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Cafe Du Cycliste's Irma Jersey comes from its Audax range, a collection of kit designed with the comfort and performance you want for endurance riding in mind, with fabrics and detailing intended to meet the demands of long days in the saddle. The Irma certainly does this, oozing quality at the same time, though it's not without its flaws.
My dimensions put me squarely in the medium bracket on Cafe Du Cycliste's size chart, and it's a snug fit without being restrictive – the fabrics have plenty of give and move well with the body. I'd have preferred more length at the front, though; it's okay on the bike, but another couple of centimetres or so would be appreciated for when wandering around during a stop.
The drop at the rear was spot on for me, while the sleeves are just long enough – some might prefer an extra couple of centimetres for pairing with short cuffed gloves. Certainly if you have long arms.
Collar height was ideal for cooler mornings, keeping the chill off the neck, which is protected from the zip by a garage. If you do happen to lower the zip, there is a decent length of baffle/guard to protect you or your baselayer from the zipper.
Premium is a justified description for the Irma. Every seam, every thread, every detail is executed to perfection. The logo at the rear has even been embroidered on, rather than glued. It's not deteriorated during the test period, with regular washing and wearing. Its merino content means it's not hitting the laundry basket as frequently as some, thankfully, though it's still not quite as pong-resistant as full merino.
The fabric's a blend of 35% merino, 40% polyamide and 25% polypropylene. There are no irritating seams to note, and cuffs and hems hold their positions well. Worn without a baselayer, it's in no way uncomfortable against the skin.
Bearing in mind that this is coming from a range called 'Audax', its primary function is to regulate your body temperature during long, steady rides. I've done very little tempo and absolutely no top-end riding in the Irma.
Recent conditions have been perfect – chilly starts (3-5°C), with temperatures lifting to 10-14°C as the day wears on. The fabrics do a great job of helping to regulate body temperature – no over-heating, but a core that's always warm enough.
My arms, though, felt somewhat neglected; the sleeve fabric is very thin in comparison to the main body, and this disparity does limit the Irma's versatility.
I invariably teamed the jersey with a long sleeve baselayer, and even then I could sense a chill on the very cold mornings. The protection for your core is there, so wearing a short sleeve baselayer is pretty pointless. The fabrics are soft enough that no baselayer at all is an option, but when I did this on a sunny day, I was fine when moving – the day was well into double figures and I wasn't overheating – but if I stopped, the biting northerly didn't touch my core but my arms really felt it.
In short, it has a very narrow window of effective performance.
The fabric offers no windproofing or waterproofing, which tends to be a good thing when it comes to breathability and durability (no treatment to wear off), but it does mean that if it's a cold wind, or there's a threat of rain, it really needs some support.
Being able to roll out with a decent waterproof and the option of removing a baselayer and stowing it away means you are prepared for all scenarios. Thankfully, the Irma really does offer the space to store all this kit...
In my opinion, the pocket design is the standout feature of the jersey. The extra capacity over most standard jerseys is not only there but, unlike so many trying to offer similar carrying capabilities, it doesn't compromise comfort or ease of access.
The three standard rear pockets are good for things like a wallet, phone and snacks; they have a decent depth, certainly more than most I come across on women's jerseys. They do sit a little higher than I would personally prefer but aren't impossible to access.
On top of the three main pockets is a fourth zipped pocket, with a toggle coated with grippy silicone for ease of use, especially with gloved hands. Its opening is wider than most I've seen on female kit too – I can actually get my hand into it!
Cafe du Cycliste hasn't stopped there, though – a fifth, mesh pocket sits atop of all this. While the mesh expands to accommodate a serious amount of kit, the elasticated trim ensures that bulky contents stay put. It spreads the entire width of the back but the opening is smaller to help hold kit securely.
It's not just the physical capacity of the whole setup that impresses, the execution is really functional and well thought out. The three main pockets are attached to a wide band of elastic on the interior to prevent sag and provide stability, keeping the jersey snug to your back under load and reducing strain on the fabrics.
While the generous storage capacity goes a long way to compensate for the lack of protection from the sleeves, the mismatch in levels limits the jersey's performance range to very specific conditions, which makes the £188 price tag hard to swallow.
It's more expensive than comparable jerseys from Le Col, with its Hors Categorie Long Sleeve Jersey for £165, and Velocio with its Signature Long Sleeve Jersey for £150 – though neither offer any kind of merino content, and Anna didn't find Le Col's especially warm either.
It's possible that something like Rapha's Women's Core Long Sleeve Jersey, for £70, might offer similar protection, despite being 100% polyester. At least there are plenty of colour options here.
If wool is a must, dhb's Merino Long Sleeve Jersey might also be a good shout for £90.
While none offer the storage of the Irma, most long distance riders will have some kind of frame or bar bag for this purpose, so jersey storage might not be a priority.
I'd say the Irma needs a few refinements to justify its price tag – a few extra centimetres at the front and in the sleeves, and a slightly thicker fabric for the sleeves. Some brighter colours wouldn't go amiss either – it's only available in this one option; it does have a decent reflective panel incorporated into the rear drop, but when you're leaving at the crack of dawn and arriving at your destination late, you might still want something a little more visible than navy.
The quality is truly second to none, though, and if these niggles aren't niggles for you, maybe it'll be a jersey worth your hard earned pounds. I've genuinely loved wearing it.
Excellent quality and storage capacity, but a high price to pay for chilly arms and a limited performance window
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cafe Du Cycliste Irma Women's Audax Cycling Jersey
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Cafe du Cycliste says, 'Part of our Audax collection, Irma features a raft of long distance details and a female specific fit. Odour resistant, fast drying and exceptionally breathable, the merino performance blend protects when the temperature drops but naturally regulates your core temperature when it rises again. The front section of the jersey traps air to provide an added layer of insulation on cooler days or fast descents while added stretch ensures a close fit on the bike.'
'Designed with longer distances in mind, Irma features a completely unique pocket configuration to increase loading capacity. Along with the classic three rear cargo pockets, as well as a spacious rear zipped pocket, the jersey also features an oversized mesh 'drop' pocket. Ideal for an additional base layer, warmer jacket or anything else needed when more miles are the order of the day.'
'The jersey has added reflectively for additional security when the light begins to fade out on the road, with an oversized panel positioned below the pockets and the rear of the jersey also includes an embroidered Café du Cycliste Audax logo.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Cafe du Cycliste lists:
-35% merino | 40% polyamide | 25% polypropylene
-high performance super soft fabric
-moisture management properties
-oversized reflective elements
-three cargo pockets
-unique 'drop' pocket
-made in europe
Great in a narrow window of conditions; needs supporting layers if it's cold, windy (when the wind is a biting one) or wet. Very breathable.
All looking good so far; the rear panel has been well protected from pocket strain with a considered design.
A little short at the front for me, but this might not be an issue for others. The sleeves are on the very limit of what I would like – an extra centimetre wouldn't go amiss.
If you want a snug fit, stay true to size. Consider sizing up if you want something with a more casual, loose fit.
At £188 it's more expensive than most, and even though the quality is there, with limited versatility, it's difficult to say you're getting great value for money.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Fine, follow the instruction and it comes out fresh.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It's a very comfy layer that's great for long days in the saddle, where the focus is on pleasure over performance. It helps regulate body temperature well. The pocket design and execution is impressive, perfect for long days out when you want to take extra kit.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Extra storage with the drop-pocket at rear. Unlike some pocket-on-pocket designs, this doesn't irritate the lower back and it genuinely holds extra layers securely without compromising on accessibility.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I would have preferred a little more length at the front. The colour, for me, is not bright enough either.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's one of the most expensive options out there. Velocio's Signature Jersey is £150, and Le Col's comparable offering is £165. dhb's Merino Long Sleeve jersey is less than half the price of the Irma. None of them will match the Irma for storage, though.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No, needs a few refinements in my opinion.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Unlikely
Use this box to explain your overall score
The quality is faultless, but there is a mismatch in the protection for arms versus the core, which really limits the jersey's versatility; extra layers are vital to get the best out of it. The Irma's unique and effective pocket setup for extra storage goes some way to compensate for this lack of versatility but doesn't erase it. For this, plus a potential shortfall in sleeve and body length, and no brighter colours, and the very high price, I'd say it's a 6, quite good, rather than any higher.
About the tester
I usually ride: Road My best bike is: Carbon road.
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, Getting to grips with off roading too!
Emma’s first encounters with a road bike were in between swimming and running. Soon after competing for GB in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she saw the light and decided to focus on cycling.
After a couple of half decent UK road seasons racing for Leisure Lakes, she went out to Belgium to sample the racing there and spent two years with Lotto-Belisol Ladies team, racing alongside the likes of Sara Carrigan, Grace Verbeke, Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Deignan. Emma moved from Lotto-Belisol to Dutch team Redsun, then a new Belgian team of primarily developing riders, where there was less pressure, an opportunity to share her experience and help build a whole new team; a nice way to spend her final years of professional racing.
Since retiring Emma has returned to teaching. When not coercing kids to do maths, she is invariably out on two wheels. In addition to the daily commute, Emma still enjoys getting out on her road bike and having her legs ripped off on the local club rides and chain gangs. She has also developed an addiction to touring, with destinations including Iceland, Georgia and Albania, to mention just a few. There have also been rare sightings of Emma off-road on a mountain bike…