wind out and your neck warm.
Shutt tend towards a more forgiving, generous cut, so if you are err towards more aerodynamic tailoring, then I suggest you drop down a size. According to the Shutt sizing, my 38" chest makes me almost borderline Medium/Large, but I was advised to drop down to a Small to achieve the snugger, racier fit that I prefer. For me this Small size was a slim fit, with no uncomfortable rubbing or chaffing, even when worn over a softshell jacket. It is not a bulky material - the gilet tested weighed in at a shade over 140g - and it folds up just about small enough to be stuffed into a rear pocket (though I would suggest keeping an elastic band or small bag handy).
It is not on the cheaper end of the scale, but the Shutt Lightweight Gilet is certainly knocking on the door of some pricier brands for quality, but at a far more attractive price point. Rapha, Castelli, be warned! It performs well, providing excellent protection for your torso against the wind and cold and a waterproof membrane will ensure that light rain showers will not impact on the heat of your core. Caught in a persistent downpour in this gilet, however, it was soon saturated. In fairness, this may have had as much to do with water ingress as the membranes ability to cope with sustained rainfall and road spray and anyway, a gilet is substitute for a decent rain jacket. Thermo-regulation is excellent too - the zip is very easy to locate and pull up and down and the large side panels provide the ventilation required if you find yourself overheating.
In short, a well thought out product, beautifully constructed with some clever design innovations combined with good fabric selection that ensures it performs very effectively in cooler conditions. A staple garment for both autumn/spring riding and milder winter days. Stylish too - equally at home on a club run or dashing to the shops!
The Shutt Lightweight Gilet costs £75 and is available in just the black version. It is a unisex design with sizes ranging from XS to XXL. More information can be found on the Shutt Velo Rapide website.
Gore Bike Wear Power Softshell Thermo Vest
Don't try to kid yourself that this is a gilet that you can fold up and stuff into the rear pocket of your winter jersey. At 280g (in medium) this is as bulky as gilets get, but the softshell material packs a great bit of thermal punch and worn over a winter jersey provides a reassuring warmth and cosiness. The fit is slim - the Gore Power range is aimed at the 'Ambitious' cyclist, which in Gore speak is a less racier cut than their Oxygen collection and the top of the range Xenon range - but get the sizing right and over a jersey or jacket the gilet is snug and beautifully tailored. (At 5'11" and 40" chest the Medium was spot on). The Gore softshell fabric provides excellent warmth, but breathability is high and it even provides a decent level of water resistance too.
Gore products are always well thought out and this is no exception. The snug fitting high collar is a blessing on cold mornings, and those of you who need your mobile device at close hand at all times will appreciate the addition of a waterproof pack within the zipped rear pocket. The zip pocket is combined with an open access pocket - perfect for storing gels or snacks.
It's hard to fault the functionality of this gilet, but there are some stylish touches too - the styling is kept to a minimum and the fluro green neck (in the red and the black versions) is cleverly picked out again in the rear pocket and the full length zip and in some of the stitching too. It's an attention to detail that may seem a little unnecessary but it does enhance the overall look. The overall styling is minimalist - the side panels neatly follow the contours of one's torso and the hi-viz detailing on the side panels, the piping on the upper chest and logo on the rear are understated and effective, though I would prefer to see a little more hi-viz fabric on the back of the gilet - the small hi-viz triangle is well positioned, but a tad on the small side.
The price tag is a heavy one, but you are paying for quality fabric selection and construction and a well thought out garment. If you are intending to ride through the winter when the temperatures are fluctuating around zero, then this is definitely a gilet worth considering, as it really will beef up the thermal protection of your core. The gilet is available for men only, though for women the similar Power Windstopper Vest utilises the slightly less bulky Active Shell fabric, which provides similar protection from colder conditions and wind, but with slightly less thermal properties.
The Power Windstopper Softshell Thermo Vest retails at £99.99 and likewise the Active Shell Lady Vest. The men's version is available to buy online from Wiggle so too is the women's version. Visit the Gore UK website for more details and stockists.
As the name suggests, this lightweight gilet, which comes in both a male and female version, packs right down so that it can be easily stashed away in a jersey rear pocket. The gilet even dispenses with rear pockets to cut down on material, opting instead for slits that allow access to your gels or fuel bars in your jersey pockets beneath. The cut is slim, the neck line is nicely high and the elasticated hems of the arms ensure that there is no flapping, so it ticks all the right boxes even at its competitive price point. There is a good array of colours too - though the ladies out there may feel a little aggrieved that the boys get one extra colour, whilst they have to settle for the hi-viz pink! Quibbles about the colour options aside, this is a great little gilet, which will even provide some protection from showers too, so definitely one to keep handy at all times!
The Women's Pakagilet, available in white, black and hi-viz pink, retails at £32.99 and is available in sizes from XS-XL. You can buy the women's version online from Chain Reaction.
The Men's version is the same price as the women's and is available in red, white, black and hi-viz yellow. Also available to buy online from Chain Reaction.
For more information on the pakagilet visit the Endura Sport website. Available to buy via Chain Reaction Cycles and other online retailers.
Assos IG FalkenZahn Gilet
You may need to have a bank balance the size of Lord Sugars' to fork out for the FalkenZahn Gilet from the Swiss manufacturer, but as the photo emphatically illustrates, when you can look this good, it's a price well worth paying!.
At a RRP of £180 the FalkenZahn is one of the most expensive gilets on the market, but the combination of textiles used are all highly technical - the gilet utilises Assos' RXQ fabric which provides excellent insulation for your core, but is also very stretchy so the snug race cut of this gilet does not feel overly tight if you get the sizing right. It's relatively lightweight, but a little too substantial for stowing away in a rear pocket, so this gilet, like the example from Gore above, is more the type that you would wear to compliment and extend the properties of a long sleeve jersey or, on milder days, a short sleeve plus arm warmers.
Comfortable, protective and breathable, the FalkenZahn ticks all the right boxes for riding in colder conditions. Assos would maintain that the gilet performs best when paired with an Assos undergarment (Lord Sugar is wearing the LS Skinfoil Winter Vest) but if you are happy to combine the distinctive Assos branding with garments from other manufacturers then it is one to consider . . . if the price doesn't scare you off!
The FalkenZahn Gilet comes is sizes XSto XL and also TIR (which is a wider cut XL). It is available in five colours: Black, Blue Calypso (as modelled by Lord Sugar), Red, White and Yellow.
Though the RRP is £179.99 you can buy it online from Wiggle for just £107.99 (at the time of writing). It's also available to buy online from Chain Reaction and Evans Cycles. You can visit Yellow Ltd to find other UK stockists too.
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