Vulpine Alpine Merino Wool Cycling Jersey Review: Is Merino Better Than Lycra (Spandex)?

In this video I review the Vulpine Alpine merino wool cycling jersey.

I also attempt to answer the ‘age old question’ (erm…), is merino wool better than lycra (or Spandex for the American-ex) as a fabric for cycling jerseys. The review and my ruminations on this contentious philosophical debate are intertwined throughout the video.

Vulpine sent me a couple of jerseys to review. The video shows me wearing the navy blue short-sleeved version (it was filmed in August…).

I’ve since worn the long-sleeved version a number of times, and that is the one I’d recommend. It is more versatile, being better for cooler early morning starts or for cold autumnal rides.

Also, I prefer the grey material with green zip design – which is irrelevant because both versions of the jersey are available in either colour scheme.

Remember to click the ‘Thumbs Up’ button on the video – it really helps with the YouTube algorithm (which I am now slave to…)

Here’s the link to the navy blue Vulpine Alpine short sleeve jersey that I wear in this video.

And here’s the full range of Vulpine merino cycling jerseys.

Lycra Versus Merino Wool For Cycling Jerseys

As a committed road cyclist (you are!), you’re no doubt very familiar with Lycra. It’s the standard material for modern cycling jerseys.

And if you’re wondering why I keep capitalising ‘Lycra’, it’s a brand name. I should probably work out how to do a little R in a circle.

The generic name for the fabric is elastane. As mentioned, Americans prefer spandex, which I now discover is an anagram of ‘expands’.

Staying with the wordplay for a moment, the name Lycra stems from the fact is was invented in a collaboration between Lyon and Crawley, West Sussex (#fakenews).

But How Much Do You Know About Merino Wool?

What? Oh, quite a bit? In that case I’m writing this post mainly for my own benefit.

In order to help me get to grips with merino, the Alpine jersey, sent to me by the fine folk at Vulpine, acts as my test subject.

In fact, Vulpine sent me two jerseys to try, the long-sleeved and the short-sleeved versions. The video above shows me wearing the short sleeved one. Unhelpfully, since I got them (start of spring), the weather has generally been warm, so I’ve struggled to find the right conditions to test the jerseys.

I even took drastic measures and booked a training camp family holiday in Scotland, where I knew I would be guaranteed inclement weather… and again it was unhelpfully warm.

In the end I just had to bite the ovine bullet and get on with filming the video review. If the Scottish sheeps had to wear woolly jerseys all year round, I could manage the same.

Thankfully, between filming the video and completing this post, we’ve had the odd cool day, allowing me to give both variants of the jersey a good amount of wear.

What Do We Care About In A Good Road Cycling Jersey?

In the video I  talk about things like:

  • Comfort
  • Warmth (and coolness)
  • Smell (i.e. does it smell after you wear it once, or can you wear it for more than one ride?)
  • Cost (and value)
  • And perhaps most importantly, what it looks like to wear

I should say, whilst Vulpine sent me these jerseys for free, these thoughts are my own. I think. Who can really tell. Anyway, take them with your desired pinch of salt.

Warmth

  • I could look up the science but it’s somewhat irrelevant. Everyone knows wool is warm. I guess the question, for a sport that involves some degree of exertion, is whether it can also be cool.
  • Most by websites selling merino wool jerseys, or promote merino wool in general, suggest that it is an active fabric, which keeps you warm in cold weather and cool when it’s hot.
  • There’s only so much a fabric can do, no matter how much of a wonder material it is.
  • Definitely very warm for the thickness of the material. It feels quite lightweight – perhaps not as fine as a summer Lycra jersey (but then it’s not designed for the same conditions) – but not as thick as the fleece-lined Roubaix style of Lycra.

Aesthetics

  • Well I’ve been wearing the jerseys in this video and you’ve been watching them with your eyes, so I’ll let you be the judge of that one.
  • Personally I think they look good. The fit is quite flattering.
  • I like the two colour schemes I’ve been sent – navy blue with the bright yellow zip detail looks smart.
  • Grey for a jersey is not a common look. But then it is subtle and much less likely to make you stand out as a Lycra sausage in a coffee shop or, dare I say it, pub.
  • It is definitely the case that Lycra wins if you’re looking for complex designs or a combination of extremely bold colours when it comes to the look of your jersey.
  • That said, you can find brightly coloured merino jerseys if you look around a bit. They just tend to be made of one colour of fabric.

Comfort

  • I guess comfort is a combination of the others factors I’ve been talking about.
  • I’ve worn comfortable Lycra jerseys and uncomfortable ones.
  • For me, the Alpine is a comfortable jersey, even managing to deal with being worn on a warm day.

Fit

  • Longer at the back as you’d expect for a cycling jersey.
  • Rubberised grip strip to hold it in position and prevent it riding up your back.
  • Lycra will tend to have more elasticity than merino wool and probably does a better job of shaping to the contours of your body. Which may not be a good thing.
  • I’d expect merino jerseys to have a smart, fitted look rather than a super tight and stretchy, trying to be as hashtag aero as possible, fit.
  • The Vulpine Alpine fits this expectation. It is sufficiently close fitting that we don’t have extra material flapping around on the bike but not over revealing when it comes to the cafe stop.

Smell / wearing on multiple days

  • Not a scientific test, but I’ve tried it on successive rides where I’ve not done a load of sweating. The jersey certainly doesn’t honk the following day.
  • TBH I’ve never had a particular issue with this from Lycra – but as a man made fibre, perhaps it’s a little more susceptible.

Quality

  • I’m no tailor but the seams all seem nicely finished and plenty strong enough.
  • Nice Vulpine yellow detailing on the pocket and just below the collar.
  • Good quality zip with a leather pully thing.

Features

There are surely only so many features that a standard cycling jersey can have. I’m struggling to think of anything specific here that you wouldn’t also get on a merino wool jersey.

  • Standard three pockets – I query whether they hold contents as firmly as Lycra – I guess time will tell (I suppose it also depends on thickness of the Lycra).
  • Reflective detailing at the top of the pockets.
  • Zipped compartment in one of the pockets to keep your keys safe.

Do Merino Wool Cycling Jerseys Shrink In The Wash?

Based on the evidence of these Vulpine jerseys, in short, no.

I’ve washed both jerseys a number of times and I’ve not seen any shrinkage. They’ve been fine in our the low temperature delicates wash.

The washed fabric is a little more ‘bobbly’ than when it was box fresh. But I think that’s the natural patina of wool. If you want shiny wool then you’re probably barking up the wrong sheep.

As a general observation about merino wool, you do have to be a bit more careful versus lycra. But then, if you read guides on how to look after lycra jerseys, they recommend taking the same level of care (hand wash, don’t iron, rinse in ass’s milk). It’s fair to say there is less of a risk of catastrophic fug up with lycra (i.e. you put on too warm a wash and the jersey shrinks).

Price

These Vulpine jerseys are reasonably representative of the merino jersey market.

  • They are set at a reasonably premium price point
  • The long sleeved Alpine jersey is £130; short sleeved is £100
  • I don’t think you approach buying a merino wool jersey from the budget perspective. You are looking to pay a little extra for the performance and the aesthetics.
  • But these are not excessive prices. A quick survey of sub-Castelli, sub-Assos premium market, think Rapha and Le Col, and we’re at the £95 to £120 range for short-sleeved lycra jerseys. Long sleeved and we’re in the up to £150 bucket.
  • So not too bad in that context. Something to treat yourself with perhaps.

Concl-ewe-sion

(I thenk yow)

So that’s it. I’ve cantered through some of the differences between merino wool and Lycra as a material for cycling jerseys. I’ve probably missed some.

If I have, let me know in the comments.

 

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.