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Review: Icebreaker merino apparel

June 19, 2011

In the beginning when there were no team cars, no spare wheels, no sports psychologists and no Lycra. There was Merckx and the other Euro hardmen and they wore wool. While the sport of cycling has developed in the bikes ridden, the gear we wear and the high-tech like skinsuits, there is still wool. More so there is merino wool and it’s come a long way as well thanks to designers and development from companies like New Zealand’s Icebreaker. I’ve never hidden the fact I am a huge fan of their clothing and when I was offered the opportunity to try out a couple of new pieces I jumped.

A couple of weeks ago had I actually bought a replacement for my beloved Icebreaker Bodyfit Terrain Zip 260 (the number being the weight in microns) which was 5 years old. It had just begun to look a bit tired and one more winter would have been its demise – especially as I wear it 24/7. It’s a great top. Light, with a collar that zips right up to give your neck some extra warmth when you need it, slightly longer arms with thumb loops to make sure no drafts get in and when you layer it with some merino base-layers you have something warmer than grandmas cable knit she made you when you were 16. It’s great commuter cycling apparel because being merino it does really well at controlling your temperature not leaving you clammy and the long sleeves replace any need for arm-warmers — which are OK for a Sunday ride but for me it’s great to get to work and not have to change when I walk into the heated building.

So this has been my staple winter wardrobe – on and off the bike – for the last five years… why be adventurous when you are warm? All Icebreaker stuff resists shrinkage and is washable in a normal load, but really I don’t wash it that often because unlike manufactured fabrics it resists smell even though it’s benefit is to wick away sweat from the skin..

My other piece of Icebreaker I wear every time I hit the hills from about April to November is the Bodyfit 150 (SS Atlas) base-layer short sleeve t-shirt. It does a fantastic job regulating temperature so you can wear it on the coldest mornings and on warm spring rides without overheating. It’s a tight fit so it hugs your body’s contours not to let any wind in to give you chills and with a jersey over the top you’ve got great insulation. The idea is it wicks sweat away from your body so you stay warmer. As with all Icebreaker stuff it’s so well made it’s lasted me five years, washes just like anything else (not that I do, I just let it dry out and there is never any smell… I defy anyone to come and smell yesterday’s post ride Bodyfit 150!). I wouldn’t ride without it, that is until the Icebreaker GT150 came to me.

Over the last year Icebreaker released a range of cycling specific apparel – jerseys, socks and pants, knicks and bibs. In truth they are not actually 100% merino but include 3%-4% Lycra. Icebreaker say it’s highly breathable, odour resistant, anti-bacterial and has the usual jersey touches like ¾ zip and rear pockets. The City Collection range is pitched at cyclists like me who like to ride to work but can’t be bothered with showering and changing. I wear what I ride in and I work in what I ride in! But I tried the lighter GT150 SS Velocity Zip jersey. It’s classed as an adventure sport top, and I saw it as an twist on my old faithful base-layer tee but with a ¾ zip and some nice reflective touches but lighter than the cycling range proper. It’s great under a winter jersey as a insulation layer to keep me warm but offers the option of using the zip to let in some cool air when I start to overheat climbing Forest Range as the sun rises. Add to that, to quote Icebreaker, “…a zip top designed for extreme action. The look is sleek and funky, but the technical features are all business – eyelet gussets to give extra ventilation, seams sewn to reduce friction, streamlined styling and a handy stash pocket on the hip and a drop tail hem”.

The stash pocket is probably where it’s a bit of a let down not having back pockets and the ‘stash pocket’ not being big enough to really carry anything more than a $5 note, but granted it’s not a cycling jersey per se. It’s probably more suited to short rides or commutes and suitable for use in Adelaide’s extreme heat to keep you cool with a great resistance to sweat and if you want an endurance ride top go for something in the Performance Sports cycling range.

Finally the second piece I have just tried out and I have fallen in love with – the totally cool (warm) Oasis Crewe Gradient long sleeve 150. Wear it under a heavier piece and it’s a merino sandwich that is light but keeps you unbelievably warm you won’t believe you are only wearing two layers. Icebreaker say the two wools ‘lock together’ to form one piece. Where this really comes out on top is it looks great with some excellent ‘speed’ stripes down the arms and logo across the chest so when the temperature rises, or you’re inside, you can wear it without feeling like you’re wearing your underpants or thermals. I wore it and the Tech Top 260 all of the recent long weekend camping and riding in the hills and with a fleece jacket over the top I was wearing much less thickness than my co-campers and come midday when the sun came out I wasn’t overdressed. The camp-fire smoke washed out and there was no shrink. Then I wore it all week as well and still no smell. Again the principals of a ‘Bodyfit’ garment make it work so well keeping chills away from your skin and moving sweat away to keep you warm.

I cant really finish without mentioning that last week I bought some of the Icebreaker cycling socks. Suffice to say my feet were to warmest they’ve been for weeks.

Get yourself some Icebreaker merino. It’ll be the best thing you’ve ever warn and while it might be a bit pricey it’ll last you for ages… lambs wool is for kids comforters, mutton is for yabbying and merino is for keeping you warm.

The Icebreaker Terrain Zip, socks and Bodyfit 150 were mine. The Oasis Crewe and Velocity Zip were supplied by The Nature Shop, an online retailer who sell a wide range of Icebreaker and ship free to Australia.


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