IT’S NOT every day that you get asked to review a winter jacket that costs as much as your second-hand groupset, so you can imagine that we pretty much bit off Le Col’s hand when they asked us to take a look at their gold standard HC Winter Jacket.
In case you’re wondering what ‘HC’ stands for, then it’s ‘hors catégorie’. It’s a French term used in stage races to designate a climb that is ‘beyond categorization’ and the £300 price tag – like many of the cols in many of the world tour races – seems pretty steep at first glance.
Being typical northerners, it’s pretty hard to ignore that hefty price tag until you look under the hood, so to speak. It’s only then you start realised this winter jacket could soon become a very sound investment.
OK, it’s going to set you back a few bob for the initial purchase – no doubt about that. However, we’re pretty convinced that within the short space of a few months, more active riders that prefer training outdoors will have gotten more than their money’s worth out of the HC Winter Jacket.
Let’s look at this logically. Now, we all of have a rain cape, right? Well, they can cost anything from £50 to £100 depending on what you’re after in terms of quality and performance.
Same thing with your run-of-the-mill winter jacket, which traditionally are usually made of heavy material with that fleece stuff on the inside. Agreed? Well, those are anything between £60 to £200.
Add into the mix some sort of wind-proof jacket – remember, there is no such thing as the wrong conditions; only the wrong clothing – and you’re easily looking at upwards of £300 for three items that only see a fraction of use compared to their overall price with all of this depending on that day’s particular weather.
Now, it’s a pretty simple idea to combine all three elements into a single jacket, but incredibly hard to pull off a balance between all of them and still make it functional. Thankfully, Le Col has former British pro Yanto Barker at the helm and he certainly isn’t a stranger to the varying weather conditions here in the UK.
With that in mind, it kind of makes sense the company would want to throw all their resources and technology at the HC Winter Jacket. Let’s face facts – the weather in this country doesn’t stay too pleasant for any great deal of time. Our climate consists of mainly rain, wind and cold conditions, then some more rain. Whenever we do get nice weather, it’s not for too long. And it usually rains.
In the past, we’ve reviewed Le Col’s foul weather jersey, which is very similar to the jacket and a piece of kit that’s first on our list for this time of year. Although it’s a simple design, it’s packed full of features.
Same goes for the HC Winter Jacket. One difference, though – it’s been rammed full of every different bit of current kit-tech (is that even a word?) to make it Le Col’s top-of-the-range and gold standard jacket. Think of it like a one-stop-shop jacket for winter, autumn and the typically cold, rainy days in Britain.
Le Col’s HC Winter Jacket’s main fabric is a Schoeller-Dynamic ‘Storm Shield’ fabric – try saying that after a few drinks – with a Windtex membrane, which makes it not only windproof, water-repellent and waterproof, but thanks to the Windtex membrane it also protects and maintains warmth at the same time.
“We chose this leading technical fabric because it’s important to stop wind and rain getting in and cooling your core body temperature as you ride,” explained Yanto. “At the same time, it needs to allow moisture and heat to escape to eliminate sweat build up and the subsequent chill that follows.”
When we got our hands of the HC jacket, it was a beautiful autumnal morning in West Lancashire. Temperature-wise, it was hovering around three-degrees Celsius but the sun was shinning and there was the usual wind normally expected for the North West.
Having quickly read the literature on the HC Jacket, I opted for a single thermal base-layer. Nothing fancy or over the top, just you bog-standard sports store thermal. My theory was that I would be trying to keep a quick pace, so I wouldn’t need to much in the way of layers if the boasts about its thermal properties are true.
Sure enough, it did the job. I wasn’t too cold and I didn’t over-heat. Given that the recommended temperature range is from -10 to 12+, this was about right. Even better, I didn’t feel cold when I zipped the jacket back up and started the return leg home from the cafe. Why? Well, apparently, it’s all down to the fabric being thinner and lighter than most of the company’s competitors.
“Most brands when designing a top of the range jacket, design it to be better for just the colder temperatures,” added Yanto. “This often eliminates it from being used when it’s just not cold enough.
“Not many of us really cycle when it’s below freezing with ice on the roads. We wanted to avoid this with the top of the range HC jacket and make sure your favourite jacket can be worn as much and as often as possible.
“The jacket performs at the widest temperature coverage from -10 to +12 degrees with right mix of layering with under-vest or jersey.”
As you’d hope from a jacket designed by a racer, the fit is really snug but without being too constrictive. Using four-way stretch fabric that’s super lightweight, it helps to enhance the perfect fit and lends to the aerodynamic properties, as well as reducing drag. Though, how much drag or aerodynamics you really do need during winter is another matter.
“This is a jacket for active riders who are looking for performance,” revealed Yanto. “The Jacket has an aero fit to maximise speed & performance by reducing drag. It fits like a jersey, yet protects like a jacket.”
One unusual feature is the use of Kevlar fabric elbow patches – something that we quite like the look of here at Spin. Let’s just say that the roads can be a bit sketchy during the winter. When you’re not dodging potholes, diesel or fallen leaves, there a plethora of other obstacles that can make wheels lose traction.
“Elbows are one of the most frequent contact points in a fall and the Kevlar protection means you will reduce your chances of serious injury,” said Yanto. “Secondly, the Kevlar fabric also protects the jacket itself, as the top of the range jacket we wanted to do as much as possible to make it last.”
Breathability is excellent on the jacket as a whole. The Windtex membrane is effective at letting moisture and the inner mesh – in a rather dashing light blue colour, I might add – seemed to help with shifting the build-up of moisture during the ride and preventing the classic ‘sweaty-back syndrome’.
Also, the textured ‘Roubaix’ material positioned under the arms allows more heat and sweat to escape – ultimately moderating body temperature while you’re at varied riding intensities. Roughly translated, that means if you’re going like the clappers then that fleecy stuff under your pits isn’t going to make you as sweaty.
“With the Textured Roubaix fabric positioned under the arms it means it is out the way of wind chill created on frontal areas as the wind hits you,” explains Yanto. “It means it’s not allowing windchill in but does allow the excess heat and moisture out which is created when training hard even in very cold weather.”
Another nice touch is the high collar, which helps cut down on the chill hitting your neck and back. It’s features a soft-fleece material to avoid any irritation around the neck – something that no doubt winds up a lot of other cyclists, too. There is nothing worse than riding in foul weather conditions only to have a small, harsh thread of material constantly scratching at the back of your neck.
“Really simply the fitting around the neck is key to ensure no entry of windchill down onto the chest or loss of body heat, so a snug closed fit is essential,” added Yanto. “We balance this with a soft fleece material on the jacket collar to avoid any irritation around the neck which can be sensitive to irritation when training hard.”
Other additional features include a full lock down zip for ease of use – especially for one-handed use while riding at high speeds. The zip will only open when in use and locks into position when flat.
Then there’s the tail flap – or, as we like to call it, the ‘bum flap’ – which no foul weather jersey or jacket would be complete without these days. Essentially, like the technical name suggest, this is to stop you backside getting soggy. Nothing worse than a soggy bottom, just ask the contestants on Great British Bake-off.
There’s also the storm flap that goes over the full length zip, which stops the elements getting in, and a silicon gripper around the waist to hold the jacket firmly in place. However, the two remaining and cool little features of this jacket are the aforementioned mesh inner lining and the pockets.
The mesh lining – something similar to high-end outdoor survival jackets – further increases the wicking properties of the main jacket, ensuring the rest of the material used wick away maximum moisture, while is an abundance of pockets to store a plethora of cycling-related paraphernalia. Our favourite is the large inner chest pocket, which is perfect for storing you smart phone.
So, the all-important question – is Le Col’s HC Winter Jacket really worth £300? Yes, absolutely. Sure, there is the initial outlay, but it’s hard to find another jacket on the market that ticks all the same boxes, as well as adding a bit of luxury and styling into the mix for good measure.
For comparison, I also own a Castelli alpha jacket that set me back a good £180. Now, this jacket is great in the winter because it’s warm and has the separate inner-layer, which is kind of like a waistcoat, but the arms are too bulky and the water-repellent properties aren’t much to write home about.
Having previously tested Le Col’s foul weather jersey during the middle of a storm – yes, I am that bonkers – I can see me using the HC jacket in similar weather, intentionally or not.
In the months to come, I’ll be reaching for the HC rather than the Alpha. Combined with the right base-layer, it’s a formidable garment that can cope with a variety of different weather conditions and, as daft as it sounds, I am actually looking forward it raining now.
For further information, visit: Le Col