Product Reviews: Ibex wool cycling gear
I've been meaning to write a review on a few pieces of Ibex wool for about six months now, but I've been busier riding and using said gear than writing about it. As fall sets in, I find myself with a free afternoon full of ball sports that I'll never watch on TV, so now seems like a good time to tell you about some of the best pieces of clothing I own.
Let's start with the garment that kicked off this love affair:
El Fito 3/4 knickers
Really, the Ibex experience starts with their packaging. It's kind of a low-fi nature-y version of the Apple unboxing experience (if you don't know what it's like to unbox an Apple product, go find someone with an Apple product box!). The products come in thin, minimalistic Ibex-branded boxes, and the whole experience is simply refined. It's a pleasure to open, and I think Ibex's attention to these tiny details simply reflects their dedication to making very fine wool products. The detail carries over to everything they make. I bet JimG rolled his eyes on this entire paragraph. :-)
Right, so the knickers. I purchased the El Fito knickers late in 2007 directly from Ibex. Over the winter, I was able to ride a couple of centuries, lots of mixed terrain rainy rides, and a few 70+ mile warmer days until Chico really started to cook in June. The stitching is second to none, and the weight of the knickers is definitely that of a company based in New England. It's pretty thick. Not uncomfortably thick - just thick enough to know you're wearing really high quality wool. The 'Climawool Lite' knee panels allow great movement without getting wonky in shape, no matter how long you wear them or go without washing them. The chamois is of similar quality to the priciest Pearl Izumi chamois I've ridden. I don't ever think about it, so it must be doing its job. Overall, I love the knickers. They're the perfect three season (northern California) cycling knickers. For those on the CA coast, they're easily a 4-season piece of gear. My wife, Claire, rides in the women's version exclusively, unless it's 100º outside.
I do have one gripe about the El Fito, but first a little tangent.
South by Southwest happens every year in Austin, TX, and like most years, I went for the Interactive part of the conference/festival. SXSW 2008 led me to a wonderful meeting with a rep from Ibex, at the Bikehugger party. I told her that I loved my knickers, but that the waistband must have been designed with either A) fat people or B) big butts in mind. See, the knickers fit perfectly, except that the waist band is about 2" too high for a skinny guy like me. The result is that the knickers work their way down as I ride, leaving a host of room for my, umm, junk to move around, the result of which would be chafing if one weren't careful. I've figured out that by simply rolling down the waistband TWO full times, no sagging, and thus no rubbing occurs. There's the gripe. If you're skinny, prepare to roll the waistband. If you have a gut, you're set, although you probably won't wear a size Small either.
Anyway, the Ibex rep (I'm leaving her name out on purpose) gave me an Ibex wool beanie at the Bikehugger party, and after a great conversation about product design, bikes and blogs, I gave her my card. A few weeks later, a tidy little package marked Ibex showed up at my house. But first:
the Ibex Beanie
I don't know what one can really say about a beanie, but I can tell you that it is now my most-worn winter head garb. I took it on our Tour of the California Coastal Breweries (where it's always winter), and after a week of wearing it without washing it, it was just fine, and didn't stink at all. I slept in it every night, rode with it most mornings, and it's an indispensable piece of my bike wardrobe.
It's also great for drinking giant IPAs on the frigid far northern California coast in July:
...and it easily fits under your helmet. What's not to like?
So that package showed up, and in it was a spanking new...
Arrivee Ibex bib short
Wool bib? I've never owned a bib, but I'm now sold on bibs now for certain types of riding. I sported this thing all spring and summer in Chico for all sorts of riding on and off road. In case you don't know, summer in Chico means HOT HOT HEAT, and I don't deal well with heat. The Arrivee bib never feels uncomfortable, and when it's super hot, just dribble some water down the mesh on your back and poof: instant air conditioning. I don't know if they intended that as a feature, but it's enough for me to buy another one when this one wears out. Oh, and the potential rubbing issues that I experience with the El Fito are completely erased with the bib. The first time I wore it on a 50 or 60 mile hilly ride, I did come home with tender nipples due to the shoulder straps. Hey, I'm just sayin'. I guess my nips leathered up though, because I no longer have that issue.
The Arrivee has the same OCD attention to detail as the knickers; the quality is equivalent to the price tag. Interestingly, I've learned through experience that there are a few times I won't wear it: brevets, camping and/or touring. Why? Well, it's a real pain when you find yourself having to do the #2 with a bib strapped over your shoulders. Just think of the logistics. I'd not considered it, but I discovered it on an alpine ride in the southern Cascades. It's something to consider! OK, I'll stop with that. If you're a racer or weekend warrior who doesn't like plastic clothing, get the Arrivee bib. If you have a big gut and tend to show crack, get the Arrivee bib. It's possibly the perfect piece of gear for all but the longest of rides. And even then, that's just my personal preference.
I've since purchased Ibex leg warmers, and tested their arm warmers (on the summer tour); each product leads me to the same old boring story: I love the stuff Ibex makes. It costs a shiny nickel, no doubt. But if you can come up with the coin, you can rest assured that your Ibex duds will do you right, and last for a long, long time. I'm thousands of miles into these Ibex products, and none are showing signs of wear yet. Once I get my hands on a couple of pairs of their merino cycling shorts, my departure from plastic will be complete.