Love, sheep.

There are no sheep in this photo.
There are no sheep in this photo.

Cycling on snow is done for the year and I’m already thinking about the next tour, but I’ll continue with a number of posts that (god willing and a fast infield) will be of help to the first-time tourer and beginner-type cyclist such as myself.


Wool fabric, and more specifically, merino (as in soft) jersey (as in a very fine knit), is a kind of holy grail as far as your clothing goes on a tour. Yes, I know you’re touring in the summer. Yes, I know that wool undershirt costs 80 euros. But if you need convincing…

You don’t need to wash wool. It doesn’t smell. Really. Try it yourself and be amazed. A friend of mine passed on a 100% merino long-sleeved undershirt to me just before my last tour, and it turned out to be the thing I wore all the time. I kept checking it after the ride for the hideous odourous underarm reek that, logically, would be the end result of an 8-hour day on the bike. But the reek simply wasn’t there. Wool is basically a magical substance that we, in our quest for the latest technical fabric, have forgotten exists. All you need to do is air it out, and maybe rinse or handwash a couple times on the tour. In contrast, my fancy-pants technical adidas shirt wasn’t fit for public spaces at the end of the day.

They grow it so that cyclists may have joy

Wool is not scratchy. Not merino, and not a fine jersey knit. It’s soft, light, breathable… I mean, who knew the sheep had it going on like this?

Wool keeps you warm when it’s chilly, and cool when it’s hot. I have no fecking clue how it does this and I refuse to speculate. I am simply going to chalk it up to millions of years of evolution. Wool also does a rather nice thing about drying super fast, and it insulates when wet anyway. I had a long-sleeved black wool shirt (very thin, mind) in 27-degree temperatures and was comfy. It also was rather nice for giving the forearms a bit of a break from direct sunlight.

Wool keeps you dry. That’s a nice one for the commuters, too. If you change shirts at the office, it’s always nicer if you’re not putting a clean shirt on a body glistening with sweat droplets.

Shirts, socks… what else? I’m big on wool for cycling socks and shirts, basically. I would love to see if I can get any good wool touring trousers this summer and see how they feel, but at the moment my Rapha by Paul Smith by Rapha cash jar is a little too empty.

You don’t really need it to be ”technical”. There are plenty of supremely expensive garments out there made of ”technical merino wool”, and while I’m sure they’re extra thin and light and comfy and help you count yourself to sleep, you don’t really need to blow your money on the most expensive one. It’s already pretty technical stuff.

Keeping your wool feeling cared for

As mentioned, hang it up (dry!) after a day’s use. If possible, get it near an open window for some breeze. Gently brush or shake the day’s dust and dirt out. Wool garments technically should have 24 hours to ”rest” between uses, so I’m planning on taking two wool shirts on my next tour; one long-sleeved and one short-sleeved. Don’t leave it in your bags; make sure it rests up overnight!

When you wash it, wool really prefers handwashing, even if you’ve got your technical wool that’s been treated so that you can just toss it in the machine with everything else. There are three things wool doesn’t like in combination: agitation, water, and heat. Be gentle when washing. Don’t wring it out! Squeeze some water out gently, and then lay it flat to dry on a towel or on top of the machine. Don’t hang it up—the weight of the water can stretch the fabric. It’ll dry super fast anyway. If you don’t have time to wash it, you can brush it, just like you would brush hair. (Er, I don’t actually take a clothing brush with me on tour. Another quick fix is just give it a wipe with a damp cloth.)

Pilling (when you get a bunch of balled-up fuzz bits in an area of friction on your garment) is normal; it happens to most natural fabrics. It’s not a bug and it doesn’t mean your shirt is breaking. You can brush them off and your shirt should be even softer.

That said, wool doesn’t last forever, which is why synthetic fabrics have taken over the planet. But come on, would you rather wear plastic, or a nice cuddly sheep?

When it’s out of rotation, it’s not a bad idea to store it in a sealed bag, or in a closet with cedar, or (yuck) mothballs. Moths are real and they love to eat your favourite woolies. And while I’m secretly pleased by the fact that the resulting holes really do look like they’re out of an old cartoon, I’m not so secretly pleased that it takes the sting out of having a ruined shirt.

Any other tips? I’m feeling like a wool queen so send ’em along.

Related Posts:

By Johanna MacDonald

Johanna is an artist, photographer, writer, musician and actress originally from Canada, but currently living and breathing in Helsinki, Finland. Summer 2010 she rode all the way through the United Kingdom. Check out her in Twitter @happeningfish.