This post may contain affiliate links, which help to keep Discerning Cyclist rolling. Learn more.
Let me tell you about Edgware Road, one of London’s longest roads.
You might know about it because at one end you find Marble Arch or perhaps because you’ve visited one of the many Arabic restaurants that can be found along its considerable length.
My primary acquaintance with it, however, is that it forms a major part of my commute.
While the evenings spent eating fatayers, shawarmas and kebabs on its pavements are charming, the commute along it tends to be anything but.
A confluence of several bus routes, half the capital’s black cabs and a plethora of other vehicles, when combined with the many traffic lights and dodgy junctions, make it a rather dangerous commute.
Whilst I am prepared to meet my Maker, I’m sure my family would rather that that rendezvous wasn’t expedited at the hands (or indeed the bumper) of a London cabbie.
As such, one of my primary considerations with my commuting attire is that it is highly visible. The other primary consideration whilst commuting is breathability.
There can scarcely be a greater feeling than perfectly hitting the run of green lights but at times this requires cycling reasonably briskly. This euphoria of getting this prize run is somewhat muted by the awful sweatiness that can sometimes ensue.
On the road, visibility and breathability are paramount and the jacket must also perform in the variety of weather conditions that any cycle commuter will face.
Now let me tell you about Lecture Hall 164, where my commute finishes.
A place that favours quite different virtues to Edgware Road.
Not only is the lecture theatre quite shallow (meaning that everyone can see you enter) but my Thermodynamics lecturer also has a proclivity of picking on people in my area of the hall (and I can’t readily provide the answers he is looking for).
This means that I want to remain relatively unnoticed, so a jacket that seems to be a sartorial embodiment of a collapsed star just wouldn’t be helpful in this environment. Neither would a jacket that is too bulky to pack or one that leaves you hot and bothered, which would only serve to compound the unpleasantness of early morning lectures. My commuting clothes must somehow suit both noisy London roads and quiet lecture theatres.
This is the balance that British cycling giant Rapha has tried to strike with their Commuter Lightweight Jacket. They brand it as “A highly breathable and visible jacket for commuting in changeable conditions”. It weighs in at £80 and comes in a variety of colours and sizes.
Rapha Commuter Lightweight Jacket: Features
On the bike, this jacket does the job very well.
It has a remarkably lightweight breathable build that is very conducive to cycling. The cut of this jacket lands right in the Goldilocks Zone: enough space to wear a jumper underneath if necessary; not so much room that there is an excess which inflates à-la-Michelin man whenever you move.
One of my favourite features is the mesh yoke that Rapha have added to the shoulders and back. This increased breathability is welcome at any time but very much comes into its own when wearing a backpack. This helps avoid that horrible sweat patch – much appreciated by whoever sits next to me in lectures.
This jacket also has many features to help increase visibility on the road.
On the back there is a reflective pixel print and also what Rapha calls a ‘commuter dot’. I think the rest of us would say that on the back there are a load of highly reflective dots and then one big uber-reflective one. These are relatively inconspicuous when walking around (my mum hadn’t noticed they were there) but when light falls on them they are impressively conspicuous. What’s more Rapha have engaged common sense and put the majority of these features below the proverbial backpack line so that you can carry baggage and still be seen.
One of Rapha’s hallmarks is their attention to detail.
Not only have they added a reflective portion to the cuff, the designers have also made sure that this sits on the back side of the arm so it is very obvious when indicating via hand signal. In case these weren’t sufficient, there is also a reflective grosgrain on the inner placket. For those of you who like me aren’t entirely familiar with Rapha-speak, this means there is another reflective strip just behind the zip that becomes visible if you don’t have the zip all the way up. There is also more reflective trimming on the hood and hem.
Any commuter knows that their gear has to prepare them for the myriad weather conditions faced. Those of us who cycle in temperate climates such as the UK know how quickly the conditions can change.
This jacket claims to be windproof and water resistant. When tested in fairly strong wind, this jacket did a good job of keeping it out, due to both the fabric choice and the snugness of fit around the cuffs. Rapha have chosen to optimise breathability and so omitting full waterproofness is one of the sacrifices made to accommodate this.
The jacket is branded as water resistant and in testing it was found that it dealt very well with anything up to ‘medium showers’, the water beading nicely on the surface and keeping me warm and dry. However in anything heavier than ‘medium showers’, one of the many waterproof jackets here would be a better clothing option.
It is important to mention, however, that because of this breathability, lots of the ‘internal wetness’ that sometimes comes hand in hand with waterproofness is thankfully very much avoided by this jacket. In short, this is a comfortable jacket to commute in, in a wide variety of meteorological conditions.
The hood, as well as fitting snugly around the head so as to minimise wind that finds its way in, also fits very well under a helmet so you can actually use it while riding (unlike many other hooded cycling jackets). It also folds down and can be secured by poppers if you want to ride hoodless. On the front of the jacket there are two quite spacious concealed zipped pockets with stay-down pullers.
All in all, this jacket performs admirably on the bike, keeping you visible, breathable and comfortable.
The Best Urban Cycling Jacket for Commuting?
When this jacket enters the domain of the lecture hall or indeed anytime off the bike, further nifty features also come into effect.
It looks relatively inconspicuous off the bike (avoiding that collapsed star look) and if you didn’t want to wear it, the whole jacket very nicely packs away into a stuff sack woven inside the front pocket. Rapha show in a video how to pack it away into the smallest possible space, however it does seem to require black-belt level origami skills to be able to do so. For one who has not been trained in the ways of an origamist (like me – and I suspect most of you), the packed jacket has roughly the same uncompressed bulk (or lack thereof) as a standard coke can, a well-known scientific measure. In other words it packs down small.
It’s also impressively light – so slender that my mum refused to believe there was a jacket in the package that it came in. The packet also fits through the letterbox as an added bonus, though I guess most of us are at home quite a lot now.
One of my personal pet peeves is how otherwise sleek clothing seem to have the most irritating inside tags and labels and loops whose sole purpose seems to be to leave their mark on the back of your neck. I also find it borderline criminal when people hang their very nice coats on hooks by the hood, at which point they may as well punch a hole in the hood themselves, and save the rest of us having nowhere to hang our items. Rapha have avoided both of these unpleasant realities. They have an integrated hanger loop (in normal speak it’s ‘elastic’ and sits snug against the back of the coat) so you have somewhere to hang your coat sociably and also have a chafe-free neck.
As well as the sleek on-the-bike functionality, this jacket also works well off the bike. It’s discrete enough if you want to wear it but also packs away very compactly if you don’t. Rapha have designed it to be used in a variety of conditions and function well in all of them. I can’t answer for every single one, but rest assured, this jacket will be making many appearances both on Edgeware Road and in Lecture Theatre 164.
The Rapha Lightweight Commuter Jacket is available for £80. It comes in five colours: “dark yellow” (pictured – it’s orange really), yellow, pink, black, navy and dark olive.