After a hot summer and mild autumn it’s come as a bit of a shock that winter has descended quite so quickly. This means the time has to put away the shorts and short sleeves and wrap up for cold, wet, windy rides. Typically, UK winter weather is mildly cold and mildly damp which means we need a fairly specific type of winter clothing. Frustratingly, some of the European brands’ offerings are either designed for much colder, drier conditions – so you tend to cook in them – or for wetter, warmer, so you end up dry but cold. Luckily, British brands like Le Col are increasingly pandering to their home audience.
Le Col was set up by former pro-rider Yanto Barker in 2011 and I had some of his original winter wear. I was impressed by the performance, though some of the finishing was a bit on the plain, simple side. It seems that Le Col has come a long way as the finishing on the latest Hors Categorie (HC) Jacket (rrp £300) is as good as anything from the big premium brands (Assos, Rapha, Castelli for example). The stitching and finishing is spot on and the jacket has plenty of top grade features like the full-length storm zip and sewn-in reflective panels.
What I really like about the HC is that it’s obviously been designed and developed (by someone who has put in plenty of winter miles in the UK. The navy blue outer in made from Swiss brand Schoeller’s high-stretch Dynamic fabric, and the inner is a warming thermal fleece, while sandwiched between the two is a Windtex waterproof and breathable membrane. The fit is spot on and the dropped tail is well shaped so it stays put and stops road spray making your backside damp and uncomfortable.
The visibility is good without resorting to hi-viz colour-ways, with the large sewn in reflective panels shining bright and complemented with reflective piping details. The rear pockets are generous and are set away from the jacket to allow for a mesh bottom (which means they don’t retain water when riding in a deluge). A secure waterproof zipped pocket joins the traditional three on the back and there’s an internal zipped pocket on the right side of the zip at chest height. Oh, and you even get abrasion resistant elbow pads just in case the winter roads do catch you out.
The matching Hors Categorie bib tights (£220) have reflective panels on the calves, while the main body of the tights is made from Aqua Zero a highly hydrophobic material. This means that rain beads on the surface and can be removed with a quick swipe of the glove . The bib section is cut high to keep your midriff warm and, like the jacket, is extremely well shaped and thought out, with long zips at the seamless ankle cuffs. I also like the use of thicker, harder wearing material on the inside of the shin where you often see extra wear as they rub on crank arms.
Finishing off the winter outfit is the Thermal Long Sleeve Undervest (£60). Why it’s not just called a base layer I’m not sure, but the fabric (Akkotex Feran® ICS) is one of the best I’ve ever used next to the skin. It feels like a cross between merino wool and silk and is just stunningly comfortable. It’s cut very well and form fits with no bunching and I’m impressed with how quickly it moves moisture away from your skin so that even when working hard you feel relatively dry. The way in which it helps regulate your temperature also impresses – I’ve used it at zero degrees up to around eight and it’s performed brilliantly over the whole range.
I’m really impressed with Le Col’s winter offerings – it doesn’t come cheap by any measure, but for UK winter riding it’s hard to think of many better options and, whilst the investment is high, I think I’ll be using it all for a few winters to come.