There are some pretty cool synthetic fabrics out there these days. Things made from recycled milk jugs, things using fancy knits, hydrophobic yarns, antimicrobial treatments and all kinds of other cool stuff. Some even approach the comfort of wool, but none match it. And none come anywhere close to the anti-funk properties of this natural fiber.
That’s why, for the past decade, merino has been my material of choice for riding jerseys. I try all the fancy fabrics, but very few of them keep me comfortable the way wool does.
Often times, I just wear merino tech tees, the kind you’d find in an REI, because they’re easy to come by and are multipurpose. But then I came across this Smartwool jersey, made specifically for mountain biking, and I had to have it.
At first glance, the piece looks like it’s for cool weather riding, but the purpose is hidden in its overly-long name: The jersey uses a lightweight 150 gram per square meter merino, while also using a special perforated knit on the entire back panel for extra breathability. I’ve had this jersey for a year now, and it’s been my go-to favorite since it arrived. I’ve worn it in every weather condition, in multiple climates, and it’s just about the most perfect riding piece I’ve come across.
I got a size XL, and it’s just about the perfect fit for my 42-inch chest and 39-inch waist. It has a rather baggy fit, and I’m pretty sure I could size down to large if I wanted a slightly more athletic fit. But I like the three-quarter sleeves, plus the drop tail, which keeps any embarrassing lower back butterfly tattoos hidden.
The regulates temperature better better than synthetics can, keeping me a bit warmer on cool days, and cooler on warm ones. I’ve worn it alone in the mid-summer heat, utilizing the three-quarter sleeves for sun protection, and on chilly winter days in conjunction with a base layer. I love the way the wool hangs, how quickly it dries, and how warm the fabric still feels when you’re drenched in sweat. Most of all, I love that it doesn’t stink. When doing multi-day trips or even just riding several days in a row at home, I’m able to just hang it to dry after rides and use it again the next day without any funk. On hot days where I’m persperakting heavily, I’ll give it a quick rinse in the shower or a river if I’m camping, and it’ll be good to go for the next ride.
I’m making it sound like I never use a washing machine, but I actually run the thing through the wash often, and it’s been holding up really well so far. For durability, the wool is mixed with about 44-percent polyester, which has has helped to keep the merino from breaking down or pilling. My fingers are crossed that it continues to hold up, because Smartwool stopped making this jersey in this exact format. I absolutely love wearing this thing. It fits well, looks great, and performs flawlessly.
But it looks like the new one is really sweet, too. It uses a lighter, 120 gram per meter knit, and rather than being mixed with polyester, it’s blended with a natural fiber called Lyocell, made from sustainable wood fibers. Lyocell is said to be ultra soft and silky smooth while also being durable, moisture wicking and bacteria-resistant. And, just like wool Lyocell is totally biodegradable, so the whole garment can go back to the earth when past its useful life. It looks like Smartwool even omitted not-so-useful side pocket that mine has, meaning there won’t be a zipper left behind as the rest of the jersey is pushing up daisies.
I don’t have one of the new ones, but if the construction and fit is similar to what I have, it’ll be a winner. I’ll easily cough up the $70 to try it out.