Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review of Three Wool Cycling Jerseys: Ibex, Icebreaker and Swobo

I started buying wool cycling clothing last summer and I now own three bicycle jerseys. What I like about cycling jerseys - as opposed to regular t-shirts - is that they are well-ventilated, elongated in the back (good for a leaned-forward posture), and have built-in pockets, making them convenient to wear on a roadbike. Here are some details about the three I own:

The first wool cycling jersey I bought is this one by Swobo. I heard good things about these and they were on clearance. The entire line is now discontinued, which means that you can find these jerseys on sale at various online outlet stores. The colour of mine is "tree mud."

The Swobo jersey is styled like a vintage cycling jersey in everything from overall design to texture, featuring a classic front zip collar and side panels.

Medium-lenght polo-style short sleeves. 

The wool is on the thick side. It is much softer than vintage wools, but similarly bulky. This makes the Swobo jersey not the most flattering on female bodies - especially in the tummy and upper arm areas. It is cut with practicality in mind.

The back of the Swobo is long and features two very deep pockets, each large enough to fit things like a camera, wallet, phone, sandwich or apple. 

I wore this jersey frequently during our stay on Cape Cod last September, and it is especially good for cooler weather and for cycling in the wind with occasional rain. A durable and practical jersey, but not the most flattering or lightweight fabric. 

After the Swobo, I purchased this GT jersey by Icebreaker. I wanted a lighter-weight alternative for warmer weather, and was also hoping for a more flattering fit. The Icebreaker is great on both accounts. This is a "multi-sport" model and I bought the previous season's version, on clearance from an online reseller (forgot which one). The current production model is styled a little differently, but it's same general idea.

The wool fabric is almost gauze-thin and 4% lycra, which makes it stretchy. The result is supremely flattering. 

This might be hard to see, but there are panels made of a perforated fabric that run along the back and sides of the jersey. These provide great ventilation and contribute to the flattering styling. The back is quite long, and the stretchiness keeps it from riding up.

Mock turtleneck collar, reflective zipper, perforated panel under the chest, and elongated short sleeves that can be pushed up or pulled down.

The one flaw of the Icebreaker jersey is the pocket. Because it is not a cycling-specific garment per se, the pocket is on the side. This works so-so in a leaned forward position, but is not ideal because whatever you put in it will add more weight to one part of your body than the other and will pull forward. If you're carrying just a credit card, bills, or folded-up directions then it does not matter, but heavier things like keys or a phone may pull uncomfortably on a bike with dropbars. 

I wore the Icebreaker jersey a lot at the end of last summer, and am starting to wear it again now that it's getting warmer. With all the perforated vents and the long zipper, it keeps me extremely cool. 

My latest wool jersey is from Ibex, received as part of an equal-value trade directly from the manufacturer. Last summer I bought a pair of Ibex wool cycling knickers (shown in all the pictures here) and I love them so much that I was happy to get anything else Ibex makes. The Indie Mountain jersey did not disappoint. It is flattering and lightweight, and while Icebreaker achieves its flattering look via adding lycra for stretch, Ibex does it via careful tailoring. 

The elaborate multi-panel construction is almost architectural. It cinches the jersey at the waist, expands it over the chest, and drapes it over the tummy in a way that hides the treacherous folds that can form there. 

The elegant Mandarin collar makes the jersey look almost dressy.

The short sleeves are finished so that they are loose around the upper arm, as opposed to cutting into it. This is more flattering than typical cycling jersey sleeve designs, especially for those of us who do not have upper arms of steel.

The one thing I could do without on the Ibex jersey is the cherry blossom/ crane rendering. It's just too girly for me, and I also think that it makes what is otherwise a subtle Asian theme way too explicit. This jersey is beautifully styled; it didn't need cranes and flowers. 

The rear pocket is on the small side, but fits my smaller camera and zips up, so no complaints. Overall, this is a versatile jersey good for both warmer and cooler weather, and I've been wearing it more than my other two since I began cycling this season. (Ibex: Could you make just some plain versions without the drawings, please?)

The three jerseys described here are very different from one another, and I think either could be a good choice depending on the cyclist's needs. Several serious local cyclists I know swear by the Swobo jerseys, but I am not in love with the bulkiness. Icebreaker's performance range is paper-thin, flattering, and offers excellent temperature control - but consider a cycling-specific design instead of multi-sport if you don't like the side pocket, and notice that some of the models are made with a touch of lycra. With its impressive tailoring and soft, thin 100% wool fabric, Ibex would be my perfect jersey - were it not for that drawing on the back. Hopefully this was a useful comparison, and I'd love to hear which wool cycling jerseys you've tried and what you thought - especially the ladies, as there seem to be far fewer choices for us in that regard. 

50 comments:

  1. Just wondering....What are you wearing under these jerseys? In all the photos you appear to have the same, light blue, garment against the skin. Is this because it's more comfortable than the wool jerseys? Is it cotton, or also wool?

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's a wool baselayer by Smartwool. I wore it in the pictures, because I thought it would set off the jerseys nicely and create a uniform canvas against which to showcase them.

    Unless the day is unusually hot, I normally wear a baselayer plus jersey, because oddly I find that better for temperature regulation. I can wear this combo in 85 degrees F and it feels great. The Smartwool & Ibex jerseys feel fine against bare skin though; the Swobo less so but still all right.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I do love that mandarin collar on the Ibex. A really lovely touch. I have not really tried any wool or cycling clothing. But I feel like I might want to get a couple of things. Maybe even some *gasp* padded bike shorts.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice reviews, this is really helpful. I have a Surly wool jersey that I like a lot. It's probably mid-weight wool and just plain black, so not too sporty. I lust over some of the Rapha vintage jerseys but I'm not sure if they will fit well.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Everyone keeps recommending the Rapha wool jerseys, but they don't make them for women - only men. Wonder what the size equivalents are.

    ReplyDelete
  6. GR Jim - 60% polyester/ 40% wool is the best they got for womens. For men they have 100% merino.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Looks like Ibex makes the SS without pictures on the back:
    http://www.ibexwear.com/shop/product/2046/3375/womens-indie-s/s-jersey

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ground Round Jim, this is the wool jersey that I lust for, it's for men: http://www.rapha.cc/country-jersey/

    There is a Rapha pop up store in SF right now, I'm considering going and trying stuff on.

    ReplyDelete
  9. You peeps are curvier than my peeps.

    I have a Woolistic which is great 'cept the pockets droop when loaded. Some Pac NW company has solved this, so it is claimed. Rapha Mens too. Maybe w/lycra.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Alice - I need to get over there. It's a sharp jersey but needs to be avail in Belgian colors to be truly badass.

    But then again Belgian hardmen don't wear Rapha.

    ReplyDelete
  11. For jerseys I have a Swobo that I bought off a clearance site, a Kucharik that I picked up while visiting Rivendell, an older Ibex full-zip, and an orange Ibex indie. In addition to those, I have a couple of Smartwool longsleeves, a short sleeve Ibex top and a long sleeve Ibex top, along with a couple of Ibex armwarmers.

    I thought that the Swobo was ok, but don't like the thickness or texture too much. I tend to use it with another base layer underneath on deep winter days. The texture on the Kucharik is very nice. Probably my favorite jersey, but it sags a lot and the pockets have developed some fairly significant holes due to overloading of the contents. I've found the Ibex jerseys to be a good combination of texture and build quality. The zipper on my full-zip broke recently, but they've also been great about doing repairs and servicing.

    So far, I've been wearing my Ibex shortsleeve and arm waremers on every brevet in the 2011 season. It just hasn't felt like lycra weather quite yet.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wade - Ibex does have many nice cycling jerseys without pictures, but the Indie Mountain jersey has distinct styling with the Mandarin collar and so on. I just really like the way it's constructed, so wish there was the exact same version sans pictures.

    I don't know about Rapha. The Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington sells some of their stuff, and every time I see it I am underwhelmed. But you got to give it to them that their adverts look good.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Ibex presently offers five women's cycling jerseys. All the others, the Indie S/S, the Indie S/S Full Zip, the Giro S/S, and the Giro L/S Full Zip, don't have any printed designs on them.

    The sleeves on the other short-sleeve models look a little longer than the ones on the Indie Mountain jersey. I think the Giro fabric is heavier than the Indie.

    Ibex now has a store on Newbury Street. I haven't been there yet but I mean to check it out soon. (I have no affiliation with Ibex, but I like their wool T-shirts).

    ReplyDelete
  14. Lisa - I've been to the Ibex Boston store and I was impressed. The salesperson there was knowledgeable about wool; she identified the (non-Ibex) wool garment I was wearing immediately by make and model and gave her opinion on it, which I thought was spot on.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have fallen in love with Ibex clothing. I have THREE FT Hoody dresses (two black, one brown -- one black with 3/4 sleeves, the other two long sleeved). I live in them. They look great, they feel great, they are easy to care for, easy to ride in, appropriate everywhere. I've worn them at work, on the bike, at a funeral and to a fancy restaurant. I got all three on sale, but they are worth every cent. I'm dressed in ten seconds every day.

    I also have a striped Ibex t-shirt. I could not love it more. My goodness it is soft and pretty. I regret getting the Shak vest in light grey, but I was SO SICK of all dark clothing. And it's not stained, it just makes me nervous. I have the loose tights II -- they are REALLY loose -- go down a size.

    I'm really dying to try the bike shorts and one of the cycling jerseys. But I can sew and I've managed to make myself a very nice cycling t-shirt pattern with 3 rear pockets. Yes, those rear pockets rule. So I will make my own tops. I'm tempted to just make some lightweight wool cycling shorts and wear liners for the padding.

    Wool is expensive, but it is a remarkable value. I go to the laundromat once a week and wash one load (well, for me, anyway) on the delicate cycle and take it home to hang it up. It's all dry by morning. I can wear each wool item three times before washing it. The size of my wardrobe is greatly reduced. Less stuff = less stress in my opinion.

    Oh yeah, I do my laundry trip on the Retrovelo :).

    ReplyDelete
  16. Someone should make a laundry basket pannier : )

    I've been wondering about those hoodie dresses, hmm...

    Have a striped Ibex woolie and also this beautiful thing, which I love.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Peppy (the shedding season has started--you've been warned cat)May 11, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    No. You cannot has my fur to make jersey. Why do you ask?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Laundry -- I use my Arkel Shoppers and put the laundry in drawstring bags.

    I am rarely seen in anything BUT the hoody dresses these days. I need to make a short-sleeved version for summer. And who doesn't want one of the Indie spaghetti-strap dresses?

    I may add a snap to the pockets so that I can ride with my phone in my pocket without stress.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Velouria said...

    Someone should make a laundry basket pannier : )



    Oooh! Yes! The basket across the top of the rack with a drop down pouch for detergent on one side and fabric softener on the other!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Lynne, which of the dresses do you have? I think there are twi versions. I am collaborating with a reader who is a costume designer to make a wool cycling wrap dress, which I hope turns out nicely!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Wrap dress and cycling sound like two things that don't go together well unless there's some kind of fastener to hold the flap closed. That's one of the few styles I actively avoid these days.

    ReplyDelete
  22. V: I have this one in black & brown: http://www.ibexwear.com/shop/product/1824/2575/womens-ft-hoody-dress and this one in black: http://publicbikes.com/p/Ibex-FT-Hoody-Dress. The 3/4 length sleeve one is a bit shorter and feels a bit more summery.

    I may just pull the plug on a pair of the Seree bike shorts. I'm going to do a moderately hilly 60 mile ride next month.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The ibex cycling jersey is sweet and I love the collar, but personally I hate anything tight around the neck except for scarves so cannot abide those tops with little zips up the neck.
    I collect any affordable/used/on sale icebreaker et al I can get my hands on and am happy with their regular non technical wear. tshirts with scoop necks and long sleeved tops for layering. I would not feel comfortable putting waterbottles or anything in back pockets. Also any merino wool sweaters will do. I love the stuff so much I have to force myself to wear my now neglected cotton clothing.
    Rapha gets mentioned with hush exhaltation from guys on cycling forums-but nada for the ladies.

    I have a couple of icebreaker dresses that I LOVE and an ibex indie hooded dress that is lovely. I'd have more ibex dresses if I could afford them. Only flaws are their insistence on putting pockets on the dresses and the hoods are not big enough. The dress is in my sewing pile to remove the pockets. But beautifully made.
    Ibex does not really have a presence in Canada and they should. Only option is to order online and that can be tricky.

    ReplyDelete
  24. cycler - There's a fastener to hold the flap closed : )

    I like wrap dresses (plus fastener) for cycling, because they allow for great ease of movement.

    ReplyDelete
  25. It's good to know that jerseys exist which are not made of lycra! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  26. http://www.drok-enschede.com/photogallery/DSC00333.JPG

    I just picked up one of these hondfietsmands (dog baskets) and I think they'd make a marvelous laundry basket. It has special clips on the bottom to take it off and on.

    ReplyDelete
  27. heather - I don't like tightness around the neck either and typically have the collar unzipped.

    Okay, you are all making me really curious about the Ibex hoodie dresses! I bought an Ibex wool skirt a couple of months ago and it's great, but a very different style from the dresses.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I own Ibex Surly and Icebreaker. I agree that the black Surly is just great. Highly recommended. The main difference between Ibex and Icebreaker is that Ibex just feels more wooly....while Icebreaker is kind of slick and technical, like it has a kind of smoothened surface. But it is made with great care to detail and is clearly superior to the Ibex in this regard (e.g. Ibex Zippers look kind of cheapo...Anyway wear my Ibex for 4 years now and it for sure is obviously great (I always spontaneaously select it from a quite large selection in my wadrobe). But: In IB you will lokk - well - slicker :-)

    ReplyDelete
  29. Icebreaker has a store in Soho, so I've tried more of their stuff than other brands and I do love it. I don't go in for the more sporty stuff because I don't do that kind of cycling. I do have an Icebreaker minidress. This one:

    http://www.icebreaker.com/site/icebreaker_woman_superfine200_villa_dress.html?thumb_value=Black

    I love it and wore to death over the winter. It was so light, yet warm and forgive me bc I have to say that it was also so totes smoking hot with tights and flat over the knee boots. It was a nice way to look put together but not freeze or overheat during this incredibly depressing winter. I recommend it highly. It's short enough to wear over skinny pants or leggings as a tunic, too.

    I also really like the bias cut v-necks from Rambler's Way. They are feminine and plain, good for summer, and I love the colors:

    http://ramblersway.com/shop/womens/womens-ss-bias-v-neck

    ReplyDelete
  30. Romanian 2WheelerMay 11, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    Wool, the timeless friend of the cyclist. Like bamboo and silk for the fly fisherman.

    ReplyDelete
  31. neighbourtease - Didn't know about Rambler's Way, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Velouria

    First, bicycle designer, and now wrap dress designer. What's next ?

    ReplyDelete
  33. I've made clothing before, so that actually came way first : )

    What's next? Transportation brochure writer : )

    ReplyDelete
  34. mmm. I spent a lot of time this evening looking at ibex clothing b/c of this post. I have a shopping cart full of 5 items that I need to walk away from b/c that's a crap loadof money. Boy do I want at least two summer weight t shirts- so perfect for work and riding to work. I will get at least one... so pretty and your review makes me want it more ( granted I wasn't looking at the cycling top- just reg T)

    ReplyDelete
  35. "The one thing I could do without on the Ibex jersey is the cherry blossom/ crane rendering. It's just too girly for me, and I also think that it makes what is otherwise a subtle Asian theme way too explicit. This jersey is beautifully styled; it didn't need cranes and flowers."

    Not only that, it's crudely rendered to capitalize on a stereotype. It reminds me of waiters' jackets at Chinese restaurants as a kid; there's something uncomfortable about both.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Vee - Did you notice their Women's Outlet section?

    ReplyDelete
  37. Velouria, speaking not as a cyclist but as someone who sews lots of clothing (and is extremely "fit-picky"), I would just observe that the first jersey actually fits you considerably better than the other two. (I will spare you a detailed fit analysis, since that's not the topic of this blog!) For that reason I think it is more, rather than less, flattering to you than the others. You should wear it often -- it looks terrific!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Thanks, but I think I was trying to overcompensate for the photos by sucking my stomach in more than with the others : ) The Swobo jersey likes to bunch up in a way that looks like I have either two sets of breasts or a serious "spare tire" around my waist... Neither is my favourite look!

    ReplyDelete
  39. Hilarious -- that certainly isn't evident in the photos! Bunching up: that's no good, of course. But what I was looking at is the excess upper chest length and back waist length in both of the other jerseys -- the Swobo is better proportioned for your frame in those two areas and really looks lovely. As long as you suck your stomach in and don't move, that is! ;} Thanks for the detailed reviews, as always. I love the style lines of the Ibex. Like you, could do without the graphics.

    ReplyDelete
  40. The black jersey looks great but without pockets in the back it would be a no-go for me. Rather than a longsleeve base layer I generally like to keep it short sleeve and wear DeFeet arm warmers (which I have had for at least 12 years and they are still in good shape). If it gets too warm you can roll the arm warmers down to your fore arms/wrists or take them off and stash them (hence the need for a rear jersey pocket).

    ReplyDelete
  41. Velouria said...

    Someone should make a laundry basket pannier : )


    Adapter for Rear Basket
    http://www.ortliebusa.com/CartGenie/prod-117.htm

    Adapter to lift rear basket to make room for panniers
    http://www.ortliebusa.com/CartGenie/prod-116.htm

    ReplyDelete
  42. I like the darker jerseys, but I'm hesitant to give up my day-glo green. I just feel safer on long solo rides. Do you have any thoughts on visibility and darker clothes?

    ReplyDelete
  43. I own a swobo but I've been shopping for a second wool jersey. Thanks for the comparison. Your comments on the thickness of the wool was particularly helpful. I actually like the thicker wool. Feels less delicate less prone to wear.

    Only downside to wool, I feel obligated to baby mine by handwashing. Since they're so expensive.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Velouria,

    That black cap you are wearing in some of the photos..Where did you get that?? I really love it and would like to get one too:)

    Love your review on the jerseys too and hopefully some day I'll fit into the size chart to get one or both:)

    TIA
    Fiona

    ReplyDelete
  45. These are the wool jerseys I own... style is classic and the fit is perfect: www.roadholland.com

    ReplyDelete
  46. You are correct the Icebreaker is not a cycling jersey per se and i agree about the pocket but they do produce a specific cycling jersey with three rear pockets in a very similar sytle. The weight is slightly heavier at 200 (gsm?) than the 150 you reviewed. The also do bib knicks in merino, not that I've had the pleasure of trying them.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I thought that since it's finally getting really hot, I'd revisit this post and see if you're still wearing any of these wool jerseys.

    On Sunday (in Boston), I wore a basic thin wool icebreaker shirt and was fine, but since the temp shot up today, i had some Pearl Izumi sleeveless mesh shirt that helps keep me cool. Too bad it stinks after wearing it twice.

    thanks for the reviews!

    geoff

    ReplyDelete
  48. Hi, I just won a raffle for a Swobo wool jersey. I'm not sure which size to buy. It looks like we are probably the same size, can I ask if you are wearing a small or a medium? Thanks for the reviews!

    ReplyDelete