The Rapha Explore Lightweight Gilet sits in the ‘Explore’ brand’s range of products, which to my mind is just a little more mucky-minded subset of its Brevet collection. There are Gore-Tex smocks, down jackets and this featherweight gilet, designed to provide a bit of extra protection from the elements without adding any unnecessary bulk.
I’m always curious to see how products perform, but whether they match the marketing; in this case, the Explore Lightweight Gilet is pulled off as noticeably baggy garment, and worn over a t-shirt for a maximum #GravGrav casual vibe.
With this in mind, and despite being a regular ‘fit’ I went up for this review to see how it fared for big days out. A medium, my size for Rapha jackets, fit me with the cool tattoos, the tan and the moustache in Rapha’s marketing pictures, so a medium it was to be.
Does it deserve to get into our list of the best cycling gilets? In a bid to find out, I’ve used it for about 650km, including a large bike ride alongside the Rapha Brevet jersey, both with a jersey and just as a windproof layer over a T-shirt. Read on to see what I thought.
Design and aesthetics
The main selling point of the Explore Lightweight Gilet is its size and packability, so it makes sense to start there. It is a very lightweight bit of kit; at 54.4g, or two and a half chocolate digestives, it’s not going to bother anyone, even the most ardent toothbrush-sawing expeditionists. The whole thing is built from a gossamer-thin 25gsm ripstop nylon, double-layered at the collar and the lower contrast but otherwise a single thickness throughout.
In order to mirror the motifs of other items from both the Explore and Brevet collections, but without adding any bulk (save for several feet of cotton thread), four seams have run across the chest to insinuate the addition of stripes. It’s a well-thought-out touch and helps break up what is otherwise a slightly monolithic garment.
The collar is tall, but not elasticated. To keep the fit, and keep some of the wind out there, it can be cinched in using friction grippers rather than the traditional bulky toggle to fit with the spartan aesthetics. There is also a single pocket over the left hip, but this is more a stuff sack, to be honest. The underarms are elastic too it’s worth noting, but I hadn’t anywhere near troubling the diameter of the arm holes. The fit, regular as it is, is not more boxy than other gilets and wind jackets I’ve used. It’s longer in the front, with only a slight tail drop, and with straight sides too.
One other novel touch: The ubiquitous Rapha Easter egg label with some grandiose piece of cycling lore printed on sturdy plasticised fabric and removable for use as a tire boot. I removed it immediately for one of it annoying me and promptly stored it away somewhere safe (I completely lost it).
All things considered, I think it’s a good piece of kit, especially in the cheery dark sunshine yellow. The five casual after they’ve opened.
The first thing I want to address is the fit: If you’re used to racing then this is going to be a bit of a departure for you, even if you opt for your jersey size rather than your jacket size (more on that later). The longer front bunches up in the drops, which isn’t ideal when you’re aiming for speed.
In a medium I did find it a bit flappy, especially on high-speed descents where the shoulders would make a proper racket. This was definitely worse when wearing it with a jersey, as it could separate the two items. With a t-shirt, where the whole system is baggy, the flapping noise was less of an issue.
Without wishing to pre-empt my conclusion I don’t think this is an ideal gilet for use with a jersey. There are other superlight options out there that will fit better. The single-ended zip ment I struggled to access the contents of my jersey on the move, which was frustrating at times and sometimes forced to stop, a problem that would be exacerbated in a smaller size if anything.
However it was marvelous. No issues with access, and the flapping was reduced to acceptable levels (if you can’t really complain about flapping fabric).
The nylon, thin to the point of translucency, does not provide a surprising amount of protection from the elements. Wind chill is greatly reduced, not to nothing, but enough to be of value. When the mercury rises it can be a bit sweaty, but the same can be said of most windbreaker garments. When it gets chilly having the elasticated hem does not make a noticeable difference to the temperature, though it’s too fiddly and a mechanism to get up one handed, so you either need to stop or be confident enough riding no handed.
The party piece of this gilet is the weight and packability. The integrated stuff sack is probably because of its size is not aspirational. Unlike other garments, even ones from Rapha (Pro Team Shakedry jacket I’m looking at you!) Where stuffing away is an ordeal of such drudgery of a respectable lemon. If you’re confident enough you could do it while riding. Yes, it could be stuffed smaller, but it’ll get squashed further in-situ so there isn’t a pressing need for it to.
This isn’t a good option for wearing over a jersey; it’s too flappy and you can’t get into your pockets, and it’s too long in the front if you ride in the aero position – for this try the Rapha Brevet Gilet instead. However, it is excellent to use over baggies, where they are too expensive and cut too short.
If you’re into riding gravel in a t-shirt but want an emergency layer for a cool descent, or a hilltop lunch when it gets windy you can cram into a frame with ease then look no further. Likewise if you want to pack a little extra layer for your bike tour that’s going to take a little room but you can take the edge off a cool morning then it’s an excellent choice.
|Design and aesthetics||Good colours, subtle details, but could do with an elasticated collar and double zip||7/10|
|Thermal management||Keeps the wind off and the heat in, but the thin material isn’t as effective as others||8/10|
|Packability||It packs up extremely small, and crucially does so extremely easily||10/10|
|Comfort and fit||For use with a T-shirt, as marketed, it’s good, if a little flappy still at speed. Very comfy though.||8/10|
|Value||It’s a lot of money for 54g of nylon||7/10|