Wool Jerseys: Continue Riding Even as the Weather Cools

Now that it’s officially autumn in the northern hemisphere, the temperatures are getting colder, the days are shorter, and there’s often a chance of rain in the forecast. For me, that makes riding my bike all the more important. I enjoy breathing fresh air, feeling the wind in my face, and seeing the landscape change with the season. I come home invigorated.

Speaking to my riding companions, everybody agrees that the hardest part is heading out. It’s rare that we went on a ride and then thought: “I should have stayed home.” Usually, it’s the opposite, and one of us exclaims: “So glad this ride was on the schedule. Otherwise, I might not have gone, but this is a great!”

How do you avoid being miserable when it’s cold (and maybe damp) outside? “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” That old saying is especially true for cycling: On a warm, sunny day, you can ride in almost anything, but in more demanding weather, good cycling clothes make all the difference.

In time for the colder seasons, we have the Bicycle Quarterly wool jerseys back in stock in all sizes, with short and long sleeves. You’ve seen them in many photos, because it’s pretty much all we wear on our rides. Wool is an almost magic material: It’s comfortable over a wide range of temperatures. It insulates equally well wet and dry. And it doesn’t absorb odors. These qualities make it ideal for cycling jerseys, especially at this time of year.

Great wool jerseys can be hard to find. The best Merino wool is soft to the touch, doesn’t scratch or shrink in the wash, and lasts for many years. That is why we offer the Bicycle Quarterly wool jerseys, made by Woolistic in Europe.

We chose the blue color of the Italian champion jerseys, because it offers high visibility, yet looks classy – something that isn’t easy to achieve. We used the same color for the Seattle Randonneurs jerseys, so we get to see them on the road quite frequently. They really stand out from a long ways in any weather.

Why wool over all other materials? I have found that it’s important that the innermost layer remains dry – it’s next to my skin! That is why wool jerseys are much more useful than windbreakers and other jackets. Even breathable shells tend to get damp on the inside. I get sweaty, and on the next downhill, the moisture chills me to the bone.

When I layer up in wool, the moisture is transferred outward, and I stay dry on the inside. This becomes obvious on very cold days, when the moisture generated by my body freezes on the outside of my jersey (above), but inside, I remain warm and dry. (I wore four layers of wool that day. Usually, it’s not that cold on our rides.)

Even in light rain, I prefer not to wear a shell. I find that if the outer wool layer gets moist, it’s OK, as long as the inner layers next to my skin remain warm and dry. Shells have their place: I wear them in downpours, when there is so much water that my body heat cannot keep me dry; and during long mountain descents, when I don’t pedal and thus generate little heat.

Once you have the right clothing, temperatures – at least down to freezing – no longer need to discourage you from riding. It’s truly liberating when you realize that you can go for a ride when you want, not just when the weather is “nice”.

Once you have your clothing dialled in, you may consider installing fenders on your bike, not so much because you want to ride in the rain, but for all those days when there is merely a “chance of rain”. Being prepared allows you to head out and enjoy the day, and most days, the rain never materializes. Even more independence comes with generator-powered lights. They free us from being limited by the short days at this time of year. But those are topics for future discussion.

If you are new to autumn cycling, focus on your clothing first, so you can enjoy riding on those many dry, but chilly, days.

Readers who live in the southern hemisphere are heading into spring. We envy you! And yet, you’ll want good clothing, too, since the weather in spring is as unpredictable as it is in autumn. Having a good wool jersey in your wardrobe will allow you to enjoy many more memorable rides.

Click here for more information about our wool jerseys.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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32 Responses to Wool Jerseys: Continue Riding Even as the Weather Cools

  1. Bojana says:

    Are there any plans for introducing women’s sizes?

  2. Jason says:

    Is it possible to post some sizing information for the jerseys?

    • They fit like racing jerseys – or about one size smaller than most “casual” wool shirts. For example, I am 5’11” (180 cm) tall and wear “M” jerseys. For comparison, with Ibex, I wear their wool undershirts in “S” size for the same fit.

      • Alex says:

        Is that M long sleeve Compass jerseys or M short sleeve? And are those S long sleeve Ibex, or S short sleeve? 🙂
        The reason that I ask is that I notice I wear a size larger for long sleeve garments. How do Compass jerseys work in this regard, particularly as you tend to wear them on top of each other, I believe?

      • Long and short sleeve fit the same. I wear M in both long and short sleeves. They stretch, so layering the same size works great.

  3. J. W. Roberts says:

    I agree that wool rocks for almost all cycling weather. I sure wish you made your jerseys in high vis colors with all the distracting driving going on in automobiles these days.

    • You make an important point, so I added it to the blog post as well: The main reason we chose the blue color is that it is very visible, without being obnoxious. The blue is bright and really stands out, whether you are riding in the city or through the countryside. It forms a very noticeable contrast against the green trees of the Pacific Northwest and against the ochre rocks of the desert Southwest. And being blue, it’s even visible for color-blind people (which is a problem with red).

      The only way to be more visible would be to wear a much brighter Day-Glo color, but those tend to get grimy very quickly. I once made a yellow rain jacket, but it didn’t stay yellow for long!

      I think you’ll find that the blue color strikes a good balance between a classy look and visibility.

      • B. Carfree says:

        I agree that blue stands out well, especially here in the PNW. However, my color-blind son assures me that he sees colors that aren’t blue. He says color is binary, blue and not-blue, so reds, greens, yellows, oranges and such are the color not-blue.

      • reds, greens, yellows, oranges and such are the color not-blue.

        Colorblind people see other colors, they just don’t stand out. Where for most people, a red easter egg in green grass is very visible, it’s as good as camouflaged for color-blind people. Blue does stand out for everybody.

  4. Gugie says:

    In the early 1980’s I was a sales rep for Veltec-Boyer, a wholesaler of high end, European bikes, parts, and clothing. It was during the period when synthetic jersies were really taking hold, with their bright and splashy printed on logos, and the promise of “super fabrics” that would keep you dry when sweating as it would “wick” moisture away from the skin. Most of the people in the company were ex-racers. My sales manager rode in the professional World Championships one year, our main warehouse guy was a US time trial champion. These guys knew what worked.

    One of our offerings was a thin wool t-shirt, to be worn under the jersey. The synthetic jersies themselves wouldn’t keep you dry, the thin wool t-shirts made up for this inadequacy. We all wore them, except for the hottest days. The few shops “in the know” bought them from us. Regular wool jersies were hard to find at the time, this supplement helped out. Of course, just a thin wool jersey wouldn’t require this band-aid!

    With wool making a revival, along with many other things once thought old and obsolete, we are sometimes reminded to look back to predict the future.

    Another thing to add: I still have 2 of the 3 wool t-shirts and still use them, usually while commuting to work under a button up shirt. Over 30 years later, and they’re still going strong!

    I read your article about riding in the rain with layered wool when it came out. I decided to try it, the rain jacket “sauna” was driving me crazy. It works!

  5. Hōkan says:

    Since so few of us have experience with wool these days, how about some tips on caring for wool jerseys.

    • Caring for wool is really easy. Using a wool-specific detergent is key – I use Ecover Delicate Wash. A front-loading washing machine is much more gentle than old-style top-loaders. This will greatly extend the life of all your clothes. That way, the BQ wool jerseys will last many years. I am still wearing the first ones that are more than a decade old.

      One final issue are moths. The best protection is wearing your clothes frequently. Moth eggs take at least two weeks to hatch, and only the caterpillars eat wool. (The moths don’t eat anything, they just lay eggs.) The eggs are quite fragile. If you wash your wool at least every two weeks, the caterpillars never have a chance to develop. Also, they don’t eat clean wool, so washing your jerseys promptly after wearing them helps. I’ve had no problems with moths on my BQ jerseys.

  6. Mike Tsoi says:

    I have both Ibex and Icebreaker jerseys and agree that wool breathes great. When the temps are low, how do you deal with cold wind going through the jersey? I see a couple of you in wind vests but most go without.

    • A wind vest works well over a wool jersey when it gets really cold. It allows for more breathing than a full shell.

      The alternative – which I usually use – is just adding another layer of wool. With a dense weave, the wind doesn’t go through all the layers, unless you go downhill very fast – which is when I put on a shell, too.

  7. Brian Roth says:

    Are you wearing something different (i.e. heavier) in the ‘frosty’ 4th picture? It looks quite a bit thicker….

  8. John Duval says:

    I would love to have a long sleeve, but I need a 38 sleeve length. Fitting cycling clothing is really frustrating without any metrics.

    • We’ll work on a color chart and put it on the jersey pages as soon as it’s done.

    • Matt says:

      Not sure if recommending other brands here is okay, but I’m super happy with my Wabi Woolens sport jersey (haven’t tried their winter weight one.. yet?). They have Tall versions of the most common sizes. They have a size chart and also were very responsive when I emailed to confirm the sizing.

      (Why does almost no bike clothing have tall versions?? Finding long sleeve jerseys that fit well shouldn’t be so hard.)

  9. singlespeedscott says:

    Wish it was cool here in south East Queensland Australia. Our spring time temp just hit 40 degrees. Hottest September day in 70 years.

    Just out of interest what brand/material cycling shorts do you wear under your

  10. morlamweb says:

    I like wool for it’s insulating/cooling properties, but I haven’t yet made the leap into wool shirts. I have wool socks, underwear, and boot liners, but the high prices of wool shirts have given me pause. I think I’ll look around for a wool t-shirt rather than the jerseys depicted here.

    I’ve been riding year-round for several years in my area, and I’ve come up with what works for me as the weather gets cooler. I just carry on wearing what I’ve worn through the spring and summer: cotton t-shirt, long-sleeve button down shirt, dress pants, dress shoes. That’s good for down to roughly 50 degrees F. Once it’s consistently cold, I throw on progressively more items: a wool peacoat, gloves, boots, scarf, wool hat and earmuffs. On the coldest days, I use all of that plus a long wool coat and long underwear. Most of the time, I just use my summer wear + wool peat coat + earmuffs and gloves, to protect my extremities. That’s enough for 85% of my winter riding.

  11. Any chance of doing a run of these without the Bicycle Quarterly logo? Although a big fan of BQ, I prefer unbranded clothing.

  12. Bill says:

    These would be so much easier to buy if they didn’t have your huge logo splashed across both sides of them. Why not a logoless option for those who just want a good simple piece of cycling apparel without being a rolling billboard for your magazine? Leave the logos for the riders you sponsor.

  13. Ken B says:

    What is your strategy for keeping hands and feet warm?

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