Touring and Gear – Part 1, Clothing

When I go on a tour, and this is my second year using this method, I travel as light as I think possible. I’m going to do a little series of write-ups regarding my decisions for a lightweight gear set-up in between the daily ride updates. One important distinction is that I am not touring with sleeping equipment such as a tent. It’s always with pre-arranged hosts and is similar to what is often referred to as credit card touring.

We’ll start with clothes, of which, I bring only two jerseys and two pairs of shorts…nothing else for the main pieces. Of course I also have a pair of socks, a cycling cap, my cycling shoes, gloves, flip-flops and homemade superlight emergency rain jacket. I’ll say more about the jacket later. The one jersey and riding shorts are your conventional lycra/polyester ‘pro-kit’. The other is my merino jersey and then a pair of light shorts for after the ride. Although I believe the merino wool jersey is the key component of the entire set-up I am almost always wearing the synthetic ‘plastic’ jersey when I ride.

I often get this question in my mailbox. You speak of how much better wool is than synthetic jerseys on you web site, but are almost always wearing synthetic jerseys, what gives?

It’s a sensible question and if I had to choose one over the other, I would choose merino for its versatility, but this is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Think of it like this, a fork is good, and a knife is also good, but together they are great.

Merino jerseys are superb and if you’re riding without one, you’re missing the best piece of equipment you can have other than your bicycle. The merino jersey is ideal for descents, when it’s raining, early mornings and late evenings, all weather use but also, most conveniently, for after-ride wear. I can comfortably ride in merino until about 30C and I wear it after riding in all weather, even in 38C Huesca, Spain, because it breathes and wicks so well and stays fresh for long periods of time.

The synthetic jersey has its advantages as well. When it’s 30+ degrees and I need something to sweat in, something that will rapidly get the salt stains and sun-faded-shoulders that any material will succumb to, I use synthetic. Look, entropy is unstoppable, and when it claims my synthetic jersey, I won’t care. As well, the synthetic breathes poorer, gets clammy and is often just as warm as merino, but the idea is that I use it to preserve my merino jersey. I also make sure my synthetic jersey has a full zipper so that I can undo it with merino overtop getting the benefits of the merino next-to-skin. The lycra jersey stinks after a day of use, but after my ride I change into only the merino jersey which naturally stays fresh and needs little washing.

This frees up the synthetic for a quick hand-wash with whatever soap and water is available, which can sometimes be very gnarly and could really wear on the merino. Lastly, the sythetic jersey is useful for being almost nothing but pockets. I can overstuff the pockets like crazy and use the tight fit of the shorts to tuck route maps, my micro-lock etc. underneath against my skin. Ultimately, the synthetic works well paired with merino because I can trash it, and I can scrub it quickly with hand soap in a dirty sink, but after that, it’s got few advantages.

After riding, once in the merino jersey and light shorts, I’m good for nearly any after ride tourism on the itinerary except perhaps some churches because of the shorts. If you’re into cathedrals and religious iconography, you might need pants or shorts longer than knee length such as capri’s to enter. For almost all other events, the merino jersey is great, it’s far less ostentatious than a pro-kit jersey, it’s comfortable and doesn’t stink even though you may have ridden 2 or more hours in it that same day.

All of the gear fits nicely in the jersey pockets, or tool and tube bottles for transport and quick access. The merino will take up about one whole pocket with the cap, and the flip-flops in another with other necessities. I keep the shorts dry in the tool bottle.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at those tools.

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