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: http://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).

Conclusion
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…

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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33 Responses to PBP Preparation: Reflective Vests and Rapha Jersey

  1. Keith Hearn says:

    I rather doubt that the PBP organizers will allow the Rapha vest to be used for PBP. The requirement for an EN1150 vest don’t come from the PBP organizers, they are due to a relatively new EU regulation requiring the EN1150 vests for anyone riding at night in a rural area. There’s not much the PBP folk can do.

    • My experience is that the rules appear very strict on paper, but on the road, as long as you are visible, you are OK… But the Rapha vest isn’t as visible as one would like.

    • I’ve never heard of that regulation. Do you have a source for that?

      I think it’s a shame PBP is making special vests compulsory. It’s a blame-the-victim mentality. A better idea would be if the police and the PBP people sent a press release to the local media, advising the public of the nightly race/rally/whatsit. It would be a great opportunity to talk to the public about road safety at night. After all, if you didn’t see the reflectors and lights of a PBP cyclist, you were likely going too fast anyway.

      • French traffic law has put all kinds of burdens on cyclists. When I asked why we saw several gropus of racers followed by cars with flashing lights on top, I was told that this was a new requirement. Obviously, this rule either did not apply to Ernest Csuka and his friends, or it was ignored by them. (Ernest had the attitude that if a traffic rule did not exist when he was 20, then it did not apply to him. This included red lights in Paris.)

      • Re. requiring cars with flashing lights:
        It’s a remarkably common perception that roads are primarily for cars. This ignores not only cyclists, but also bus passengers walking to rural bus stops, people on mopeds and motorcycles, equestrians, farm machines, etc. It might be good for safety (or not), but it’s bad for public health and bad for the environment.

      • Keith Hearn says:

        From the PBP regulations (http://www.paris-brest-paris.org/pbp2011/index2.php?lang=en&cat=randonnee&page=reglement):
        Article 9 : Equipment
        According to French traffic law, a reflective vest MUST be worn when riding at night (safety standard number EN1150).

        I didn’t dig through La Code de la Route to find the specific regulation, but if the PBP rules say it’s required by law, I doubt they’ll officially approve something that doesn’t satisfy the law. Now, as Jan has pointed out, what they write and what they enforce may be different…

        Incidentally, drivers are required to carry an EN1150 vest in their cars at all times and wear it if they have to stop by the road at night (e.g. for a flat tire). So most EN1150 vests are made for drivers, not cyclists. That’s why so many are lousy for cycling.

  2. In another forum, somebody recommended the Mavic Vision vest

    http://www.mavic.com/en/product/apparel/vests-jackets/men/Vision-Vest

    Mavic does not offer much information, but it may be more promising than the “official” vest, and it does “meet or exceed EN 1150.”

  3. Henry says:

    Jan how did the sportwool merino/synthetic blend compare with Woolistics lightweight all merino fabric? Is this the first merino/synthetic blend jersey you have tried? Did you find any advantages over quality 100% merino or high end 100% synthetic jerseys or was it the worst of both worlds when combined.

    • Yes, this is the first Merino/Polyester blend I have tried, and it did appear like the worst of both world. The Woolistic All-Merino jerseys, whether standard or lightweight, are a pleasure to wear, and even when I get off the bike, they aren’t uncomfortable. With the wool/Polyester blend, I could not wait to get the jersey off.

  4. AllanInPortland says:

    I’m partial to DIY with SOLAS tape, but there are many to choose from.

  5. Bill Russell says:

    I purchased the Mavic Vision vest; I’m pleased.

    • AllanInPortland says:

      I’m curious, does the vest have an EN1150 certification logo or statement on a sewn-in tag?

      If it does not, then it would seem to me there is no way of knowing whether any particular garment is actually “certified”. Instead, ride officials and police would simply have to look at what was being worn and decide to make an issue if it appeared to not meet the standard. Yes?

  6. “The Rapha vest’s pink color may be less suitable for riding in rural America, but in France, it should not raise any concerns.”

    : ))

    Having tried the Rapha women’s jersey and another manufacturer’s “sportwool” blend, I agree that it is the worst of both worlds. I like some of Rapha’s aesthetics, but wish they’d make a thin 100% merino version. For women it is even more difficult to find decent wool cycling jerseys than for men, and so far Ibex and Swobo seem to work best for me – though neither are perfect.

  7. kww says:

    Jan, your away photo in the post reveals that perhaps it would do well to have reflective tape on the hind leg panel of cycling shorts? It is nice to be in compliance, but true conspicuity is not quite aligned with safety standards yet…

  8. Jan-Olov Jansson says:

    Hi Jan
    I find a reflective vest in Decathlon for a couple weeks ago, in Bayonne. It was Btwin brand, EN-1150 certified, net on the back, small pocket. My conclusion of this vest: it is warm, takes some place, maybe too warm to use during the day as windvest.
    I was using it when I rode Raid Pyreneen Touriste 2011-07-03 to 2011-07-12.
    I also brought my windvest with me, our Swedish Randonneur windvests have been approved by ACP, as a reflective vest.

    Jan-Olov

  9. Looking at the Mavic Vision vest at this site

    http://www.realcyclist.com/roadbike/search.html?mv_session_id=S4H6Y4j

    it appears that it also doesn’t put much reflective material where
    vehicles approaching from behind actually can see it (especially when
    you ride in the drops). The shoulder stripe actually is higher than
    on the Rapha vest… leaving only the small reflective rectangle at
    the bottom.

    So the vest meets the guidelines, but it would be nice if it also did
    something useful! It’s too bad that so many cycling jackets/vests are
    designed to fit well and work well off the bike, rather than on the
    bike.

    • Henry says:

      It’s unfortunate that merino wool jersey makers feel it is inappropriate to put modern reflective material on jerseys as it spoils the “retro” attraction. Merino is a technical fabric very competitive or superior in function for many conditions with any synthetic technical jersey. As you updated the design of the Herse crank it would be great if Woolistic approached one or two models of jersey the same way.

    • William M. deRosset says:

      Dear Jan,

      The Mavic Vision vest I have has two vertical stripes (both front and rear) that run the length of the jacket in addition to the shoulder stripes, as well as a rear vertical center stripe on the lower third of the garment. It is a reasonably reflective garment, even in the drops.

      Best Regards,

      Will

      William M. deRosset
      Fort Collins, CO

  10. Ryan says:

    I like the Rapha brevet jersey and vest and have used them in two brevets so far.
    The jersey does seem a bit heavier than Rapha’s “Club” and “Country” jerseys. Must be all those pockets! I don’t like to carry much on my person either, so I didn’t even realize it had 6 pockets til I read your review.
    I like the “sportwool”, for me it really is the best of both worlds, especially in hot weather.
    I haven’t found the pink color to be an issue in rural CO, WY, and NM.
    It’s the bright “neon” pink like you see marking underground utilities at a construction site, NOT a feminine pink at all. I was able to refill my water bottles in a cowboy bar without getting beaten up ;-)

  11. Phil Miller says:

    Do the vests have to go through an EN bureaucratic approval process, or are the requirements plain enough that a PBP official can declare them met on the spot? Is there an opportunity for a quick on their feet jersey manufacturer here in the US to custom make a few?

  12. Chris Cullum says:

    I am disappointed the official PBP vest is a let down. I ordered one with my registration to make sure I comply with the regulations but I was hoping it would be a useful piece of kit as well.

    I’d be interested if anyone has found any other better solutions out there in addition to the Mavic vest that was mentioned.

  13. ol'grumpy says:

    I haven’t found my vest to be the huge letdown that folks are making it out to be. Yeah it is a bit bulky, but I can still layer underneath it fine, and it is not too bulky when on the bike either. I’ve worn it on two brevets so far. It makes me more visible. I will wear it for a couple of nights on what I am sure is going to be a great ride. After that, I may keep it in a pocket in my bag for when it gets dark or very foggy. If I had a shorter or larger torso, my opinion might be different. In my opinion though, it is not that big of a deal, and it is only 35 bucks. Sheesh.

    • You make a good point: The vest isn’t a huge let-down, and it’ll work fine for most of us. Even so, many of us try to optimize our equipment, and the requirement to wear a vest that doesn’t work all that well is a little unhappy. With other components, such as lights, we have options, and everybody can find something that meets the requirements. Most of us have reflective clothing that works very well, but doesn’t meet the rules. Now we are looking to find reflective clothing that meets the letter of the rules, but may not work as well on the road.

      • ol'grumpy says:

        I too agree that it is frustrating to have this dropped in our laps at more or less the last minute. It is annoying that the fit is poor and there are no good alternatives out there that comply with the French road laws. But again these are annoyances, and not “game changers”. Maybe for next time someone can commission a good multi size reflective windvest for an affordable price. For now though, we just need to deal with it and not get so caught up on this small detail. I doubt that this vest is going to cause anyone to not be able to do PBP, or to significantly increase someones ride time. I hope to not eat my words on this. See you all out there.

      • My experiences with the SIR yellow vest on the recent Rocky Mountain high country 1200 are: The breath-ability is poor, I got hot and clammy during the first day 04:00 start ride. Drivers could see me during the 12 mile mountain descent during pouring rain after sunset into Steamboat. Drivers could see me during the ride with 02:00 start into dense fog for almost 3 hours. i will trade the discomfort for visibility. With more time, I will research and find a more complete solution.

      • Chris Cullum says:

        I agree. I have a drawers full of substandard cycleclothing already. If you’re spending long periods on the bike at a relatively high activity level it’s worth finding items that are optimized. I have been quite happy with most of the Gore Bike Wear clothing that I have. Perhaps they could be convinced to produce a conforming visibility vest. Of course it will be too late for PBP but I would still buy one.

  14. Alexander says:

    Some questions:
    1. Will the yellow reflective band stripes you I have you seen wearing on different photos meet the regulations?
    2. I have thought of using the PBP vest as a wind and spray rain protection and add arm warmers if necessary + bring a real waterprove jacket for heavy rain. If I try Nikwax on the vest,whats your bet: will that work?
    3. Observation from brevets: here in Germany they sell EN reflective vests for motorists for as little as 3 Dollars. While they are not exactly aerodynamic they are by far the most visible particularly if you size them big, because then the main reflective stripe runs over your lower back. You can see that as far as 400 m when it reflects my bike light.
    4. Might it work to just cut out most of the faric of the offical vest?

    Thanks!

    @Rapha: At least the jersey looks good.
    But in fact I am very pleased with my Icebreaker GT as well as with my IBEX 100% Merino Jerseys. My gues is that for the style fraction it might be a factor that 100% Merino Jerseys kind of loose their shape , particularly if you put something into the pockets that is more heavy than almost nothing

  15. cept says:

    I have a Rapha classic jersey — I think it’s the best jersey I’ve ever worn. Fits nice and snug, does not loose it’s shape like 100% merino, keeps my temps even, and is simply comfortable on the bike. For me, I think the sportwool blend + polyester is the best of both worlds.

    This is all personal preference, of course. Clothing works for some, but not all.

  16. Errin says:

    Can you tell me where to find your review on the Rapha Bib Shorts. In the post above it says Vol. 9 No. 2, but I can’t seem to find it. Thanks.

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