It may seem a bit excessive to spend time thinking about and reviewing a mere winter hat but as ever at RRR we were on the quest to fill a gap in the kit wardrobe (is there such thing as enough kit or a complete wardrobe?).
We're big fans of the simple but effective cotton cycling cap or 'la casquette' to give it its proper name. They're perfect for keeping the chill off in spring and autumn but also useful for absorbing sweat in the height of summer as well as offering some relief from the sun. As a quick sidetrack there are also some dos and dont's when wearing your cap, because the other reason for wearing one is to look cool, end of. The cap should be placed on the head with a small gap, almost resting, but not too much. The peak should be pulled down but not so much that you look like a military officer or can't see where you're going. The cap should never be angled too far back and the peak never flipped up, you're a cyclist not a jockey.
Observe one of the coolest cap wearers below perfectly highlighting how to wear one, Miguel Indurain.
Back on topic, for winter you need a bit more protection than the traditional cap can offer, extra warmth, windchill and water repellency are desirable for this time of year.
This problem is in part solved through the wearing of a 'Belgian' style winter hat, made from heavier weight materials with an extended cuff to cover the ears and back of the head. These are great, indeed I sometimes wear a Rapha Belgian style winter hat but it's so good at keeping your head warm it really can only be worn when the temperature is well down in the single digits. Personally I find it too much at around 8c or above. They're also not water resistant either, so things get rather soggy pretty quickly if it's raining.
So where's the happy medium? A skull cap could be it but I can't get over the fact that you look like a Russian cosmonaut in one, which whilst perfectly acceptable onboard a spacecraft orbiting a planet at 28,000kmh, they just won't cut it on the bike or in the cafe. Enter the Rapha Pro Team Winter Hat.
As usual with Rapha items it comes nicely packaged in the standard opaque sealed poly bag, an arty tag is affixed with the standard pink ribbon.
Colour options at the time of ordering were black, pink, ultramarine blue and chartreuse (as pictured). I have a thing for Rapha chartreuse, I really like it and as an early morning commuter I like the extra visibility the colour offers too. My partner in crime went for the blue which is also rather nice in the flesh. It's a one size fits all item so take note, it may not suit everyone's head shape or size.
The hat has some nice features; DWR water repellency treatment (a la Castelli Gabba and other water resistant softshells), windproof, breathability with a vented rear panel and some reflective detailing too.
Forçats (de la Route) stands for 'The Convicts of the Road'. Henri Pélissier chose to abandon the TdF in 1924 in protest at an official who forbade him from wearing two jerseys in an attempt to keep warm. Pélissier’s complaints were published in Le Petit Parisien, under the headline, ‘Les Forçats de la Route’ (The Convicts of the Road). You'll find reference to this somewhere on all of the garments in the Rapha Pro Team range.
The claims of water repellency were put to the test via means of the patented RRR shower test and just like a freshly waxed car the water just beads off, I'm sure given time you'd experience some soak through but the initial results are impressive.
So how does it fair for its intended purpose, well its first outing was a chilly Friday morning commute, indicated 2c with a windchill affect of -1c. I rode the 9 mile journey at HR Z2 to see how it coped with a steady paced but cold ride, it was perfect, not too hot and just warm enough. The ear flaps and wrap round rear cuff really help keep out the chilly drafts, it doesn't dampen noise levels too much either keeping you aware of what's going on around you.
The ride home was a faster tempo Z3, so a bit more effort and the temperature had also climbed a few degrees to 6c. Whilst comfortable I did feel the heat building up as the ride progressed, I elected to roll up the ear flaps to provide a bit more ventilation, this proved a good move and I maintained a perfectly comfortable temperature for the remainder of the ride.
I've since used it across a range of conditions with some rain thrown in for good measure too, the DWR does the job very well with leak through only experienced after around an hour of prolonged use, but the key thing is that the hat is still warm enough to keep you at a comfortable temperature without getting cold.
How hot or cold you run is personal to you and individuals need to work this out in order to tailor your clothing for the conditions on the day, for me this hat works best at 8c or below if you're out on a steady ride or 5c if you're planning a higher tempo / training ride.
At a quick glance an RRP of £45 seems expensive but look into the features and the boxes it ticks and it makes more sense, especially when they quite often feature in the Rapha sales (normally late summer and January).
If you're looking to fill the gap in the kit drawer between la casquette and the Belgian winter hat then this is probably the hat for you.