So it’s getting cold, brrrr, as it does this time of year and if you’re the type of cyclist for whom the act of pedalling is not the only reason to go out on a given day you will be looking for something suitable, and hopefully stylish which is going to protect against those cold air molecules you keep hitting as you move through them.
There are many ways to try and keep warm. From wearing hot water bottles (yes I’ve done this) to wearing two or three thick coats (this to) or adapting your duvet into some kind of bicycle cape (not this one though), none of these however are that practical, functional (safe in the case of the hot water bottle) or more importantly to this blog, that stylish.
Something I quickly discovered when I began my pedal powered activities is the importance of layers when you cycle. For more seasoned cyclists this is common knowledge but the idea is you don’t wear big coats (or adapted blankets) but a few thinner layers that build up to keep you warm. If you get too warm you take a layer away or vice versa if you get too cold. Now, these layers should also have some function about them not just a load of cotton t-shirts on top of each other, I suppose if you wear 30 of them that will do something but again not that practical.
A base layer needs a few functions to be a good base layer. In the cold, it should help keep you warm but when you have other layers on top this layer also needs to be breathable and ideally stop moisture from building up so you don’t get sweaty making you uncomfortable, freezing if you should stop for a bit and the cold catches up with you or smell bad.
This brings me onto Merino wool. Kind of revered in the cycling world as the fabric that works best for layers to wear on a bike. In fact in the course of this article a little bit of twitter research revealed some very keen reviews of certain companies merino layers (Rapha and Velobici doing well in the polls) from keen cyclists. It’s understandable too. This stuff keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer it wicks moisture from your body is breathable, feels very soft against your skin and has antibacterial qualities so you don’t smell (as much) probably after a week you may but those qualities to the test but anyway, it’s a great material and for all those reasons above makes it a great body to top first layer. The next layers can be a bit more stylish and fickle as this base layer is doing a lot of the function for you with the final layer, usually a jacket, finishing the job.
If you’re like me there are 2 more layers of thin wool (merino or not) material, maybe a fleece just to make sure that cold doesn’t make contact with my insides.
So what merino top should I get I hear you cry! Well I can certainly give you an opinion on what I think looks nice as now merino usually comes in a very stylish package. Some companies also integrate it into great looking everyday clothes. Our recent review of the Howies Jesse Polo is proof of that. Vulpine have a beauty of a polo too but I wanted to really go for a search and showcase a fair few tops to let you know what’s out there and get a good idea of a great stylish top that has great functionality too it. Some merino tops are more designed with a particular season in mind too so it’s all depending on what you intend to use it for. I’ll showcase from here and there, some cost effective, some value for money, some high quality high priced but the choice is yours (as Blind Date’s “Our Graham” would say)
So Rapha and Velobici got most of the shout out’s on twitter as well as mentions for Howies, Vulpine, Endura, H & M, House of Fraser and some others I hadn’t heard of before such as Lab-Gear and Torm. A big thank you to all the people who helped*.
I’ve also found a few on my travels through the internet so here’s my round up of Merino tops for the smart looking stylish cyclist.
Short Sleeved Merino Tops for Cycling
Starting with Velobici’s Firenze Pullover knitted t-shirt. A very stylish top that in the summer will work perfectly on it’s own and in winter will be a brilliant first layer. No internal seams for comfort and 100% extra fine Merino wool. Has a very individual look that I think makes it a very desirable, fashionable look.
The Rapha V neck t-shirt is light weight but incredibly functional. A nice tailored fitted look that will work great as a first layer due to it’s lightness. Maybe a bit too light for deepest winter but would still work as part of the layered system. In the summer it gives quite a casual contemporary look worn as a single layer.
Vulpine’s first product for women, the Women’s Merino Button Jersey (available from Cycle Surgery for £41.24) has a sharp in vogue style, cut specifically for the girls. The presence of the button down also adds a little extra detail as well as providing a good way to help cool down if it gets a little too warm on a cycle plus adds a bit of sass to the outfit (although I’m not sure if that’s intentional).
Finisterre produce the Eddy Cap Sleeve Merino Top which comes in 4 variations. I quite like this stripey number as it’s got a bit more je ne sais quoi to it than just a plain colour. Again made for the ladies so has a feminine fit and neck line. An attractive top perfect for the winter and summer.
Lastly is the B1 Base Layer from Torm. Nice detailing with a reverse coloured trim around the arms and the hem. Not 100% Merino, but it’s still in there mixed with Polyester to create something trademarked as Sportswool™. A very classic and well tailored layer that’s also at a great affordable price. Available in black, white and red – very sharp.
Long Sleeved Merino Tops for Cycling
From Rapha again is the Women’s Long Sleeve Base Layer, specifically cut to fit a ladies shape it’s finished off to suit the female rider and give extra comfort. Again like the V neck a nice chic feel that is versatile as a baselayer or on it’s own when it’s a warmer day.
Howies do a range of baselayers called NBL (Natural Base Layers) they’ve been specifically designed to feel great against your skin and help perfectly in the layering system when the weather turns frosty. Available for both women and men. The Women’s Howies NBL come in 5 versions. 3 all colour (quite like the purple the best) and one grey with blue trim and another red/orange with a grey trim. The Men’s Howies NBL come in 4 versions. One all grey then 3 others with different coloured trims around the outer chest and inner arm. The plain grey is my preference as the trim adds a bit of “sportyness” that I don’t care for but ideal if you want to be more visible if you use these as your only layer on warmer days.
The Oasis Long Sleeve Henley from Icebreaker follows a similar look to the Vulpine ladies top but this one has longer sleeves and the button down top is a bit more understated. I’ve chosen the pink version here as it’s a nice shade but they do come in more neutral colours. Icebreaker are solid merino sellers so you know it will be a well crafted piece of cycling clothing.
Also from Icebreaker for the chaps is the Sprint Long Sleeve Half Zip. The presence of the zip is a nice feature as it helps with added ventilation if things (literally) get a bit too hot under the collar. There’s four colours with the dark purple being the best I think as it’s not too feminine but adds a bit of character and style to the top.
The Lab-Gear Merino offers the chance to customise each part of the top, add a hood or change the weight so totally adaptable for the situation it will mostly be used for. This feature along side the reasonable starting price of £47 has to give this merino cycling top some consideration.
Other Merino tops for cycling
These don’t strictly count as base layers but are great tops made from merino that will work as a single layer. Some are a bit thicker for the cold and others present more cost effective options.
The Malin Merino Crew from Finisterre is a quality jumper that just screams warmth.
From Solo is the Merino Wool Polo. A very upscale and tailored look that matched with the right trousers could be suitable for smart casual occasions. Beautiful top.
Topshop offer this classic looking Knitted Merino Roll Neck Jumper that comes in equally classic colours. A refined and chic little number.
The MEN Extra Fine Merino Half Zip from Uniqlo is a lovely cost effective top (under £30) and is perfect as a short term/1 or 2 season layer at a price that’s not going to strain you too much.
From the House of Fraser is this Linea Merino Tab Detail Jumper which has a feminine, smart style to it, reduced at the mo too which is always good.
Finally, from Mr Porter is this lovely gents jumper – the NN.07 Rocky Crew Neck Sweater, pricey but looks very cosy and quite discerning.
Merino, merino everywhere
Merino really has come more and more into the stable diet of the cyclist and it’s easy to see why and it’s great to see so many different variations available out there now. Some truly classy looking stuff is being made. More than I’ve showcased here, way, way more. This is the tip of the iceberg. Obviously you get what you pay for but some offerings of merino are now quite affordable (H&M, Uniqlo for example) and whilst they may not last as long as the more high quality goods they will definitely be of use as part of your discerning cycling gear.
P.S. My favourite is the Velobici’s Firenze Pullover.
* Those lovely twitter folk who helped with research include: