You know you’re an #OldSchoolCyclist if you still have scars on your nose from the short metal zippers on wool jerseys.
As certain retro-nouveau clothing brands never tire of reminding us, wool jerseys are shaggy bundles of all-weather awesomeness. Sweat-wicking, breathable, cool in summer, warm in winter, we all know the drill.
But you’ll notice a decided lack of wool jersey endorsements from people who actually had to ride and race in them back in the day, season after season.
Truth is, wool really does work well over a wider temperature range than modern jerseys. Which is great, if you only own one jersey. And no arm warmers. And carry nothing balled up in your jersey pocket. What they don’t tell you is how old-school wool jerseys hung off your body once they got good and wet, and how they made you smell like a wet dog even after you’d changed out of them. And then there was the zipper.
The zipper on an old-school jersey—the cerniera, to poseurs—barely extended past your collarbone. Maybe zipper stock was expensive in those days, and that’s why they were so short. Or manufacturers just wanted to save weight, because they were heavy, too. But for whatever reason, zippers on wool jerseys were big, coarse, brass monstrosities with teeth as sharp as hollow-ground straight razors and just as dangerous. So you risked grievous bodily harm every time you pulled one over your head. Or back off. Plus you smelled bad when you were done.
There was a short-lived attempt in the late ‘70s to replace wool jerseys with a new material, polyester, which had the advantage of smelling bad even before it got wet. Sort of a time-saving feature. Plus, since poly doesn’t wick like wool, sweat clogged the jersey pores and trapped heat, making hills more challenging because you carried your own personal sauna with you all the way up. During the descent, the breeze cooled you normally until the insulating sweat evaporated. Then it froze your ball bearings off, as Old Schoolers used to say, when the wind whistled through that open-pore jersey material. In the end, the main benefit of poly jerseys was that they made wool look good in comparison.
So if you want to look really Old School, don’t just buy one of those retro-edition jerseys. Give yourself a couple weeks before you show it to your riding buddies. While you’re waiting, poke some holes in random locations so it looks authentically moth-eaten (ProTip: use a soldering iron to simulate cigarette burns). Try it on. Sharp, right? But wait; we’re not done yet. Roll around in the mud a bit with your new jersey on, then ride with it in the rain for a week or so. Do not wash. Finally, stow your new/old jersey it in a Ziploc bag at room temperature a couple days before showing up for the Saturday Morning Ride. You’ll look as Old School as Walter Godefroot, and smell every bit as authentic. Just watch out for that zipper.
(Chapeau to Bulissimo for the original concept)