All wool is not created equal. While many jerseys called themselves 'wool', more often than not they're some sort of blend given the natural material's occasional stubbornness to form into high-performance cycling gear and the delicate care it often requires. However, small Portland outfit Wabi Woolens seem to have nailed the formula with their latest 100 percent merino wool Sport Series top.
Wabi Woolens build the Sport Series jersey with a new knit that's both lighter and more refined looking than on their original Winter Weight. The weave is still impressively dense, though, so it's surprisingly warm, mildly wind resistant and very breathable. Like all better wool cycling tops we've used, the temperature range is also remarkably broad.
We found the sweet spot to fall right around 10°C (50°F) but the Sport Series jersey – even in long-sleeve form – was still wearable up to 20°C (70°F), depending on humidity levels. Adding appropriate base layers and shells bought that figure well below freezing. The thin material offers up much more warmth than its lack of bulk would suggest but even so, it was only in the most inappropriate conditions that we ever found it to be uncomfortably toasty.
Overall fit is excellent, with a not-too-snug yet form-hugging shape that doesn't sag when hunched over the drops and yet has plenty of stretch for that cozy feel. The sleeves feel too long when you first try the jersey on but they're just right when on the bike, the slightly dropped tail provides an appropriate amount of coverage and the ribbed collar cinches up just so around your neck to keep out drafts. Out back, there's a strip of silicone gripper along the inside of the hem to keep the jersey in place.
Details are pretty well thought out, too. While the body and sleeves of the Wabi Woolens jersey are 100 percent wool, the cuffs and collar are augmented with a touch of Lycra to lend those critical areas a bit of extra stretch. Stitching around the three-plus-one rear pockets is reinforced to the point of excess to keep heavy loads from tearing the expensive fabric and even full water bottles won't cause the jersey to sag excessively.
Aesthetics fall on the traditional end of the spectrum for sure, with monochrome red or black styling and an intentionally logo-free exterior (seriously, there are no visible logos whatsoever) but the colors are rich and haven't faded. When the time comes – which isn't often, given the material's fantastic resistance to stink – you can toss the jersey into the washing machine with only the slightest hint of initial shrinkage to show for it. Just be sure not to throw it into the dryer afterward lest you need some cycling kit for your kid's new Build-A-Bear.
We do wish the outer pockets had angled tops for easier access and the 12in zipper felt a little short on days with lots of changes in temperature and/or speed. Wabi Woolens founder Harth Huffman tells BikeRadar that a full-zip option is pending, along with a women's-specific cut. That brings us to the price, which is a steep US$175 and notably more expensive than most of Wabi's all-wool competitors like Swobo, Ibex, and Kucharik – but still cheaper than Rapha's wool-blend top.
Wabi Woolens have taken few shortcuts, though: the raw materials are sourced from Australia, the yarn is spun and the fabric is knitted and dyed in the US, and the jerseys are sewn in Huffman's hometown of Portland, Oregon. In these days of rampant cost cutting, it's nice to see someone refusing to compromise for the sake of economy.
"The fabric is designed and made just for Wabi Woolens, to my specifications, which is expensive," says Huffman. "Also, Wabi jerseys are made in small batches, so economies of scale aren't on par with bigger companies yet." Finally, shipping on new orders and returns or exchanges is free and the jerseys can be returned for a full refund up to 30 days post purchase, "worn or not".