First, I have a question for erck: What model of Topeak handlebar bag did you use? It is not the DryBag, is it? Because this model has pretty good reviews and people seem happy with it. Let me know.
Wool is indeed an excellent material to bike in. I used the best wool (Merino wool) from Icebreaker and I was very impressed by the performance (extremely comfortable, breathes very well, dries quickly, doesn't wrinkle, doesn't stink, and very durable - what else can you ask, right?).
However, it won't be of any help in wet conditions. Wet wool is not only very disagreeable to wear (as is any wet clothing), but most importantly, it will no longer keep you warm. For wool to be efficient, it has to be dry.
Not all rain shells lose their waterproof effectiveness after only 6-8 months. It is true that the cheaper rain shells lose some of their waterproof power after extensive use, especially in rough conditions. As I said earlier, Gore-Tex is the most suitable for long trips, as it is the fabric that will stay waterpoof the longest over time. I have a Gore-Tex jacket from Gore Bike Wear that I used extensively during the entire duration of my 5-year bicycle tour of the world, including during 2 monsoon seasons in Asia. I continue to use it today... and it is still waterproof and still breathes beautifully.The key is to take good care of your Gore-Tex clothing. Here are some tips to follow
- Do not wear a very heavy backpack if the jacket is not reinforced in the shoulder (some hiking jackets do have this extra layer). The weight will damage the Gore-Tex layer.
- Do not roll the jacket really tight; this will stretch and damage the Gore-Tex layer.
- Do not use the jacket to sit on or lay on.
- If the jacket gets really dirty, let it soak a couple of hours before washing it.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to wash your Gore-Tex (check the tag inside the jacket/pants)
- DO NOT use fabric softener. DO NOT use bleach.
- Wash it with soft laundry powder or liquid. The best product to use is Nikwax product
- If you use your jacket extensively, wash your jacket with Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-in
several times a year.
- I personally use a low spin cycle so that the water is not forced through the Gore-Tex layer.
- Regularly apply a new layer of water repellent (DWR) - Nikwax is also the leader for this kind of product.
I know it might seem like high maintenance, but personally when I spend several hundred dollars in a jacket, I want it to last. And I don't mind spending the extra bucks because I really dislike biking when I am wet and cold. Good maintenance of your Gore-Tex will help to keep you dry for many years. In the long run, I believe it is a good investment. It worked for me.
I should add that there are situations when the Gore-Tex won't keep you dry, for example, when you are sweating a lot under a pouring rain (like on a hard climb and/or in high temperatures). I found that if I sweat a lot, rain tends to penetrate the Gore-Tex much more quickly.