What’s the meaning of life, why am I here on this earth, how to I thermo-regulate with the skillful use of base layers? These are the great existential mysteries of life.
When it comes to technical apparel for winter biking, there’s plenty of hype about wicking and moisture transfer and temperature regulations.
This confusion and mistrust brought us back to basics and the high performance merino wool from Icebreaker. We wanted to discover if there was a better way or at least an equally smart option besides the latest greatest in synthetics.
For the past two months we’ve been testing the Icebreaker long sleeve Sprint Zip ($110) and Roto Zip ($120). In our experience, the sheep more than hold their own when it comes to keeping you warm and comfortable on a hard December climb or bone-chilling descent.
In particular, we found there were a number of distinctive advantages to Sprint and Roto.
Performance. The Thermo-sheep.
There are some amazing synthetic fabrics and innovations out there. In the patent-frenzy some of us have missed the equally brilliant adaptations in merino wool from New Zealand.
We’ve worn the Sprint and Roto as a base in combination with a range of layers and variations and the results have been consistently positive. We’ve tested with jersey and vest, wind shell and even the new Hincapie rain jacket.
Thermo-regulation is always personal physiology but we were impressed by the breathability of the Sprint and Roto. One thing to keep in mind: synthetics only breathe through holes in the fabric while with merino wool, even the fabric itself pulls off moisture.
The second benefit for Winter rides is the insulation and warmth. Synthetics don’t insulate well and once they load up with perspiration, you feel cold and clammy. That simply doesn’t occur with Icebreaker wool. We’ve done enough hard climbs in cold, wet conditions to know that no matter what the miserable conditions dictate, we’ll stay warm.
Unlike some base-layers, the Sprint and Roto employ the greatest advance in the history of thermo-regulation: the zipper. We’ve found again and again that the ability to unzip vest and jersey and base-layer is the ultimate key to managing heat and cold and temperature control. What an Icebreaker base gives up in terms of skin-wrapping fit, you more than gain back with the zip.
Versatility. Base Layer versus Multi-layer.
We’ve noticed that as much as we like our Craft and Pearl Izumi base layers, they don’t have much versatility other than occasional ski duty. Generally, base layers are also cut tight enough that unless you’re super slim, you can’t wear them on the outside as a casual layer.
We were drawn to the Sprint and Roto because of the athletic but relaxed fit. In this crushed economy, we value gear that does double and triple duty. The Sprint and Roto perform admirably as base-layers yet are also stylish enough to wear with a pair of jeans or function as shirt to go with a jacket. (The Roto also has a small rear zip pocket on the right and extra eyelet venting on the arms and neck.)
This versatility in function is one of the major promises of wool. Because it warms in the cold and cools in the heat, Icebreaker apparel has a wider application across seasons. If we’re paying for a top base-layer, it better have a good skill-set. We’ve worn the Roto and Sprint as core layer and as casual athletic apparel. The bonuses are always welcome.
The Olfactory factor. The nose knows.
The tag on the Sprint and Roto says “Think, don’t Stink.” Most of us have become so accustomed to the bad smell of synthetic gear that we accept it as a given. It isn’t. Merino wool has an amazing capacity to defy body oder.
Without going into un-nessessary personal details, we didn’t wash out Roto for a month. We’d hang it up dark with sweat and let it dry. Every morning there was no proof we’d worn it for 2 hours of hard aerobic exercise. It became almost comedic how many rides we could do before there was even an olfactory trace of body odor. We all know how many times you can wear a synthetic base layer before washing: once.
Philosophy. Natural or chemical?
We have no particular axes to grind when comparing synthetics and the merino wool alternative. We love synthetics and have no plan to stop buying the latest, coolest, patent- dazzling technical gear.
That said, the base-layer is the one that touches your skin. We just prefer the idea of a natural fabric in place of a petroleum-based one. We’d rather have soft wool pull that perspiration off our body and then pass it on to whatever synthetic is layered over top. We live in a toxic world and we prefer to keep chemicals at a safe distance.
Finally, there is the ethics of cycling gear, an odd subject but worth considering. The Icebreaker motto is Ride with Nature. The advantages of wool go far beyond the bike ride. It’s renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. As a corporate citizen, Icebreaker is a Patagonia junior engaged in a number of cool projects around the world. Those good deeds don’t improve your thermo-regulation, but they do toss some positive energy your way.
Verdict: The Icebreaker Sprint and Roto are terrific alternatives to synthetics. Maybe your base-layer strategy needs a remix.
Capo Padrone bib short, Icebreaker Commute Zip jacket, Giro Aeon helmet, Sugoi Zap vest, Pearl Izumi P.R.O RD II road shoes, Ritchey Pro Carbon Evo handlebars, Pearl Izumi Barrier Lite vest, Keo Blade pedals, Mavic Infinity Bib short, Icebreaker Circuit bib short, Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheelset