November 29, 2005

Wool: Wear it's at.

I forgot to mention, also, that Sunday's ride was the first ride of any length that I performed with wool on my back. This was a good test run to see if the cost of a wool cycling jersey could indeed be justified, and (unfortunately for my wallet) it certainly can be. Although not the BEST test case, this decidedly NOT cycling specific wool top started life as a casual piece of winter men's-wear. One fine laundry day, my washer decided to halp alter its fate by snagging the collar on the aggitator -- thus, upon removal from the washer, a light bulb came on in my head...
After a quick trip to the utility drawer to retrieve a scissors, I cut free the rest of the collar and hung it up to dry. Something that I normally would have worn to the office in the fall was destined for the cycling closet. 100% Merino wool no less - which just happens to be what more cycling-specific wool items are made from. Sunday, with the drizzle and gloomy skies, and lower-50ºF temps, it was a perfect time to test it out -- while not really suited for commuting, because of the extra heat created by the messenger bag, wool is great by itself, or with a thin shell over it. Today, I donned the wool 'jersey' with a windvest over it, just to block some of the drizzle away from my torso. The formula was perfect -- as the upper surface of the wool got moist from the rainy conditions, I stayed warm -- almost TOO warm, which makes me think wool would probably be good for a 40ºF rain, too. I never had to think about getting out the rain jacket for further protection, because the wool was doing its job nicely. A synthetic long-sleeve jersey, as I've experienced in the past, would have eventually saturated, and would have lost warmth quickly -- donning a rain jacket while wearing that kind of jersey is important, and I usually have to wear it even in marginal conditions like Sunday. After arriving at the Casey's, I considered for 1/2 a second to put the rain jacket on, as the rain increased in intensity, but then decided this was a perfect time to see how well wool REALLY does when it is WET. Try as mother nature might have, I never felt 'wet' -- just warm, even as water was visibly changing the color of the wool as it got wetter, I never felt that wetness migrate to my skin -- so, as they say, wool does indeed insulate as it gets wet -- the trick is never taking your heat away from it: if it rains and you take the wool layer off, for whatever reason, you'll be leaving it off as it will cool off an no longer offer warmth -- and you'll take too long to heat back up enough to get that feeling back again. On the return trip, riding with the wind, the rain - though more intense - didn't play as much of a factor, so I actually dried out a little bit -- the temperature control was nearly, dare I say, perfect -- and this is a medium-density, casual-wear, not-meant-for-cycling wool top! I can only imagine how well a true cycling piece would perform -- and now, unfortunately again for my wallet, I will HAVE to find out. As versatile as they are, however, I imagine I'll only need one good one -- and considering how pricey synthetic jerseys are ANYWAYS, wool is really not that much more, and likely far more flexible temperature-wise.
Certainly, come brevet-time, I have a feeling I'll have far LESS in my saddlebag with regards to extra layers and such. Now, I can talk the wife into replacing that wool top for the holidays -- but instead of buying it at the casual men's department, it will be from a well respected online cycling firm. Hmmmm.... My thanks in advance to the sheep.

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