The Bike List

Rapha Men’s Classic Wind Jacket £170

Tested by Oli Laverack, tester for The Bike List

With mile upon mile of low-lying agricultural land that is incredibly flat and mostly featureless, the Fenlands are arguably one of the least inspiring places to cycle in the UK. Although to some this unremarkable terrain might sound like a cyclist's worst nightmare, it does however make for one of the best testing grounds in the country for Rapha's latest version of their Classic Wind Jacket. The reason is simple, there are few places, without climbing up a mountain, that are so exposed with often no or little shelter from the fierce and unrelenting winds that are all too common in this region.

So, it was with much excitement that I first unpacked the chartreuse coloured Rapha Classic Wind Jacket; also available in orange and black. When taking the jacket out of it's fancy soft opaque plastic bag what struck me the most was how thin the breathable, windproof nylon fabric was. Placing the jacket on The Bike List scales I was initially sceptical about how good a jacket that only weighs 165g (Men's size medium) could be. It's not that having a wealth of fabric is better necessarily but that with the jacket being so wafer thin I couldn't see how it could offer much resistance to cold breezes or more importantly the sort of howling winds that I'm regularly subjected to on my training rides. So was this going to be one of those less is more situations or had Rapha got it completely wrong?

Other than a few local 30 mile training rides, the first major test of this jacket was this year's 160 mile Tour of Flanders sportive. The leg-breaking cobbled classic served up early morning temperatures that started at -1.5 deg C, rose to around 5 deg C and then crept back down again over the course of our 10 hour ride. I was hesitant about wearing the Classic Wind Jacket which I'd combined with ¾ bib shorts, Rapha's new Classic Jersey, a base layer and Rapha's merino arm warmers for fear of being cold on such a long ride. Whilst moving this combination of layers kept me just warm enough but at feed stations when we'd stopped for a few minutes I started to feel the cold so these temperatures were for me the limit of what I could get away with. Whilst on the move though, especially whilst hammering along the flat and fast roads amongst a peloton the Classic Wind Jacket did an admirable job of keeping out the chilling winds that would have compromised many of the other jackets in my wardrobe. The sheer slenderness of the material also means that this jacket does allow a reasonable amount of moisture out when you're working hard, despite being well sealed from any potential ventilation areas such as the neck, hem and cuffs.

The second major test for this jacket came on another famous cobbled classic a week later on the 170km Paris-Roubaix challenge. Fortunately this time the temperature was a few degrees higher which meant that I could wear exactly the same kit as before but this time I was able to unzip the top of the jacket to let in some cool air at times when I was over-heating. And it was on this ride that I encountered an unavoidable issue of wearing a chartreuse-coloured jacket. I punctured on three separate occasions, each time turning the bike over to release the rear wheel and change the tube. Without realising it I managed to get some grease on the sleeve and the front of the jacket which is more annoying than anything and if you've just shelled out £170 for this jacket then you'd be fully entitled to expel some expletives, as I did at this point. Fortunately the French on-lookers had no idea what I was saying so no harm was done to inter-continental relations by me on that day.

On the subject of colour I personally think the chartreuse, named after the French liqueur made by Carthusian Monks, is a refreshing change from the standard Fluorescent yellow that most high-viz jackets are made with. It also helps this jacket look a bit less like a workman's safety vest and more like a stylish cycling garment, which it is. In addition to this, one of the aspects that I liked about this jacket, even before trying it on, was the amount of reflective piping and material it has. My only consistent gripe with Rapha kit and kit from many other manufacturers is that it often lacks what I would consider to be enough high-viz piping, markings or logos etc. To me it's like designing a car without lights so you can only use it in the day. So, I was really pleased to see that not only is the wind jacket available in two really bright colours but it also has well-placed reflective material down both arms, surrounding the zip pocket at the front and both the Rapha logos on the rear and neck are reflective. The reflective materials available to manufacturers now are much more subtle and tasteful so they don't have to compromise the look of a garment as Rapha have demonstrated on this jacket. Ever since having been knocked off my bike a few years ago and rolling across the bonnet of a car, being seen has become a bigger priority for me and I make it my responsibility to do as much as I can. For me this jacket hits that 'be seen' requirement right on the nose, even giving me a bit of extra confidence whilst on busy, rush hour rides.

So, the big question that still needs answering is 'what is the fit like and how does the jacket perform?' Well, starting with the fit I've found the Classic Wind Jacket to be very similar in size to other Rapha items I've tried, very snug fitting with a tailored like feel. Although my arms and shoulders aren't particularly big, the jacket gives a snug fit when leant over the drops and a slight stretch in the fabric allows any areas that are really snug to feel comfortable rather than tight. The collar is also a great fit in that it offers plenty of protection without being obtrusive. The arms are a perfect fit as there is little excess fabric to flap around making the jacket nice and streamlined and also the length for my slightly longer than average arms is perfect. The Lycra cuffs offer a windproof seal that prevents any cold air rushing up your arms. Although the fit of the top half of the jacket is superb, my 6 foot 2 frame would benefit from the hem and drop tail being an inch of two longer. I suspect that this is something anyone 6 foot and under probably won't find an issue but if like me you are tall and thin then this is something to bear in mind. One other small issue I experienced with this jacket when it was still brand new was that every time I zipped the jacket up with one hand whilst on the bike the zip would get stuck near the top where the 'reverse coil' starts. I've since folded that part of the jacket back and this has stopped being an issue but I wonder if a single stitch on that part of the jacket would prevent this being a problem to begin with.

In terms of performance I can only say good things about Rapha's Classic Wind Jacket. I've been glad of it throughout March and April as the winds have been particularly blustery and strong this year. Those very same unpleasant riding conditions have allowed me to test this jacket in a number of extremes. After around 500 tough miles my verdict of this jacket is that it has performed brilliantly on every mile. As well as blocking the wind in all the obvious places Rapha's Classic Wind Jacket excels at keeping out the wind and chill from the areas that not all jackets get right. Specifically the collar, cuffs and hem. Its versatile weight and size mean it can be stowed away easily in a jersey pocket making it an ideal back-up layer for those days when conditions are un-predictable or for fast descents down alpine passes when the cool air can be extremely chilly. It's also a great high-viz commuter option for rush hour cycle rides. The Classic Wind Jacket has also been given a water-repellent treatment which means it'll also save you from the worst of any showers that you might encounter. The breathability of this jacket is good and I'd personally prefer to use it during light rain rather than put on a waterproof as generally they don't allow you to breathe meaning you very quickly get wet from your own sweat.

Other features that are worth mentioning are the offset zip and chin guard which apart from looking great prevent the zip from catching your chin whilst riding. The adjustable friction locks on the waist cord also help create a super snug fit and keep the warm air in and cold air out. Finally the zip pocket on the front is a useful addition that conveniently happens to fit my HTC Desire HD so should also easily accommodate iPhones and other similarly-sized smart phones.

So finally we come to the all important subject of price. At £170 the Rapha Classic Wind jacket is far from cheap but in this case the end product is greater than the sum of its parts and the attention to detail, fit, general quality and material used warrant the price.

At a glance

Verdict A very versatile, highly visible, snug fitting, lightweight jacket ideal for fast alpine descents, the UK Fens and other very windy areas. In the case of this jacket, less is definitely more.
Value
Performance

Rapha says:

The Rapha Wind Jacket is designed for temperate cycling conditions, cool morning starts, descents and sudden showers. The four-way-stretch fabric is extremely lightweight and at just 165g (medium size), it packs down small enough to fit into a jersey pocket.

Key features:

  • Lightweight and breathable fabric with windproof coating, water-repellent treatment and four-way stretch
  • Offset zip with reverse coil and chin guard
  • Long-cut back for bike position
  • Dropped tail stitched to prevent the jacket flapping
  • Easy-adjust friction locks on the waistcord
  • Wear-resistant Lycra cuffs with windproof seal
  • Taped shoulder seams
  • Reflective stripes on the sleeves for visibility
  • Reflective Rapha logo on the lower back and collar
  • Zipped valuables pocket

Tech spec:

Fabric

Breathable, windproof nylon (100%)

Features

  • Packs small enough to fit in a cycling jersey pocket.
  • Windproof to prevent chills.
  • Water resistant.
  • Reflective stripes for better visibility.
  • Ergonomic sleeves for enhanced fit.

Care instructions

  • Machine wash cool 30°
  • Do not tumble dry
  • Do not bleach
  • Do not dry clean
  • Cool iron: 1 dot

Sizing: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL

Supplier: Rapha, +44 (0)20 7 485 5000, rapha.cc