The days, minute by minute, are finally getting longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are getting much warmer.
So until then, keeping climate comfortable on the bike is key. With dresser drawers full of gear made from synthetic blends, it was with some curiosity that I took on the chill wearing wool — SmartWool to be exact.
First off, this isn’t your scratchy, hair-shirt wool from yesteryear. Make no mistake, SmartWool’s Merino wool cycling offerings for spring 2010 fit right in with all your Lycra, Spandex, polypropylene and polyester infused clothing.
Cool Warm, Warm Cool
Most of my rides in the SmartWool gear took place during the fall before the first snows in California’s Sierra Nevada, where at 6,000-feet plus it gets cool in the shade of the woods yet warm in the open spaces. Put it this way, there are plenty of sweat-inducing climbs followed by chilly descents.
SmartWool maintains that its apparel for 2010, made with “Technical Knit Merino,” is wearable through every season — essentially keeping you cool when it’s warm and warm when it’s cool. I found that I got hot when it was warm and pretty much stayed warm when it got cold.
What I mean is that on sustained climbs exposed to the sun, I was perspiring pretty good. For most of my rides I was decked out in SmartWool’s Rambition bib knicker, over which I wore the Betasso MTB short and either the Betasso pullover MTB jersey or the full-zip Flagstaff jersey. Both jerseys incorporate a mesh T.K.M. fabric on the side and back to help your warming and cooling. I wore arm warmers from another company, and depending on the temperature they were either pulled up or pushed down.
Climbing in the autumn sun proved warm and sweaty, which I dreaded because what goes up must come down — in the autumn wind. But here is the beauty of SmartWool’s Technical Knit Merino: Even though I had worked up a sweat, my thoughts on the descents weren’t preoccupied with being cold and clammy because, well, I didn’t feel cold or clammy. I guess that’s why it’s called SmartWool.
It’s that moisture and temperature regulation, combined with breathability, that make wool a smart choice. Another cool feature of Merino wool is its antimicrobial attributes, meaning less stink than your other synthetic gear — something the person behind you on your next ride will be thankful for. And when you do get around to washing your SmartWool items you can just throw them into the washer and dryer.
All in all, the SmartWool gear performed great. Personally, I like the logo/sponsor-free aesthetic and the understated colors. Are some of the items, like the jerseys, suited to year-round riding? No, I wouldn’t wear them in the middle of summer, but they’ll be on the top of the pile come spring and fall.
Betasso MTB Short
For 2010, SmartWool is also offering up the baggy Betasso short. It features a snap-in liner with a 100 percent polyester outer. In my opinion, it’s actually one of the few baggy shorts that I like: understated, somewhat fitted and not adorned with bulky cargo pockets. It has hand pockets and low-profile zip pockets on the leg that make for easy access to gels.
Because I prefer wearing bib shorts when riding, I mostly wore the Betasso short — minus the liner — over the Rambition. As with most non-bib cycling shorts — fitted as well as baggy — the Betasso short with the liner in tended to scoot down while my jersey scooted up, exposing one of my peeves — cycling plumber’s crack. Cinching down on the Betasso short’s offset buckle/webbing closure helped with the fit, but as the old saying goes, once you’ve gone bib, you never go back.
Rambition bib knickers
• 8-panel ergonomic bib design, flatlock seams
• SmartWool-covered men’s specific Italian 10mm chamois
• SmartWool Technical Knit Merino
The SmartWool lining over the chamois’ foam core was comfortable on the first ride. Chafing was never an issue due to the bib’s seamless construction. My only real criticism is when I wore these knickers — without the Betasso short shell — on a technical ride where I was on and off the saddle. The chamois and surrounding fabric tended to go slack and bunch up, which caught on my seat tip more than once. That said, the leg cuffs stayed comfortably in place as did the shoulder straps.
Betasso MTB Jersey
• raglan short-sleeve jersey with drop-tail cycling fit
• pieced mesh panels at underarms, side seams and over shoulders for passive venting
• SmartWool T.M.K. jersey knit
As with the Betasso MTB short, the jersey is understated yet functional. The demo I wore featured a rear pocket, but the jerseys produced for 2010 won’t have them. A low-profile side-seam pocket is a cool feature for stashing various items. While I wouldn’t wear this jersey in the middle of summer, it would be a mainstay in fall and spring.
• full-length center front zipper
• Pieced mesh panels at underarms and back yoke for passive venting
• Three standard drop-in back pockets with grommet for media cord
• Reflective logos and piping at bottom edge of back pockets for visibility
• SmartWool T.K.M. Jersey knit
The full zip on the Flagstaff is great for regulating your temperature on those rides that serve up climbs and descents. While the rear pockets held items securely, they were a little difficult to get into while on and off the bike. As for looks, the jersey I tested was an OK blue, but the rear pockets were black, which lent a piecemeal look. As with the Betasso jersey, I probably wouldn’t wear the Flagstaff in Flagstaff in August, but definitely would wear it in cooler months.