Woollen jerseys were a familiar sight in the early days of professional bike racing of course, but slowly moved out of fashion with the rise of synthetic fibres. However, merino wool can now be imbued with the best characteristics of those man-made materials, chiefly high elasticity and durability (so no more fabrics that lose their snap after a season). NATURALMATCH® merino wool technology is the best of both worlds, and it’s available in a range of MAAP products – but can mostly be found in our Alt_Road collection, which is made up of kit engineered for adventure.
Because let’s face it, sheep are awesome. They may not be the smartest cookies, but as the song goes ‘if you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough’. All around the world, sheep face the elements year-round, braving the harshest temperatures of winter and thriving in the heat of summer. Sure, they can’t learn cute tricks and they have a tendency to poop on themselves, but for shear staying power they can’t be bleat.
Wool has been used in High Performance Outdoor Apparel since before humans really distinguished between ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’. Indeed, wool’s history as a garment material goes back further than the Baabylonians – so you have to believe there’s some benefits there. Merino wool, the specific type MAAP uses in its cycling apparel, was pioneered by the Spanish, and for a long time the secrets of this particular breed were fiercely protected. The creation of the strain began with the importation of African sheep to Europe in the 11th century, and at one point the penalty for taking merino sheep out of Spain was death – so you know they felt kinda strongly about protecting their trade secrets.
Despite that initial protectiveness, the merino sheep was eventually exported to Australia – and the Aussies picked the ball up and ran with it, becoming the world’s largest producer of super-fine, super-soft merino wool. And the wool that MITI use in MAAP products is sourced entirely from Australia and New Zealand. We know that because the wool can be traced back to the farm that it originally came from.
Getting Down To Business
Unlike the Spanish shepherds of yesteryear, the team at MITI, the Italian manufacturer of NATURALMATCH®, the merino wool technology we use in our Alt_Road range, are a little less secretive. National sales manager Laura Gambarini is more than happy to spill the beans. “We wanted to create something that always had wool on the skin side. So the basic properties of softness, of natural moisture management, and anti-odour, antibacterial properties that the wool itself has in the yarn, combined with the nylon outside,” she explains. This revolutionary fabric weaves together three layers – nylon for durability, elastane for stretch and merino to feel comfortable against your skin.
You’ll find NATURALMATCH® in the Alt_Road Jersey, but also in the Beanie and Arm Warmers. Merino allows adventurous athletes to go to the edge, to explore the limits of their bodies, wearing a material that has proven its performance credentials for centuries. The external synthetic fabrics that are woven into the merino give it extra strength, and allow it to retain its shape so your clothing doesn’t become baggy. It’s also abrasion resistant, and therefore withstands scuffs better than pure merino on its own.
You think wool and you think ‘warm’, we’re guessing, but merino has an excellent capacity for thermoregulation in general, helping to cool you in high heat as well as warm you up in colder temperatures. For long distance adventure riding, the fact it can do both is invaluable.
It’s also sustainable, as a natural fibre that biodegrades easily. We’re never going to run out of sheep, so we’re probably not going to run out of wool either. Not only is it a biodegradable fibre, it’s one of the most easily renewable materials out there. However, the real green magic of merino wool isn’t just that it’s biodegradable (most plant-based fabrics are, right?) but that it locks away a serious amount of carbon from the atmosphere. Sequestering carbon is the only way to remove it from the atmosphere and merino wool is pretty impressive on this front – almost 50% of merino wool is organic carbon. Alongside this, sheep manure can be composted to lock away even more carbon.
But that’s just the start of it. The merino blend that MAAP uses is even dyed using chemicals derived from recycled cooking oil. It’s also Bluesign-approved, so all of the chemicals used are safe, ethical and traceable. From the pastures of Extremadura, to the remotest gravel roads around the world (including quite a few in Extremadura, actually), merino wool has exploded in awareness and application. It may have taken a millennium to reach this point, but it is now among the most celebrated and feted materials in performance sports, and an essential element in how we engineered the Alt_Road collection.