It’s easy to get sucked into the marketing hype when a new product is launched, isn’t it? More so when attributes such as aerodynamics are thrown into the equation but British brand Le Col is confident its new aero speedsuit offering, the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit, is faster than the current crop of WorldTour skinsuits. It’s all been rigorously tested, benchmarked, and verified in the wind tunnel but is this just another bold claim, or is it a promise?
Well, in an effort to debunk fact from fiction Le Col invited us to the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub to put its new go-faster, wind-cheating garb to the test in the wind tunnel. Not only did we sample it back-to-back against some of the best cycling clothing from Le Col’s range, but we also raced it in several time trials.
Design and aesthetics
Before we get into the wind tunnel data it’s worth discussing the design philosophy of what Le Col has created here together with McLaren – the automotive firm is, after all, well versed in the aerodynamic wizardry required to ensure a Formula 1 car stays planted to terra firma when cornering at speeds of over 300km/h. Project Aero was born out of this collaboration, drawing on McLaren’s vast experience and know-how in an effort to translate the science behind speed into a sartorial package.
As a result, the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit has been tailored to complement the rider in a variety of aggressive positions. This has been achieved through the use of strategically mapped out air-tripping fabrics with sprinklings of dimples and dual-density threads on the arms. What this does is manage the leading-edge airflow around body contours to maximise aerodynamic efficacy.
It’s available in both short-sleeve (speedsuit) and long-sleeve (skinsuit) guises and is only available in stealthy black which adds to its premium look and feel, a fact bolstered by the charcoal-coloured Le Col x McLaren badge located on the chest. The black colourway is boldly contrasted by a McLaren-inspired papaya-orange graphic on the rear, which references the Project Aero code name. While the speedsuit comes bereft of any further splashes of colour, the long sleeve skinsuit does get papaya-orange sleeve trimming – something we would have liked to see included on the short sleeve speed suit pictured here.
Performance and riding experience
While we weren’t made privy to any of the testing data used to back up Le Col’s claims of being faster than its WorldTour rivals, we were able to test the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit back-to-back against the long sleeve Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Skinsuit (complete with rear zip) in the wind tunnel. Le Col was adamant to show the advancements it has made together with McLaren’s aerodynamicists in crafting the Project Aero collection and felt the wind tunnel would best back up its rhetoric.
We started by getting a baseline CdA number (coefficient of drag times frontal surface area) using Le Col’s Sport Collection kit (jersey and bib shorts), standard socks and my Rudy Project The Wing TT helmet, which together with my Cannondale SuperSlice TT bike would be the only two constants across the three tests. Two runs were carried out: one at 45km/h and the other at 50km/h. While the Sport Collection kit was a bit baggy and didn’t fit the way I would have liked, it merely served to show the differences between regular kit and time-trial-specific clobber.
Next up was the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Rear Zip Skinsuit complete with long sleeves and encapsulator. It’s a tight-fitting and somewhat uncomfortable outfit but having sampled many similar kits before, this is par for the course. Again two runs were carried out at 45- and 50km/h but this time I also wore the Project Aero socks.
Unlike the Project Aero Rear Zip Skinsuit, the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit can be put on and taken off without any help. The fabric, while equally as tight-fitting, is stretchy enough to ensure you don’t look or walk around like a hunchback when off the bike, although Le Col suggests you minimise time standing tall and walking as this may put unnecessary stress across the garment. As outright performance goes, I’ll admit I had my doubts – especially when considering the short-sleeve design philosophy and front zipper but the two runs were completed and the numbers collated.
There were no surprises that the Sport Collection kit yielded the worst CdA at both wind speeds – but they weren’t dreadful either measuring a respective 0.2394 and 0.2376 (granted I was in the TT position). To my surprise the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Rear Zip Skinsuit, while unquestionably faster than the Sport kit, was slower than the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit, despite the long sleeves and front zipper. The data doesn’t lie and at 45km/h the figures lay squarely in favour of the Project Aero Speedsuit: 0.2165 vs 0.2185. The gap grew even further at 50km/h: 0.2146 vs 0.2182 and the watt savings were indisputable.
So it’s unquestionably quick on paper (and in lab conditions) but how does it fair in the real world? Well, my own experimentation proved fruitful. Looking back at my results to date, I’ve managed to break my 10-mile time trial personal best twice in a row registering a respective 20:28 and 20:27, which is ten seconds quicker than the Endura D2Z Encapsulator skinsuit on the same course. Yes, there are a lot of other factors at play which could have accounted for the faster times, including weather conditions, so my ‘scientific testing’ is more anecdotal than factual but it reiterates what was established in the wind tunnel.
Unlike some of its rivals – including time trial suits from Parentini and Endura – the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit isn’t as restrictive in terms of fit and walkability. Finding the right fit is going to be very important – especially for those who straddle the sizing spectrum. McLaren suggests sizing up if you find yourself on the cusp, which is what I did opting for a small instead of an XS. Despite this, the fit is still super-tight but there’s an added layer of comfort – perhaps it’s the short sleeve format – that makes it perfectly suited to road riding or racing.
The chamois pad is not as forgiving as ones designed for longer duration riding but it’s supportive enough to ensure numbness/discomfort is never an issue. And what of the two rear pockets? Well, you don’t often find them on dedicated speed/skinsuits but it’s almost as if Le Col added them as a way of ruffling the feathers of its rivals, proving performance can indeed still have a certain degree of functionality. The pockets are functional enough to carry a mobile phone and small wallet. Impressive indeed.
Aero credentials aside, the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit is super-comfortable and a breeze to put on and take off – that in itself is a big win in my eyes. It’s also super stealthy when it comes to the way it looks and how it performs. I like the fact that it has rear pockets and can be used for road races or chaingang sessions. It proves you don’t need to be a contortionist to gain access to wind-cheating speed – comfort and performance can indeed live in harmony.
Yes, as a dedicated time trial speedsuit it lacks an encapsulator or number pocket but I’m inclined to overlook that based purely on how versatile and utilitarian it is as a racing garment. When factoring all of this into the equation, including the verifiable aero data, the £350 / $490 / €415 sticker price becomes a little easier to entertain.
If it’s time trial comfort, extra speed and versatility that you’re after there isn’t anything else on the market as comprehensive as the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit. For those looking for a more dedicated time trial offering, there’s the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Skinsuit (with long sleeves, rear encapsulator and now a front zipper) for £25 / $35 / €30 more.
Tech Specs: Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit
- Price: £350 / $490 / €415
- Sizes: 7 (XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL)
- Weight: 190g (small)
- Colours: Black