If you’re going to review something, you want to make sure you do it the most extreme circumstances possible, right? There’s no sense in testing wheels on a 10-mile leisure ride, much less would I have tried out the Aspen Cool Collar on anything but the hottest race day of the year – the Page Valley Road Race.
Before I get to the review, a little background on the Aspen Cool Collar. (And no, it doesn’t look like the collar here.) For any of us that have followed the Garmin Slipstream squad over the last two years, we know that the team started using cooling vests (amongst other garments, like socks and gloves) before and after races to help bring down core temperatures more quickly and in theory speed recovery. VeloNews had the story last year.
But like many things that the pros use, few of us have the money or the wherewithal to buy specially designed cooling clothes. Enter the Aspen Cool Collar. In essense, the collar is a poor-man’s version of the cooling vest. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a collar that you put around your neck before or after a race to help bring down your core temperature. The collar is full of chemical crystals that are activated when placed in water for 15 minutes.
Since I knew Page Valley was going to be a hot one (the day topped out in the upper 90s), I decided to use the collar after a warm-up on my trainer and right before staging for the 11 a.m. Cat 3 start. My idea was that I would warm up the legs and then cool the core down with the collar, leaving me warmed up but fresh for the 63-mile race.
A 20-minute session on the trainer was more than enough to raise my core temperature dramatically. Heck, guys just sitting in the comfort of the shade were sweating. I slapped the collar on, not knowing what to expect. If anything, it was refreshing. And it did what it advertised – I felt my body temperature drop much more quickly to manageable levels than it usually does on hot days.
But did it improve my performance during the race? Tough to say, really. I rode well, managing to both close a 45-second gap to the field after a mechanical and stay with the largely diminished group through the finish. All told, it was a great day on the bike, but I also had a solid week of training, eating and recovery, so it would be impossible to link any success during the 63-mile scorcher to 15 minutes with the collar on.
That being said, I see the value of the collar. We’re generally more comfortable when our bodies aren’t overheating, and even a small measure of comfort can go a long way to making you feel better before or after a race. You know that feeling of physical and psychological relief when you dump a bottle of water on yourself on a hot day? That’s basically what I feel the collar does, though I’m sure there’s more science to it than when you just douse yourself with water. (There’s probably something to be said for the fact that you’re specifically cooling your neck, where some of your most important veins are located.)
Whatever the collar makes up for in practical use it loses in quality, though. The thing honestly looks like it was sewn together in someone’s basement, and neither the directions nor the website give any sort of explanation as to how it works and why it could improve your performance. If the maker should know anything about cyclists, it’s that we not only like to use things that improve performance, but we like to know exactly how and why they’re improving our performance. (My Specialized BG S-Works shoes broke down exactly why they would help transfer power better than other shoes. Did I understand most of what they threw at me? Nope. But it was still appreciated.)
Also, the sizing is a little wonky. You fasten the collar using a piece of velcro, but the velcro strip isn’t very long and is located far enough along the collar to seem like it was designed for guys with huge necks. (Apparently it was – the website says it was first made for police officers, thus explaining the sizing.) Cyclists don’t tend to be big, much less do they have large, bulky necks. I ended up having to hold the collar in place with my hands.
All told, the Aspen Cool Collar is entering a market that might soon be the next rage for amateur competitive cyclists like ourselves. (Heck, compression socks were the next big thing for a while, so why not cooling garments?) And it’s doing it on the cheaper end, which is great for those of us not looking to drop hundreds on cooling vests. With a little more emphasis on improving the quality of the actual collar and maybe explaining how it works, I could see the Aspen Cool Collar becoming a must-have tool for local cyclists.