Wool has a time travel issue.
Wool cycling gear usually calls up associations of Eddy Merckx, Faema, 1969. It’s part of the sport’s history but when synthetics took over, wool disappeared except for the “retro” jersey that hipsters slip on for the brutal ride to the coffee shop.
In the new millennium, sheep were supposedly no match for the patent-hype of Elastane, Power-Lycra and fabric coatings like Gore’s Windstopper. However the pendulum has swung and pedaled furiously back.
That’s because Icebreaker arrived on the scene with high performance wool and a modern design sensibility. Yes, it’s time to ride fast and go easy on the petroleum-based threads.
The Icebreaker Circuit bib uses a finer, softer Merino wool from the mountains of New Zealand. It wicks, it warms, it cools, it’s ram-tough in that pickup truck way. It also happens to be the ideal compliment to the Icebreaker Cadence jersey we just reviewed.
The Circuit has all the mandatory must-haves: a semi-sheer, well-vented top half with straps. The bottom edge sports the typical line of elastic gripper. The pad is top-notch and made in Italy by Cytech — who spec euro brands like Assos. Fit and finish are high quality because this wool isn’t just do-good, it’s ride-hard.
But what makes the Circuit an Icebreaker are the wool panels on the front. Yes, the wool is heavier gauge than the typical synthetic fabric but our riding experience here in Northern California made us feel like there wasn’t an earth -shattering difference.
While the synthetic folks might show you a clever wicking graphic and coin some new brand language, wool continues to insulate and cool with timeless brilliance– and in a superior fashion when wet. While we have no intention of giving up our crazy-cool, pro-fantasy synthetic gear, having a viable wool alternative feels good.
The shock, perhaps, are the synthetic back panels but Icebreaker is the first to say that when synthetics are a better choice, they skip the sheep.
It’s a mix and Icebreaker is already in development on thinner wool panels up front for down the road. Sheep don’t change — the R&D is about finding smarter ways to work with the gift.
Maybe the best take on Icebreaker comes from Jeremy Moon, the CEO. “At that time, outdoor clothing was made of petroleum and was either polypropylene or polyester. I thought polyester was good for disco gear, and that we were all ready for a natural alternative. My bet was that people were ready for a new choice.”
The joy of the long ride is often the sense of discovery around the next corner and over the mountain top. Icebreaker is one of those happy revelations. Wool, my friends, is back on the bike.