First up, it makes sense to describe what the Fiandre Light No-Rain Top actually is – because ‘top’ is a little ambiguous. It’s basically a bit like a gilet with sleeves (Sportful describe is as “like a vest, only better”) as the majority of the protection is on the core and the sleeve are kept very light. It’s not a jersey as it doesn’t have pockets and is designed to be worn over an existing ensemble, and it’s not a jacket because, well, it’s not designed to offer the full-on protection of a jacket. Lightweight protection is its calling card.
If that makes the Fiandre sound like it sits in an awkward middle ground then it doesn’t. In reality, it’s something I’ve used consistently since the back-end last spring, through summer (though summer isn’t necessarily its forte), into autumn, right through winter and back into spring, so call this something of a long-term test.
The top is made from two proprietary fabrics. The first, dubbed WindShield 3L, is used on the front, shoulders and upper arms, while a No-Rain Light fabric is used on the rest (that’s essentially the back, and the forearms). There’s nothing in the way of insulation, other than that the Gore fabric will block the wind, but the Fiandre Light No-Rain Top is intended to be used as part of a layering system. Adjust your layers to find the goldilocks zone according to the weather conditions.
Both fabrics are water resistant. Sportful’s Fiandre range (which also includes a jacket and jersey, both of which offer heavier protection for cooler and wetter conditions) is inspired by the changeable weather of Flanders (Fiandre is Italian for Flanders) and that often means showers which quickly roll in and out, morning mist, and the kind of drizzle that hangs in the air. Sound familar? We get plenty of it in the UK, too.
Having already described what the Fiandre Light No-Rain Top is, it’s useful at this juncture to point out what it isn’t. It’s not a rain jacket. If it’s raining hard, or steadily for a prolonged period of time (over an hour, say) then you’ll require a tougher line defence that what the top can offer. What it will do, however, is provide lightweight wind and rain protection in a piece which still comfortably rolls up and fits in a jersey pocket, and without sacrificing breathability.
The Windshield fabric is also windproof. The material may be very thin and light, but it does a surprisingly good job at keeping a breeze out. It’s also used in strategic areas which directly face the wind, and works in partnership with the the lighter No-Rain fabric, which isn’t windproof and thus helps stop you overheating too quickly. The Windshield fabric remains breathable and allows for sufficient moisture transfer, unless you’re working particularly hard (on a climb, for example), when it’s better to use the full-length zip to let some air in to avoid any moisture build-up. It’s not as breathable as an open-weave polyester fabric (as you’d find on a short sleeve jersey, for example), but it strikes a very good balance between the weight of fabric, wind protection and breathability. There’s none of the boil in the bag feeling that some lightweight jackets quickly develop when the pace rises.
The Fiandre Light No-Rain Top’s low weight, packability and breathability means it will get plenty of use year-round. Of course, it’s better in some conditions than others, but in the UK this is a top which can potentially be called into action regardless of the season. In winter, I’ve used it as the first line of defence on particularly cold days, worn on top of a jacket or jersey to add an extra layer without adding too much bulk. Spring and autumn is where it is at its best, when there can still be a chill in the air (particularly in the morning), and, of course, the odd shower, and the top will provide more protection than a gilet on top of a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers. As for summer, you won’t reach for the top on warm days, but inevitably there are times in the UK when it’s downright murky out there in summer, with temperatures in the teens and rain in the air, and that’s when the top is a bone fide option on top of a jersey. I’ve also used it in the mountains (again, not on days when the sun’s beating down) and it’s spot on for chilly descents.
Aside from the fabrics, the Fiandre Light No-Rain Top is, well, light on features. The elasticated hem and cuffs provide a close fit, the zip is covered by a continuation of the Windshield fabric to stop the breeze sneaking in, and there are three reflective strips on the back. There are also zippered openings to provide access to jersey pockets, but I’ve rarely used them and find it easier just to hitch the top up because the fabric has enough stretch. By the way, if you’re wandering why the top doesn’t have pockets, then it’s because it’s designed to be used as an outer layer which you can easily take on and off as the conditions dictate (like a jacket or gilet, which rarely have pockets).
On to the fit, and Sportful have got it spot on. It’s close on the arms, which are a good length, and across the chest, with no significant bunching of material or anything flapping out in the wind. However, it’s not skin tight and is generous enough, and with enough stretch in the fabric, to work whether worn over a heavier winter jersey or a short sleeve summer jersey. The top is available in seven sizes from XS to XXXL, so you should find something that works for you.
As for the price, on the face of it the top’s not cheap given its low weight and relative lack of features, but this is all about the fabrics and the fit, and the value is in its versatility. Finally, the top is available in two colours: fluoro yellow and black. Our high-vis sample boosts visibility out on the road, but it does pick up dirt fairly easily which can be difficult to completely wash out, particularly when it comes to rear wheel spray.
Why use the Fiandre Light No-Rain Top instead of a gilet or lightweight jacket? A gilet will likely be one of the most-used items in a UK cyclist’s wardrobe – mine included – but there are times when you want something a little more, without needing a full-on jacket, and this fits the bill almost perfectly. Don’t expect it to keep you dry in a downpour (that’s when you will need a jacket) but do expect it to offer lightweight, windproof and water resistant protection, while maintaining an impressive level of breathability and with a top-notch fit.