Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wabi Woolens Jersey

Regular readers of the Retrogrouch know how much I enjoy a classic wool jersey. For the last couple of months or so I've had the pleasure to wear the Wabi Woolens Winter Weight jersey for some of my morning commuting. Made in the American cycling mecca of Portland, Oregon, Wabi Woolens are a great choice for winter cycling - and with different knits and styles available, would be a good year-round choice as well.

Wabi Woolens was started in 2008 by Harth Huffman, who coincidentally (just like myself) is also a full-time English teacher. Huffman set out to create top-quality American-made wool clothing for cycling and other outdoor activities. The company now offers their Winter Weight long sleeve jersey, with or without rear pockets (without pockets, it is called their "Adventure" jersey, and would be good for things like X-country skiing), and the Sport Series, which is made from the same merino wool but in a lighter weight, available in either short or long sleeve.

One thing about the Winter Weight jersey is that it is not meant to be machine washable. The jersey is cut/designed to be a little larger/longer out of the package to allow for a small amount of shrinkage, and the amount of shrinkage can be controlled by the washing method. The company recommends that the first wash be done in the machine (I used the delicate cycle, then laid it flat to dry), which will shrink it about 2 inches in length. That initial wash also makes the knit a little "denser" which adds to its resistance to wintery weather. After that, it is recommended that it only be hand washed and laid flat to dry. According to Wabi Woolens, the Sport Series jerseys are treated to be machine washable (though to be safe, I'd probably still use only the delicate cycle and lay flat to dry).

I'm a fairly thin guy, and I found the overall cut to be a nice one, giving a fairly close-to-the-body fit which I appreciate. The company recommends going up a size for someone with a broader build. It's worth mentioning that even though the fit is a trim, athletic cut, it's not restrictive in any way, and will "relax" a little with wearing. I found that the length was more than adequate, and even with the initial shrinking, the sleeves were still long enough - and I have fairly long arms. The length in the body is probably a little longer than I need. If the body were to shrink another inch or two without also shortening the arms, I'd be in heaven. But on the bike, the extra body length does help to keep one's bum warm, and there's no danger whatsoever of it riding up and leaving the lower back exposed.

I am really pleased with the construction of the jersey. The wool, just as advertised, is nice and thick, very soft to the feel, and the stitching and quality are all top-rate. Like any classic cycling jersey, it has 3 pockets in back, and one has an additional zippered pocket-within-a-pocket that is perfect for carrying a cell phone.

Colors and styling are quite traditional. Most are single-color only, without stripes, contrast panels, or other embellishments, though there is a version of the Sport Series jersey that has a 2-color chevron design that looks pretty classy. On the whole, the Wabi Woolens jerseys are about function - not flash. Prices range from $160 for short sleeve jerseys, up to $175 for the long sleeved Winter Weight. That's right in line with other wool jerseys I've seen, and considering the made-in-America provenance and the fact that they are made to last for years, I think they are a great buy. The jerseys can be purchased directly from the Wabi Woolens website.


  1. Different opinion here. Of course, I didn't have a chance to try said apparel, so keep in mind I'm not intending to bash Wabi's product which you enjoy so much. Your opinion weighs alot and I wholeheartedly respect it.

    However. As much as I love C&V bikes, I absolutely detest clothing of yesteryears. Modern materials are so much better, they allow you to reduce amount of layers in winter to extreme minimum, so you don't feel hampered like an onion. I was comfy at temperatures as low as -19°C in windy conditions wearing just two (TWO!) layers of fabric, buff around my neck and a beanie on top. I was able to cover distances up to 170 km at once in the winter, thanks to modern apparel. Not gonna happen with natural materials.

    We were taught to love all natural things but sometimes this mindset is utterly wrong. In case of modern bicycles and components it's all true: old is good, new is disposable. But I really admire the giant leap the clothing industry has made in recent years. Durable, breathable, warm even being soaking wet. Will never turn from that point back.

    1. Modern materials are largely made of synthetic plastics that tenaciously hold on to body odors even after washing. Durable? Hardly; I've had some shirts come apart after only a year of use. They're no more "breathable" than clothing of natural fibres. Wool clothing, on the other hand, tends to resist odors due to the properties of the wool itself, and is quite durable.

      I had a collected a number of modern synthetic workout clothes over the years: shorts, loose-fit shirts, and one bike-specific jersey; but I have since donated all of them. I couldn't stand the fact that they would start to stink mere minutes after hitting the gym or cycling. I know that there are special detergents that can remove said odors, but why should I run a special wash just for them? My regular 7th Gen detergent works fine for all of my clothes. I don't see a point in buying special clothing, and then special detergent just to wash them. I'm sticking with natural fibres, thanks.

  2. As my deceased Irish mother said: never machine wash woollens. Just soak them in cold water and a little Woolite. Flat dry in towels.

  3. If you love classic wool jerseys and Portland, check out:

  4. How serendipitous. I just got my Wabi Woolens winter weight last week and am loving it. I got a great deal on the last remaining one in orange/navy, which happened to be my size.

    I think this is now my favorite shirt. Too bad it's too warm, even alone, at much over 45 °F / 7 °C.

    @tumbleweed_092, if you haven't tried modern wool, it is superior to anything synthetic I've found. I was comfortable at 12 °F / -11 °C with just a thin nylon tee, the Wabi winterweight, and a windshirt. That's plenty thin. A fleece instead of the Wabi would have been warmer, but would also have been thicker than the wool + nylon shirt. Better, I can go at least a week without washing it, with no poly stink.

    I'm not sure what two layers you got away with at -19 °C / -2 °F, but unless you put out a lot more heat than I do, there must have been a puffy of some kind in there. If not, I'm impressed (really.) Last time I rode at that temperature:

    Ski helmet
    Light ski goggles
    Sleeveless compression tee
    Long sleeve cycling base
    Long sleeve fleece
    Snowboard mittens & liners
    Roscoe pants
    Wool baselayer bottoms
    Super thick socks

    I was slightly warm.

    1. Body: old-school looking Schwalbe-branded (no info on who's the actual manufacturer, everything on it says "Schwalbe Reichshof Germany") long sleeve jersey made of elasthan 67% and wool 33% as the base layer and outwordingly expensive (in my book) windstopper/fleece jacket Pearl Izumi Thermal Barrier. This thing is so warm that I was able to stay at one place up to 20 minutes before feeling cold at -9ºC. That said, I was very happy to check out almost half of my monthly salary for it. Totally worth it.

      In case if you're interested, I'm from Ukraine. We don't have the luxury of being paid $3500 per month here.

      Legs: fleece Castelli pants.

      Hands: 2 in 1 Craft transformer gloves/mittens.

      Also bear in mind that I'm strong and powerful dude, so when on saddle, I rarely put myself inside the comfort zone. In winter this approach is even more important than when it's warm, because on bicycle every person has pretty much determined speed limit, below which he/she will freeze rapidly. Also depends on how many excessive kilograms of fat one has. Skinny ones will freeze much faster. Moving fast is the key to stay warm.

    2. Yes, part of my problem is probably 10% body fat.

  5. I too am a fan of Wabi Woolens...I have 2 winter weight jerseys. Harth is a great guy, and the quality is great. In my view, wool is better than synthetics-doesn't get stinky, and has a greater comfort range too. Today's wool isn't your grandma's wool.