Merino wool is finally making an impression on the cycling garment market, and it won’t be long before it is recognized as a superior fabric to synthetics. It provides a stylish alternative to any rider who prefers subtle quality and functionality, so it was with great pleasure that I happened across Lab-Gear, an Australian brand that offers a unique range of merino wear for the discerning cyclist.
Merino wool has been used for cycle gear for aeons. The first Maillot Jaune was woolen, in fact, the first year it was made from a synthetic material, some winning GC riders refused to wear it. Hell, even Eddy Merckx’s Team Faema shorts were woolen. However, merino wool has grown up since the good old days. New manufacturing processes have refined it to a superfine level, making it softer and more comfortable than synthetics.
I have been fascinated by the use of merino for cycling kit, although having owned numerous ‘retro’ jerseys, my impression was dubious. These Belgian and French jerseys were constructed from a mix of wool and acrylic, which, while perfect for European winter riding, were bulky and tended to insulate sweat rather than dissipate it. When I met with Gerard Thomas of Lab-Gear, he outlined the positive attributes of merino with a quiet evangelism. I was tempted.
Lab-Gear are somewhat different to your standard clothier. They offer a bespoke ordering and construction system through their website: first you select your size and then you can choose what color you’d like your sleeves, breast and chest panels, collar, stripes and stitching to be. The Superfine Merino fabric used by Lab-Gear is 100% Australian grown, spun and woven. It’s not processed overseas, but rather in its home state of Victoria, which means it has a very low carbon footprint, because all Lab-Gear garments are assembled in Australia as well. It’s made to order, so there’s no excess stock, and you get an individually tailored piece of kit.
So, tempted I was. I hit the order page, deliberated over the colors, almost opting for a harlequin mix of every shade available before being talked into coal on each panel with red and white stitching. Sold, signed and delivered, a few days later I received a package in the mail which contained an enlightening surprise: this merino stuff is soft. Soft, pliable, flexible and smooth. It felt good. The real telling, however, would come with the riding. I took it out for a quick 60 kilometer (37 mile) ride, where I managed to experience wool’s vapor-wicking advantage. Wool, by its very nature, pulls moisture off your body even before it turns into a droplet.
Finally, an Australian brand with an Australian-made product that can compete with overseas offerings. If you’re a serious cyclist, even if you’re more of a casual rider, you owe it to yourself to try some of Lab-Gear’s range. I can now affirm that Lab-Gear’s merino wool feels vastly superior to synthetic fabric and, according to the website, it is flame resistant, fully breathable, fully sustainable, renewable and biodegradable. It’s also ethically and locally grown. It’s not blended with lesser quality wool and it’s machine washable.
It is a perfect insulator, meaning it will keep you cool as well as warm you up. It’s antimicrobial and antibacterial — oils and odors cannot actually cling to the fibers. This makes it perfect for commuters, long distance riders, cyclo-tourists… well, all cyclists, really. Now I’m a believer, I dropped over to the Lab-Gear workshop to see where the magic happens. Gerard is a designer and engineer, and he’s always working on a new project or refining an idea. The ‘Bike Life’ range currently consists of bibs, shorts, leg and arm warmers, but they also have an “Urban Life’ range with casual T-shirts, scarves and jackets. I also had a sneak peek at some new items which will be added to the lineup in the future, which looked exciting. Take a look around the studio below, and check out the Lab-Gear website here.
Special thanks to the very talented graphic designer Paula Cardona for the photography, visit her website here.