The boldly named women's specific Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket pledges to be your ultimate winter riding partner, but is it so good that it's beyond categorisation?
Picture the scene – you’re out on a winter ride and you are so cold, wet and miserable that you start day dreaming about what the perfect winter jacket would actually look like. For most, the mental checklist is as far as it gets, but I’d put money on a ride like this being the inception for the Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket.
Making a jacket that ticks off all your winter ride needs is quite some undertaking. The list of features of the Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket is lengthy.
Its foundation fabric comes from the house of Schoeller, a highly respected manufacturer that par on a level with GORE in terms of quality technical fabrics. The Schoeller-Dynamic is touted as the brand’s all-rounder; comfortable, durable and incredibly malleable. Schoeller also say it carries waterproof and highly breathable characteristics.
The Schoeller-Dynamic has been teamed with a Windtex membrane to also give the Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket wind proofing properties too, while inside is a soft fleecy fabric to trap warm air.
British owned, Italian manufactured brand has really gone to town with features on the jacket, with significant thought being put in to who, when and where the jacket will be worn.
The Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket comes in both men’s and women’s specific fits, both carrying exactly the same functions, but use a gender specific race cut design and are available in different colours ways.
At the back are three practically sized pockets, as well as one waterproof zipped one and an additional internal one. A long tail extends the jacket to measure a lengthy 78cm, no less than 13cm longer than the Castelli Alpha Ros, which up till now had the longest tail of winter jackets I’ve seen on the market this season.
Reflective detailing has been subtly added to in the design to give 360 degree visibility and kevlar reinforcing has been added to the elbow area to increase the durability of this area.
Ergonomic sleeves are teamed with a fleecy tapered high collar to prevent any icy cold gaps appearing or cold wind to channel in to the jacket.
The Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket is notably low profile. To touch, it reminds me a lot of the soft-shell GORE C5 Windstopper Thermal jacket, and even the old Castelli Fuba jacket (the latter of which I pretty much lived in for a couple of seasons and rode it into the ground).
Fit wise, however, it couldn’t be further from the GORE if it tried. It was as close to a winter aero jersey I’ve seen, with only space for a well fitted winter base layer underneath.
A day wearing the Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket in the wet south Welsh hills, before a day in the wet east Peak District area was arguably a harsher test than most, but when you’re looking at spending £300 for one piece of cycling apparel, I only feel this rigorous riding is fair.
The cut alone of the jacket urges you to press on, it’s designed for going fast, and as such doesn’t lead itself to being stood around in. On the move, teamed with the afore mentioned winter weight base layer, I found myself comfortable temperature wise.
It’s a very hard balance to strike between breathability, warmth and waterproofing and the Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket did well on all three counts. The extra long rain flap was especially good at keeping my backside dry, an important factor to making winter bike rides bearable.
I am fully aware of my privilege to have a bike ride as my office, but two days in the pouring rain did feel like pay back for all the sunny ones. Whilst questioning my career of choice on a barren hillside, totally unprotected from the cold November rain and wind, by even vegetation I made the mistake of hanging around too long, loosing the internal warm air insulation and found myself pretty cold. Thankfully I was able to reach for a gilet, but even this needed to be a winter weight one, and I had to apply the old little ring spinning technique to warm up again.
The rain also gave me the opportunity to test out the other waterproof features, and I was thankful, at times of particular deluge, that all three main rear cargo pockets were drainable.
Unfortunately, the rear dry zip pocket wasn’t big enough to take my iPhone 6s – a relatively small phone by today’s standards. The internal pocket is a good idea, but the position of it made it actually too painful to locate my phone there, finding that it constantly sat firmly (due to the tight aero fit) and directly against my left breast. I wonder if it’s a design cross over from the men’s specific version, either way, it certainly needs relocating to be usable on the women’s version.
In terms of water proofing, it put up a really good fight for a good couple of hours of rainy showers, but as with all fabrics, there comes a time when water will eventually penetrate, but it’s evidently better than an off the shelf water resistant jacket.
The obvious glaring talking point with the Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket is the price. As asking price of £300 for one piece of winter kit puts it well in to the upper end of the high end.
The question is ‘is it worth it’? It does tick a lot of winter jacket boxes. There are a lot of features and it’s very wearable, but for this price I would want impeccable precision and the issue with it not being quiet thermal enough for me on a cold wet day and the pocket positioning just stop it being perfect.
While the former perhaps a user issue, if you’re looking to ride full gas constantly it might not be an issue. But while the pocket issues are seemingly minor in the scheme of things, if you’re paying top dollar for something, you don’t want it to come with unusable functions. Once Le Col resolve these, it will be closer to the ultimate piece of winter kit, regardless of price.
The men's or women's specific Le Col Hors Catégorie jacket has some impressive design features that come straight off your winter jacket must have list. With a couple of design tweaks, the upper end, high end jacket could be close to the ultimate winter jacket.