SmartWool Bike Apparel Review

by Brian Mullin on January 13, 2011

SmartWool makes wool apparel for an entire slew of outdoor activities from skiing, hiking, climbing, running, walking and cycling. They make quite a few pieces, specifically for cycling, and they sent along some tasty treats to test out. SmartWool uses New Zealand Merino Wool, which they have tweaked to make it more durable, non itching, with four season functionality and non shrinking (with proper care) properties.

Wool, which is obviously a natural product, has some pretty amazing properties, it’s odor free, highly breathable, with excellent moisture management and temperature regulation. Wool wicks sweat off the skin in a vapor state, which is then evaporated, without any condensation occurring, so you don’t feel clammy, keeping you drier and more comfortable for a longer period of time. Its antimicrobial, since that wicking and evaporative process leaves no liquid for odor causing bacteria to thrive on. Wool fibers have microscopic cortices of dead air, which provide a buffering layer of natural climate control, maintaining a stable core temp, so you’re cool in summer, and warm in winter.


SmartWool Betasso Shorts

The Betasso bicycle shorts are comfortable, rugged and even look and wear like a normal pair of baggy’s. They are comprised of an outer short made from polyester, and an inner one made from a SmartWool, and nylon blends. The two pieces connect together with two robust strap mounted snaps, to keep the pants from drooping, although they still liked to slowly slink down. The shorts have two normal pockets, two large zippered cargo pockets, a front fly with a dual snapped closure, and a webbing and buckle system for waist adjustment. The liner is a one piece seamless design, with a plush chamois padding and grabby elastic at the waist and leg hems.


The shorts were baggy enough not to cause any binding, but not so much to feel like they are flopping around, and the shorts move nicely while riding. The material is fairly thick, so the shorts have been very durable, and haven’t snagged nor gotten scuffed up, and they were stretchy, offering great comfort and conformability. The zippered fly is way too short, so the call of nature can be an act of contortion, and is exacerbated by the front buckle webbing, which doesn’t easily disconnect nor offer enough slack. The large cargo pockets were handy, and the waist fit could be adjusted by pulling on the webbing, though I could never get the necessary fit and feel that I prefer. The adjustable buckle/webbing system for the waist needs to be tossed out, or at least redesigned, since it just doesn’t work in an optimal fashion. Incorporating some sizable elastic sections in the waist band, along with some sort side or front adjustment that pulls father around would greatly help the shorts. Even if I tightened the strap so that I looked like a reject from Revenge of the Nerds, the shorts still would slowly droop down on me, and I was always having to fuss with pulling them back up. The material and the cut is comfortable enough, with a nice fit and finish, and the snap system connecting the inner liner is innovative and secure, but they need a rethinking of the waist system and the short fly.

Inner Liner
The inner liner has a great stretch and is very comfortable, and the thick chamois offered uber plushness while riding. The entire system just works incredibly well together, and they have a nice temperature control system, as they are warm when its cold, and cool when it’s hot, and always blend the environment to a proper temperate level. With their great moisture management, I never felt damp, as they absorbed perspiration and quickly transpired the moisture, leaving one feeling very comfortable, and keeping them odor free. The material has been very robust and durable, especially considering that I use them for pretty much every ride, and they get laundered multiple times a week. Their inner liner is the best system I have ever used, and its so darn excellent that I tend to use it with other manufacturer’s shorts. They are a supremely awesome product, that is incredibly comfortable, durable and pleasant to wear.

SmartWool Betasso Shorts – Overall Rating: 3.5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers
Inner Liner – Rating: 5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers


  • 2-in-1 mountain short with snap-in liner and stretch woeven exterior short with bias-cut back yoke for increased mobility
  • Front fly with exterior offset adjustable buckle/webbing
  • Front slash hand pockets and angled zip cargo pockets
  • Inseam 10.5″
  • Gender specific to provide a snug fit while allowing for freedom of movement
  • One piece seamless construction, designed airflow, and a covering made from SmartWool jersey offer protection from chafing and moisture management
  • Multi-thickness and central channel in the perineal area to support male anatomy
  • 1.5-10mm thickness. 340 x 210mm (L x W)
  • Inner short: 45% nylon, 39% SmartWool, 16% Elastic;
  • Outer Short: 100% polyester (58% recycled)
  • Color – Carbon
  • MSRP: $150

SmartWool Betasso Jersey

The Betasso mountain bike jersey is understated, but it has great functional aspects. The main body of the jersey uses their excellent SmartWool Merino Wool, while the underarms, side panels and outer shoulder use a mesh polyester for venting. There is a small zippered pocket of the left side, which is easy to use when wearing a hydration pack.

The jersey was very comfortable and soft, and it had a lot of stretchiness, so it was conformable, with useful give while moving around on the bike. The wool offered excellent moisture management, doing a thorough job of wicking and transpiring the perspiration, and I tended not to feel like I was soaked, even on the back underneath the hydration pack. Those great properties, meant it had low odors (no stink), which is always a nice attribute.

“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges.”

Even with the great temperature regulation that wool provides, I got a toasty sometimes, and the lack of a front zipper for additional venting purposes, made it tough to make minor adjustments. I liked the relaxed fit, the long cut, the side vents, and the soft, itch free and warm Merino wool. The jersey was comfortable, with some nice features, all combined with the pleasant wool attributes.

SmartWool Betasso Jersey – Overall Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers


  • Raglan short-sleeve mountain jersey with drop tail cycling fit
  • Mesh panels at underarms, sideseams, and over shoulders for venting
  • 75% SmartWool, 25% polyester
  • Fabric weight 170gm/m2
  • Color – Orange
  • MSRP: $95

SmartWool PhD Cycling Socks

The PhD Cycling Ultra Light 3/4 Crew Socks, use a SmartWool, and nylon blends, and are loaded with features, like WOW Technology (Wool on Wool), which has an additional layer of SmartWool in the high impact Zones, 4-Degree Fit System, which provides a four-point compression system for a secure and comfortable fit, and the usual SmartWool moisture and temperature regulation and odor control. The socks also come in two other shorter height versions, the Micro and the Mini.

I love these socks, and they totally rule, as they are comfortable, durable, breathe well and offer lots of cushioning for a thin sock. I tested their silver color, which is a bummer, since they tend to show dirt stains quite easily, and I think for mountain biking a slightly darker color would suffice? They are very durable, and have always kept their shape, even after repeated washings and tough mountain bike usage, and the 4-Degree Fit system is still going strong. One of the best parts of the socks, is that you don’t get stinky feet? One day I switched to a normal non wool sock, and I about gagged taking my shoes off, mostly because I had gotten so used to the amazing odor free properties of their wool blend. They are a pretty sweet smelling feature filled sock!

Overall Rating: 4.5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers


  • 68% Wool, 29% Nylon, 3% Elastic
  • 4-Degree Fit System for all day performance fit
  • WOW Technology™ in High Density Impact Zones to reduce shock & abrasion
  • SmartWool inside for moisture, temperature, and odor control
  • Duroyarn reinforcement for added comfort and durability
  • Strategic mesh zones for maximum ventilation
  • Cushioing: Ultra Light Cushioned
  • Height: 3/4 Crew
  • MSRP: $17.95

SmartWool Knee and Arm Warmers

I use the knee warmers pretty regularly, but I use them in a sort of strange setup. Except during cold days (below freezing), I wear shorts, along with knee pads, and use the knee warmers as shin warmers. I use them for warmth, and for scratch and ding protection, though the later is sort of worthless, since they are thin. I might look like a total geek head, but the system works well. As all the wool products, it has great temperature regulation, though I didn’t really test the moisture management, since I don’t sweat nor build up many odors on my shins?

It was nice to use the Arm and Knee warmers in their normal fashion, as they are easy to slip on, are comfortable, breathable and stretchy, and provide great warmth for those cusp days or temperature conditions which don’t warrant a jacket or tights.

Knee Warmers Specs:

  • 1×1 rib welts at top and bottom keep kneewarmers in place
  • Seamless construction for easy positioning and comfort
  • Fabric: 64% merino wool, 31% nylon, 5% spandex
  • $MSRP: 30

Arm Warmers Specs:

  • 55% SmartWool Merino wool, 42% nylon, 3% elastic.
  • Seamless construction for warmth with max freedom of movement.
  • Non-binding 1×1 rib welt at wrist and bicep openings keep warmers in place.
  • MSRP: $25

Click here to Visit the SmartWool Website

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

David Hodgson January 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I live in Scotland and have been wearing Merino wool for cycling, running and climbing for years.

It really is the best thing for keeping you warm, cool and dry.. all at the same time! It's like a miracle wool.

PS I really enjoy your blog, keep at it, it's appreciated 🙂


Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet January 22, 2011 at 7:50 am

Thanks David, I appreciate it! It's quite a bit drier here in Colorado, so we don't get the damp chill to the bone, but the Merino wool rules.


smartwool October 3, 2011 at 10:02 am

Great article! Makes me love Smartwool more. Thank you for sharing this.


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