Wool just might be the ultimate 'technical' fabric: it wicks, transfers moisture expertly, stays warm when wet, and best of all is that it doesn't smell like a stinky gym bag after the first pedal stroke. Because of all this it's hands-down one of our favorite fabrics to ride in – thanks, Mother Nature.
Wool isn't perfect, however; it's extremely tough to work with in terms of fit. Subsequently it takes an expert tailor to make wool work for cycling. Swobo have done just that – made nature's technical textile work – in their Long Sleeve TRAD Merino Wool Jersey, and it's only cost a slight bit in terms of fashion to make the jersey fully functional.
The Long Sleeve TRAD Merino uses 100 percent merino wool and is made in the USA, which makes its $120 pricetag seem like a bargain in this day and age of $600 kits. The expert tailoring, however, is most impressive considering the former attribute – the fact it's 100 percent wool. There's no Lycra, spandex or other manufactured materials in the jersey, and the wool itself doesn't have all that much stretch, when compared to other cycling textiles.
The TRAD jersey fits exceptionally considering its 100 percent wool construction
Rather, Swobo have made this jersey fit well by way of an expert cut with multiple panels (each sleeve is made up of five pieces of fabric, while the back of the jersey uses four) and a single elastic band that runs across the three traditional back pockets. It's this single strand of elastic that makes the jersey work but it also gives it an unusual look, especially when the pockets aren't in use. Function is good, however – the pockets keep reasonable loads (pump, tube, vest, multi-tools, energy bar and phone) stable, even when riding off-road.
The elastic in the rear pockets holds items securely and helps the jersey fit well but does look a little funny
The jersey works well with a base layer from the mid-70°Fs – despite Swobo's claims it's too hot for use once you get above 70°– down to the mid-40° mark, and layers perfectly with a shell or thermal jacket to get you well below the freezing mark. It's a versatile piece that shines when layered by effectively wicking moisture away from your skin.
The 3/4-length zipper provides plenty of ventilation and doesn't protrude or lie weird when bent over in a cycling position. At times we did wish for a full zip but this would likely alter the fit negatively. As for other issues, we believe this jersey a tough one to fit, without trying it on. You'll want it to fit snugly, so that the pockets work, yet there isn't nearly as much stretch as a traditional jersey to work with – so try before you buy.
We've regularly stuck the jersey in the washing machine with all of our other cycling clothes and hung it to dry. Results are good; fit has never altered and it seems to hold up fine, without undue wear. It isn't any harder to take care of than any other article of our riding kit. That just leaves the style factor. Swobo's jersey clearly isn't meant to appease the same crowd as some of the other pro-road-focused merino makers out there; it's more at home on a trail or cyclo-cross course than tarmac, where fashion may, in some cases, trump function.