Ah spring. Spring! That magical time when the temperatures rise just enough to tease you with the thoughts of summer. A time when a young man’s mind turns to sheep…uh, I mean wool. Nature’s perfect material for spring weather, everything from sideways blizzards to balmy sunny days nearly 60 degrees.
Here are a few of my favorite spring wool pieces from Ibex and Icebreaker. Why wool? Because evolution can create better than humankind.
Wool is perhaps the best material ever made for mountain biking, cross riding and road biking in Colorado in spring, fall and winter. Merino wool evolved on sheep that survive a climate similar to Colorado’s – the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Temperatures in these Alps range from –5° to 95° F, not as great a range as Colorado, but close enough.
Merino sheep are tough, high altitude survivors and their wool has proven to offer many advantages over synthetics. First of all, it’s a natural material so it’s biodegradable, recyclable and renewable. When I can, I always choose a natural product. It’s one of the reasons I was once told at a party by a substantial woman in a huge cowboy hat “You’re one of them damn tree huggers ain’t you.” It wasn’t a question on her part.
Second, wool wicks well, stays warm when wet and maintains performance in these two areas when layered. Synthetics wick well, but don’t stay warm when wet, although they do dry fast.
If you’re kicking it around the campfire and fall in, wool won’t melt to your skin like synthetics. It’s not flammable. It may smell like burning sheep hair though.
Finally, and this is not a small thing, wool doesn’t hold odors. You can wear it several times, on several sweaty rides, before you need to wash it. This is a great thing if you’re like me and dash out on your lunch hour to get a ride in, then just hang your clothes in the bathroom until the next day’s ride. Repeat for a week, it’s okay. No one will pinch their nose when you walk by.
Yes, wool costs more. Lots more. It seems to wear out faster too. And you have to remember not to throw it in the dryer. But it performs really well and it’s my choice in all conditions but hot summer days. That means it’s on my back for 3/4 of the year here in Colorado. The price? Well, there is nothing we can do about the price. You have to decide if working with the Earth is worth something to you, if it’s worth paying more money to support sheep farmers, sustainable industries, and all that. You know the answer already.
Ibex is a cool company. They’re headquartered in Vermont. They make stuff in the USA. www.ibexwear.com
Ibex Men’s El Fito 3/4
These knickers rock – for mountain bike rides, cross rides in the mud or road rides in the cool spring. They’re a mix of wool (92%) and some synthetic fibers to give them more shape and stretch. Ibex says they’re like wool shorts with knee warmers attached. This is true. A little softshell panel covers the knees to keep them warm.
The knickers come in just 5 sizes to fit all sizes and shapes of humans out there, so you should try them on before you order them. It’s not a super tight waist, so sometimes you have to tug them up, unless you’re still fat from winter. I’ve worn these for the last 4 years. Don’t think I’m just a blind believer though – I’ve tried straight wool bike shorts and I can’t wear them. There is something different about the El Fito 3/4. MSRP $150
I like these knickers because they are loose and casual. There is nothing really technical about them – just a cargo pocket, two pockets on the back and one buttons closed so your wallet won’t fall out, and button adjustments on the lower leg so you can make them more fitted. They’re 98% wool.
Most importantly, they go great over your tights in the spring so if you want to stop in at the bar with your friends at the end of the ride, you won’t be the dude in the bar wearing tights. Unless that’s your thing, then it’s cool. These are also great for commuting or even hiking.
Some people online have ridden in these a lot more than me and eventually they will wear out in the areas with the most contact when riding – sit spots and sometimes in the inner knees.
Ibex may have stopped making these, but you can still snap up a pair on sale online for around $140.
Next to the skin, I’ve been wearing the Ibex Indie Chase Jersey. It’s fairly lightweight and a testament to the fact that Merino wool isn’t itchy. I’m a super white skinned Scots-Irish with skin that itches if you look at it funny. I can wear this jersey on my skin right up until the hot days of summer. I can’t wear it on the hottest days.
It’s got a half zip, some zany racing stripes on the shoulders, a rubber band around the bottom seam to keep it from riding up and 3 traditional back pockets. It’s 100% wool, so not as fitted as some wool jerseys. All around it’s a good basic jersey. Admittedly, I am not into jerseys that only zip half way though. MSRP $120
In a similar category, but with a few souped-up features is Icebreaker’s SS Circuit Jersey. Icebreaker isn’t an American company, but it’s still a great company, from New Zealand, closer to the sheep. www.icebreaker.com
This is my go to spring jersey. 98% wool with 3% lycra for shape, a full zip, two weights of wool (heavier on the front and lighter on the back), a narrow pump pocket in the back and a zippered pocket to keep cash and cards from bouncing out on the singletrack. Best of all, besides being wool, it has a full zip so you can zip down and air out your pasty white belly in early spring. MSRP $140
- Reviewed by Nathan Ward, www.NathanWard.com