PBP Preparation: Reflective Vests and Rapha Jersey

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Testing and Tech

PBP Preparation: Reflective Vests and Rapha Jersey

Rapha recently introduced their “Paris-Brest-Paris Jersey.” It is designed specifically for randonneuring, and as a bonus, it comes with a reflective vest. The vest has generated considerable interest among randonneurs…
Randonneuring requires riding at night. To improve rider safety, randonneuring rules not only require lights, but also reflective clothing. Reflective vests are a good idea also for all other cyclists who ride at night.
At the PBP equipment check, riders will have to show that their lights are operable, that they have spare batteries if they use battery-powered lights, and that they have an EN-approved reflective vest. This last requirement has changed recently, and most of the reflective clothing that riders have been using does not meet the new EN standard 1150. As a result, many randonneurs are looking for a new reflective vest to take to PBP.
At the check-in for PBP, the organizers will sell the “official” PBP vest that meets the requirements (right in photo above). Our club ordered these vests this spring, so I got to try it before arriving in Paris. In addition, Rapha sent me a jersey and their vest (left in photo above) for a test.
Official PBP Vest
Cost: $ 35
Size tested: Small
Weight: 183 g
Country of manufacture: not indicated
Availability: PBP check-in

The “official” vest is a substantial garment made from polyester, with numerous reflective stripes glued and sewn on. When I did not wear it, the vest took up more space in my handlebar bag than my (admittedly very small) raincoat. At 183 g, it is relatively heavy.
The sizing runs large. I usually wear Medium cycling jerseys, but a size Small vest fit me well even with two wool jerseys underneath. I wore the vest during our 600 km brevet. The night was cool, but not cold, and the vest provided a little additional insulation. The vest was well-fitted and did not flap much even during high-speed descents. The vest absorbs significant amounts of water when riding in the rain. Randonneurs from the American South have reported that the vest got soaked in sweat during hot nights on the bike, making it uncomfortable to wear.
While the “official” vests reflects well and meets the PBP rules, its bulkiness, heavy weight, and limited use in a layering system makes this vest a relatively poor choice for randonneurs.
Rapha Paris-Brest-Paris Jersey and Vest
Cost: $ 205 (registered PBP entrants get a 20% discount after they e-mail their registration confirmation)
Size tested: Medium
Weight: 293 g (jersey)/73 g (vest)
Country of manufacture: China
Availability: www.rapha.cc

Rapha recently introduced their PBP jersey, which comes with a “complimentary” reflective “gilet.” I really liked Rapha’s bib shorts (Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 9, No. 3), so I had high expectations for the jersey.
The “Paris-Brest-Paris” jersey has as many features as you’d expect from a cycling jersey for James Bond. Two of its 6 pockets are hidden, and there are multiple zippers. I carry my luggage in a handlebar bag, so these features are of  little use for me. The jersey is relatively heavy at 293 g. (A “racing” Polyester jersey weighs 143 g.)
On the road, the Medium jersey did not fit very well. I found that its cut was restrictive over my shoulders, and the fabric bunched up under my armpits. The 60% Polyester/40% Wool fabric felt clammy once I started to sweat, even though it was not very hot. The jersey features a lined pocket on the left side of the chest, which blocked the air circulating through the jersey on one side only.
Contrasting with the feature-laden jersey, Rapha’s reflective vest uses a minimalist design. It is built like a “windbreaker” vest with ample mesh panels on the sides and back. The vest folds into the space of a small apple, and it weighs just 73 g. The Rapha vest does not meet the EN standard, but some riders have suggested asking whether it could be used in PBP. (It is unfortunate that Rapha did not consult with the PBP organizers to make their PBP vest meet the new rules.)
The Rapha vest’s pink color may be less suitable for riding in rural America, but in France, it should not raise any concerns. The Medium size fit me well. In the rain, the vest does not absorb significant amounts of moisture. My only concern is the placement of the reflective material. This consists of a black and a white stripe on the front and back. The stripes on the back are placed so high that they are barely visible on a rider who is riding in the drops (see photo below). The black Rapha logo also is reflective. However, the black reflective material is not very effective (see photo at the top of this post).

The official PBP vest offers good reflectivity, but its bulk and non-technical fabric make it a less appealing choice. On the plus side, it is affordable.
The Rapha reflective vest is a lightweight performance garment with great potential. Unfortunately, it falls short on its main purpose, which is to increase the rider’s visibility. Only the white stripe offers good reflectivity, and it is attached too high for optimum visibility from behind. The black reflective material is not very effective. And you have to buy the jersey to get the vest.
I still haven’t found the ideal vest, and it’s a disadvantage to have so little time before the event to figure it out. Here are the current PBP rules. The ideal vest would use Rapha’s minimalist design with the “official” vests reflective materials. Come to think of it, I might be able to sew some of the “EN-approved” reflective material onto the Rapha vest…

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