Friday, February 03, 2006

My Uniform

In the warmer months, I wear clothing while biking that make me look like I could be a regular guy walking down the street, except my shirts have a bit too much colour, and my pants have a bit too much grease.

In the winter months, I'm an unmistakable cyclist. I wear a bright yellow jacket with reflective stripes, a helmet with lights going in every direction, a balaclava, yellow low-light sunglasses and double-layered puffy knit gloves. I could call this outfit my MEC-iform (I know, I should go into marketing) after the popular Mountain Equipment Co-op store that supplies 90% of this cycling outfit to me and countless other Toronto cyclists.

This week I made a new addition to my winter gear. I've replaced my cotton t-shirt base layer, apparently a big no-no, with a fine merino wool t-shirt. I picked this shirt because I've heard about merino wool's comfort and wicking ability. More importantly, it was on sale, and it has a bit of style to it in the form a stripe on the shoulder. I wanted something that didn't look like an undershirt, so I would be able to walk around the office in it before changing and not look too silly.

After a few tests, the merino wool t-shirt has been very comfortable to ride in. I've been halfway unzipping my outer shell and fleece to let the wind blow against my chest. The wool is keeping me warm, but allowing a small amount of airflow so I don't get too hot.

The key with wicking moisture, however, is that the moisture must have somewhere to go. Wicking ability means nothing if you're wearing a waterproof shell. There is almost no airflow across my back under my shell. This puts some limits on how much of a difference wool or any synthetic will make in the winter. Since my bike rides to work are non-stop, the wicking doesn't make much difference because I never rest in my wet clothes and cool down. The only time I'm feeling any cold is at the start of my ride when I'm dry.

Another feature I noticed on the tag when I picked out the shirt is that it does not "retain odour". They must have consulted a lawyer on the wording of this claim. It may not retain the sweaty odour, but when it's wet, it definitely creates its own odour. With the lack of wicking under my shell, the back of my shirt gets absolutely soaked by the time I arrive at work. On the first day, I was resting in my office before changing, and I was sure a wet dog must have followed me in. No. I checked my shoes. No. It was coming from me. I have a pretty refined routine for keeping myself clean when cycling in, since my office doesn't have a shower. I started to think my odour free system had broken down. After cleaning up and changing, I realized that the smell was coming directly from my shirt. Fortunately it didn't linger on my skin (as far I could tell), so all was well. I rinsed the shirt in some water and hung it to dry for my ride home.

After a few days of wearing and rinsing, either the smell is waning or I'm getting used to it. So the wool shirt is a welcome change in my outfit. I think it'll be ideal once it's a few degrees warmer when I'll cycle without my shell.

Darren J 2/03/2006 01:03:00 PM

7 Comments:

For my commute I wear MEC silk as a first layer. Its great. I then use a polyester fleece and a shell. Works perfect. Basically what I wear to bike, is what I wear to x-country ski. This morning I had the full rainsuit on though and yeah I got sweaty but was warm & dry (from the rain). I guess I stink too when I get to work (no showers) but I dont mind :). I agree if it was'nt for MEC I'd be paying a lot more for parts. I almost make a weekly trip down (by bike of course). Last friday's aquisitions were new brake pads $4.60! What other vehicle do you get a $4.60 brake job on! Oh the MEC (to add some more free advertisment) nylon shoe covers are pretty waterproof, tested today! & the neoprene toe covers keep my feet dry & toasty. Thanks for the read, see you at the MEC bike rack? :)
Even if there's no airflow wool continues to insulate when wet...big advantage! Cotton just gets wet and cold!
Heh now we just need some actual winter weather to test out your new gear :)

Today being wet I had on my MEC-iform of cycling jacket, yellow rain pants and yellow helmet cover. I felt a bit goofy with it away from my bike - I biked to meet a friend, then since he wasn't biking streetcar'ed together to get some lunch. (so I felt weird in the cycling uniform on the streetcar) To be totally geeky I also put my bright yellow covered helmet back on walking back to where I parked the bike to block the rain :)
I've emailed with the head MEC Toronto guy with regards to themap.ca... maybe I'll suggest they use MEC-iform in some cycling product marketing. Not sure about royalties, since it's a co-op... :)
Was the merino T-shirt from MEC? They had some merino stuff on sale last year dirt cheap ($60-something marked down to $20-something), but unfortunately none of it was my size - just my luck. I noticed that the Rabble longsleeve shirt is on sale again - I have one and they're pretty good, albeit a bit short in the back (though they're not explicitly cycling shirts). I usually wear mine when it's cold enough to need two shirts instead of just one under my windbreaker, under a sleeveless jersey.

The long sleeve slicker jersey is on sale again, too - I'll be going down to pick up some more of them this week, I guess...
no such thing as odorless wool. i love using wool as an insulating layer, but it really does stink and takes for ever to dry.
Looks like the winter weather is finally returning, so we all get a better test this week.

Yeah Steve, I got the wool shirt from MEC. I usually wear medium in bike clothes, but they only had small and extra large there which were both on sale. The small fits well as a base layer for cycling, and for going out clubbing tonight.

See you at the bike rack Franz. I'll be the guy with the yellow jacket. :) (actually I won't be there this weekend, but I figure I gotta bump into someone some time soon).

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