We wanted to love the ThermoGnar bib – it's made from 40 percent merino wool and Swobo offer the feelgood attribute of knowing the garment is sustainably made in the US, by workers paid a fair wage and who take pride in the product produced. But while it has some really cool attributes, the bottom line is that a well-made 'Roubaix' type bib, made with a synthetic fabric, still works better for us.
Wool has a lot of things going for it: it wicks, transfers moisture expertly, stays warm when wet, and best of all doesn't harbor bacteria and smell like French cheese. For these reasons we love to ride in wool jerseys, but a few issues crop up when you try to transfer wool to your bottom half. Even with 60 percent nylon (uniquely engineered as a layer and bonded to the merino wool that makes up the rest of the bib) the knicker doesn't have enough stretch.
We found the ThermoGnar fabric doesn't stretch enough to offer adequate support
This fabric doesn't seem to be able to provide enough compression on the lower body and it also stretches more than a synthetic when wet, which leads to a pronounced saggy diaper effect when through-soaked. Additionally, while the sweat management of the wool pairs well with the added wind protection of the nylon in the ThermoGnar fabric, we didn't find this bib knicker quite as ride-changing as wrapping our upper halves in wool.
The anti-bacteria-harboring properties of wool are clearly a good thing. However, once you install the synthetic Italian-made chamois in the bibs you negate much of the benefit. While we wouldn't think twice about wearing a merino jersey a couple of times between washing, we're sure as heck going to be laundering our synthetic chamois after every sweat session, and that's despite the fact it's surrounded with 40 percent happy, healthy, feelgood wool.
Chamois placement was good, despite the loose fit
We're not totally writing off the ThermoGnar – Swobo got a lot of its features right. The bibs are very well made and they show no overt signs of wear after a full season's use. Chamois placement is spot-on and the pad is very comfortable in its own right. Sizing down would likely help the fit and our impression of the piece, but still the noticeable change when soaked will continue to concern us.
Suggestions? We're honestly not sure on this one; maybe a multi-material piece that combines a synthetic short made from a 'Roubaix' style material with ThermoGnar panels for the knees and side panels? Nonetheless, Swobo deserve props for taking on this project. We're sure any cycling clothing manufacturer will attest, wool is a tough textile to work with.