If you ride to work in cycling gear, get a gilet. Its role is to keep the wind off your body without the weight, bulk or superfluous warmth of a jacket. You can wear one over a thick long-sleeved jersey in the depths of winter, or over a short-sleeved jersey for cool spring or summer starts; just add arm warmers if it's nippy.
A gilet provides a windproof barrier for your chest. So long as you keep moving briskly, it will usually keep you warm enough – if not necessarily dry. Few gilets will shrug off sustained rain. All will help keep the worst off if you're caught in a shower, particularly if the fabric has a water-repellant surface treatment. More expensive gilets may use a microporous membrane in the fabric for greater wind and rain protection.
Most gilets are made from lightweight polyester or nylon, just like windproof jackets. The difference is that the windproofing is focused on the front of the garment. To increase breathability and prevent overheating, the sides or back of a gilet may be made of mesh fabric. Some gilets have thin fleece on the inner face of the collar, which is cosy on cold days.
Design and fit
Look for a close cut, with an elasticated hem and arm holes. Loose, flapping fabric is annoying and admits draughts. The collar needs to be high and close to keep your neck warm and not scoop air. A full-length front zip will allow easy temperature regulation on the move. A prominent pull-tag makes it easier to use the tip. The zip itself needs a full-length flap behind to keep wind from getting in when it's fastened.
Black might look cool, but conspicuous colours such as yellow, red, orange, lime green, and pink can help you stand out in daylight. For night-time usage, reflective piping or patches are well worth having.
Most gilets are deliberately minimalist and do not have pockets, although a small zipped rear or chest pocket is handy for a door-key or a phone. Note that a gilet's elasticated hem makes it difficult to get at the rear pockets of a cycling jersey underneath. Some gilets have vents in the side or lower back to provide reach-through access to jersey pockets.
Weight and bulk
Gilets are not bodywarmers. They're not designed to insulate but to provide a windproof barrier. Because of that, they're lightweight, tipping the scales at around 100g. They pack down very small too, roughly to the size of your first. That's small enough for a cycling jersey pocket, so you don't have to deliberate about whether to take it or not – you can always carry a gilet, and then forget about it until you need it.
Here's a selection of gilets at different prices.
Polaris RBS Gilet
RBS stands for Really Bright Stuff. They're not kidding. This fluorescent yellow and orange gilet has prominent reflective strips and chevrons, making it resemble a hi-viz safety waistcoat. The RBS Gilet has the added benefits, compared to a safety vest, of being windproof, shower-resistant, and far more packable. It's made from a breathable micro-polyester fabric, with a tailored fit that's longer at the back for better coverage on the bike. Sizes: S-XXL.
Skylon is a lightweight nylon fabric that's treated to make it water resistant, giving it a slightly rubbery feel. It does a good job of keeping the wind off you too, while he back panel is mesh for better breathability. It's cut close enough for cycling, with silicone grippers at the hem and arm holes to keep them in place. There are small reflective logs front and rear. It's available in yellow, white, or black. Sizes: S-XXL.
Endura Wms Pakagilet
The name makes more sense when you discover that Endura produce a lightweight windproof from the same showerproof, ripstop polyester fabric called… the Pakajak. This is the women's version; a gent's is available. The back is mesh, vented so that you can reach jersey pockets. The zip has a storm flap to keep wind and rain out, and there's elastic at the neck as well as the hem and arm holes to keep out draughts. It's very packable too. Available in hi-viz pink, white, or black. Sizes: XS-SL.
Altura Night Vision Gilet
Another gilet that will consign your hi-viz waistcoat to the back of the wardrobe, this bright yellow top is covered with reflective trim, just like other items in the commuter-friendly Night Vision range. The front panels are windproof, while the main rear panel is stretch mesh. Hem and arm holes are elasticated, and the front zip has a 'garage' so you can tuck it away rather than have it tickle you under the chin. Sizes: S-XXL.
Solo RT Gilet
This gilet is unusual in being waterproof as well as windproof, at least from the front. It's made of a polyester membrane fabric and has a sealed zip. The side panels are mesh for ventilation, though it's perhaps better suited to inclement conditions, when you'll appreciate its weather resistance and its fleece-lined neck. The cut is slim, so it hugs the body. There are large reflective logos front and rear, and there's a small zipped pocket in the side. Sizes: XS-XL.
Gore Bike Wear Path Windstopper Active Shell Vest
A Windstopper membrane in the front of this gilet makes it exceptionally windproof and reasonably rain-resistant. The back is mostly mesh for ventilation. There are two external jersey-style rear pockets, plus side vents to access your actual jersey pockets. A small chest pocket is handy for valuables. There's some reflective piping front and rear. Despite its durable feel, at 120g it's not much bulkier than other gilets. Available in red, black, or white, and in a similar ladies' version Sizes: S-XXL.
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