Despite the evangelism of their many fans, I’ve had a hard time getting into wool cycling clothing. Though there have been a few high points (Swiftwick socks, Ibex knickers), many of my wool purchases have failed to live up to their reputation as being the best thing since hand-sewn tubulars. Still, when Chris from Colomba offered to send over a very handsome Sportwool jersey for us to review some eighteen months ago, I jumped at the chance. Click ‘more‘ to find out why Colomba’s is the only wool jersey still in my closet…
Not long after Chris and I spoke, a package from the UK arrived containing Colomba’s “Peace Race” jersey. The Peace Race recalls the light blue leaders’ jersey from the 1974 Peace Race- “the Tour de Frace of the East[ern Bloc].” There is a bit of romanticizing going on here, but the look certainly evokes a certain image. Though they may not have had the fame, money, or the women of their french counterparts (see Jaques Anquetil’s biography for more on all three), but those Eastern Block guys sure could suffer on a bike.
Well-stitched in Vietnam, the Sportwool jersey features a fairly traditional construction: each and every one of the Peace Race’s stripes is a separate strip of fabric, the printed logo a very cool flock (fuzzy) printing and the sleeve dove logos are embroidered. There’s no screen printing or sublimation to be found here. The back pockets are nice and deep and the short front zip has a nicely done garage to stop it scratching the rider’s chin. On the rightmost back pocket is a water-resistant nylon-lined valuables pocket at the rear with the world’s coolest ’70s style zipper pull. Even the elastic used at the back hem seems like it came special delivery from grade school. Despite all of the throwback features and multiple pieces of fabric used, there was hardly a stray thread to be found- a very good sign. Strictly speaking, the Sportwool fabric used isn’t entirely wool. In fact, it’s nearly half (48%) polyester. Though that may offend purists, it also means that the Peace Race functions and has worn impressively well.
The fit of the medium jersey, while slim, is hardly snug on my 6′, 145lb frame. The sleeves are on the long side, “for extra comfort on the bike and casual look off the bike,” and the hem is generously low in the back. Thin to average riders who are between sizes should certainly size down. My first ride in the Colomba was a 60-miler with friends, with a 65 degree start and 80-ish degree finish. Honestly, I was worried that I might re-live my past wool experiences with saggy pockets, cold descents and hot climbs. With a few caveats, I have to say that the Peace Race handily exceeded my expectations, not just for wool, but for jerseys in general.
Not having washed the jersey beforehand, that first ride in the Peace Race was a bit itchy, though far from unbearable. The jersey felt great for an early morning roll-out along the Rio Grande and attracted more than its fair share of glances from the fairer sex. Climbing from the wooded valley out of the city and on to a sunny mesa, the Smartwool fabric warmed quickly but surprisingly seemed to equilibrate and, while warm, never get uncomfortably hot. The front zipper, which stops an inch or so shy of the upper red band, would have been nice had it been at least that much longer- but ventilation was adequate (other Colomba jerseys look to have longer front zippers). In the midday sun, the jersey worked just fine- not the coolest I’ve ridden, but certainly no worse than heavier synthetics.
As much as I love the look and construction of the Peace Race, I’ve noticed a few opportunities for improvement. While I might be able to go down a size, smaller arm opening would be more flattering to most spindly-armed cyclists, and the hem could do with having an inch or two removed (I haven’t mistakenly tossed mine in the dryer- yet). As cool as the separate pieces of fabric are for each the red and cream stripes, they make for quite a few seams in the nipular region. Riders with sensitive teats will no doubt find the boys angry by the end of a few hours’ riding. Similarly, I sometimes noticed itching from the seams in the upper back (especially with the pockets loaded with a day’s provisions). Wearing bibs, the irritation was greatly reduced, but its worth noting for those who prefer shorts. Colomba might do well (and save a bit of work) by printing the red stripes at the same time and in the same manner as the logo, reducing a couple of seams and the irritation they can cause. The company’s appropriately named “Black Jersey” has a simpler construction that gives up some of the Peace Race’s visual appeal but might be more comfortable for some.
Since its first ride, the Peace Race has become a spring and fall staple. It is especially well matched, warmth-wise to arm warmers, which helps extend the jersey’s comfort range down into the 50s, even without a base layer. Wool fans may argue for the material’s wide comfort range, but the Colomba is a tightly-knit, dense jersey so I really do prefer something a bit cooler when temperatures reach above 70 or so. Combined with a long-sleeved base layer, I wear the Peace Race well into the winter- no other jersey I own has the ability to keep my core warmer under a light jacket.
The Peace Race’s GBP59 (about US$95) isn’t exactly cheap, but it is around 1/4 less expensive than any other good-quality wool jersey I’ve worn. Happily, it is also the best made and most stylish I’ve ridden. The look of the Peace Race may not be for everyone. Those who can pull it off, however, will be rewarded with the best wool jersey that I have come across.