Meet Ovis orientalis Aries var. Merino. That's a merino sheep to those who didn't take high school Latin. To a cyclist, this guy is a champion. His wool is the best in the world and can make the difference between a warm, dry, comfortable cold-weather ride and a cold, damp, bone-chilling slog on two wheels. So what makes Merino so great anyway?
Several properties contribute to merino's popularity for exercise clothing, compared to wool in general and to other types of fabric:
- Merino is excellent at regulating body temperature. It provides lightweight warmth, without overheating.
- It wicks moisture away from the skin. Merino is slightly moisture repellent allowing the wearer to avoid the feeling of dampness.
- Like cotton, wool absorbs water, but unlike cotton, wool retains warmth when wet.
- Like most wools, merino contains lanolin, which has antibacterial properties. Meaning you can wear it for prolonged periods between washing without it getting "funky" or odoriferous.
- Merino is one of the softest types of wool available, so no "itchy" feeling against the skin, making it perfect for sensitive wearers.
- Merino has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio compared to other wools, trapping body heat due to microscopic air pockets in the fibers.
Merino has been the choice for cycling specific garments for generations. Until the advent of modern "athletic" fabrics, merino was used almost exclusively for jerseys, shorts, gloves, socks, caps and base layers. Imagine three weeks of riding through monstrous mountain passes during the 1919 Tour de France, in all weather from snow to searing heat. Only wool passes that kind of test.
Today, the cycling apparel market is over-flowing with wool options for your head, your toes and everything in between. Gone are the early editions that left you itchy and swearing...modern garments are soft, wearable, durable and overwhelmingly comfortable. Wool (if it hasn't already) will quickly become your most treasured garment on and off the bike.
Here at Veloville USA, we primarily carry wool garments from Endura. Their line is cleverly called BaaBaa Merino and their base layers, socks, arm and leg warmers, caps, multi-tubes (think neck gator, bandana and head covering all in one) come in men's and women's versions and deliver big bang-for-your-buck performance. When the wet snow is falling (as it is just now), the very same wool base layer usually found under a long sleeve jersey and waterproof jacket, is keeping us comfortable under a sweater as we type this blog. They can be pricier than their synthetic counterparts, but considering their dual purpose and longevity (lasting for years when properly cared for) wool is well worth the investment.