Friday, February 10, 2012

Ode to Merino

For years I used to dream of better sports garments. Ones made out of a better material than the synthetic fibres they usually are made out of. Ones that wouldn't smell like a rotten carcass even though you wash them after each use. Ones that would be warm, comfortable and durable. I used to dream of these, assuming that the sports garment technology is not yet advanced enough to create such materials.

Well, I've learned that in fact, there is such a space-age, hi-tech material. But it wasn't invented by the scientists of NASA. It was invented by these guys:

It is also fabricated by the same guys and it's called Merino wool. I now have several garments made out of Merino wool, and I love them all. In fact I think that in the future I may wear nothing but Merino. Take this base layer shirt for example:

My strategy for bicycling in the winter used to be something like this:
  • get loads of cheap base layer shirts made out of synthetic fibre
  • wear one shirt for one day of commuting
  • store used shirts in a sealed container (because of the smell)
  • wash the five used shirts each Friday
  • throw away the horrible, stretched out of shape, carcass-like-smelling shirts come springtime.
I purchased cheap shirts because I thought, well, that there's no point in getting more expensive ones, as they will smell like carcass anyway after some months of usage, and have to be thrown away.

But then I heard of this wonder material called Merino. I purchased a Merino wool base layer shirt for some 50 €, although that is a bit expensive to the Budget Cyclist's standards, figuring that if it's really good, maybe I can get another one. But the shirt's been so good that it hasn't been necessary to get another one. It is warm, it dries really fast, it stays in shape, and most wondrous of all, it doesn't smell. I repeat. It. Doesn't. Smell.

I'm amazed because of this fact. Now, I may occasionally be kind of a smelly guy. I like chili, curry, garlic, beer, wine, and my personal hygiene may tend to be lacking in certain... ahem, I digress. What I was saying, this shirt doesn't get smelly even though I wear it while commuting for several days straight without washing it. It gets those white salt stains from the sweat, but it doesn't smell. I'm not sure if I can make this clear enough: it doesn't smell. Because I have a rather inferior sense of smell, and my wife has a very good one (a bad combination), I even had her verify the quality of the shirt once. She smelled the shirt, that had been used by me for a couple of days, and didn't find it to have any unpleasant qualities. Now that is something.

I also have an idea that bicycling and Merino wool go together in a certain very pleasing manner. Even though man has created various highly complex technical inventions to transport stuff, or move fast, such as cars, aeroplanes, and rockets, the bicycle remains the best invention for certain purposes. The bicycle is simple, fast, effective, natural, environmentally friendly, good for you and brilliant.

In a similar way, man has strived for improvement in the field of clothing by creating synthetic fibres out of petrochemicals. However, it is complex, difficult and perhaps wasteful, ecologically speaking. Still, the best material for clothing may still be one created by animals, naturally, effectively and in an environmentally sustainable manner.

In a certain way, that I can't really explain to detail, I find similar aesthetically pleasing qualities in bicycling and Merino wool. Damn, I'm a hippie! 

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