Rapha makes really pretty things. So pretty, in fact, that its bike apparel convinces me to put aside my mountain bike for my road bike. The British company knows how to make the details—from a silicone thigh gripper to a pink stripe down the back of a jersey—shine.
The prettiest item of theirs that I've seen in a long time is the new Souplesse Insulated Gilet, which is Euro bike speak for a fleece vest. It's a lovely, airy thing, with soft tufts of fabric—Polartec Alpha insulation—woven along the inside of the chest to hold in just the right amount of body heat. In back, two panels of stretchy material run from just below the shoulders to the hips to keep movement on the bars uninhibited.
True to Rapha's detail-honed heritage, all the little things are on point, too, from the reflective hit at the bottom of the middle pocket and the hidden, zippered storage—big enough for an iPhone or car keys—on the side. There's even an inspirational quote from Canyon-SRAM pro rider Alexis Ryan printed onto a patch stitched into the interior.
I anticipate wearing this vest more than any other item of bike clothing I own. It's good on chilly fall days when a long-sleeve jersey is just a hair too warm. It's also good for a little extra heat when temperatures plummet. And in the summer, I'll bring it along as an apple-size insurance policy against rain and wind. Even if you don't ride bikes, it would make a good Nordic skiing or hiking companion.
Like most Rapha items, it's also not cheap: $220, which is about $100 more than other high-end, non-insulated road gilets. But hey, the holidays are just around the corner, which means it's a good excuse to splurge on the women you love.