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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wool Crazy The Making of the "Fancy Bicyclist" Part 2

Before I became an "everyday" bicyclist, I never gave any thought to what materials my clothes were made of. I knew that my t-shirts were cotton, my pants and jeans were generally cotton, and plasticky material made decent raincoats. That was about as far as it went.

When I started to cycle daily, I had no intention to swaddle myself head-to-toe in spandex. I would just wear the same clothes I wore everyday. And that worked mostly. Until the rainy season. If I wore those cotton pants, they would get soaked in the rain and stay cold. If I put waterproof stuff over them, they'd get wet and stinky from sweat. This wasn't working.

After several years of trial and error, experimentation, and a side-step into synthetics, I've come to the same conclusion that most Retro-Grouches come to: wool is the answer. Wool is natural and stays warm when wet. Sure, it's not going to help much in a downpour, but most of the rain that happens in Portland is hardly a downpour. If it's really raining, I'll throw a rainjacket on top.

Wool outerwear is pretty easy. Hit up any thrift store and you'll find scads of sweaters, coats, and slacks. And thrifts are cheap! But my bicycle fanciness has hit a new level in the past year, and with fanciness comes expense. And that fanciness manifests itself in wool baselayers.

"Wait a sec!" you exclaim. "I get the wool sweaters. But wool underwear? Won't that be...itchy? What about washing?"

Ha! You wish! In this brave new world of technical wool baselayers, you really have to forget about that itchy sweater your gra'mma knit for you when you were seven and your mom made you wear it all winter. This is different. The new wool is soft and comfy. And the best part is that it doesn't stink like synthetics. As for washing, these baselayers were designed to be washable. You'll have to be a bit more careful than you would be with your BVD's, but it really isn't that bad. Besides, you won't need to wash them as much.

So theoretically you can get by with less wool baselayers than you would cotton or synthetics. If you were to say do a week-long bike tour, if you had two sets of wool baselayers you can alternate each day and be fine by the end of the trip.

But didn't we say wool baselayers are fancy, and fancy means not cheap? Yes we did. But there are ways to be frugal about it. Like the Icebreaker warehouse sale last week, where April and I loaded up on a ridiculous amount of wool for not a lot of cash. And since wool can be worn again and again between washes, you don't need a lot. A couple t-shirts, some longjohns, a few pairs of undies, and some socks will get you through the winter. And I got all that, and still want more.

Of course there has to be the ultimate in fancy when it comes to wool bicycling clothes, the one item that may be considered one step beyond. It's not wool jerseys, since these are considered by many to be retro and classy (especially when you compare them to the common synth jersey of today.) No, it's wool bike shorts. The only people I know who make them are Ibex, and they ain't cheap. But someday...maybe...


  1. Kucharik also makes wool shorts. I bought a pair from them.. oh... eight years ago...? I'm not totally impressed with them as, over time, they shrunk enough that I feel like I'm wearing a speedo and there's a number of holes worn into them. It looks like I had the "traditional" 100% merino. They now seem to have a six-panel short with a little bit of lycra in (like the ibex shorts) which should probably work out a bit better.

    I have... er... a couple pairs of the ibex shorts (and el fito and two pairs of the bib shorts) and I LOVE them (love, not like, LOVE!).

    Often you really do get what you get what you pay for. Quality shorts are worth the investment...

  2. Thanks Tim for the info. I probably will get a pair of Ibex at some point this year, but I've been hesitant to do it. I've heard some "meh" reviews of them, and for that much of an investment, I better well like them! Especially since you really don't want to return bike shorts.

    And I can't believe we're talking about undergarments! wow.


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