Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Spandex Vs. Wool: This Is Gonna Get Crazy

While still in the after glow of the DC Tweed Ride, I thought it would be appropriate to put the two materials that seem to have polarized the cycling community up against each other. Those being spandex and wool.

There is only one proper way to scientifically prove which material is more suited for cyclists, and that's to throw a spandex clad cyclist and a sheep into the Cycle Jerk Particle Accelerator and smash them into each other at mind bending speeds. I know I know, this might create a spandex/wool (Spoondex™) super nova that will destroy the planet in a violent moisture wicking flash of textiles, but I've got to get this settled once and for all.

Before I get going on all that, I thought I would ride into work today wearing one spandex arm warmer and one wool arm warmer to see the difference for myself.

Let me just say that this is in no way scientific. There are a ton of variables which I'm not accounting for and am just using the arm warmers I happen to have.

For this test I am using my tried and true, seven year old spandex arm warmer from Bikes USA which have a soft fleece-like liner on one arm, and a brand new Pearl Izumi Merino wool seamless arm warmer on the other. The weather is still a little warm but that just creates a better environment for testing wickability.

The first difference I notice between the two is the feeling. The spandex is a lot tighter giving that compression/aero feel, where the wool fits well but not nearly as tight. I guess it depends on the ride weather this is a plus or a minus. The wool also does have a slight itchiness to it. Everyone says Merino wool is sans itchy but there is a little there, not enough to bother me but it's there. Initially I found the wool to be warmer than the spandex, but I was still in my kitchen at that point.

Once I started riding they both provided about the same degree of warmth but the wool was letting more air through than the spandex. When my arms started to sweat, that extra air was welcome. I would say that at speed the spandex did a better job of moisture management than the wool, but not by much. Both arms were sweaty when I got to work.

Two places where the wool excels over spandex are odor and warmth when wet. Wool doesn't hold onto odor like spandex does and can go a lot longer without washing. For the a bike commuter that is a pretty big plus. Also when wool is wet it still provides warmth where spandex doesn't.

The bottom line for arm warmers is the wool ultimately feels better. There is something cozy about the wool feel that you don't get with the spandex. That said it's not like I'm running out to buy merino bib tights. Wool and spandex both have uses where they excel, but for fall and winter commuting I'm going to opt for cozy when I can get it.

It's hump day... so get humping dammit!


Unknown said...

In the winter I was riding with a merino baselayer and a long sleeved jersey over the top when it got cold. The jersey does better at keeping the wind out than the merino. Both layers are wicking so kept me reasonably dry. I Was doing my 40m commute in 2C (35F) like this and didn't feel the cold. Mix and match, find what works!

dc dirtbag said...

...just don't become a spandex enormity.