Long-distance rides pose many challenges, not least in deciding what to take with you. Spending extended time in the saddle means you could face all kinds of conditions, and a range of temperatures. The more versatile your clothing, the less you need to pack, and some form of lightweight protection can be essential.
When developing the new Brevet range, Rapha designers searched for a fabric to use in an insulated gilet that delivered warmth without weight, and could be packed down to a small, stowable size. Traditionally, insulating layers and outdoor jackets are made using down feathers. Despite providing unparalleled warmth, down is a loose material that requires pockets to hold the feathers in place, and heavy, treated fabrics to keep them secure. It also becomes incredibly heavy when wet – not ideal if you’re facing changeable weather or producing a lot of sweat.
“If you’re riding in the desert, it’s obviously going to be hot. But the temperature can drop a huge amount during the night, and the same goes for changes in altitude. The growing trend in bike packing and adventure riding requires durable, versatile products that can be ridden hard but also keep you warm when the riding day ends.” said Graeme Raeburn, lead designer – product innovation at Rapha.
“We found a modern synthetic insulation that allows us to provide just that. It’s easy to work with and, more importantly, has hydrophobic properties so it won’t absorb moisture in the same way natural downs will. It also dries extremely quickly. Along with the rest of our Brevet collection, it’s durable, versatile and packable.”
The synthetic insulation, made by American fabric producer Polartec, was first developed for the US Special Forces to be used in combat uniforms. They requested a fabric that was versatile enough to eliminate the need for shedding layers during activity, by providing warmth and breathability at the same time as being lightweight.
Karen Whittier, Polartec’s insulation product manager, said: “The Special Operations Command came to Polartec for an insulation that matched the start-stop nature of combat, and performed in the extreme temperatures of mountainous terrain. Polartec Alpha was engineered as an active insulation that regulates core body temperatures during both dynamic and static activities. The adaptive breathability helps eliminate the need of shedding or adding layers while on the move, making it ideal for cycling.
“By placing patented low density fibres between air permeable fabric layers, we created a more efficient product for regulating warmth and transferring moisture. The fabric is highly compressible, made with a stable core of lofted knit fibres that prevents fibre migration and keeps a uniform consistency, even after heavy wear and repeated laundering.”
In the final stages of product testing, Ultan Coyle (pictured above), designer at Rapha, wore the Brevet Insulated Gilet during the 2015 Transcontinental Race. A 4,000km, non-stop test of endurance from Belgium to Turkey, the race is arguably one of the most demanding competitions for both rider and clothing – making it the perfect proving ground for new products.
“I generally put it on at night, and would wear it right through until the morning. It performed to very low temperatures, and the reflective details offered peace of mind on dark unlit roads”, said Ultan, who finished the race in fourth place out of 172 starters.
“At the end of a long day, when you’ve worn out your body and you’re hungry, the gilet provides a level of comfort that you wouldn’t get from other lightweight layers – it’s like a comfort blanket. It’s also really quick to stow, either rolled up in its own loop, or simply stuffed up your jersey.”
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